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The Royal Exchange - <Trade District, Lionsgate>


The merchant heart of Lionsgate, the Royal Exchange serves as the hub for travel and commerce throughout the Kahar seat. A great circle sits at its heart, paved with white cobblestone, with a grassy knoll in its center. On a pedestal, a statue of Talus Kahar I sits among the flowers planted here, looking north to the Walk of Legends.
Arrayed about the circle are numerous shops and establishments, in old wooden buildings, for the most part. In the northern half of the circle, carriages roll to and from the covered Carriage Hub, with the office of the Fastheld Courier Service nearby, to take advantage of the carriages for delivery.
On the edge of the road to the noble district to the west sits the Sleeping Wolf Coach House, a respectable looking two story structure, with ivy growing up its southern wall. Further away, nearer to the freelander district, a squat tavern sits, with a Laughing Bear painted on its sign. Four main streets spread out like the spokes on a wheel from this point.
To the north, the street heads through the Walk of Legends. To the west the road passes through the manors of Lionsheart, the noble district of the city, while beyond it to the southwest the White Tower can be seen looming over both the the city and the surrounding forest.
The "Old Town" sits to the east, its compact streets housing the freelanders of the city. Finally, to the south is the Cathedral District, where the great Cathedral of the Light stands - one of the largest in the Empire.
It is a cool noon. The slightest breeze stirs over the land infrequently. Puffy white clouds fill most of the sky.

Pondering. Yes, thats a good word to describe the teen Knight. Given that he hasn't been able to find anyone to help him(the political part notwithstanding)with the slight problem he currently has. He pats the gray river trotter next to him in absent thought. No, it seems like the Lomasa will have to do things himself. He never did care much for his title anyhow. Protecting the people from potential threats, thats what he lives for.


A stranger rides in on the wind, four hooves thundering /tlot-tlot/ on the southern road. Blonde locks spill out from around the mouth of the green cowl shrouding the figure's features, bob and bounce around its shoulders, while knuckles blanch white from a deathgrip on the reins. /Snap/ goes the rider's cloak in the wind, loud as a thundercrack, when he pulls at the rough leather to slow the lathered beast for the approach into town. In a hurry, this individual, but not enough to put any pedestrians underfoot at risk.


Pardus Lomasa glances to the north at the incoming sound. Its not unusual that someone comes galloping into to town, but being at such a loss that he currently, anything to take his mind off his current problems is a welcome diversion. Though seems to be riding in a bit harder than most. The young Knight watches a bit curiously.


By the time horse and rider reach the stables, they are clopping along quite casually, quite as if it hadn't been tearing up the traderoad mere minutes before. The animal is reined up a stone's throw from a waiting stablehand, a freckle-faced young boy who regards the newcomer with a peculiar sort of interest. Not a second later, the reason why becomes evident: the armored rider pulls back its hood to reveal a woman's face. Not an /unusual/ sight, perhaps, but it is certainly less than common.


The teen learned a long time ago in the Blades that a woman is just as capable as any man, having learned that the hard way when he went through the equivalent of boot camp. He continues to watch with a degree of interest. He pats Sellsword's side, then takes up the horse's reins and begins to move over toward stables as well.


Booted feet connect with the ground in a gravelly /thump/ of leather soles on loose dirt, and the rider takes a moment to collect a few miscellaneous items from her saddlebag before transferring the reins to the boy. Eye contact is made, just for the briefest moment, when she passes a handful of coins his way; broken when she nods toward the row of empty pens. Rolling her shoulder, she readjusts the weight of quiver and crossbow slung across her back, and gauges the merchant traffic with a look.


Guiding Sellsword to the stables, the Lomasa smiles to the stableboy when he finishes with the latest horse thats been stored away. He hands him the appropriate amount of kahars in exchange. With a free hand he reaches up to adjust the old brown bandanna that strapped across his forehead, seeming to be more of an unconscious motion than anything else. After letting his horse go, he turns about to frown slightly. "Hrm." he utters quietly.


So lost is the young woman in her thoughts that when she turns on her heel to stride into town, she steps right into the Lomasa. Blue eyes leap to the size of moons when the price of her distraction catches up to her, and a single, abrupt step is taken backward. Distance, distance. She sweeps into a startled bow, gaze fixed on the floor, seeing but not seeing. "Milord," she breathes hastily, hurriedly, every letter an apology, "m' pardoons."


The reply to this is pretty much just a confused blink, but not angry or insulted clearly. In fact, he just smiles. "It happens, no harm done." Pardus smiles easily, inclining his head in a return greeting. "Once ran into a tree that I swore jumped right out at me." Then a headtilt, looking the woman. "You seem to be in a rush, ma'am. Do you require assistance?"


Straightening, the freelander swallows, turning attention once more to the street. "Nae, milord," comes the reply. "Naught boot a point t'war' th' neares' inn. If'n..." A hesitant glance. Wariness plays in her eyes. Clearly, she has been caught off-guard, and cannot negotiate the difference. "If'n milord woul' be so kin'."


"Inn?" Pardus echoes, he too turning about. "Well, the Sleeping Wolf is always the place I frequent, personally." he states politely, pointing such a place out with an armored hand. "Right over there. Have been staying there myself, though I am unsure if I'm exactly wanted." he adds with a somewhat wolfish grin.


Slender blonde eyebrows knit, and it's apparent that the archer is either humorless or simply has no idea where to go with that. So, she simply takes her leave -- bowing again, first, of course, this time with a touch more gallantry and flair. One gloved hand sweeps the tail of her cape away, and she dips her head graciously. "Ma thanks," she offers politely. "By yer leave, milord." And should his leave be granted, she takes it, executing an about-face and striding in the direction indicated.


The Knight hesitates. He clearly doesn't seem to mind her leaving for the inn, but at the same time, he seems to wish to say something more. "Excuse me, ma'am?" he says, quickly stepping after. "I was wondering, if you could help me with a matter. Just a question really." He pauses again. "I admit, I am out of my depth as of current. You wouldn't happen to know any who know well of the woods that surrounding this city by chance, would you?"


And the very person credited with mapping substantial regions of those woods stops to send a look back over her shoulder. One beat, two. She half-turns, curiosity screwing up her features. "Milord?"


Not exactly how to take that, the Knight treads carefully. He may be a noble, but he has an air of a soldier, one who doesn't look too care much of status or rank, and theres this look he gives that suggests he's asking for help, but unsure as to how. Then a look about the streets. "If you know of such a person, I'd would rather not speak of it out here in the open. You said you were headed to the coach house. Could we perhaps talk over a drink?"


It's the woman's turn for reluctance, then, but those of her rank are not exactly well-versed in refusing the requests of the upper crust. Well, those keen on keeping their necks out of the stocks. Doubt flickers in a twitch of her lips, but in the end, she acquiesces, composing herself and nodding her head once. "Aye, milord," is the answer given.


Theres seems to be an invisible weight that lifts itself from the man's shoulders, looking perhaps a bit, relieved? A nod then. "You have my thanks." he states, starting to move for the Sleeping Wolf. "I'm glad that my search has not been in vain. Everyone else who I have asked did not seem to have the answer that seeked."


Atop Raurin, The sound of hoofs clatter on the stones leading through the exchange, and the sound of a teenager laughing follows them. Brand is riding in, and fast, seeming like he's having a bit of fun racing through the relatively uncrowded streets at this hour.

"Wi' all due r'spec', milord," the archer puts in, falling in step with the Baron, "cannae proomise tha' I've yer answer, either." So used to service is she, this scale-clad soldier, that when they wind their way across to the inn, she reaches to hold the door for him. She waits, but doesn't watch for his entry; rather, she appears rather intent on the youth galloping about so recklessly. Disapproval is plain on her face.


The Knight holds up a finger, a motion that seems to say, 'Ah-ha' and grins. "Ah, but you are the only that may have an answer to give." It is however a bit humorous that he reaches to open the door for her, being one that is always respectful to woman. He does as well falter and turn, hearing the beating of rapid hooves on an open street, disdain on his face as well.


Atop Raurin, Brand slows down as he approaches the stables, and hops off, handing his horse's reins over to the stableboy. "Here!" he says cheerfully. "You look after her, alright? I won't be long. Just gotta work a little bit."


Again with the awkward fumbling, as the pair almost knock into one another yet once more. The archer has the grace to look self-conscious, removing herself from any potential tangles with feline ease, then ducks into the Wolf.


Yes, its certainly awkward, and the Knight coughs a bit sheepishly. He may not but as gracefully but at least he smoothly transitions his hand to grab the side of the door to follow the archer inside. Rolling his eyes in whats most likely him mentally abashing himself for looking so silly, he checks a belt pouch and closes the door behind him.


Vestibule - <Sleeping Wolf Coach House, Lionsgate>


Royal blue and gold dominate the vestibule of the Sleeping Wolf Coach House, one of the more venerable establishments in the Kahar city of Lionsgate. The lofty ceiling leaves plenty of room on either side of the streetside door for a pair of bay windows with cushioned seats on their ledges for those who wish a place to relax.
Oak walls are stained to an ecru darkened by years of maintenance and lacquering, and floral patterns have been carved into the main support beams.
The floor itself has been laid out with blue marble tiles streaked with a darker yellow stone which contributes to the illusion of embedded gold. Nearby sits the dark biinwood counter where the proprietor waits to take reservations, and a boy waits to guide patrons to their rooms.
To the left when entering from the Royal Exchange, an open archway leads away into the dining hall, while to the right another archway leads into the common room. Across from the main door is the staircase leading directly up to the floor above.
At the foot of the stairs rests a black marble statue depicting a sleeping wolf. Residing at the ends of either banister, two carved wildcats are perched on all fours and gazing down onto the wolf.

And a little bit later, Brand follows in, humming cheerfully to himself as he route about in his pack. "Now, let's see...." He trails off, then finally looks up to notice Pardus and Reese. "Oh, hello Lord Pardus. Mistress Stranger."


Mistress Stranger is not ten paces from the door, unfastening the buckles of her crossbow's sling, when Brand wins her notice. Suspicion manifests in an utterly bizarre stare when she regards the boy, a frown twisting one corner of her mouth. Never one to mince words, she spits out a dumbfounded, "You," then follows it up with the point-blank, "Yer followin' me."


Turning about to face the sound of where his name was called from, the Knight looks upon Brand. "Ah, Master Heartwood. Did not expect to see you in Lionsgate." he notes, but the reaction from the archers garners a quirked brow while looking between the two. "I take it you two know each other." he ventures.


Brand shakes his head. "No," he says patiently. "I saw you in Road's End. Which one has to pass through to get to this place," he says to 'Mistress Stranger', before looking to Pardus with a grin. "And I don't know her name at all. She just called herself a Stranger."


The stranger sizes up the Heartwood boy, uncertainty brimming in frosty irises, but when it's all said and done she returns to working at the straps of her weapon. "Aye," she agrees, vaguely, distantly, once it is cradled in the crook of one arm, "so I did." She scans the ritzy establishment then, a quick visual sweep of the entry hall's perimeter and contents.


Situation resolved it seems, and Pardus nods, gesturing toward the common room. "We can speak there." he states calmly. Turning back to face the young bard, he cracks a wry smile. "We should speak later, Master Heartwood, but currently there is some important business that I need to discuss with Mistress Stranger here."


Brand smiles and nods. "Okay," he says. "I'll just be playing."


"Reese, if't please milord," supplies the archer politely, glancing his way as she passes Vice and a quiver full of ammunition to a coat-check attendant. "Reese Firelight." Another look is tossed Brand's way. Her mistrust is palpable.


Pardus Lomasa smiles once again. "Glad to have your name Mistress Firelight." he states, nodding politely, then traces her glance to where Brand disappeared to he. "He's a kid, albeit perhaps more nosy, though I could claim the same about myself." A pause then. "Baron Pardus Lomasa, Knight of the Silver Tankard. But please, I'm more of a soldier than anything else. Now, you said you might know of someone who may know the depths of Wildcat woods? I would appreciate any knowledge you be able to gleam."


At the knight's introduction, Reese inclines her head reverently. "Milord, sire," she offers in return, pressing one hand to her heart. "I m'sel' spen' a greet m'ny years rangin' those woods." When she straightens, her gaze remains trained upon the floor. "Ma father, he called me Wildcat."


Pardus Lomasa looks like he's not used to this kind of thing. Being in the Blades and the Watch, he never really had time for it. "Please, Mistress Firelight. I am Knight yes, but I am a soldier at heart. But! You yourself have ventured into the depths of the Wildcat? The Light must have deemed me lucky to of run into when I did." he states happily. "I would ask for your assistance, then." Yet another look around the room, which is thankfully a bit more empty than usual. Its at that point where he takes on a hushed tone, not to mention a serious one. "There is something going on in the wood. I do not know if you have heard the rumors of piles of burning ravens, but something is afoot, I think. Out of curiosity, I went to investigate but I am no ranger and I do not have skills to see things than one with trained eyes can. But what I did find...it disturbed me."


Reese purses her lips, and has enough discretion to glance around, all too aware of the ears that tune into two people speaking in quiet tones. Particularly when it is a Lomasa knight and a freelander woman. Alone. In an inn. She flicks a concerned expression his way, her eyes meeting his steadily. "Shoul' na be d'scussed sae pooblically, milord," she warns.


Pardus Lomasa nods, he too aware of such things that cold come about such a conversation. "Agreed. Out on the street was bad enough as it is and I have never been good on public policy." he quirps. His eye however, are interesting. Their hazel, yes, but have an slightly odd corona about them, as if theres light trying to peek around the edges of his pupils. "Let us take this somewhere else then. There is a tavern across the street. We could speak there, unless of course you know of a better place?"


"Walls hae ears, milord," the Firelight reminds. "Show me, aye, if'n 't please ye."


Pardus Lomasa glances back at the common room, then reaches for the front door again. This time, he'll be the one that holds it open for the woman.


~*~


Getting out of Lionsgate and into the Wildcat, Pardus finally feels comfortable in describing what he recently saw. Tugging on Sellsword's reigns he urges the horse to follow them along on foot. "So, as I was saying. Out of curiosity, I wanted to see what the rumors were about. What I found; and I think we're getting close, is a circle of trees, each with a dead raven hanging from a branch. There were even more inside the area as well." he explains, while keeping his eyes to the ground in making sure he's following that vague trail of horse steps that had led him in a few days ago. "The site, it made me feel quite uneasy. And while I have not had much luck giving this information to someone who could do something about it, my rescission became that I should hire someone who knew these woods better than I, and would most likely see something that I did not."


Reese listens intently, offering not so much as a commenting nod as the Baron relates his story. Stranger, hard-run after the aggressive flight from Road's End, is left safely stabled; the younger Firelight is comfortable enough -- or perhaps confident enough -- to keep step along with Pardus and Sellsword as they make their way from the city and toward the treeline.


And indeed, the view opens before them; a broad ring of decay within the peaceful vale. The ground muddied and heavily disturbed, and an expanding circle of raven carcasses. One to a tree, each dead bird hung by the neck on strings from branches.


Pardus Lomasa waves a hand forward when they reach just what he was talking about. "Here." he says, looking as the smell has become quite a bit more potent than the last time he had been here. "I was only able to follow the tracks here, anything else is invisible to my eyes. That is why I required the help of a skilled ranger." The Knight doesn't look nervous, but something about this place has him set on edge.


Revulsion descends upon Caprice Firelight's fair-complected features. Nose wrinkling slightly, she steps lightly around her companion, careful not to disturb the carpet of bloody leaves or the crows' grisly remains. "Hobble th' horse, milord," she advises, without tearing her attention away from the scene. One dangling bird is given a careful inspection through narrowed frost-blue eyes.


Tying Sellsword's reigns to a tree nearby (one not with a dead bird, mind you), Pardus rejoins the ranger, now taking another look around to see if theres anything he may of missed from when he found this place. If anything had changed, besides more decomposition. He doesn't speak for now, allowing Caprice to do her rangerly thing. The only thing he can do is at least play the guard.


"They were caught," Reese observes, voice scarce above a whisper, so distant it takes a moment to realize she is thinking aloud. "Necks snapped. Twisted... t'were d'lib'rat'ly hoong li' this." She squints, peers at the next raven, methodically pouring through them as a desk clerk might sort through a mountain of paperwork. "All o' them, aye." The scout turns, eyes traveling upward, to the branches, then down to the ground, her cloak swirling in her wake. The dead birds rock and sway in the empty air behind her as she sweeps another look around, then crouches, tracing the network of footprints and disturbed mud.


"Any idea what the purpose of this was? If someone or a group was trying to make a statement, you would think it would've been done somewhere more out in the open where people would see it." Pardus quietly ponders, staying where he is so as to not muddle up the area with anymore tracks. "To go out of the way and catch all these birds to only kill them and hang them as thus..." he trails off, seeming to able to make any connection.


Reese is crouched on the balls of her toes, nimble as a cat, lost in a spiderweb of forensic clues. "Six men. Eigh'. Proob'ly... aye, mos' cert'nly more, milord," she explains to the knight. She follows a thread of evidence, a line apparent only to her eyes, deeper into the woods, but suddenly rises to her full height with a sigh. "Trail's col', milord. Mos', aye, they went th' way we came," she nods her head back down the path most-traveled, the winding woodland road leading back to Lionsgate. "Oothers went deeper inta th' wood. Th' hoonters, mos' like, whit did this t' th' birds." She shakes her head at that, preferring the exchange of facts to cloudier speculation. Particularly the key point, which she reiterates. "Trail's col', milord."


"A group of hunters then." Pardus murmurs, looking in the direction of the path he totally missed earlier. "Cold..but some of them are most likely from Lionsgate itself and the others from the surrounding area if they came the way we did and split off here." he says, sounding like he's speaking aloud. A shake of the head, followed by a sigh before looking back to Caprice. "You are skilled at what you do, Mistress Firelight. I certainly could not of ascertained any of that myself. It answers some questions, yet only opens more. There is more to this, that much I do know."


A lock of blonde hair is tucked back behind Reese's ear, bunched behind the Mikin orchid there. "Moost needs tell th' Valoorians, milord," she tells the noble. It comes out as a suggestion, at first; that is until she directs a decisive look over her shoulder at the man, and addresses him as if he were but a three-year-old. "Ye'll woont th' Lady Viscountess. Celeste Valooria, ye ken, milord? A' Night's Edge. Ye'll woont her, sire. An' her steward. A Marked Mage named Meian. D'ye ken, milord?"


"I tried speaking to the new Warpriest, Ailith Valoria. I told her of what I have seen, but she could not act unless we had evidence that it deals with the Shadow." Pardus replies. "And yes, I did wish to speak someone about this, someone who could something as I have little say what happens on Valoria lands." he says, moving to Sellsword. "Night's Edge...I have never there. But someone must know of this and if the Lady Celeste can do something, that would be the most prudent action." Loosening the reigns, he looks back to Caprice. "There must be something I can do to repay you, Mistress Firelight."


"Coul' r'lay a m'ssage, if'n y' please, sire," the scout tells the Knight. She arches a brow, then, and this time? She does not ask for leave. Rather, she takes off running -- one step, two steps, three on the ground and the fourth up the trunk of the tree, alley-oop to swing around and crouch upon a branch. "Tell 'em I've th' ma'er weel 'n han'." Her feet find effortless purchase on the outstretched limb when she stands again, and after sparing a final look at Pardus, the wildcat vanishes into the forest.



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