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Along the South Wall


A well-trodden path leads along the grassy lawn of the revered keep of Fastheld, marking the passage of innumerable footsteps on patrol past the ancient stones the form the south wall of the fortress.
Here, the path bends north along the western wall and toward the headquarters of the Emperor's Blades after stopping at the entrance to the southwestern tower.
High above, near the spire of the tower, one can make out two balconies. It is a cool late evening. A steady gentle breeze stirs over the land. A few wispy cirrus clouds streak the otherwise clear sky.

The grounds of the Emperor's Keep are full to overflowing with crowds of people; commoners, for the most part, they bring none of the joy and bustle that so often comes with festivals which commonly bring such crowds together. Instead there is grass trodden down into squelching mud, the stink of fear and crowding, crying children and women with kerchiefs binding back their hair workmanlike and deep creases set new in their faces. The refugees from Light's Reach are encamped along the wall in makeshift tents, set around one bright, well-constructed tent outside of which are two men in the livery of Mikin Ducal Guard.


Umbrus perks a limp ear to the sound of misery and mourning that buzzes around the sturdy walls of the palace as he trudges towards the encampment. His hide bears no new wounds, but head hangs with the weariness of an overworked beast. His belly was well fed, legs fairly rested, but spirit crumpled from the chaos of last night. Even the flies seem to sense this, as they nibble freely without fear of his lashing tail. For it lays still.


His rider makes a small effort to lift her shoulders from their tired slouch as they plod into the fringe of refugees. It is there that Rowena commands him to rest. Umbrus sends up a fleck of mud with final hoof clomp, then bows his slender neck to graze at what remains of the grass. From her higher vantage point, Rowena casts a studious eye over those that had made it this far to safety. She herself is not too worse for the wear, considering the circumstances. The ash had been rinsed from her face and hands, coughed clearly from her lungs. Her cloak and once-green gown, however, are now dampened and soiled in the remnants of airborn temple, tavern, and former Surrector, Gell Mikin. The bulge of saddlebags reveals that she's restocked her supplies.


The Royal Healer herself brings a smile, weary and grudging though it may be, to some of these faces; most, however, go about their tasks and busywork without looking up at the sound of one more arrival. The two guards stir themselves, straightening and blinking their red-rimmed eyes open.


The grounds of the Emperor's Keep are full to overflowing with crowds of people; commoners, for the most part, they bring none of the joy and bustle that so often comes with festivals which commonly bring such crowds together. Instead there is grass trodden down into squelching mud, the stink of fear and crowding, crying children and women with kerchiefs binding back their hair workmanlike and deep creases set new in their faces. The refugees from Light's Reach are encamped along the wall in makeshift tents, set around one bright, well-constructed tent outside of which are two men in the livery of Mikin Ducal Guard. Rowena Mikin sits her weary mount without.


From Cad's saddle, Corriden Lomasa makes his way through the encampment astride Cad-- As a pair they're pretty hard to miss, so thankfully most folks make way enough to give the two a windy passage through the grounds. The horseman seems to have a particular destination in mind.. That of the Mikin section of the encampment, judging by his direction.


Rowena musters a smile in turn to those that turn her way. It is odd how such tragedy brings those of all classes to common understanding. She was as equally homeless as they. And her clothing was equally reduced to muck. "So many..." She whispers softly to the grazing Umbrus. He flicks his tail lazily in reply.


The movement of another figure on horseback catches her eye as it treads through the sea of tents and smaller bodies. It seems that another herald had made it safely here. With a bit of hesitancy and groan, she leans forward against the complaint of her muscles, and slides one leg to the other. The dismount leaves something to be desired, for the slippery ground nearly costs her footing. Once stable, the Duchess reaches to unstrap her healer's satchel from Umbrus's rump.


From Cad's saddle, Corriden Lomasa reaches Rowena's position at last, removing his winged helm as he recognizes her from last night's evacuation. "My lady.." The bladesman begins somewhat awkwardly, averting his eyes from the ruin of her clothing. "That is to say, ah.. May I bother you for a moment of your time?"


A moment? Rowena looks beyond the horseman to the colors of her family's tent. It would take more than a moment to seek out her sister-in-law. Even more than a moment to offer aid...and perhaps a night's duration to seek out His Majesty and share with him her cursed knowledge of the beast's lair.


But the Emperor was nowhere in sight. And no cries of death did howl from the tent. So...Her head bobs in a slight nod, eyes uplifting to note habitually the wound on the man's face. "Aye." She consents into the whispering breeze, her voice strong as it would be the last thing to fail in her otherwise devastated appearance.


From Cad's saddle, Corriden Lomasa rubs at the ugly black scar on his face, looking rather at a loss for how to begin. A beat passes, then he speaks. "I'm Corriden Lomasa, my lady. Nice to ah, meet you." He murmurs, feeling a bit lame. "How.. Is the Duchess Mikin? She didn't look very well when Captain Kahar and I brought her back, and well, I wanted to know if she lasted the night."


"I've only just arrived myself." Rowena states in honesty, as unreasuring as it may be. She lowers her eyes, shading them with a fan of dark lashes, and leans her shoulder against the belly of Umbrus for support. She could care less about the smell. Umbrus glances once around with watery eyes, blinking to the other horse, then loses interest through a decisive snort. "I was intending to see to her now. And to..." Again her eyes flick an upwards stare to his scar. "Any others that require my attention."


From Cad's saddle, Corriden Lomasa nods relievedly. "There's plenty of folks here that'll be happy for your attention." He states, eyes flickering to her healing kit as he dismounts from his black mount. "Do you mind if I come in with you, ah, Lady...?" He prompts for a name, with a relieved smile. "I'm glad she made the night. When she wakes up she can say she was carried off by a real Cad." He pats the horse with a chuckle.


Humor lost somewhere in the overwhelmed depths of her mind, Rowena tilts her head in study of the tall figure. "I go by many names. Duchess Rowena Mikin, Second Liege of Light's Reach, Deputy Grand Mistress of the Order of the Flame...or as you have previously referred, 'm'lady' will do simply fine. I'd be a fool to concern myself with too strict a formality now." Her arms spread at her sides with a hapless glance downwards to her ash and mud-stained garments. For a moment, the likeness of a smile twitches in her mouth's corners.


"You may follow me. But if I so order, you may leave us to privacy." Having little else to say, she stumbles her lean away from Umbrus and towards the tent watched by the Ducal guard. The soft green of her eyes falls flat as her legs bear her numbly forward.


Eden Kahar comes striding through the city of tents from the east, searching among the many gathered refugees for a sight of the Horseman in whose company he has been. The young Captain strains to catch a glimpse of Corriden, removing his helm and tucking it under one arm as he does so.


From Cad's saddle, Corriden Lomasa rubs at his whiskers with a sheepish smile, resisting the tactless urge to mention that Light's Reach doesn't need much of a liege anymore. "As you wish, m'lady. If you and yours need a place to go, please know that River Turn Keep will open it's doors to you." He answers, glancing over and waving to Eden. "Captain, hello. The Duchess made it the night, sir."


The pair of Ducal Guard salute Rowena crisply and one leans forward to open the flap of tent for her, his voice hushed and hoarse from smoke and grit. "I'm glad you're here, Duchess. The other healer told us to keep her quiet-- something hit her on the head, he said."


Eden Kahar nods to Corriden as he approaches, halting a few feet from the Horseman to study the immediate surroundings. He notices Rowena almost instantly, and appears to recognizing, offering her another polite nod and an utterance of, "Your Grace." Then he looks back to Corriden. "How fares the lady and lad we brought from West Bluff?"


Rowena nods to the vigilant guard, patting the bulk of his arm with a slim hand. "Thank ye. Send a runner to fetch one of my own men that has accompanied me to relieve your watch. Find some rest." Her words are soft but gaze motherly stern. Ducking beneath the opened flap, she enters the dimly lit tent with held breath, immediately seeking the form of the Duchess.


The tent is dull within, light deliberately stifled so that only vague outlines might be seen. Low mounded shapes within the relatively spacious cloth covering are blankets, pillows; and the shallow-breathing form of Merielle Mikin, a tiny gleam of light catching the whitening hair on one temple. Various things also occupy the space within: a brazier for heating, a cup of some herbal-smelling substance, and a cot with covers stirred that shows itself empty.


Corriden Lomasa follows after.. Although it's mighty hard to see when you're squatting over and trying not to take the tent with you by standing up. His armor protests at the odd position with squeaky groans, as Corriden looks across the tent at Merielle Mikin. "I'm sorry we had to ride with her, my lady." He murmurs very softly to Rowena. "Captain Kahar said it might make things worse, but we didn't have any choice."


Eden Kahar ducks his head and follows Corriden into the tent, brushing aside the flaps with one hand and peering at the sight within. For his own part, the young Captain remains silent, watching the wounded Duchess from afar.


Rowena creeps over the ground with stealth, slowly lowering the satchel from her arm as she nears her sister. A nod of understanding and raised hand is the only response Corriden receives for now. Squinting in the low light, she stoops into a crouch, balanced on the toes of her boots while her hands blindly open the satchel and feel their way through. "Find a lantern for me, please." She murmurs over her shoulder. "I've one tied to my horse."


Corriden Lomasa nods acceptingly, and backs his way out of the tent-- Only nearly colliding with Eden once, thankfully, to go fetch the requested item. He might be dumb sometimes, but at least he's good at 'go fetch'.


Eden Kahar moves out of Corriden's way, maintaining a clear path for the Horseman as he turns to watch and wait in silence, clasping his hands behind his back and glancing to Rowena uncertainly.


While Corriden fetches her lantern like a good lad, Rowena begins to braid the wind-tusseled locks of her hair back. The yellow buds of mourning had long since been shaken from her lustrous mane, leaving only pieces of broken petals and leaf behind. Her fingers tremble as they work, breath coming in quiet but forceful pants. Her lashes long to close, their weight growing by the hour, but Mikin resolve keeps them apart.


Corriden Lomasa returns moments later with the light in hand, holding it out as he squeezes inside the tent again. "Here." He murmurs quietly, nodding politely to Eden as he takes up a position out of the healer's way.


Eden Kahar merely folds his arms across his chests and waits, not saying a word as he looks to the inert Mikin Duchess.


Somewhere in the stretch of the encampment, a road-weary musician begins to play. The haunting tune of a trill flows over the ears of the restless that carpet the palace grounds. It starts as a low, brooding melody, but expands into a greater series of gentle and deep sounds to lull a soul to sleep. Night had fallen.


Rowena's senses jolt as Corriden's sudden reentry bars her access to the trill's stupor. Letting one knee sink as it eventually would into the softened ground, she twists around to take the lantern with a hushed thank you.


Corriden Lomasa gives up on hunching over and sits down, knees drawn up to his chest as he watches worriedly. From time to time, he'll glance towards the exit of the tent, listening to the music.


Rowena lifts the lantern into the air, arm wavering from here to there as she debates on the best location. "I will need a vessel of water to boil upon the brazier...perhaps a bucket of cooler water in addition. It does not have to be much at this time. Whatever can be spared." In her narrow-eyed scan of the small enclosure, she spies the emptied cot. It would do. With careful balance, she rises to her feet and steps around the foot of Merielle's bed to reach the secondary. There, she bends at the waist and grips the wooden frame with her free hand. In awkward fashion, she tugs it a few inches this way...then that...manipulating its position to rest kitty-corner to the Duchess's head.


Corriden Lomasa fumbles around for a moment with his belt, pulling a half-emptied leather waterskin from it and offering it over. "There'll likely be a line for the well around here right now, and I wouldn't give rights to it being so clean at the moment." He answers, quietly. "I filled up when I was delivering dispatches to the Vozhdya ducal guard, so it's fresh. Will it do?" He asks, careful to keep his baritone low.


"I will see if I can get more from the Hall of Blades," Eden says softly, and without further word, he turns to step out of the tent, the sound of his footsteps quickly lost in the din of the refugee's camp.


Unable to mask the crease of dismay that encircles her eyes, Rowena extends a hand to accept the waterskin from Corriden. "Thank you." She whispers to them both, eyes lingering after Eden as he ducks out to fetch more. With meticulous care, she steadies the lantern upon a corner of the neighboring cot so that it casts a warm glow over Merielle's face and shoulders, fading as it reaches towards her waist. It was better.


Clutching the waterskin to her belly, Rowena steps over and around the excess cot to circle around to Merielle's other side. The trill's sad song continues to play in the camp.


Corriden Lomasa adds with a low grunt, "Is that enough light, my lady? I have another lantern tied to Cad's saddle." He murmurs softly. "I can always hold it."


Fael Mikin wanders into the makeshift encampment against the south wall of the keep from the direction of the Gatehouse. His tread is slow and his expression weary as his dark eyed gaze moves to and fro, seeking out familiar face after familiar face. Once cheerful, they are now tired and mournful as his own and each seems almost to physically strike him. Finally his eyes seek out the tent bearing his family sigil and he makes his way slowly in that direction.


As Fael wanders past, Umbrus lifts his boxy head and gives a chuff of a greeting before bowing again to continue grazing. The saddlebags bulge at his sides, but there is no furry form to peep from its contents.


"It may not be necessary." Rowena murmurs in reply to Corriden's offer, and kneels alongside her tools of the trade. She sets the water down into her lap for now, using both hands to fish from the shadowed depths of the bag a scrap of cloth, small shallow, bronze bowl, and a stone pestal. Back and forth she scoots from the extra cot, placing these and a few tiny packets of substances upon it.


Corriden Lomasa falls silent again, although part of him wants to offer comforting words, or even promises of assistance. He's not so great with that sort of thing anyways, and so for a change he sits like a quiet little good boy (maybe not so little) and watches.


Ashlynn is making a slow and circuitous path toward the southwest tower, her way forced into winding detours by the huddles of tents and people. While there is an almost fever-bright alertness to her gaze as it moves back and forth across the gray mass, her movements are dulled, weighed down by a fatigue as much of the mind as the body.


Eden Kahar comes striding back through the refugee tent-city from the direction of the Hall of Blades, hefting a bucket filled with cool, clear water in both hands. He notes Ashlynn as he nears the Mikin tent, and moves to join her with a quick nod of his head. "Are you alright, Mistress Birch?" he asks, with no small measure of concern.


These days have drawn more age to her once youthful features. Rowena's brow seems permanently creased with strain, her once supple lips now dry and cracked. Tiny residual bits of ash persistently cling to her throat, where sparse water has failed to clear it, causing an occasional cough. She would trade her ruined clothing for the fresh sets in her saddle bag later. But for now, the ragged appearance wouldn't offend those that share the same. Perhaps the only thing left to shine upon her figure is the Ring of the Stars.


The hollow tune of the trill lingers in her ears, demanding accompaniment. So she obliges. In the depths of her throat, ash rattles clear and gives way to a soft sound, hardly audible at first. The hum purrs through parted lips as she lets a thin stream of water trickle into the tiny bowl upon the brazier. Tendrils of translucent steam rise to dance before her eyes as she raises and lowers her quiet voice to the tune that rolls over the lawn.


Ashlynn responds only belatedly as she registers the use of her name, and she casts a sheepish smile toward Eden that fades almost as soon as it arises. "Yes, thank you, merely weary. And yourself?" she asks, pushing straggling strands of hair back behind an ear with a bracing breath before she notices the bucket he carries. "Is there anything that I can help with?" she asks with the rote feeling of something that had been repeated into near-incomprehensibility.


"Fine," Eden responds softly, though his own weariness is not to be missed, buried deep in his steely gaze. "The Horseman and I are assisting the Royal Healer as she tends to the Duchess we rescued from the ruins of West Bluff." He gestures to the Mikin tent, and then heads in that direction, still hefting the bucket. "Will you wish to depart soon on his Majesty's business?"


For a moment, the trill's song climbs to a swift peek of highly-pitched yearning for hope. Then slowly, it lilts and falters, tumbling back through a series of lower notes and into another darker tune. Rowena's voice fades, dying away as sizzling bubbles are reborn in her makeshift kettle. The water skin is set gently aside in favor of the herbal packets. Nimble fingers open each, lifting them to her nose for confirmation. Her eyes remain closed during this, having found that the nose grows more sensitive when sight is denied. Two of the packets are left to nestle in the tautly drawn fabric of her lap while the other's contents are emptied into the steamy bath. The dusky scent of sage wafts faintly into the air.


"I hope not, as I am just returned from such business." Ashlynn manages a thin smile, making an effort to appear more alert. Nodding faintly with a small frown, she murmurs, "Her Grace, Rowena Mikin?" as she catches sight of the tent, reaching out to brush aside the flap for him when they near.


"So there is no more worried to be carried forth? Then that is good... You look like you could use some true rest," Eden notes in response, ere nodding in acknowledgement of Ashlynn's latter question. Reaching the tent, he brushes aside the flap with one hand and steps within, holding it open for the courier even as he searches for a place to put the bucket of fresh water.


Much of the excess water boils quickly away in the shallow dish, leaving behind tiny bits of wilted leaves and a thin, yellowish oil. Rowena can feel the steam begin to clear her own throat as she glances routinely over her shoulder to monitor Merielle's stone-silent slumber. With a tiny, opal hairpin plucked from the cot, she scrapes the mushy remains of sage leaf out of the 'bowl' and flicks them to the ground. The scrap of cloth previously acquired is now used to guard her hand against the heat as she lifts the little fluid left behind away from the heat source. Carefully it is carried the short distance to Merielle's side.


Not a word is said to the new entries, as Rowena begins anew her throaty hum and cradles the other woman's head in her left hand. It is lifted just enough to be delicately braced against her hip while her fingers slip down her cheek to force open the slack jaw. This procedure was far easier with smaller children.


Corriden Lomasa sits up with a jerk, breaking free from his ponderous stupr. Suddenly alert, his eyes bug out for a moment, and opens the flap of the tent to talk to Eden. "What was Gell Mikin's sword made of?" He asks, voice still a low murmur so as to not disturb the healer.


A genuine chuckle manages to break free as they reach for the tent flaps at the same time, and Ashlynn nods her thanks even as she ducks inside, giving a single convulsive shiver at the relative warmth of the interior. "Everyone here, including yourself, looks like they could use a good rest. There is always more to do, but unless the missives are of the highest priority, yes, I am tempted to put it off for at least a few hours..." She trails off in deference to the duchess and the healer's work as she slips to the opposite side of the tent, nodding in greeting to Corriden.


Eden Kahar can only grin in tired agreement. "Aye... The time for sleep shall come," he says as he places the bucket down, out of the way.


Corriden Lomasa rubs at his scar self-consciously, nodding to Ashlynn. But then it's back to the thought he had, before it escapes him. He frowns over at Eden. "It hadn't occured before, but when Gell evaporated, I seem to recall his sword was untouched. Everything else on him.. And for that matter, anything that was hit, withered and evaporated. I even watched the white stone of Mikin hall turn to dust. So why is it that Gell's sword was completely unscathed?" He asks, insistently.


"In the west the sun doth set, while in the east it mightily shines..." While her index fingernail holds down the woman's tongue, Rowena's right hand tips the shallow vessel, enabling the droplets of sage oil to drip and slide from the back of Merielle's tongue, into her throat. "So turn your back 'gainst frightful dark...for morrow brings more glorious times." The act induces Mer to unconsciously swallow, drawing the concoction further into her ash-lined throat. With time and many more doses, the oil would help to clear the woman's airway to its original state.


Only when Merielle has swallowed all of it does Rowena gently place her head back onto the lumpy pillow, her low and soothing song dropping again to a quiet hum. Now as she steps to the heat for a second time, Rowena casts an investigative glance towards the newly arrived bucket and Ashlynn. Her lips offer a warm curl in greeting while her eyes mournfully glisten.


Ashlynn turns an initially puzzled look upon Corriden before a more contemplative mien overtakes her face, lips pressing into a thin line as she considers his words. "Did you notice if anything else in the buildings that were struck were spared? Metal, stone...?" she asks, voice soft beneath the lilting harmony being sung in the opposite corner. When the melody ceases, she glances up to meet the duchess' gaze, and bowing her head, the courier returns the smile with an equally sober one in greeting. "Your Grace."


Eden Kahar blinks, having somehow missed Corriden's earlier query. He glances between Ashlynn and Corriden, and then shrugs slightly. "I do not know, Horseman," he admits, before looking back to the courier. "And it was hard to tell up on West Bluff where we found the Duchess... much of the ruin was caused by the quake that toppled the towers," he says softly.


Corriden Lomasa looks back to Ashlynn, eyes flashing. "Nothing." He answers, genuine sorrow leaving traces in his voice. "I was the last living being out of there, and I'd been digging in the remains of the tavern in hope of recovering something. All I found was bodies from the earthquake who got buried in the ash when it came down. When something was hit, it was gone in nearly an instant. It seemed to just melt away, right before your eyes." The bladesman falls silent for a moment, before continuing. "That sword was untouched, I tell you. Was it made out of a rarer material that the buildings wouldn't have?" Once again, he's lost in thought.


"Good eve." Rowena greets in turn, her frame stooping before the brazier to pour more water into the dish. To ensure balance, her gaze is directed on the task at hand, torso leaned forward. Her pendant twirls to send sparkling light over the gloomy shadow. "If you reach ear of His Majesty before I," She continues to speak to Ashlynn while listening to the curious ponderings of Corriden, "Would you take care to inform him that I seek a spoken word with him alone?" A solemn mask returns slowly to her features, and her hand tilts the waterskin upright once more. "There is more to this tragedy than others know. A sister of the light has sent me to relay what I confessed unto her." Waiting for confirmation before she continues, Rowena keeps her chin bowed to her chest.


"Of course," Ashlynn responds, her brow creasing at the healer's ominous words. "Do you wish for me to relate the nature of what you will speak to him about?" To the two men she gives a distracted frown, absorbing their observations in silence while she focuses upon the conversation with Rowena for the moment.


Eden Kahar ponders in silence, though all he can offer is a helpless shrug of his armoured shoulders. "I do not know, Horseman... Perhaps there is another who does, though. His Majesty himself, perhaps." The young Captain then turns to regard the Royal Healer, brow twitching slightly at the mention of 'more to this tragedy than others know' -- an earlier conversation recalled -- before he lifts a fist to his mouth, clearing his throat politely. "One thing you should know, your Grace, is that were it not for the efforts of the Horseman here," he gestures at Corriden, "Your sister-in-law would surely lie dead, still under the fell creature's vigil in Light's Reach."


Corriden Lomasa rests his chin in an upturned palm. "Oh, that room with the glowing." He states, recalling a comment from the evacuation. "Yeah, that did sound like a bit of a mess. Explains where it came from at leas.. Also means there's probably only one, thank the light." At Eden's words he blinks at the man, as if he'd quite forgotten. "Eh? Well, you lead, Captain. We did what we could. Shame bout that pantry steward and all." He adds, soberly.


Weary citizens struggle to secure their refuges from the wiles of the storm that rages about the keep. Luckily the walls of the keep blunt most of the winds force, though small children cry anew with each crack of thunder and flash of lightning. Amidst the turmoil, Fael manages to find his way to the tent wherein lies the Duchess Merielle under the cautious care of the Royal Healer. As he stoops to enter the doorway, the wind gusts around him and water trickles down the silver metal of his armor. He pulls the flap tightly closed against the elements and look around slowly.


"Only if such is required to draw his attention." Rowena replies softly to Ashlynn, before turning her somber gaze on the soldiers. A frown folds over her lips as she lets the waterskin drop to rest against her bent knee. "Aye, our thanks is owed to ye. But please speak not of the 'mess', good sir. For those who did not see the queer wickedness within have little knowing, and rumors may be twisted anew."


A flash of lightning from outside strikes illumination over her wide-opened eyes as Fael enters, sharpening the angle of her nose and cheekbones to momentary fierceness. She offers the Marquis a nod before diligantly returning to her work, setting the bowl atop the heat again. "How do they fair?" She questions him breathlessly, afraid to hear reply of those she had to leave behind.


Ashlynn nods to the duchess, and then sucks in a sharp breath before she can stop herself at Corriden's words, her weight shifting restlessly from one foot to the other. "Room with the glowing...?" she asks with cautious intensity, her eyes focused solely upon the horseman now. "Explains where it came from?"


Ezekiel Crow strides into the makeshift encampment, his eyes curious as he sees this... refugee camp built. Four pikemen, each bearing the tabard of Moonspire Keep and House Nillu, march behind the ex-Bladesman. Blood soaks Ezekiel's clothing, his cobalt rapier bathed in the lifeblood as well. Searching amongst the tents, he seems to be looking for someone.


In the storm, horses snort and shake outside while the refugees huddle beneath many tents sprawled over the lawn. The trill player has ceased his music as thunder crashes. With each lightning flash, the shadows within the Mikin tent are vaguely illuminated.


Corriden Lomasa grunts, expression turning gruff. "We're owed no thanks unless she lives, if at all." He grouses, looking slightly cranky. "Nevermind all that. I'll keep my mouth shut, m'lady. I'm many things, but not a gossip... Not to mention people are scared enough."


Eden Kahar glances towards the newcomer, but remains standing within the shadows of the far side of the tent. He merely frowns at the mention of the 'mess', but says nothing as he is bidden. He glances at Corriden, however, with an expression of reproach. "Because of her Grace's skill and healing hand and your -own- efforts, Horseman, the Duchess' chances are greatly increased. So accept the thanks gracefully... the last thing that is needed here is more pessimism." Then, the young Captain moves, brushing past Fael with a muttered apology to venture out into the storm beyond.


Fael Mikin looks down at the injured form of the Duchess for a long moment, not even noticing that he has been spoken too and certainly not paying heed to the other voices in the tent. He glances up for a moment as the Bladesman steps past him, but looks back down again. Shaking himself from his thoughts he sighs softly. "They are as well as can be expected, Your Grace", he says with a sketch of a bow towards the Healer, the other in the room may as well not exist for the moment. "So.. the Marchioness managed to care for many of the most serious through the night and in the morning we arranged transportation to take the entire lot of them to WEdgecrest falls for the Interim."


Corriden Lomasa exhales, rubbing at his messy hair with a hand. "Ah.. I think I made him mad. I'm sorry, m'lady. What I mean is it's an honor to serve, and that I hope she does well under your care." The tall man murmurs, rousing himself. "...Well, I'm going to go see if there's anything River Turn can send to assist the refugees. I'll repeat my offer, though.. Any of you are welcome in the keep if you need a place for a bit. This rain plus so many people will shortly make a mud bog of this area.


Ezekiel Crow stops outside the perimeter of the Mikin tent, peering about the gathered nobles quietly. The four men behind him come to a stop and await further orders, Ezekiel himself spying Eden. "Captain?" He murmurs quietly, trying to get Eden's attention.


Ashlynn continues to look between Corriden and Rowena with an absent frown of contemplation before the continuing conversation and the subsequent move of people in and out of the tent shakes her from her thoughts. Blinking with the dazed look of someone who is internally chastising themself for thoughts that should have come earlier, she offers, "Your Grace, if it would help to have Duchess Merielle moved to an actual bed in a room out of the damp...?"


Eden Kahar blinks at the sound of a familiar voice, lifting a gauntleted hand to shield his eyes from the rain that is plastering his hair to his head. After a moment, he spots the man standing nearby, whom he turns to face. "Master Crow," he says in a tired but not unkind voice, "What brings you here?"


Rowena nods, dazed expression melting through the stoic mask she had fought to maintain. "Sophia's skills have grown. It pleases me to hear that she's done well." Silent for a moment, she opens another one of the packets and sprinkles the contents into the simmering water. A stimulating scent of mint begins to mingle with the previous scent of sage. "It would, yes." She nods at last to Ashlynn. "But first I wish to finish some initial measures of medicine here."


Fael Mikin nods towards the healer, but doesn't say anything he glances over at the apologetic bladesman next to him with a curious expression, then smiles faintly at the Imperial Courier, before expelling his breath in a long sigh. "It is", he says simply as his dark eyes continue to consider the unconscious form of his mother-in-law.


"I do not know if they have already filled what available rooms there are in the keep, but rather than displacing those within, I would offer my own room if it would help. It is relatively spacious, and contains a large bed as well as a bath. The only caveat is that there are several flights of stairs you would need to ascend." Nodding, Ashlynn begins to head toward the tent's exit to slip outside. "If it is agreeable with you, Your Grace, just let me know when you are ready. I will be right outside." To the marquis, she gives a small, weary smile and a nod of greeting before she ducks out into the rain.


Corriden Lomasa is outside then, thankful for the (vaguely) fresh air. He moves away a bit from the tent and others, staring up at the rainy sky. Before long his hair is wet and matted to his forehead, with the rain washing off some of the grime. Everything except the black scar, mind you. Like a hole where face should be, it remains singularly unaffected.


"Any space under a solid roof shall suffice." Rowena notes to Ashlynn as she passes. "The aid that those of Fastheld keep have offered thus far is already appreciated more than I can find words to express." When she has gone, Rowena listens to the hissing whispers of her bubbling concoction. Just as before, the water drifts away in rivers of steam while the wild mint extractions left behind grow more potent in their scent.


As the rain slows its drumming, and fog rolls into the landscape, peace returns to the encampment. Far off a dog barks to the three moons and that vigilant musician resumes his playing. The soothing notes carry frightened hearts to ease, urging tempered minds to relax and remember better days.


Rowena takes a moment away from her brewing to find the bucket of water that Eden had delivered for her. Dipping her hands inside, she splashes the cold water onto her face, rubbing at the sweat that had appeared. Letting the droplets linger on, snaking into the hollow of her throat, she bows into kneeling before the heat and closes her eyes. She would rest when she had finished her rounds. When her sister was safe indoors. Not now.


To be detached from scenes of hardship, death and strife is a learned program regimen for Shadowscourges in order to deal with what they will face on the fields of battle. However, this white-blonde servant of Holy Mother Church cannot help but be affected, if only albeit, to the atmosphere of the makeshift refugee camp. It isn't unlikely to presume that many of these families, nobles, and individuals were people that she knew in the past or has come to know in the present. As she steps, her head tilts to search the encampment, straying on a lost and bawling child, the solemn faces, the huddled bodies... Sister Laeria's sabatons sink into the ground, marring her boots to match her mood; her direction aimed to that of the Mikin tent.


Eden Kahar stands outside the tent, brooding amidst the slowing rain and gathering fog in silence. The downpour patters on his armour -- a monolithic throbbing of water on metal -- and occasionally he lifts a gauntleted hand to brush back the hair creeping down towards his eyes.


Ashlynn shudders with a soft hiss of surprise as she leaves the tent's interior, hunching her shoulders against the sudden chill and damp of the outdoors, having forgotten the external elements while standing under shelter near a fire, no matter how small. Tucking her hands beneath her arms, she paces a few steps back and forth before waiting patiently beside Eden, eyes periodically scanning the space between the keep and the south wall.


Fael Mikin falls into an uneasy silence as he silently observes Rowena tending to the injuries of the unconscious Duchess. His breath comes in slow, deep motions as though he forces himself to breath with each intake and then allows the air to escape in an uneasy sigh once again. His dark eyes slowly make their way from patient to healer, then towards the entrance of the tent and those standing outside, but his expression remains constant.


Sister Laeria Mikin's even steps, neither leisurely nor calculated, bring her around the side of the tent. The paladin's silhouette is illuminated in her passing before her actual tangible presence. Her usual tight summery curls are dulled and limp, hanging loosely about her neck and jawline, each spiral dripping watery droplets onto brassy armor. Spotting the familiar faces standing outside, she pauses and dips her chin in angled fashion to her collar. "Light Protect and Guide in these troubling days."


Eden Kahar glances to the courier who joins him outside, then back to the priestess making her way to the tent. He returns her greeting with a polite incline of his head, and a near-whispering of, "Lady Scourge." When he straightens, the tirdeness in the young Captain's eyes seems to have componded, though he remains straight-backed and otherwise of an alert mien.


"Rain...falls...." Rowena's soft hum begins anew to accompany the mournful echo of the trill's tune. She blinks her lashes apart to watch the derived oil form in the steaming dish. The steam has caused some of her tendrils to curl, slipping them loose from the crude braid that plaits down her back. They lay limply alongside her ashen cheeks. The glow of the heat reflects the glimmer of life in her eyes while her lips numbly form words of sorrowful tone. "'pon weary heads...the seasons change....brings life to land once dead. Sweet child..."


She delicately reaches with a pin to remove leafy residue from the finished product, her rings catching the lantern's glow that bounces off the bronze bowl. "...Fear not what lies behind...but think to days ahead..." As before, the croon of her voice trails into nothingness.


Ashlynn starts visibly at Laeria's words, her thoughts obviously having been elsewhere, and she turns to blink at the Scourge, her weariness momentarily brushed away by surprise. "Sister Laeria."


The blonde paladin's gaze slips away from the sight of Ashlynn and Eden, following the trail of tents and bedraggled people. There is nothing left but dreary shades of gray in what once were bluegreen eyes. Perhaps it's a long moment or maybe it simply feels like it, but when Laeria speaks again it is with a genuine invested interest. "What say you on the status here? How fare the people and the encampment?"


Corriden Lomasa opens his eyes after a while and moves back towards Eden, nodding to the Captain. "Sorry about back there." He states, quietly. "..It's hard to explain, so I'll leave it at that. You look awful, by the way.


Accompanied by Emmon and other members of the Imperial Guard, Emperor Talus Kahar makes his way through the roiling fog that shrouds the grounds that are crowded with refugee tents.


The ride had been long and arduous, especially on the back of a horse with Laeria. But after arriving they had parted ways, Moira going to the tent villages to speak with some there in hushed tones. Finding the refuges that were not to shaken up and sharing words with them before eventually wandering her way towards the Mikin tents where she had last caught sight of Laeria. Clanging her way in that direction, brass armour making quite a non-subtle noise the Scourge approaches. Several meters from the group Laeria is speaking with, Moira takes a step and suddenly falls over face first in to the ground, toppling over absolutely nothing.


A tent has been erected for the healer Rowena to work within, its entrance guarded by Mikin armsmen. Within, the duchess and marquis watch over Merielle Mikin, while just outside stand Eden and Ashlynn. Corriden and Laeria have just arrived to greet them as well.


Fael Mikin dark eyes shift towards Rowena once again, all but ignoring the conversation that transpires outside the tent as he leans forward to hear the faint words of the song or poem, whatever it may be. His expression softens momentarily at the sound, but soon enough the sounds of those outside invades his consciousness once again and the tentative ease fades once again from his face and posture.


"What can be said..." Eden hesitates a moment as he considers Laeria's question. Clearing his throat slightly, he beings anew. "What can be said, Lady Scourge, is that methinks the people of Light's Reach have found fairer solace and kinder reprieve here within the walls of Fastheld Keep than they would anywhere else. If you wondered, your brother is within," a hand gestures to the Mikin tent near to which he stands, "As does the Royal Healer, tending to her sister in law." The young Captain looks to the Horseman who rejoins their immediate company, opening his mouth to respond -- and then forgetting himself immediately at the clatter of armour. Eden turns, catches sight of the face-down Scourge, and quickly moves to assist her.


Ashlynn remains silent as Eden takes up the task of answering Laeria's question, her gaze wandering beyond the Scourge as she pays only half of her attention to a recounting of the state of affairs. The clank of armor as Moira approaches is only one amongst many wandering within the keep, but the gasps of surprise as the Scourge unexpectedly faceplants is not. Blinking in bare-faced surprise for a moment, she only belatedly follows after Eden to check on the woman's condition.


The Emperor and his small entourage make their way eventually to the tent where Rowena works. Talus nods to Ashlynn. "How is the Duchess?" he inquires. His own gaze drifts for a moment toward the toppled Scourge and an eyebrow lofts upward.


Laeria blinks, stilling her stature in place as if not wishing to turn her head to see the cause of the faceplanting squish. Slowly though, she tilts her head to regard the fallen Scourge. "Hail, Sister Moira. I see that you are light on your feet as ever." Then, she returns to the conversation at hand, finding it to take precedence. Yet there is no one there to speak with... Except the newly arrived Emperor. "Your Majesty." She dips one of her trademark acknowledgements of respect, chin low and angled to the left.


Sheltered from sights and fainter of sounds, Rowena is left to concentrate solely on her work. The workplace itself is far from healing, however. The recent rain has softened the ground beneath their feet and cots, creating muddy trails in the wake of those who move. Rowena's gown still bears filthy evidence of last night, though she's taken care to at least wash clean her hands and face. With her right hand bound in cloth, Rowena removes the bowl from the heated brazier and touches its base into the cool water bucket. Staring blankly through the thin cloud it produces, she is suddenly distracted by a familiar regality of a voice, muffled it may be.


Hurry...the gears of her inner mind press and so she obeys. In defiance to the stiffened muscles in her back and hips, the conscious Duchess straightens out from her stoop and moves to stand over her sister-in-law. A gentle thumb caresses back a graying wisp of hair from Merielle's motionless brow.


Corriden Lomasa figures Moira has enough help, so he instead clafs a fist to his breast in salute, bowing to the arriving emperor. Who's both younger and shorter than he'd imagined all these years. Ah well, no matter.


Sputtering there on the ground, Moira pushes up a bit to brush some dirt off her lips and shake her head. Gauntleted hands brace against the ground as she feels eyes upon her, getting up more fully with head still down she takes a deep breath and fires off in a quiet yet firm breath, "You act as if you've never seen a person trip before." Blinking as she realizes who she's staring at and blushing as red as her hair color. Hopefully, oh Light please let them not notice she just snapped at him. Shuffling a bit, Moira looks back and forth quickly to see if anyone heard.


Eden Kahar's own sable brows arch at Moira's words, and he declines to help her as he intended, stepping away to fall back into the company of the Horseman, courier, Scourge... and Emperor. "It's no matter," the young Captain murmers softly to Corriden, resuming their earlier conversation, before he lifts a fist in salute to Fastheld's liege, newcome to the area before the Mikin tent.


Some sound from the exterior of the tent makes its way through Fael's internal buffers and he glances towards the entrance for just a moment. "I do not know how long they can live like this", he whispers softly, moreso to himself than to the healer, betraying internal thought and concerns that fill his head, drowing out near to everything else in the wake of the cataclysmic events of the previous evening.


Ashlynn slows as she sees Eden ahead of her, then finally comes to a complete stop - and those who are discerning may notice that the reason for her abrupt halt may not be simply that someone else is already attempting to aid the scourge, no matter if such aid is unwelcomed. Expression unnaturally blank, she stares at Moira for a single heartbeat before she swallows stiffly and then uses the excuse of the emperor's arrival to turn away, releasing any lingering tension in a sigh before she smiles faintly and bows her head. "Your Majesty."


"I trust the Duchess is responding to the healer's treatments," the Emperor says, glancing toward the closed tent. He nods to Laeria, then turns toward the Bladesmen. He speaks to them in a voice lowered so as not to carry to the many refugees, but not quite a whisper. "Scouts returning from Light's Reach this night report that the town has been fully razed. Nothing stands. The eastern half of the hill has collapsed into a crater." His brow knits and he sighs. "It will be difficult to resettle such land. So, once these people are hale enough, you must be ready to relocate them to Southwatch."


Corriden Lomasa closes his eyes for a moment as he looks up at the Emperor, then nods. "The Duchess Rowena Mikin has been working on her for a few hours now, she could probably tell you more about it, your majesty. She had also mentioned that she had some news pertaining to this that she wished to speak to you about." He states. "...If River Turn can offer any supplies or assistance, by the way, I hope someone will let Arturo know." Southwatch.. Well, a bit of a ways to take so many refugees, but not unexpected. Corriden didn't think Light's Reach would be even remotely habitable. Not for years, decades.


Just as she fed Merielle the sage oil, Rowena scoots her hip alongside the Duchess's head and lifts it cautiously up to prop against her thigh. "Neither do I." She says in a childlike whisper to Fael's concerns, unwilling to let him see the fear in her eyes, and thus she keeps her gaze resting patiently over Mer.


Her left palm rest briefly over the clammy chill of the Merielle's brow before gliding over her cheek and cupping the chin firmly in her hand. With ease, Rowena again coaxes the slackened jaw apart to dribble the needed dose onto her tongue. "You will awaken in the morn..." She whispers softly, pleadingly. Unlike so many, could she awaken. Before she can order them away, the tears resurface to her lashes in memory of those lost. Of those that would be lost before this battle ended.


Eden Kahar's brow lowers at the Emperor's news, and he nods his head, slowly. "Yes, your Majesty," he adds after Corriden, "The Blades shall be readied for such movement. Is there anything else you wish me to see done in the meantime? We assisted the courier," he nods to Ashlynn, "In her duties, which went without trouble." Yet he falls into silence once more, and his sideways glance to the woman suggests he is letting her give the report, as would be suitable.


"The... entire town...?" Sister Laeria echoes to herself with a hint of disbelief wading through its tone, caught offguard by the thought that Light's Reach, the light of Fastheld, has been smothered out like a candle wick. It is a passing moment, however. There is nothing that can be done for what already is. At the mention of River Turn, the palading tips her view to Corriden and then back to the Emperor and those present. "If this action is acceptable, I will volunteer myself to personally send news to Arturo Lomasa." Nothing but mere business, edged. She goes further to state, "The Light Maiden and Sun's Keep have been informed. Couriers were dispatched with haste last eve. I trust in the Light that we will do what we must to protect Fastheld from the dark, but I confess that I fall short in understanding how exactly the Light's Chosen can fend off such monstrosities."


"The number wandering the roads have dropped tremendously," Ashlynn says quietly when Eden falls silent, passing a hand over her face as the momentary excitement and false energy drains away. "By now, people have either found shelter of one sort or another already, or fallen prey to...other circumstances. Every once in a while, though, groups will pop up, as they relocate. As for the stragglers who are still in too deep a state of shock to register their surroundings...well, they do not always keep to the roads. We can continue the search into the surrounding countryside shortly, if you wish."


Finishing brushing herself off Moira moves to stand near where Laeria is, moving a bit more carefully and listening as people talk, letting her green eyes turn to look at them whenever they speak. Reaching up to tuck some hair back behind her ear she speaks to herself but in a void loud enough to hear, "I wonder what happened to all the Wildlings after they fled..." The confusion in her voice sounds so innocent it hardly matches her face.


The Emperor's jaw clenches at Laeria's final words, and he fixes his burning gaze at the fog-shrouded ground for several long moments. Ultimately, though, he masters the emotions warring in his thoughts and lifts his chin, turning to nod at Laeria. His voice comes in a low growl, however, kept to those close around him. "Some things of the Shadow can only be fought *by* the Shadow. I recall saying something much like that a lifetime ago, when my wife yet lived and my Chancellor remained loyal and alive."


Corriden Lomasa looks as stunned and poleaxed as an oxen that just ran face-first into a stone wall at the sound of the Emperor's voice. He's not really a coward by nature, but damn if he doesn't do his best 'I am one with the scenery' impression then and there. This is not the bladesman you are looking for, no sir.


Oblivious to the words spoken and the revelation of the Emperor, Fael removes a gauntlet and places a comforting hand on Rowena's shoulder for a moment before dropping it to his side once again. "They are strong", he says, not speculating now, simply stating a fact for what it is. "I have more faith in them then I have in myself sometimes", he admits even more softly as his dark eyes fall on the features of the Duchess Merielle.


Sister Laeria Mikin is true Scourge through and through, and she is not deterred by the response that the Emperor makes. Not at all. "That, I have no faith in." She returns with emphasis of conviction, yet also an air of formal indifference - as if this were a lost cause to be argue about. "Respectfully, it is better to die with a conscious clean of soot, than one heavy and weighted with taint. To think or believe otherwise, is simple blashphemy. The Light does not dim to anyone nor anything. It is Absolute. We must stand firm in that."


Moira screams loudly, the words seeming to assault her personally as her hand reaches down to the whip at her side, the weapon that her namesake in duty is derived from and in a smooth flowing motion she has it unfastened, the long cord unravelling. A flick of the wrist sends the tip flying towards the blasphemous Emperor, speaking of the Shadow as an ally!


Of course, this all happens within Moira's mind as she blinks her green eyes a second time in pure shock at what the Emperor said but maintains an impassive facial expression, hands only clenching a bit before she turns to Laeria and nods her confirmation. "Only unwavering dilligence can see through the darkness. You cannot defeat darkness with more darkness, only with illumination will it be pushed back." The words are spoken towards Laeria but are meant for other ears.


Eden Kahar maintains his own stony silence, listening to the Emperor and Scourges speak of matter in which he has far less acumen or knowledge. There is one thing he does know of, however, and he address Moira in a low, somewhat flat, but otherwise plain tone. "Have the grace to show a little respect before your liege, Scourge."


The faint rattle of ash in Merielle's throat is the only reassurance able to be offered to Rowena at this time. She still breathed. Taking this fact as a small but important accomplishment, Rowena slowly eases the woman's head back onto the crude pillow and slides her own form off the cot and around Fael. "Faith has not kept the bodies from failing. As strongly as we hold it in our hearts...it has not." The dish is dipped into the bucket once more to cleanse it, then tucked safely away into her satchel. That was all the treatment to be had until she could be either relocated or awakened.


Very slowly, the words from those outside begin to filter back into her ears. Her hands feel their way into her other pack and fall over the clean softness of her tunic and trousers. Could she risk a swift garment change here? Her wary eyes scroll along the tent's walls, able to see shadows outside with the lantern's aid. Which meant of course that those shadows could see just as well inside. No. Abandoning the idea of losing her hearth-scented gown, Rowena stands to face the tent flaps. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she registers that the trill player has ceased playing his music, but to that she pays no thought. Instead, she steps forward and pulls the flap open just enough to let her slender frame stands again in open, frigid air. She says nothing, only watches the hardened faces with an emotionless glaze run over her features.


Ashlynn's eyes close as soon as the emperor's expression turns, and she holds her breath until his last word before she finally releases the air and reminds quietly, as much for distraction as hope of other news, "The Duchess Rowena has requested a moment with you, Your Majesty. She says she has news that bears upon the creature - and, perhaps, of its origin." At the two scourges' words, she stiffens noticeably, her voice flinty as she says, "Perhaps next time Lord Fael can offer himself in place of the next poor bastard that is brought down by a Wildling asking for a 'She' you still cannot identify, sitting and praying in your temples. And I do not fear that I am so weak that a mere exchange of words with a Wildling would taint me irreparably."


The Emperor chuckles darkly. "Then perhaps I shall give you leave to dwell outside the Aegis - raised by Shadow magic. The Crown would so dearly hate to have good Scourges feeling conflicted with the *taint* of such protection." His eyes narrow, and he concludes, "Send word to your masters at Sun Keep: The Emperor will come to them soon. We will talk of many things, chief among them the wisdom of continuing to blind our eyes by staring at the *sun* even while a creature of darkness threatens to destroy our realm piecemeal." He gestures to the expanse of tents on the grounds. "First Light's Reach. How many more towns must fall?" He shakes his head, then looks toward Rowena peering out of the tent. He motions for her to follow and then stalks off toward the east, followed by his guards.


Corriden Lomasa states very softly to the scourges, "Won't do us much good to be high and mighty when it'd take that thing a few days to cook the rest of the place." His voice is rough and raw with emotion, although his outward expression is a placid, calm one, as he watches the emperor go.


The steward of Wedgecrest makes his way slowly along the wall of Fastheld keep, though this night he is with a certain black haired grumbling foul-mooded companion. Vhramis seems to be doing an admirable job of ignoring the flood of general complains and sour comments, though by the look of barely withheld impatience on his face, it looks like he's well past the point of beginning to wear down.


Sister Laeria does not lower to standards of threats and emotion, instead she remains neutrality reinforced. "It may be safer to be without than it is to be within, as Faith has surely come to be a dulled flame here. Thus, I and Sun's Keep would be honored for your visit." Even though he's already leaving, she does bow her head in courtesy. Yet it's Ashlynn's barbed words that strike a very raw and harsh tone. Obviously it comes when she uses Fael in her example.


"Hold your tongue, courier. I do not see you offering answers to these questions, so do not place frivolous blame on the Church for your lack and frustration." Sharp as edged glass, and eyes of tempest. "Come, Sister. We will leave the wavering; mayhap once the trauma has cleared from their minds they will again see the Light." With that, she too departs.


Moira listens to the Emperor 'threaten' to throw her outside of the Aegis and simply stares blankly. The words of Eden capture her ears but those are also ignored, perhaps for good reason in her mind but what Corriden says, whispering so closely to them catches her attention and she turns to glare at him fully, taking a step forward and looking up at his great height to her short stature.


"What is the point of life if one must sell their soul to attain it?" She takes another step forward until the front of her mail is bumped up against Corriden, eyes ablaze and hand twitching as she glares at him before taking a half-step back. "Indeed Sister. Although I do need to speak to a woman who might be found near here, a Birch I believe is the name the now passed Surrector gave me. A courier."


Corriden Lomasa stands and watches the two scourges, frowning. "...The church is supposed to look out for us spiritually, nobody's arguing that.. Nor the wickedness of the shadow." the man states, softly, looking at Moira with sad eyes. "But how many more have to die, for the sake of lofty ideals? Nobody's saying we're going to be having tea with them afterwards. So if you want to commit suicide for the sake of propriety, you go right on ahead. It will merely prove that mankind is the single greatest murderer of it's own posterity."


"...hasn't mucked the flaming horse stables for the past week. I've had to get replacements to do it. Light, I'm thinking about shoving his face into some of the steaming piles if I catch him doing his slacking in person..." The black-haired man mutters.

"Trayson..." Vhramis says with a carefully neutral voice.

"And then that watch sergeant spends more time smoking his pipe than actually 'watching' as the name would suggest. He'll find it's difficult smoking when he's hanging by his feet over the side of the wall."

"/Trayson.../" Vhramis repeats, tone breaking.

"Then there's that tramp of a cook we've got there, spends all her time flirting instead of pounding flat dough to make more bread. Though, if you ask me, some pounding wouldn't..."

"/Trayson!/" Vhramis shouts, losing his patience and turning about to snap at the Leiutenant.

Trayson blinks in response before clamming up, and the pair begin to walk again towards the group.


Eden Kahar bows to the Emperor as he departs, and then slowly turns to stare at Moira. He lifts his heavy gaze, still weighed down by weariness, to look towards the noble-born priestess, however, and calls out to Laeria as she strides off. "Lady Scourge!" His voice is neither harsh nor demanding, but more a little sad. "One thing I would ask of you myself, if you have a moment ere you leave."


"And thus, you will no longer address the issue, finding it too painful for contemplation, do you? Your fellow Sister there certainly did not consider it when she nearly ended Vhramis' life with her thoughtless rigmarole!" Exhausted, after a tumultuous week, Ashlynn seems barely aware of the words she flings after the scourges. "And if I *do* have the answer, would you then denounce it because it did not come from the Church and thus, *your* only one true source of Light?" Almost, almost she misses that mention of her own name, but reflex turns her head to Moira and she gasps, "What...?"


Rowena steals a glance past the others to Laeria, familiar with the tsk-tsk His Majesty had just received. At least she wasn't alone in that. Could Alieron see now the tension he began? Ducking her head back inside for a brief moment, she snatches up her cloak. "Send for me if her condition shifts." She orders Fael hurriedly, then whirls her muddied cloak about her shoulders and pushes aside the flaps. "And keep Umbrus in this yard!"


A hop and stumble later, she's hustling to catch up to Talus's stalking pace. Her dampened gown makes this a mite difficult, as it clings like molten lead to her ankles. Umbrus lifts his weary head from his grazing to stare, perplexed as his mistress walks away...without him. Whinnying softly in dejection, the one-eared horse plods after her intently on his skinny legs. His white starburst acts as a beacon on his otherwise ebony coat.


Talus Kahar stops on the verge of the encampment, well out of earshot of the tents and the refugees gathered around and within them. Then he turns toward Rowena and says, "I am told you had news of this ravager - the creature that destroyed Light's Reach. Something beyond what the Crown already knows?"


"As...as far as I know, it has not been told before the crown." Rowena murmurs, resisting the urge to slink beneath his stare. Her fingers toy absently with the frayed edges of her cloak while she freezes her eyes forward in contact. "Alieron at first wished to keep news of our finding silent to avoid public panic..." A cold smirk crosses her lips and she rolls her eyes skyward. "As hideously appropriate as that may seem." Closing her lashes together for a moment, she purses her lips in readiment, then states "I later brought the details to our town priest, Orelnon Mikin, regardless. He vowed to research the matter, to investigate, to bring it before the Church. But since then I've heard nothing...until last night." Before she dives into the twisted tale, Rowena pauses to permit Talus any questions.


The Emperor seems content merely to listen as the tale unravels along with the tendrils of fog around his ankles.


"Our miners came to him with fear in their eyes, telling him of something they believed to be shadow-touched. While working, one of them must have collapsed a section of the tunnel wall. It revealed a chamber of sorts. Naturally, Alieron wished to investigate it for himself, as proper. With him, he took Sophia and I, his guards, our head forester, and the Constable Varal Mikin."


Bowing her head for a moment, she releases a shuddering sigh at the visions she must bring forth in her memory. "What we found my words can hardly described, your Highness. I supposed it to be a tomb, for ancient dead were buried in the room. But not as we put to rest our fallen. They were embedded in the walls, upright, as though they may walk again. And those walls...they glowed. Pulsed with a steady, saphire glow." Her voice cracks, bringing her to pause.


The Emperor's brow grows more furrowed as the story progress, his jaw clenches, and then, as Rowena finishes speaking of the glowing walls beneath Light's Reach, he demands: "How long ago? *When* did Alieron learn of this place?"


Flinching softly at the potential rage she knows to exist, Rowena presses her palms together before her belly and squeezes them tightly. "Before the season grew fully warm...a few months ago, perhaps. And there's more to tell that I'm afraid that solidifies the belief Sister Laeria and I hold that this beast erupted from the bowels of grounds we once ran across as children."


The Emperor just stares for several moments at the healer, shellshocked. His mouth falls open. Eventually, he manages to find the word: "Months?" He looks up at the moons waxing in the sky, then closes his eyes and shakes his head. Reopening his eyes, he gazes once more at Rowena. "Go on," he mutters.


Umbrus, meanwhile, has meandered his way towards Rowena's retreated form, flaring his nostrils to sniff curiously at the air. Rowena pays the sound of jingling reins no heed and continues her story as ordered.


"In the room's center there was an...an obelisk engraved with symbols I've never before seen. And it flickered with green flame." Lifting her hands to pull her cloak around her form tighter still, she can't quell the bristles that prickle along her nape. "But perhaps the most unnerving thing we bore witness to was the door. An archway reached from ceiling to floor. We could not see inside because of the darkness within...it was as though the light in the room failed to penetrate it. As though it feared to touch it...or was commanded not to."


Biting hard upon her tongue to resist the trembling in her chin, Rowena pauses to catch her failing breath. The past twenty-four hours had taken a greater toll on her emotions and body than she had permitted herself to feel. But now, knowing the wrath that stood so calmly before her, feeling in wrong the guilt of failed responsibilities not designated to her, the Duchess begins to question her own stability. Thus, the sudden nudge of Umbrus's muzzle against her shoulder is welcomed. She leans against the beast's shoulder and looks woefully to Talus with bitterness in her own tone.


"That is all I remember, for Alieron then commanded us out of the mine...he tried sealing it off. He was afraid, we all were. But the Church had promised to seek answers. In them I had placed trust." She whispers with a humbled bow of her head. "For that I am sorry."


So many ways to respond to this news, coming as it does after so many dark tidings - from the death of the Empress to the fall of Alieron Mikin to the razing of Light's Reach. The bitter profits of missed opportunity. Talus Kahar just stares silently at Rowena, then his gaze takes in the clustered refugees in the encampment. "Sorrow," he finally says aloud, "seems our most bountiful harvest this season." A grim scowl commands his features, and then he turns without another word and stalks away, followed by his guards.


Rowena keeps her face forward until the Emperor disappeared into the fog. Slowly, she turns her face to be buried into the horse's mane, arms encircling its sturdy neck. A muffled sob chokes forth, alone in the sound as the other noises to follow are far more silenced by her clenching throat. "It's gone....it's been broken and it shall never return." Umbrus just stands there in place, swishing his tail to and fro while the human decides what she wants to do. He offers a blown snort of comfort into her hair, then turns his neck gracefully to gaze at the keep. Rowena sniffs back a second cry and releases her hold to stare at her hands. The cerulean stone winks back at her, shrouded by the rising fog. "Where is your strength and comfort now?" She murmurs to the stone, then sags weakly back against Umbrus's side. She needed sustenance.


Return to Season 2 (2004)

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