Receiving Hall The eye-catching centerpiece of this brightly lit receiving hall, beneath a gleaming crystal chandelier, is a large black marble sculpture of a sinuous mongoose with bushy tail and snarling snout in the middle of hurling itself at a vicious-looking bushdragon with flaring rills and slashing claws.

Archways lead into the dining hall and ballroom, while double biinwood doors engraved with the letters HM mark the entrance to the keep's mastery. A spiral staircase leads up to the private quarters.

Though the afternoon is bitterly cold and the air stagnant the soft and fragrant aroma of lavendar wafts gently about the petite Contessa as she moves back and forth in front of the stairs. Sophia seems to be in deep thought though a warm and tender smile plays upon her rosebud lips.

Shelis stares impassively at its surroundings.

Cold, indeed! The sound of voices and jingling armor and stomping boots drifts in from just outside, and a few seconds later, the doors are shoved open by a woman huddled beneath her cloak. Rowena lifts her head, hands gathering the fabric over her middle more tightly while a few chilly guards feed in behind her. "Sophia!" She smiles immediately to the pacing little love bird.

Sophia Mikin turns about just before entering the receiving room. At once a warm and generous smile forms upon her mouth. "Rowena, Auntie good afternoon to you." There seems to be a flush of color upon her pale cheeks as her eyes brighten with hidden joy. "You look.." From head to toe her blue gaze drifts then widens in a bit of concealed shock. "Different."

Rowena's eyes crease with a somewhat sheepish smile and she slowly lets the cloak slip free from her grasp to reveal the entirity of the change. "Aye, there was word of a trip to the mines...although after Likan's death, I am not certain that we will continue on."

Sophia Mikin nods her head as she moves closer towards you. "Do be careful when you go Rowena. I do not wish any harm to come to you, not at all." She tells you with a gentle tone to her dainty sounding voice. "Oh, worry not on that, my dear." Rowena chuckles softly, and lifts a hand to fix what the wind had done to her hair. "I shall let the men enter first." Winking, she steps forward to further clear the entry way. She removes her cloak and hands it to an approaching servant, bowing her head in thanks. "Has your father yet roused from his business?" She questions.

Sophia Mikin shakes her head as she folds her small hands in front of herself. "No, no I haven't seen Poppa and I wish to speak with him about a personal matter." She replies quietly. "I know that you were approached as well Rowena for Varal told me so."

Coming down the spiral staircase at a slow ponderous walk is Alieron, as he speaks with a servant about something, nodding a bit, and giving some order. The servant bows, and walks off as Alieron reaches the landing. His eyes flick toward Sophia, and Rowena. Shelis the cat prods in, perking up as it had been laying on a bench.

Oh! Masking her sly smile with a turn of her head, Rowena folds her hands behind her back, standing straight and gallant, further completing the look of her mannish attire. "Then he is an honest man, is he not?" Rowena replies to her niece, then quiets instantly as Alieron descends the staircase. "Good afternoon." She greets him.

Alieron Mikin nods slowly, "I am not even ready to go off for the caves, Rowena, I must go up to prepare. Do you have some of the necessary equipment?" He clears his throat, "I wanted to see who had gathered here to come with us."

Almost hurried footsteps, steel boots against the floor, announce the arrival of another man. Independent from the footsteps is the soft clank of the haft of a halberd. Varal stops a moment, scanning the Receiving Hall, noticing Alieron and Rowena, heading in that direction. He stops again and bows. "Y'Graces, I hope I am not late."

"I brought only myself and my own supplies." Rowena answers with the smallest of shrugs. "For I myself have no need to enter the mines, and thus I never pur-" Turning her head to Varal, Rowena offers a smile and bob of her head. "Nay, we are not yet ready."

Alieron Mikin glances over at Varal, "Nay, I am not ready. I must go upstairs to change my clothing."

Varal Mikin looks down at himself. He makes a soft, thoughtful noise. "I only brought my weapons and armor, mayhap I should have been more thoughtful." He smiles slightly. "But should we run into trouble, I'm well prepared."

"Lanterns will be easy enough to find." Rowena notes, and glances to the Duke. "What else are we needing? Surely we are not intending to chip anything from the mine?" She questions, having no intentions of doing such strenuous labor.

Alieron Mikin shakes his head, "I do not think we will have to. All I have heard is that there is a major discovery in the mines, and I am ill to speak now that it scared the miners who discovered it. They are now under watch by Ducal Guard as not to run off anywhere to speak of what they saw...." He glances over at Varal, "I ordered some of our best Ducal Guard to guard the area, and ordered that mining stop immediately."

Varal Mikin nods to Alieron. "Of course, Y'Grace. I merely like to think of my armor as working clothes. Hopefully there won't be an underground river or the like." He smiles tightly. "And it's my duty to be paranoid. An underground cave has the potential of leading to somewhere outside the Aegis as far as I know, unlikely as it may be."

Rowena's complexion pales some, her head tipping to regard Alieron with a wary stare. "You wish to see first-hand for yourself something that frightened some of the roughest-hearted of men?" She questions. "I do hope it was not a nest of the parasitic insects..."

Alieron Mikin shakes his head toward Rowena, gulping slightly as he lowers his voice "When questioned they simply said it was an "evil place", though no creatures were mentioned." He glances back up the steps, "I need to go get ready now, I will be right back down."

"Duchess, I think if it were parasitic insects we wouldn't have frightened miners, but something rather worse," Varal says carefully. He frowns at the mention of an 'evil place'. "Perhaps we ought to bring someone from the Mother Church if 'tis evil. While not necessarily threatening, it does not bode well."

Not as comforted by those words as she would have preferred, Rowena exchanges a glance with Varal. "If it is the silverwyrm, they would have gone mad by now. At least we can assume it is not that." She pauses, nodding for Alieron to finish his own preparations. "Perhaps it is only 'evil' in the sense of human superstition. I shall see to it that Umbrus is ready." She murmurs, and turns to exit while gesturing for a servant to fetch her cloak.

Alieron Mikin nods slowly, "Do not speak of this to any one, all the guards have been given a strict order of secrecy." He turns, beginning to step up the stairs. Alieron Mikin heads into Private Quarters.

Varal Mikin gives the departing form of Alieron an affirmative nod, then grimace at Rowena. "That does not sound pleasant, Duchess. Superstition can be weak, or it can be powerful. One never knows the true power of the object, especially if the Shadow has been wrought upon it."

"Then let us pray it is not that." Rowena replies, arching a single brow to him over her shoulder and draping her cloak into place. In silence, she leaves.

As Alieron comes out into the courtyard, he mounts his already prepared horse. He glances back at his own Ducal Guard, whom are mounting their horses that had been brought out by a couple of stableboys, and then holds up a hand as he leads his horse toward the exit to the keep.

Rowena rides Umbrus slowly from the stables. She had settled into a side-saddle position when realizing that she did have more mobility. Slipping into adventurous mode with a swift glance around, Rowena tentatively secures her right foot into a stirrup, and slides her left leg up and over the horse's back, straddling the saddle as would a man. Strange, this. was much easier to balance! Her lower lip catches in her teeth as she looks over the faces of the passing guard for signs of horror. Finding none, she draws her cloak over her sides and nudges Umbrus into a faster walk towards Varal and Alieron. Bump..bump..bump. Wondering if she would later regret this stance, she clears her throat. "Is it time?"

From Fettier's saddle, Varal Mikin quickly becomes settled. He looks about, wheeling his horse towards Rowena. "Careful, Duchess," he says softly. "And, yes, I believe we are to ride now." With one hand on the reigns, he rests his halberd in his lap, the other hand keeping it from going anywhere he wouldn't want it to go. Alieron Mikin leads his horse out of the keep, the Ducal Guards trotting behind him

Forest Patches of green moss grow on the trunks of shardwood trees that stand along a barely discernible path that winds through the woods. Insects buzz in the verdant shadows.

Rowena clenches her teeth as the young Umbrus races eagerly down after Zalor. Her heels brace in the stirrups, her face doing its best to conceal her startled expression as her rump thuds mercilessly into the saddle. Finally! As the slope touches to flattened earth, Rowena pulls her weight into the reins, slowing the horse considerably so that she may take a rest while they pick carefully between the trees. Her eyes warily watch the sides of the path, the first-emerged insects rasping in the breeze. Umbrus snorts a cloud of breath into the air, followed by a tinier puff from between Rowena's lips as she sighs.

From Zalor's saddle, The entourage rides downhill from East Bluff, into the forest, and among the shardwood trees where the entrance to the cave is in the bluff. These forests are very familiar to most foresters, some Ducal Guard, and some of Light's Reach who choose to work in them. Many miners had tread to the mine daily here at the foot of the bluff. Alieron rides toward the entrance to the cave, which has been flanked by two Ducal Guard.

From Zalor's saddle, While the actual entrance to the cave is flanked by two Ducal Guards, there are about ten other Ducal Guards around the entrance in addition to the ones following the entourage.

From Fettier's saddle, Varal Mikin Varal is a moment behind the entourage, making himself almost a rear guard of sorts. He quickly catches up, turning Fettier sideways to expedite the stopping process. "So this is the mine," he says softly to himself, for no one's benefit but his own.

From Zalor's saddle, Alieron Mikin nods slowly toward Varal, reigning his horse in as he prepares to dismount, "Yes, Varal. You surely would have been here before, for most of Light's Reach have at least seen the edge of the forests." He prepares to dismount his horse, and does so. He rubs his hands together after dismounting, then places his hands on his hips, gazing at the Ducal Guard. "Alright men, do we have Ducal Guard in the cave, is it safe to go into?" The Ducal Guard nearby nods, "Yes, sir, but the men will not even near the entrance to the place inside it without you here first, but they are waiting."

From Zalor's saddle, An entourage of twenty Ducal Guards are still on their horses, behind where Varal, Rowena, and Alieron wait at the entrance to the cave in the side of the bluff. Ten Ducal Guard stand around the cave, with two flanking it. Alieron has dismounted his horse, and is speaking with a guardsman,

Rowena walks Umbrus as close to the entrance as she can get, then stops. Muttering something in the secrecy that rustling leaves and forest buzz offer, Rowena looks to either of her feet. Which way? Choosing to keep her right foot braced, she leans cautiously to the side and draws her left heel towards her body while her arms hug at Umbrus' neck. Perplexed, the horse turns his head to blink dumbly at her. Her face is flushed by the time she's tugged her leg over the side, and now her entire weight is precariously balanced on Umbrus' right. Oof! As ungraceful as the first time she ever rode a horse, some years ago, Rowena skip-hops, and lands heavily on her feet. Well...that was considerably much more effort than a simple side-saddle dismount! Her palms brush a cloud of dirt from her knees, and then untangle her cloak. How did the men manage to do this with ease?

From Aseli's saddle, Galloping full speed down the hill Sophie races to catch up with the entourage of riders. A long black braid bounces upon one shoulder as her small body leans forward with gloved hands holding tightly upon the reins. As the wind wipes across her face, the Contessa blue eyes catches the sight of horses and it then she slows down out of breath with flushed cheeks. "Poppa! Wait! I want to come. I want to come with you all." Her blue gaze flicker towards Varal and a rather wide grin appears.

Varal Mikin places the haft of his halberd into the dirt, a hand on his saddle, and pushes himself, armor and all, off of the saddle, landing on his feet with a slight off. He drops into a crouch from all the weight, but quickly rises to his full height and offers a smile to Alieron. At Sophia's shouting, he turns and offers her a curious gaze, and a surreptitious smile. Unlike the others standing around in reaction to Sophia's rush down the hill, mostly smiles, he himself frowns deeply as he watches his daughter descend the hill. Heaving a deep sigh, he clears his throat, and in a wide yelling voice says "What are YOU doing, Sophia!" He gives Rowena a "look", and then places his hands on his hips once again.

From Aseli's saddle, Sophia Mikin knows Alieron is not going to be too pleased that is precious daughter is here, but nether the less Sophia wants to come along and feels she needs to come along to prove that she isn't a fragile porcelain doll that belongs upon the safely of a polished shelf, but heir to Light's Reach! As the Duke yells up at his rather insistent daughter Sophie begins to dismount from her mare. "Please Poppa, I wanted to come. Please don't make me return back to the Keep. After all..." She looks to Rowena masking a grin. "Rowena gets to come." Sophia's eyes flicker back to Alieron. "I need to be a part of things if you wish me to grow stronger both in will, mind and body. Please Poppa?" The petite Contessa's voice is soft, melodic and extreme insistent.

Oh, dear. Recovered, Rowena turns in full to witness the young heir hurry in behind. Her lips curl instinctively into a smile, but as she glances to Alieron to watch his expression, her mouth quickly forms a straight line. Her head twitches with a little shake as if to say 'it wasn't me', then she steps around the guards in a weave towards Sophia. "There are things within this cave that may not suit your eyes..." She warns, but the hidden mirth contained in her eyes does not quite match her tone as she examines her niece's wardrobe. She recognized those clothes, as she'd left them here last spring.

Sophia Mikin dismounts from Aseli.

"She is a Mikin lady, Y'Grace," Varal notes softly, just loud enough for Rowena and Alieron's ears. "It is inevitable that she will be, um, headstrong and difficult at times, if you will excuse the terms." He smiles slightly, stifling a chuckle.

Alieron Mikin shakes his head slowly, giving one of those sideways glances at Varal that express "I know but don’t even state it". He flicks his eyes toward Sophia, pointing his finger back up the hill, as he moves quickly toward her, "Back up that hill young lady, NOW!."

Sophia Mikin keeps her place safe next to her horse with the reins clutched within her gloved hands. "Poppa.." She starts her well-practice recitation of why she should be here. "I am your heir and as such how will I learn to govern Light's Reach one day if you are constantly treating me as if I am a child. I know you love me and I know you sent me away to keep me safe, but I am no longer a child, I am a woman full grown. Please Poppa, please let me stay. Will you not allow me to mature so I can make you proud of me? Will you not let me come? I need to do this for myself, to prove I am that I am your daughter not just in name but also in blood. Mikin women are strong willed and intelligent not just ornaments on a man's arm for show. Please Poppa I will do as you request.." She motions towards the direction of the cave. "In there...please Poppa, don't make go back."

Varal Mikin shifts his weight onto his halberd, watching Alieron and Sophia with a lazy attempt at veiled amusement. After the Contessa's recitation of her being here, the Captain's eyes move over to the Duke. After a brief moment, he quickly moves himself into a more proper and rigid position, befitting of a Captain.

In awe of Sophia's transformation, Rowena shakes her head into a look of wonderment. "Sophia.." Rowena begins, extending a hand not to hold her back but to instead study the sleeve of the ruffled blouse between fingertips. Aye, this was most definitely hers. She looks to the trousers next in amusement as Sophia continues her plea. Oh, it was only just more than a decade (or two) ago that Rowena paled her mother's face with the same knack for mischief. For years, she'd chased after the young prince, Serath, through the field during the day, then plagued Orell with her pestering at night.

While her turned back shelters a pained grin from Alieron's protective watch, the Duchess pats Sophia's arm. "Sophia, this truly is a dangerous place. So much, in fact, that the miners have fled its interior after what I can assume to be a gruesome discovery, now wouldn't want your father to flay me alive now, would you?" She dips a brow in steady gaze to the heiress.

Alieron Mikin sighs deeply, his hands on his hips, as he glances over to Rowena, and then looks upon Sophia with some scolding. Then, for a moment, some revelation seems to fall upon him. He clears his throat, glancing at the guardsman, and his face takes on a different look. He steps up to his daughter, placing on the leg forward as he talks, "My daughter, you are to be heir of Light's Reach, you are correct. As I have no other heir, you do need be trained beyond how a normal noblewoman is trained. You may come with us, but only so far as I allow, and you will be under the watch of Ducal Guard at all times. Do you understand me?" He gives her a stern look now.

Sophia Mikin is pretty well embarrassed for scouring Rowena's trunk looking for 'cave exploring' garb, but she couldn't well wear silks in the caverns now could she? With her eyes lowered she waits for Alieron's decision all the while tugging upon the long braid handing over her left shoulder. Then a noticeable expression of joy and relief spreads upon her face. At once her eyes snap up to look upon her father's face. "I shall do exactly as you wish me to do Poppa. I shall make sure I stay in the protective perimeter of the Lord Captain and the Ducal Guards." Sophia states with a gentle lifting of her chin; her blue gaze flickers to Varal then to Rowena.

"Do not worry, Y'Grace. I'll keep an eye on her," Varal says in a professional tone, trying to keep anything *other* sentiments besides simply doing his duty from entering the Duke's mind. "She won't see any more than Y'Grace desires." He takes a couple steps towards the Contessa as if to punctuate his words.

From Firelight's saddle, Fionnlagh comes down the hill at a fast gallop from the keep beyond, the massive white form of Snowshadow keeping pace at his side with a ground-eating lope.

In a group near the cave is Alieron, Sophia, Varal, and Rowena. Twenty Ducal Guard are in the process of dismounting, and securing their horses while ten other Ducal Guard stand around the cave entrance in the side of the bluff along with two that are flanking it.

Rowena's posture relaxes some in her unceremonious garb, and she flicks a glance to Varal before landing a nod and meaningful smile to Sophia. Oh, her influence would live in the Mikin line beyond her time, it seems. Sobering her thoughts again, the woman crunches through leaf and brush away from Alieron, Varal, and Sophia, and towards the cave. The sound of another approaching horse catches her ear, but she does not interrupt her pace to identify the rider this time. Instead, she reaches into Umbrus' packs to remove her supplies.

Sophia Mikin bites down upon her lower lip as she hands the reins of her mare to one of the guards. There is an extreme look of pride upon the Contessa's delicate features as Sophia adjusts her cloak and plucks at the side of her breeches hoping that garment doesn't show too much of the outline of her slender legs for that wouldn't be proper, not at all. As the rider approaches Sophia's crystal blue gaze sweeps up to view Fionnlagh as she has not met this person before.

Two more foresters come from the direction of the forest itself, appearing at the edge of the trees and riding to join Fionnlagh. One old, one young....father and son clearly, and both possessed of massive birch longbows. Fionnlagh himself bears a new bow, for those who haven't seen him recently, a recurve of extinct white steelwood, inlaid with silver and set with a glowing light's eye in the central grip. Clearly of both great age and great manufacture, it is also clearly very well cared for. A much more common quarterstaff is with him as well, rough but serviceable. He slides from his mount as he approaches the nobility, offering a general bow to the group at large. "Light's greetings, my lords and ladies. I trust we are not late in arriving?" For its part, the white wolf simply stands regally, its fur gleaming in the light.

"Master Forester," Varal politely greets Fionnlaugh, nodding. "The axes await your perusal, of course," he adds. His eyes flick over the gathered assembly, and he frowns slightly. "Y'Grace, I assume we're all here. If the Lord Constable will join us, he will do so belatedly, I assume."

Alieron Mikin nods slowly, his face drawing a worrying look as he glances at the blue skies, sighing as if he worries to where they are going. Into the dark. He pulls his cloak a bit tighter about him against the cold, "Very well then, we shall venture into the cave now." He glances toward the entrance, nodding to his own entourage of Ducal Guard to gather around them as they enter the caves. Sophia Mikin waits to follow her father and aunt inside the cave as she stands next to Varal for protection. Her eyes dart about the entourage expectantly though there is a glimmer of excited anticipation upon her face.

The shine has left Rowena's features as she nods warmly to Fionnlagh. "May the Light keep to us in the shadows of this stone..." She prays, and slings her satchel over a shoulder and across her breast. She is patient to allow a guard or two to enter ahead of she, then glances to Alieron as if to say 'after you'.

Fionnlagh nods to Varal, chuckling softly. "I have not forgotten, Lord Captain. But the crafters of Hawk's Aerie have kept me neck-deep in bushdragon hides and pheasant feathers for the past several days." He pauses, glancing to Rowena. "Which reminds me, Your Grace, I shall need you to change a dressing perhaps when we have finished here. The healer in Light's Reach saw to the worst of it, but there are still a few scrapes. They're starting to learn my habits....I only got two of them this time, and one seems to have swallowed my knife in the process." He leaves his own horse with the others, gesturing Snowshadow to his sides, glacing to Sophia. "Mind you don't spook at the cavebats, my lady. They shriek something fierce, but they are not particularly dangerous. There is quite a small roost of them overhead a little ways in. I've hunted there once or twice."


Passage through this stalactite-dripping cavern is made difficult by collapsed slabs of stone that have fallen at angles at uneven intervals. Rats can occasionally be seen or heard scurrying and scrabbling along the rocks and through the shadows.

The twenty following Ducal Guards light their torches as they follow the group into the caves. Their eyes look around suspiciously, as they venture in. A path has been cleared through the cave for the miners to the west.

Varal Mikin struts into the cave, his halberd held tightly in both spiked gauntlets. He maintains an air of relaxed wariness, ready for trouble but not necessarily expecting anything dangerous. He keeps close to Sophia, his eyes checking on her position every couple minutes.

Alieron Mikin ventures in, glancing at some of the rats scurrying around in the cavern. He does not appear to feel too disconcerted at the moment, being familiar with the area, as he walks along flanked by a Ducal Guard with a torch. He points to the cleared path to the west, "This way." He begins walking down the narrow path through the fallen slabs.

"I shall take a look, then." Rowena nods to Fionnlagh before creeping into behind a portion of the guards. Her boots instantly find the floor to be slick, and she proceeds with great caution. Like something from a childhood story, the dank atmosphere speaks of haunts and hidden terrors. It quickens her heart as she listens to the hollow sound of dripping moisture and skittering of claws overhead. Her eyes fixate on the glow of the torches, mouth opened in a permanent 'o' while she breathes.

Rats...eews! Sophia does not like rats, not one bit though bats she dislikes even more. The petite Contessa stays close to Varal as the group moves along in the dark cavern. Though Sophia does not carry a weapon, she is sure her hair pin could do alot of damage. Sophia halts when Rowena creeps about, her eyes flicker up to Varal.

Fionnlagh moves his bow from his shoulders to his hands, taking an arrow and laying it lightly against the bow, though he does not draw it. Simply preparation. The two foresters at his side do likewise, while the white wolf glides regally through the flickers of flame from the torches. Rats draw interest from the wolf, but it remains loyally at the forester's side.

"There's no need to worry, Contessa," Varal says softly as she shows slight worry. "There's nothing large enough to be of harm, and there's enough Guard to scare away most rodents, and most anything bigger."

Alieron sighs deeply as they draw nearer to the location of the site, gazing around at the now rather empty cavern where once miners had been working. Pick axes are strewn along the path, and abandoned wheelbarrows as if the miners had stopped working, and then left. He gazes around the narrow, straight cavern, and then toward the northeast. He pauses, stopping a moment, as he turns around to look back at the gathered as well as the Ducal Guard behind them. He points toward the northeast, "Toward that way is the entrance to the sight, in the mine warehouse. Now remember, all that you see here is secret. None of you shall reveal what you see here except by my permission. It is of major importance to the safety of Light's Reach." He says in as stern, and as serious a voice as possible.

Rowena nods solemnly, her gaze following the reach of stained, twisting stone upwards, to the chittering and squeaking. The pugnent smell of bat droppings drives her nostrils to clench. A shiver begins in her ear at the sound, and tickles its way through her jaw, neck, and spine. She averts her eyes to the northeast, hands reaching to rub once over her ears. Then, she remembers that she is not the only woman in this cavern. Keeping her footing steady, she turns in a half circle around a small pickaxe to search for Sophia amongst the flame-highlighted faces.

The amnonia smell of bat droppings overwhelms Sophia's delicate senses. The young Contessa's right hand flies up to cover her nostrils and mouth from the disgusting aroma. "WWW-Worry? I am nnn-not worried at all Lord CCC-Captain, I am a Mikin after all." Sophie murmurs quietly to Varal though there is certainly a lot of apprehension in her voice. A little stumble and the facade of bravery almost falters. "I am alright." Sophie states with a bit of worry. "Cave bats don't fly in your hair do they?" She asks keeping very close to Varal then nods to her father implying anything seen in the cave will remain a secret.

Fionnlagh looks to the Duke at his words, inclining his head in acknowledgement, before returning his gaze to sweeping the air over their head primarily, watching the chattering colony. As one detaches itself from the ceiling and lofts towards the group, the forester's bow rises to track it, and a single arrow hisses into the darkness, bringing the bat down with only the faint thump of its light form against the stone. Snowshadow darts into the shadows at the action, returning a moment later with the dead creature held lightly in its jaws, offering it to the forester. "This one won't, at least. Most of them stay right where they are, unless they're spooked. They're fairly used to our presence, with the mines."

"The forester knows wildlife better than I, Contessa, but I believe that wildlife tend to leave a person be so long as they remain unmolested. I would not worry about the bats," Varal says to reinforce Fionnlagh's words. He turns his head to look towards Alieron. "Y'Grace, in which direction now?"

Alieron Mikin turns around now from the group, hearing Varal's question, he points toward the northeast, "This way......." He motions with his hand to the Ducal Guard, and all begin moving forward along with the group as he steps carefully toward the northeast.

East Bluff Mine Storage Cave Wooden beams have been used to support the walls and ceiling of this spacious cavern, burrowed from the gray rock of East Bluff's upper strata to provide a storage area for the nearby mineshaft. A braced archway leads out into the caverns.

To the northwest a portion of the wall of the storage cave has fallen in, revealing a deep long dark tunnel.

Alieron steps into the storage cave, motioning to a hand signal to two Ducal Guards who move with their torches toward the tunnel entrance. He glances back at the others, his face now much more grave in the torchlight than it had been. He lets out a deep sigh, "That is the entrance." He points toward the tunnel, "The tunnel is rather long, and narrow so we will have to move in it side by side." He motions to four Ducal Guards, "They will go first, and we will proceed behind them. Be ready....for what is on the other side.." Skylar has partially disconnected.

Rowena waits behind one of the guards, her widened eyes illuminated brightly by the torch. In contrast to the white glare cast upon her brow and nose, her cheeks appear sunken, ghost-like. She grips her palms together and stares at the opening. What could be so secretive? So hideous that knowledge of its existance would threaten Light's Reach? Imagination set astray, she feels a bitter taste rise to rest upon her tongue. "I am prepared." She murmurs, and ducks her head to wipe a few strands of dampened hair aside.

Sophia Mikin nods her head towards her father as her gaze looks straight ahead at the entrance. The Contessa pulls her cloak snugly about her slender shoulders as she waits for the Ducal Guards to proceed as well as Varal to guide her forward. Sophia keeps close to the Lord Captain's side as the flicker of the torch light casts unnatural shadows to play upon her soft features with wide eyes that seem to seem larger than normal.

Skylar moves forward as indicated, heading into the tunnel with the three other Ducal Guards. He grunts, as he looks very carefully around, creeping forward.

Varal Mikin nods to Alieron, taking position right behind the four Ducal guards, his halberd ready to add a helping hand over their shoulders should some danger arise. "Frankly," Varal says aloud, in part to bolster his courage and that of those around him, "I'm more interested in what they found than I scared of it. Quite the adventure, no? Going into the unknown."

Alieron Mikin nods slowly, moving toward the tunnel to the northwest behind the four Ducal Guards that are waiting there, "Let us venture into the depths then..." He follows the guards with their upheld torches, moving slowly along into the darkness of the tunnel as he steps carefully along the stone floors.

Rowena pairs up with one of the Ducal guards, and reaches into her satchel to grasp a tiny lancet, hardly larger than the size of a pin. Her weapon. Still, the feeling of cool metal in her grasp allows her to relax her stiffness some as they march quietly through the tunnel.

Fionnlagh continues with the two foresters and wolf at his side, the dead bat stuffed into a pouch to join the rest of his collection, no doubt. The light's eye gem upon the handgrip of his bow glows gently, and he keeps a sharp eye about them for anything of danger, though he doesn't seem particularly expecting that such will occur. A new arrow is prepared in his bow, ready in case of need.

Sophia Mikin reaches carefully inside her cloak fingering a long, sharp hairpin just in case as she follows Varal along with the rest of the Ducal Guards. The Contessa's footsteps are sure and precise as she walks carefully along with eyes darting to and fro.

Ancient Crypt A shadowy chamber, illuminated by perpetually glowing blue stones that give off an ethereal light of indeterminate power source. The pale, cold cerulean glow reflects off silvery etchings of runes and script markings that shine against the mossy living rock of the edifice. Carved into the walls are numerous niches in which the mummified skeletons of dusty dead humanoids, wrapped in tattered cloth, have been interred in ages past. Rising in the heart of the chamber is a spiralized obsidian obelisk topped by a flickering ghost-green flame that hisses softly. The obelisk is inscribed with indecipherable runes and symbols.

The Ducal Guards hesitantly step into the ancient crypt, and as their torches illuminate the walls their eyes widen quickly. A couple gasp quickly, as they gaze up at the spiralized obsidian obelisk in the heart of the chamber, and the flame with abject fear. They hesitatate, stepping back a bit.

Alieron Mikin hesitates immediately as he enters the chamber, stepping back against the wall as his eyes gaze upwards at the obelisk in the center of the crypt, he breathes deeply. He whispers, though in a loud whispered voice, "What Shadow is this." His eyes are widened as he gazes upon the crypt.

Skylar gasps as he spots the obsidian obelisk, gaze gaze locking onto it for a long time, before he has the presence of mind to look around the room for any other threats.

Impossible. Jaw coming as agape as the twisted mouths of the dead, Rowena feels her head spin. Her knowledge of the stable, physical world of primitive science is shattered as she watches the *green* flame dance, and the walls glow blue. Was it infectious? The bitter taste swells now in her mouth as acrid scent of musty flesh belatedly catches her nostrils.

"I knowest not." Rowena whispers in reply, her breath faint a sporadic in her chest. The ground beneath her boots crunches softly (why, she'd rather not discover) as she inches slowly away from her guard. She creeps towards one of the mummified remains, eyes daring to meet the lifeless pits that stare back at her from the lofty position within the wall. She extends her fingertips and gingerly reaches to the etchings upon the wall.

The mummified skeletons, the blue cerulean glow, the spiralized obsidian obelisk and the stench of dampness within the chamber only intensifies the fear in Sophia than the Contessa already feels. Still, Sophia remains outwardly composed involuntary reaching up to clutch at Varal's arm. "WWW-What in the name of the LLL-Light are those and that?" She whispers quietly raising one gloved hand towards the skeletons and the obelisk.

A snarl quickly spreads across Varal's face, and the Captain instantly steps in front of Sopha, a quick glance to make sure he's able to protect Rowena as well. "'Tis the Shadow indeed," he hisses, "I thought we should have brought someone from the Church." He takes a deep breath, forcing calm. "But I doubt it will cause us harm, so long as we don't touch it."

There are quick drawn breaths from two of the four in Fionnlagh's party...Kenneth and the young one both reacting to the unexpected view. The elder forester, however, remains as immovable as the gnarled old oak he resembles, and Snowshadow stands its ground, sniffing the air and baring its fangs slightly at the unnatural appearance of the flame. Three bows are carefully drawn to full pull, ready to loose an arrow should anything move...probably even rats in the present tension, especially from the youngest. Rowena's action draws his attention, and he shifts closer to the Duchess, observing quietly. "Take care, Your Grace."

The entire scene laid before Sophia and those gathered causes the Contessa to stare blankly at everything. She nods her head to who ever speaks not really paying attention.

Skylar takes a step back, as he studies the ethereal visage of this room, narrowing his eyes to look more closely at the mummies. "This cannot be good..."

Alieron Mikin shakes his head, gazing around, "How could this be under us, under our very feet." His eyes are still filled with fear, as he steps forward slowly toward the obelisk. He looks around, "Do not touch anything." He clears his throat, gazing around at the mummies, and then once again at the obelisk. He turns toward Rowena, "I do not feel we can handle this, my sister. We must leave, and allow the Church to investigate this."

"They are dead..." Rowena murmurs, fingers just a hairs-width away from the wall before she retracts them to her sides and looks across the way to Fionnlagh. "They cannot harm us, can they?" Still, she does not reach to touch the feathery robes again, and glides along the mysterious wall like a moth drawn to a lantern's glow. Childish wonderment mingles with fear of the unknown. Her footsteps halt before another body, and she examines the structure of the face. Was it human?

Even as Alieron speaks, she does not stir, her investigative nature taking its troublesome course. "Look at their faces..." Rowena whispers. "The teeth." A sudden twitch of motion within the eye socket sends her into a deep flinch, then, and in the haste to leap back, her toes catch ankle, and she trips herself. Her hind end scrapes over the dusty floor, face still frozen in a look of amazement to the body. Slowly, an insect emerges from the socket. Relief breathes audibly from her chest. It wasn't alive after all. But that insect..."Silverwyrm?" her voices rasps.

The fear emulating in the chamber only causes Sophia to continue staring wide-eyed fear at all the objects as her eyes dart from one object to another. The Contessa remains safely enveloped within several of the Ducal Guards with a long hairpin clutched in one of her small hands. "They don't look human. They look...evil..pure evil." Sophia murmurs as her eyes finally withdraw from the objects only to dart towards her father and Rowena.

Fionnlagh follows Rowena as she moves, the forester's eyes roaming the hall for any sign of danger as the white wolf flanks Rowena on the other side. The youngest forester remains near Sophia's position, bow drawn tight, while the eldest approaches the obelisk, studying it blandly but maintaining a safe distance all the same. The fall of the Duchess brings a concerned cry of "Rowena!" from the forester, but though he shifts sideways to try to interrupt her fall he can't reach a hand for her quickly enough with the need to let out the full-drawn bow carefully, lest the arrow fly and ricochet about the chamber. As quickly as the tension can be eased, however, he reaches to offer his hand to her. "Let me help you rise, Your Grace...are you intact? Silverwyrm?"

Alieron Mikin moves over to his sister side as well, glancing at the bug which he tries to squash with his boot. "Are you alright, Rowena?" He looks down upon her, though does not ignore the atmosphere around them. The Ducal Guard still appear afraid, though stand near their lieges. The chamber is illuminated green by that flame atop the obelisk, though the yellow fire of torches breaks the green in some parts. And the blue illuminates most of the chamber.

The flickering colors of surreal lighting reminds Rowena of the river's current. Feeling as though she is swimming in not a moonlit pool, but one of confusion, Rowena grasps Fionnlagh's hand and rises to her feet. Her head turns to speak to Alieron as his boot pops the bug's innards onto the floor. Tiny worm-like creatures flail briefly in the goo before they, too, perish. She shudders. "Yes...yes, the Church needs to hear of this." She lets Fionnlagh's hand slip from hers, and wanders back to the heart of the group. But as she strolls, something draws her attention to the archway. A small shadow slinks from the opening....a rat. It scurries out, whiskers twitching in the torchlight. "What is in there?" Rowena asks aloud as if anyone could possibly know the answer.

Sophia Mikin gasps with the sudden appearance of the scampering rat or is it really a rat? She looks about nervously unable to move from the terror that consumes her entire being. Outwardly composed, Sophia's breathing becomes rapid as she wills herself to be calm. "Don't go inside of anything Rowena. Let someone from the Church do that. Not you."

Fionnlagh releases Rowena's hand once she's steady, nodding slightly and looking to the creature that Alieron squashes. The rat however....Snowshadow snarls, and at a nod from the forester makes a sudden leap to attempt to pounce the small creature, hunter and prey for a moment as Kenneth restrings his bow. "Forward or back is your choice, Your Graces. I am prepared to go either way."

Alieron Mikin looks around at the others, gazing upon Fionnlagh, and then upon Rowena. "I believe we shall leave this cursed place, for it is too dangerous for any other than the Church to venture further. If this is what is at the entrance, I do not want to know what is deeper in the darkness." He gazes around with a fearful warning eye.

Sophia Mikin shivers in fear wanting desperately to depart. She looks to her father and simply nods her head very, very slowly.

For once, Rowena seems eager to heed Alieron's advice, and turns her ears away from the last squeal of the rat before its bones crunch in the wolf's jaws. "Let us return to East Bluff..." She states, throat clearing in attempts to firm her shaken tone. Her arms hug at her waist beneath her cloak, allowing the guards to light her path via torchlight. "And notify the Church."

Fionnlagh inclines his head simply as the decision is made, while a shake of Snowshadow's head sends the corpse of the rat flying off into the darkness. The white wolf moves again, this time approaching Sophia if she does not move away from it, as if to take up a guarding position beside her. The eldest forester simply studies the flame as the others talk, turning and directing the youngest with a silent gesture as Kenneth shifts himself a little more towards the likely rear of the procession out. "As you command, Your Grace." He answers Alieron, the words neither agreement nor disagreement with the noble, simply acknowledgement of a decision.

Alieron Mikin nods slowly, "Very well." He motions to the Ducal Guard, and moves back toward the tunnel the southeast. He pays once glance toward the obelisk, one last glance, before turning back toward the tunnel to leave the place. Rowena Mikin starts running toward the Southeast.

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