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Lightholder Crossroads - Interdistrict Carriage Hub


A small village has sprouted on the edge of the Lightholder River where the cobblestone roads from Fastheld's other prominent districts intersect, in the shadow of Caryas Hill and the majestic gray silhouette of Fastheld Keep - the seat of power for the entire realm.
Sutlers, traveling performers and other small-time merchants ply their trades along this main crossroads - competing for space with carriages hauling passengers, couriers rushing important communiques from one district to another, and the soldiers of the Emperor's Blades who regularly patrol the area.
On the northwest corner of the intersection, next to the road that twists north toward Lightholder Bridge and the palace, sits a large tavern and inn where weary travelers can refresh themselves.

Off in the distance, on the road that leads to the Shadow District, a slightly hunched figure shuffles towards the crossroads. She hugs her arms tightly around herself as her gaze darts back and forth in a stilted manner. As the woman gets closer she speeds up a little causing a slight limp to her gait as she seems to be favoring her right leg. "Shades," she mutters to herself, her gaunt face forming into a pained scowl.


His breath visable in the stagnant, cold air, Diorsalus grips his outerwear with a determined look. His eyes spot Ester from beneath his cowl. No one was leaving or entering the Shadow District but this person. His nose wrinkles a bit, wondering what made her so special. His eyes then glance toward the Calvary Blade off in the distance.


From Ghost's saddle, Amist the fairly sparse traffic of the crossroads (what with the pox and all), Harper comes riding in on Ghost - the horse moving at a trot. It sure as hell beats walking. Which is basically why he gladly jumped on the opportunity to switch to a cavalry role.


From Ghost's saddle, Leaning to secure the half pike to the straps on the modified saddle, the mounted boy stifles back a yawn. Of course, whether you're walking or riding a horse, a patrol is just as boring.


The woman slows and stops when she reaches the edge of the crossroads. A shiver of cold racks her body and she hugs herself even tighter. A pair of dull eyes slowly scans the area as if studying the scene before her. The scowl soon takes on an air of confusion as she gazes first at the southern road and then at the road that leads to the palace. She doesn't appear to notice the others as she serves them no more then a passing glance.


Diorsalus's eyes focus toward Ester as his crimson lips purse closed, tightly. He squints slightly as he takes a few steps her direction, while stepping away from the Blade.


From Ghost's saddle, Well, Ok. There are some problems with riding around on a horse all day. "Light, my rear hurts," Harper grunts, stopping Ghost and dismounting. He rubs gingerly at his backside, looking up to his rivertrotter.


With one final quick look at the southern road the woman steps off and starts shuffle limping towards the road that leads to the palace, her path taking her towards the approaching man. One hand jerks up to her head and clumsily pats at the stringy mat of hair as if attempting to preen herself for some occasion. The hand itself is as soiled as her face and covered with some dark, dried substance that flakes off in little bits as it moves. Anyone who draws near enough would confront her smell that most simply can be described as a "stench of the unwashed."


"Did you come from the Shadow District?" Diorsalus says in his raspy deep, unyouthful, yet, natural voice. He hunches over under his cloak with his head poked out of the cowl slightly.


Ghost casts Harper a look that suggests that the boy may not be the only one a bit grumpy and sore. In fact, the mount even goes so far as to nip at Paelnor's armored shoulder in protest, which causes the Guardian to yelp in surprise, more so than pain.


Ester jerks her gaze to the man when he speaks, her eyes taking a moment or so to focus, though they still seem somewhat absent in look. After a long pause she answers with some difficulty, her voice little more then a croak. "Yes." A pause as she looks away towards the road again then another croak, "Please excuse. I have to get to the palace."


"If one were able to bypass the Blades to leave the Shadow District, another might assume one would be able to access the Palace, of which has been locked down," Diorsalus replies. "But I'm still skeptical," he adds as he crosses his skeletal arms.


"Now listen," Harper scowls at the horse, the boy lifting a finger to add emphasis to his point. "I'm in charge here. You just...bring me around everyone. You're a horse, got it?" Ghost stares.


Ester turns back and stares at Diorsalus, she starts to explain. "Came through the trees, not bypass..." and stops abruptly as the rest of his statement sinks in, her eyes narrow. "The palace locked? Wha..?" the sentence trailing off in a croak followed by a cough.


"Although..." Diorsalus says, seeming to disregard what Ester's said and just continuing on with his thought, "you're sure to have some way to enter. I can tell just by looking at you. You're a survivor. You have what it takes." He smirks slightly then, looking Ester up and down.


Ghost has done well had enough, apparently, and the horse turns away from the boy to start plodding off, looking for something more interesting. Harper stares at him for a moment, seeming fairly shocked, before he pulls his helmet off. "Where the shades are you going? Come back!" he calls, rushing after.


Ester gives Diorsalus a confused look as if she doesn't quite comprehend his comment. She searches for something to say, shakes her head as if to clear it and croaks again, this time with more conviction, "I am the Deputy Surrector. I will get in. There is trouble..." she stops to cough, again shaking her head again looking confused. "I...this...they did it...Zahir.." she stammers in a jumble of disjointed words until suddenly she straightens, glares at him and shouts, "Who are you? Quit being trite and answer my question."


"Whoever I am, I didn't just stumble out of the woods making threats toward a noble family and insisting on going to the Palace. That was you. And you do look like a Deputy Surrector. How did I not guess? The dirt must've thrown me off," Diorsalus says. He then looks around, spying no one within earshot, he looks back toward Ester, "So, tell me, what does the orange glowing hands mean? I mean, I've seen the rainbow, but not the orange hands." He looks from her hands toward her face, with an evil smirk.


"This isn't dignified!" Harper calls after Ghost, who seems to be enjoying staying just out of range of the boy as he chases. "I'm a...I'm a Guardian, and don't deserve...Light!" the boy puffs, finally catching the reins.


As Diorsalus asks his questions, Ester's eyes narrow. A shiver racks her body again causing another cough. Once it's under control she turns away, without saying anything in reply. After taking a few shuffling steps she comments more to herself then the man, "I have no time for this...bugger off." She looks around the square and spies the young Paelnor. She attempts to call out, "Guardia..." but the words are lost to a raspy croak and a look of pure frustration.


Looking over from his horse to the dirty woman, Harper blinks, before tugging his helmet back on. "Er...wha?" he asks, turning to look at her, before leading Ghost to draw near. But not too close. She /is/ awful messy. "...huh?"


"You need entrance to the Palace and I'm here to say you can't have it, woman," Diorsalus says out loud, loud enough for both to hear. "Since the pox has entered the realm, the Palace has been locked down. And since the Emperor has passed, the lock down's been even more strictly enforced." Diorsalus's voice is unnervingly raspy and haunting. He frowns toward Ester, "Perhaps you have more time than you think, no?"


Ester opens her mouth to answer Paelnor stiffening as Diorsalus rasps at her. Her dirty hands clench into fists as her lips press together in anger. She sucks in one slow breath before turning her gaze to him, her tone even, "I know not who you are. You will speak on this no more good sir, nor with that tone. My patience is at it's end." She turns back to the young guardian, "Please. I need your assistance, I am Lady Shardwood. Deputy Surrector. I was held against my will for months and I must get back to the palace. I have important information for Duhn..I mean the Surrector and the Emperor." By the time she's finished her initial energy is someone diminished and she sways slightly from side to side.


Harper begins to talk, before he pauses and looks to Diorsalus, and then back to Ester. "...You said Shardwood?" The guardian leans in a bit more, staring at the woman, before he blinks. "Light, we thought you were...er...well, I guess you aren't, since you just aid what happened and...uh...right? You aren't sick, are you? With that disease that's been going around?" He gestures to the distant keep. "I can get you in."


Diorsalus looks toward Harper and pauses, squinting his eyes. He then says toward him, "I need to get in, as well. I must speak with the Imperial Tax Assessor."


Ester ignores Diorsalus, but flinches as he speaks about the tax assessor. "No," she replies to Paelnor's question, her expression growing heavy with worry, "I am not ill. It is here now too? I...I know who did..." Her voice trails off as a look of horror passes over her features. "Light Connor. Light no no..." she croaks, her voice full of panic. She turns with a jerk and hobbles a few steps in the opposite direction towards the southern road. "Wait," she mutters and stops suddenly, her palm pressing her forehead "No...wait...breath...think...think...you can't walk...light...no must see Duhnen. He'll know."


Harper frowns at the woman's state, the boy taking a step back, despite her words that she isn't ill. "Er...maybe you'd better get on my horse, huh? So you don't have to walk that hill? You look ready to collapse." He tugs Ghost forward a bit, the horse stamping a hoof. The boy glances to Diorsalus, and he frowns a bit. "Unless you're really Prince Kahar, I don't think I could get you in. The assessor is deathly sick anyway, so I heard, right?"


Ester must have missed the first reference to the Emperor's demise, but not this time. She spins back to face then men, her eyes wide with shock and disbelief, "The Emperor is dead!"


"As dead as Gell Mikin," Diorsalus affirms.


Harper's face falls a bit at that, the boy looking to Diorsalus, before nodding at Ester. "Yessum," he confirms. "He died the other night. In the night."


"Maybe you should show a bit of respect, right?" Harper adds, with a scowl directed towards Diorsalus.


"Yes, sire," Diorsalus says as he begins to walk off. "Light save us."


Well this seems to be just about all that Ester can take. She studies the men just long enough for it to sink in that they are indeed telling the truth. The level of anger that she expressed before pales in comparison to the emotion that overtakes her. Her eyes grow fierce as every muscle in her body tenses with rage. She spits out her words in Paelnors general direction. "They will pay for this! By the LIGHT and by every ounce of breath. THEY will pay. I will cut them down...one by one..." She starts to shudder and walk in uneasy strides towards the Palace bridge. "Take me to the Surrector!" she commands.


Harper winces at the yelling, moving to follow her. "Light, don't gotta yell," he mutters quietly to himself, before speaking a bit louder. "...er...you want to ride the horse?" he offers again, lamely.


Paelnor Harper gently calms Ghost and accustoms the horse to Ester's scent. Never one to do anything to further antagonize a rather scary woman, Harper tucks his hands together to help her mount.


Ester lifts her foot and with some effort and a few croaky grunts pulls herself into the saddle.


Harper steps up and grabs hold of the reins and starts walking the horse, and Ester, towards the Keep.


Ester sinks into the saddle and impatiently waves at the palace. "Hurry up," she snaps at the guardian.


"I'm going," Harper replies, frowning. "I can only walk so fast, right?" True enough. But, still, he does speed up slightly.


Entrance to Fastheld Keep <Palace District> HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH (Outdoors) (Cover: Fair) (Owner: Talus Kahar)

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

It is a very cold evening as the sun sets beyond the horizon to the west. The slightest breeze stirs over the land infrequently.


====================================================================Edit

Harper pauses before the gatehouse, frowning and moving forward towards one of the sentires. The guardian falls into discussion with the individual, gesturing back to the still mounted Ester multiple times. The two pause to look back to her, stare for a moment, then go back to talking.


By the time they reach the palace Ester's anger seems to have dissipated and the vitalizing energy sapped from her body. She sits, hunched over, with a weary but impatient expression on her face as she watches the men converse. After the dual stare she scowls for a second and slowly starts climbing down from the saddle, her efforts labored and somewhat pained.


The sentry coughs into his hand and turns to move into the keep, while Harper turns back to approach Ester. "You're clear to go in, I'm told...so...uh...good luck?" He doesn't really seem to know what else to say, or do, so he salutes.


Ester offer an absent sounding, "Thanks," and starts trudging towards the entrance. A couple of the guards eye her warily, with one cringing visibly as she walks by, his nose wrinkling with a mouthed, "Woah...smelly."


ESter makes her way to the residence...



Private Quarters <Fastheld Keep> -----------------------------------------------


(Indoors) (Cover: Fair) (Owner: Talus Kahar)

Soldiers of the Emperor's Blades, at least two but usually more, split shifts at the top of the stairs in this, the most sensitive of all the guarded sectors of the Fastheld realm. Here, the Emperor, Empress and other royals keep their private dwellings. The long corridor is lined with doors to the rooms of lesser royals, then comes an archway - also guarded - that leads to the palace nursery, where newborn royals are kept by nursemaids in their earliest days, and then the corridor ends at the high wooden doors that open into the Imperial Suite.




Duhnen, through some miracle, isn't sick. The man stands by the door to the Imperial Suite, looking fairly grim as he holds his vigil over the lost Emperor, along with the other Imperial Guardsmen.


"Miss..M'lady...let me help," a young serving girl murmurs to the rather bedraggled woman as they appear in the stairwell. "I can do it," Ester hisses and waves the girl off with a flick of her head. One dirty hand grips the railing for all it's worth as she drags herself up each step. The girl follows just off to the side, looking ready to step in if needed.


Duhnen turns to look towards the steps as he hears people approaching. He takes a step forward from the door, his arms crossing at his chest as he waits to see who it is.


Ester stops several steps from the landing as she comes into view and spies Duhnen. "Surrector..." she rasps in an attempt at formal greeting it dieing off as tears well up and start rolling down her grimy cheeks. The young serving girl stops stares quizzically at Ester for a second before looking to Duhnen and his reaction.


Duhnen...is shocked. That's the best way to put it. His eyes widen faintly, and the man's posture slacks at the sight of his long lost friend. In addition to the current state she's in. "...Es..ter?" he croaks, his arms dropping to his side, his own eyes beginning to shimmer slightly.


Ester just nods and forces herself up the view remaining steps. "I'm so sorry," she murmurs with emotion as she hobbles towards him. "I'm so so sorry..."


The man shakes his head slightly, and then does it more pronounced, before surging forward and wrapping his arms about her. "Don't be sorry. You have nothing to be sorry about," he chokes, supporting her as he hugs her.


Ester sighs in relief and leans heavily against him, her own arms wrapping around him though the grip is faint. She buries her face against his shoulder and speaks her voice muffled by the fabric of his clothing, "They took me. I barely remember. Kept me. It was dark and cold... I.." she chokes a small sob, "I couldn't get away.. Connor. Is he alright? Please tell me. I tried so hard." The words just start tumbling out, "Men. They came. Said they did the pox. It was working fine. I... I think I know who... I. He said to kill. Took me to the dump I think. I could smell it couldn't see. I got away. Ran then got him." She sobs again, "I tried. I had him Duhnen. At bow point. Demanded he tell me who he worked for. But they killed him. Right before me. So much blood I tried to heal but he was dead. So I ran and ran...and now. He's dead. The emperors dead. They did this Duhnen. They did this to him." "Ester," Duhnen inhales deeply, shaking his head. "There's time to tell me this later. I need to get you laid down. Connor is fine. He's safe at Jade Gardens." He lifts a hand from her back to rub at his eye, before leaning to lift her up. "Save your strength. It'll be ok. We'll find them." He looks to the maidservant. "Fetch a healer. Send them to my chambers." Ester looks relieved at the news of her son and doesn't resist as the Surrector gathers her in his arms. "I'm just tired and I smell so bad..." she murmurs into his ear. With a shake her head she whispers, "Zolor. It sounded like Zolor. We have to kill him...I will kill him..."


Duhnen's mouth tightens at the name, though he doesn't say anything, instead carrying her down the stairs to eventually bring her to his tower chambers.

====================================================================Edit

Harper pauses before the gatehouse, frowning and moving forward towards one of the sentries. The guardian falls into discussion with the individual, gesturing back to the still mounted Ester multiple times. The two pause to look back to her, stare for a moment, then go back to talking.


By the time they reach the palace Ester's anger seems to have dissipated and the vitalizing energy sapped from her body. She sits, hunched over, with a weary but impatient expression on her face as she watches the men converse. After the dual stare she scowls for a second and slowly starts climbing down from the saddle, her efforts labored and pained. The sentry coughs into his hand and turns to move into the keep, while Harper turns back to approach Ester. "You're clear to go in, I'm told...so...uh...good luck?" He doesn't really seem to know what else to say, or do, so he salutes.


Ester offers an absent sounding, "Thanks," and starts trudging towards the entrance. A couple of the guards eye her warily, with one cringing visibly as she walks by, his nose wrinkling with a mouthed, "Woah...smelly."

Ester makes her way to the residence....



Private Quarters <Fastheld Keep> -----------------------------------------------


(Indoors) (Cover: Fair) (Owner: Talus Kahar)

Soldiers of the Emperor's Blades, at least two but usually more, split shifts at the top of the stairs in this, the most sensitive of all the guarded sectors of the Fastheld realm. Here, the Emperor, Empress and other royals keep their private dwellings. The long corridor is lined with doors to the rooms of lesser royals, then comes an archway - also guarded - that leads to the palace nursery, where newborn royals are kept by nursemaids in their earliest days, and then the corridor ends at the high wooden doors that open into the Imperial Suite.



Duhnen, through some miracle, isn't sick. The man stands by the door to the Imperial Suite, looking fairly grim as he holds his vigil over the lost Emperor, along with the other Imperial Guardsmen.


"Miss..M'lady...let me help," a young serving girl murmurs to the rather bedraggled woman as they appear in the stairwell. "I can do it," Ester hisses and waves the girl off with a flick of her head. One dirty hand grips the railing for all it's worth as she drags herself up each step. The girl follows just off to the side, looking ready to step in if needed.


Duhnen turns to look towards the steps as he hears people approaching. He takes a step forward from the door, his arms crossing at his chest as he waits to see who it is.


Ester stops several steps from the landing as she comes into view and spies Duhnen. "Surrector..." she rasps in an attempt at formal greeting it dying off as tears well up and start rolling down her grimy cheeks. The young serving girl stops stares quizzically at Ester for a second before looking to Duhnen and his reaction.


Duhnen...is shocked. That's the best way to put it. His eyes widen faintly, and the man's posture slacks at the sight of his long lost friend. In addition to the current state she's in. "...Es..ter?" he croaks, his arms dropping to his side, his own eyes beginning to shimmer slightly.


Ester just nods and forces herself up the view remaining steps. "I'm so sorry," she murmurs with emotion as she hobbles towards him. "I'm so, so sorry..."


The man shakes his head slightly, and then does it more pronounced, before surging forward and wrapping his arms about her. "Don't be sorry. You have nothing to be sorry about," he chokes, supporting her as he hugs her.


Ester sighs in relief and leans heavily against him, her own arms wrapping around him though the grip is faint. She buries her face against his shoulder and speaks her voice muffled by the fabric of his clothing, "They took me. I barely remember. Kept me. It was dark and cold... I.." she chokes a small sob, "I couldn't get away.. Connor. Is he alright? Please tell me. I tried so hard." The words just start tumbling out, "Men. They came. Said they did the pox. It was working fine. I... I think I know who... I. He said to kill. Took me to the dump I think. I could smell it couldn't see. I got away. Ran then got him." She sobs again, "I tried. I had him Duhnen. At bow point. Demanded he tell me who he worked for. But they killed him. Right before me. So much blood I tried to heal but he was dead. So I ran and ran...and now. He's dead. The emperors dead. They did this Duhnen. They did this to him."


"Ester," Duhnen inhales deeply, shaking his head. "There's time to tell me this later. I need to get you laid down. Connor is fine. He's safe at Jade Gardens." He lifts a hand from her back to rub at his eye, before leaning to lift her up. "Save your strength. It'll be ok. We'll find them." He looks to the maidservant. "Fetch a healer. Send them to my chambers."


Ester looks relieved at the news of her son and doesn't resist as the Surrector gathers her in his arms. "I'm just tired," murmurs into his ear. With a shake her head she whispers, "Zolor. It sounded like Zolor. We have to kill him...I will kill him..."


Ester looks relieved at the news of her son and doesn't resist as the Surrector gathers her in his arms. "I'm just tired and I smell so bad..." murmurs into his ear. With a shake her head she whispers, "Zolor. It sounded like Zolor. We have to kill him...I will kill him..."


Duhnen's mouth tightens at the name, though he doesn't say anything, instead carrying her down the stairs to eventually bring her to his tower chambers.

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