Eowyn pondered what the ranger Marcus had told her as she stumbled down the back streets of Stormpoint. The night was not yet half past, but the lanterns were burning low, causing long shadows to loom around each building flanking the narrow street. She had been wandering the alleys around the dock area for the better part of an hour, waiting for someone. Her long, dark hair was bound tightly in a single braid and concealed beneath a once-rich coat of green. A black scarf and hat covered much of her head and face, and a pair of brown pants and riding boots completed the ensemble. In the dimming light of the lanterns and the trailing wisps of fog, she could easily be mistaken for a young man of modest, but not inconsequential means. She carried a sealed envelope in a gloved hand, and looked frequently from directions printed on the front, to street numbers crudely etched on the surrounding buildings.
'Anytime now,' she thought to herself again, pausing to listen for an approach over the clanging of the buoys and the ribald music of a dockside tavern. 'Nothing.' She sighed in quiet frustration, annoyed at the delay, her mind churning in thought. 'You expect a few suspicious deaths in a town like Stormpoint,' she reflected, recalling Marcus' information. She had lived in cities where as death was but an arms-length away, hiding behind each corner, concealed within every shadow. 'But twenty-five deaths in the course of a month, and all by a single hand? That's . . . .' She shuddered, shaking off an unnatural chill, and continued down the darkening street, lost in thought.
'Twenty-five,' she mused, 'all taken from behind, a clean and simple snap of the neck.' Her contemplation blinded her to her surroundings, causing her to lose her way as she tried to make sense of the puzzle she'd been given. She wandered further into the twisting streets and side alleys, leaving behind the sounds of the tavern and the sea until only the steady sound of her footfalls broke the darkening silence. The light of the lanterns glistened off the cobblestones before her, moist with heavy sea air. Further and further she went, mindless of her path and the encroaching darkness until she found herself at the far reach of the lanterns' glow. "Hmphh!" she sighed, wrenching her mouth to once side and furrowing a brow. She really didn't want to venture beyond the light, but she was growing tired of waiting. Indecision plagued her, and then she heard the sound.
Quiet, oh so quiet at first, a cautious footstep, then another. Eowyn pulled her scarf closer around her face and allowed herself a brief smile. 'It's about time,' she thought as she headed back towards the flickering lanterns. She stared at the envelope she carried once more, but her attention was focused entirely on the footsteps, grown only slightly louder than when she first noticed them. 'This is it,' she thought, her pulse quickening as she strode further ahead, her eyes still riveted to the envelope as if it alone could free her from the tortuous maze in which she found herself. 'Almost there,' she hastened her step slightly, and stole a quick glance behind her. 'Just another . . .'
Eowyn looked up from the cobblestone street, shaking her head, and trying to focus on the shadowy form standing above her. "Sorry guv'nor" the figure said, "guess I weren't lookin where I was goin."
"No," Eowyn replied, surprise ringing in her voice, "please don't apologize, I myself am guilty of the same offense. I was just waiting for someone and," she gestured helplessly at the envelope, "oh, never mind," she finished, taking his proffered hand and pulling herself to her feet. Upright once again, Eowyn took quick measure of her new companion, a heavy-framed man draped in a dark grey cloak. Beneath the shadow of his hood she could just make out a jagged scar running upward from his neck and disappearing somewhere around his brow.
"If ya don't mind me askin," he inquired as she steadied herself, "wot ya got there that's got ya so troubled." A nod towards her hand indicated that he was speaking of the envelope.
"Oh, nothing of any consequence," she answered quickly, and prepared to leave.
An iron grip on her wrist held her fast. It seemed that her new acquaintance had other plans. "Look 'ere, guv'nor," the man chided between clenched teeth, "this is a dangerous area, ya best be careful 'ere, an I can 'elp ya."
"Let go of me you . . . "
"Ya best 'old yer tongue guv'nor," the stranger interrupted, squeezing her wrist until she gasped in pain. "Like I said, I can 'elp ya."
"I'm listening," she spit back at him, seething in contempt.
"Fer starters," the thief continued, "I can tell ya how to get outa 'ere."
Eowyn scrutinized him carefully, gave a final tug, and pulled her arm free. "I don't need your help," she whispered harshly, rubbing her bruised wrist.
"Don't be too sure of that," he threatened, and took a step closer, engulfing her in his shadow. He stood silent for a moment, staring down at her before nodding towards the envelope again. "Wot's so important about that package that someun the likes of you is out 'ere?" She met his gaze, but refused to answer. He saw the tension building within her, and prodded again, "Com on, wot is it?"
No response. Her hand moved slowly towards her coat, but a heavy slap across her face stopped her cold and sent her reeling to the ground once more.
She could feel his form bending over her, and lifted her head in time to see his hand raise a second time. "It's a message," she said quickly.
"Fer who?" he asked. She stared at him silently, hatred burning in her eyes. "Fer who?" he shouted again, grabbing her wrist and jerking her back to her feet. She winced in pain, but refused to respond. He wrenched her arm behind her back and at last got the answer.
"For Master Rhenswhych at the Narwhal Tavern."
"There now, that weren't so 'ard, was it," he chided sarcastically, as he released her arm.
Free of his grasp, she slumped forward and stared down at the street, her secret revealed, her spirit broken. But the thief wasn't finished.
"Tell ya wot, I'll do yas a faver," he taunted, "I'm 'eaded to Narwhal this very minit, an I'll see as Master Rhenswhych gets 'is message. Right?" She didn't answer, "Right?" he fairly shouted, reaching for her arm with one hand and into the folds of his cloak with another.
"Right," she said quickly, her eyes gone wide with fear "right." She raised her hand slowly to surrender the letter, but couldn't force her fingers to release their clutch.
His impatience was growing, and finally he ripped the letter from her grasp. "Ah, there's a clever lad," the thief smirked, secreting the envelope inside his cloak with one quick movement. "Now," he continued, "no matter wot ya might think, I'm a man of me word," a flicker of a smile appeared beneath the hood and he gave Eowyn sketchy directions back to the main square. "Good luck to ya lad," he taunted as he patted her on the back and headed off in the opposite direction.
Eowyn watched him carefully until his cloaked figure faded completely into the darkness beyond the reach of the lanterns, then turned and headed back to the square, whistling a slow and sardonic tune. He'd left with her purse and her parcel, but she left with something a far sight more valuable. A small golden token danced merrily from the chain she held in her hand. She had what she came for. 'Good luck, indeed!' she thought with some contempt as the corners of her mouth curled upward in a small smile. 'Good luck to you sir when you open that missive.'
If she was to solve the problem Calo had given her, Eowyn needed more information, and she had learned long ago that if you truly wanted to know what was going on in a city, you needed to visit its more questionable denizens. And so it was that she found herself standing outside of what was quite possibly the most dangerous, and certainly the most inhospitable, establishment in Stormpoint---a small, but notorious tavern called The Golden Web.
A sudden hush fell across tavern as she entered the main room. Strangers were not welcome in the Web. Her earlier disguise was gone, but she bore only slight semblance to her true appearance. Her once dark hair, now flame red, was secured by a simple leather band, and hung in loose tendrils down her back. Her clothing was dark, almost suspiciously so, and she wore an expression which warned that she is not be trifled with.
She surveyed the tavern and its occupants, still silent in the wake of her entrance. The room was dimly lit, and the heavy smell of tobacco and ale lingered in the air. A large hearth filled a back corner, and the fire that burned within it attracted several customers to its warmth, casting disturbing shadows on their faces. The clientele was an odd assortment of people, some of whom appeared to be sailors, drivers, merchants, or even craftsmen; but Eowyn knew what they were---cutthroats, catburglars, highwaymen, and fences. She was, quite literally, in a den of thieves.
Her survey of the room completed, she strode towards a table in the back where a group of men had been playing cards prior to her disruption. They watched her now as she approached, eying her suspiciously. She stopped a few feet from the table, and positioned herself before the hearth, forcing the men to stare into the flames as they tried to see her face. They spoke no words of greeting. Apparently strangers weren't welcome here either. Not to worry, Eowyn knew how to make friends.
Cat-quick, she pulled a dagger from her side and flung it into the table, narrowly missing the fingers of one of the players. He didn't flinch, but rose to face her. Thus they stood for a full minute, eyes locked upon one another in silent appraisal. Finally, the man turned and quietly left the table, taking a seat at the bar. Eowyn casually took his seat, and retrieved his cards. Considering them for a moment, she threw three to the table and looked towards the dealer. He didn't move. She tapped the cards impatiently with a finger and raised a questioning brow. Still, the dealer and his companions sat silently, watching her.
"Oh," she said suddenly, "is it my turn to ante?" She reached into a pocket and tossed a small gold token onto the table. Seeing the token, the dealer gave her three cards, and the activity around the table, and the tavern, resumed.
"Haven't seen you in the Guild before," the man across from her said over his cards.
"New in town," she quipped back, not looking up from her hand. The men looked furtively to one another in unspoken conversation.
"Here for long?" another asked, tossing a few more coins into the pot.
"Not if I can help it," she tossed back, matching the man's raise.
"Well, watch yer back while ya are," he offered.
She gave a small, laugh before responding, "I can take care of myself."
"I wouldn't be too confident if I were you," the dealer warned, "Here lately, a lot of people who can 'take care of themselves' are turning up dead."
"Oh really?" she asked indifferently as she as the man across from her folded, dropping his cards to the table. "Well, I've a certain amount of . . . experience . . . in things of that nature." Her tone made clear exactly what kind of "experience" she meant.
"So did these folk," the dealer replied, "real professionals, top of their trade."
"Well, looks like someone was better," Eowyn said flatly, fanning her cards on the table and raking the pot towards her.
The game continued, cards, money, and information cautiously traded around the table. After a few more hands, Eowyn believed she had learned all she would for the evening.
She was about to make her farewells when a gangly figure ducked into the tavern, threw his cloak over a peg by the door, and headed toward the bar. The keeper met him with a tankard and a toothy grin. The grin faded, however, when the newcomer leaned across the bar and whispered in the keeper's ear. Eowyn saw the keeper nod, then approach two other customers sitting by the bar. She noted that their faces fell as the keeper left. Within a few moments, the whispers reached Eowyn's table. There had been another murder -- this one at the gypsy camp.
"This guy must have something special against gypsies," Eowyn heard someone sitting next to the newcomer whisper, That's the second one, isn't it?"
Eowyn cursed herself when she heard the newcomer reply, "I don't think it's the same person. This one's neck wasn't broken, and," he glanced about furtively before confiding, "I hear it was a vampire."
As soon as she was safely out of view of the tavern, Eowyn flew down the adjoining alley, brushing past a tall form concealed within the shadows. "Come on," she snapped, "we've got to get to the gypsy encampment!" Springing from his hiding place, the ranger Marcus ran behind her without question.
'What was that woman's name?' Eowyn silently cursed herself for forgetting. 'Ria? No. Renee? No. Oh what was it? What was it?' "RIANNA," she said aloud, taking Marcus by surprise and quickening her already breakneck pace with the recollection. Though she'd been in Stormpoint for only a short while, she had taken care to memorize the location of every street, alley, and pathway of any sort---a survival technique she had learned long ago. Still, the trip was a long one, and they arrived at the camp quite winded.
A sentry challenged them at the edge of the camp, asking them to state their purpose. "We need to see Rianna immediately," Eowyn managed to sputter between breaths. "Tell her that L . . . ." Eowyn quickly caught herself before finishing that statement. "Tell her that Eowyn, Lady Samantha's . . . friend is here."
The sentinel at the gate nodded and headed off toward's Rianna's caravan...A scant few minutes later, Rianna's slender figure could be seen approaching the gates...when she saw Eowyn she looked uncharacteristically grim....as if her thoughts were preoccupied with unpleasant things... "Eowyn..how nice to see you again... what can I do for you?"
Eowyn watched Rianna as she approached the gate. At first, she was little more than a graceful shadow drifting through the darkness between the caravans. As she neared the sentry, however, Eowyn caught glimpses of her expression as the light from the wagons fell sporadically upon her face before she crossed into shadows again. Finally, she reached the sentry, stopping a few feet before her visitors. Eowyn took note that the sentinels moved closer to Rianna, casually flanking her on either side. Clearly they were ill at ease with their kinswoman's visitors. Given recent events, Eowyn could not fault them. "Eowyn . . . how nice to see you again." Rianna began.
Eowyn rather doubted it. Not that she believed that Rianna harbored any particular animosity towards her, but now that the gypsy woman stood in the brighter light of the watch, Eowyn could see how drawn her face was. Her eyes, particularly, betrayed her mood, reflecting both consuming anger and the exhaustion of one carrying a heavy burden. Feeling the gaze of those eyes upon her, Eowyn began to regret her decision to come to the camp. While the reason for her visit remained, Eowyn disliked playing the role in which she found herself.
In apparent resignation to her task, Eowyn met Rianna's gaze and voiced a gentle concern that had risen above the debate raging in her mind, "Rianna, please forgive my intrusion. Are you . . . alright?"
The hesitation was obvious in Eowyn's voice, Rianna hastened to put her at ease..."I'm fine....although if I can't do something about that damned demon soon I'm going to break something..or someone..." Her voice was low and tense with her suppressed rage. "What can I do for you Eowyn...from the expression on your face, this is not a social call..."
"So the rumors are true," Eowyn intoned sadly, "Giacomo has taken another of your people." Rianna nodded silently in response, anger and frustration evident in her expression. Eowyn touched her shoulder gently, as if to offer some small amount of comfort. Her eyes softened in a way that few had seen, and in that moment, Eowyn assumed a burden more onerous than that she had ascribed to the gypsy. "Rianna, please believe me when I say that the depth of my sorrow is greater than you can ever realize."
These words imparted, Eowyn stood silent. Her eyes, now heavily laden with grief, never left Rianna's face, but their gaze seemed to fall elsewhere. The guards shifted nervously as Eowyn showed no sign of movement, lost in thought, sympathy, or perhaps simply the darkness that was creeping steadily closer through the dying torches.
A chill wind swept through, bringing Eowyn back to the task at hand with an involuntary shudder. "You are right, however," Eowyn said finally, pulling away from Rianna. "Though legends of your people's hospitality abound, and though I am saddened by your loss, this is not a social call." She paused, steeling herself before proceeding. "I understand that the daemon broke the neck of his first victim, and that he claimed a vampire for his second. I understand also that he left a note, apparently intended for you, both times, providing 'lessons' in his 'rules of civility' and implying reprisal should they be ignored."
Scrutinizing Rianna's reactions, Eowyn waited for a sign of acknowledgment. When it came, she continued, choosing her words with studied care, "While the very thought of it no doubt repulses you, in the interest of preventing further bloodshed, I urge you to . . . acknowledge these lessons." Eowyn knew that the gypsies were a proud race, but she knew also that they shared a familial bond which rendered them intensely protective of their own. As the shadows within the camp grew longer, she waited silently for Rianna's response, wondering which of these two characteristics would prevail.
Giacomo rests for the day on his usual perch on the roof of the tall inn across from the gypsy camp, watching them scurry back and forth, waiting for some kind of sign that his messages were well received. But alas nothing. Perhaps it is time for another lesson. He leans over the edge of the inn, his supernatural sight easily picking through these pitiful sub-creatures. Ahhh, a gypsy family catches his attention--parents and two small girls. 'Now this might ring a chord that my other two notes failed to get,' he thinks.
He cracks his knuckles and prepares to...... 'Wait now what is this?' he wonders as he sees Eowyn and Marcus speaking with Rianna. 'Who is this visiting with one of Calo's dogs? This could prove amusing.'
"While the very thought of it no doubt repulses you, in the interest of preventing further bloodshed, I urge you to . . . acknowledge these lessons." Rianna remained very very quiet while listening to Eowyn discuss the demon....her gaze was directed to the ground and she didn't move by so much as a hair....she could have been a stone statue of a Gypsy....until Eowyn said the last...then she turned her gaze up to the woman before her.
Rianna's eyes were golden flames...of rage, anger, pain, and fury...they glowed in the darkness no less than the campfires behind her...when she spoke her voice was deathly calm and very quiet..... "He has murdered my people for no reason but those in his own twisted mind....he is tormenting my people and this city and there is obviously not a damn thing any of us can do about it......"
Rianna then stopped and looked down to where her hands were clenched at her sides....blood was slowly dripping out from her fists from where she had unconsciously driven her nails into her palms....she took a deep breath and slowly unfolded her hands ..Bryan is going to give me hell if he sees this....she thought to her self...then she remembered her visitor and gave her the answer she had been waiting for...
When Rianna looked back up the flames in her eyes had been banked down to dull embers and her voice was somewhere approaching normal... "Fine...if it means he will leave my people alone I'll acknowledge his 'lessons'......but if after I have done that he still continues to prey on what is mine.....the flames in her eyes leaped back into life "I will not be held accountable for my actions."
Eowyn regarded Rianna with studious contemplation as she spoke, marveling at her restraint. Oh, the burning hatred raging within Rianna's soul was not lost on Eowyn, but pride and anger are ravenous beasts which can seldom be left unsated. That Rianna could control them, if only for a moment, in the interest of those she protected spoke volumes of her leadership.
"I do not believe he will take another if you acknowledge him." Eowyn said finally, her tone level and crisp. "And as for not being able do anything about him," she continued, "I believe you are mistaken." As if to break the mounting tension, Eowyn turned from Rianna, and took a few steps towards the remainder of the city, standing in silent survey for a moment. With her back to Rianna, she spoke again. "Though my tenure in this city has been brief, I've seen enough to know that the daemon can be routed." She smiled in remembrance of an old expression and an even older friend, "We've a quiver full of arrows to use against him. It's simply a matter of drawing the right ones." When she spun back to face the gypsy woman, her expression was wild and fey. "You, Rianna, are the first arrow.Call him."
Rianna looked over at Eowyn and the look in her eyes gave her a feeling she hadn't had since it all started.....hope... "I will do anything if it will get him to leave my people alone....anything..." her voice trailed into the distance as she turned to face the city alongside her companion...
To call the demon....to voluntarily bring him to her.....she didn't know what was going to happen but it most likely was not going to be pleasant....She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, unnecessary but calming.... When she opened her eyes they betrayed nothing of her inner feelings.....they could have been those of a painting for all the emotion they revealed.....She turned to Eowyn and held her gaze as she spoke in a voice clear, strong, and backed with power....it could be heard throughout the city, even though it was no more than a loud speaking voice....
"Giacomo.......you wanted my attention, now you have it.....but I'll only give acknowledgments or apologies to your face...so if you want that or anything else from me....you have to come here..."
Then she waited unmoving to see if there was going to be any answer.....
Giacomo appeared in blinding flash. A looming figure, he stood at the edge of the torches' reach, their dying light defining his sharply chiseled elven features and reflecting from his silver hair in an oddly cold glow. "There now, that wasn't so hard, was it?" He chided Rianna "Though I must say I am a bit disappointed, I had so much more to teach you."
Taking a step forward into the dimming light, Eowyn countered, "Oh, but where would you find the time, old friend? You've been so busy as of late. What's the total now? Twenty-seven?"
Giacomo stared at her for a bit, confusion clouding his ice-blue eyes. "Oh, it's you," he said, recognizing Eowyn at last. Raising a hand to his chin, he regarded her with studious contemplation. "No, I think I liked you better the other way." The hand fell from his face and slowly lowered in Eowyn's direction. When it fell level with her, Eowyn's disguise melted away. "Much better," Giacomo continued with evident satisfaction, "but as for this 'total' you mention," he paused, spreading his hands in a gesture of ignorance, "I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about."
"Oh come now," Eowyn replied, her voice sharpening with mild annoyance, "modesty ill suits you, and I dislike being insulted. I recognize the work of a master when I see it." Giacomo straightened somewhat at the compliment, and bowed his head in slight appreciation. Actually," she continued taking a few more steps towards the daemon, " I would have been impressed had I believed you accomplished it without using your . . . less earthly talents."
Clearly injured by her implication, Giacomo was quick to correct her. "Lies. Whatever you have heard, it's all lies. I did not use the art."
She smirked in response, "Surely you don't expect me to believe that. No one could execute such a feat without the aid of the art."
Frustrated by her doubt, Giacomo gestured dramatically towards the gathering crowd of gypsies, an evil glint dancing in his eyes, "Perhaps you'd care for a demonstration, milady?"
Feeling her heart skip a beat, Eowyn quickly parried, "No, such a revelation would ruin my opportunity to unravel the mystery on my own. I'm sure you understand." She smiled mischievously before continuing. "You, above all, must appreciate the pleasure of a challenge."
"You are right, of course," Giacomo sighed, "once the magician reveals the secret, the trick is robbed of its magic."
"Indeed," Eowyn concurred, "and I must thank you for this trick, this challenge with which you have provided me, just as you, no doubt, must thank your benefactor for the challenge he has given you."
"Oh yeeesssss," Giacomo hissed over a spreading grin, "oh, he has such orderly plans for this city. Is he ever going to be surprised."
"Really?" Eowyn queried, arching a brow in an inquisitive gesture, "you weren't thinking of, double crossing him, were you?"
Giacomo's grin disappeared, replaced by a look of feigned affront at the accusation, "Milady, no, what do you take me for, a daemon?"
Assuming Giacomo's discarded grin, Eowyn soothed his nonexistent integrity, "No, indeed sir. I am sorry if I impugned your honor. I simply meant that you must find it frustrating to have such constraints placed upon your artistic abilities."
"Ah," Giacomo replied, the grin returning to his face in flash, "My sponsor is not so clever as he thinks, and," he added, the grin growing impossibly wider, "I can always use an alias." As he spoke the last word, he was surrounded in a light so bright and sudden that it forced those watching from the caravans to shield their eyes. It lasted but an instant though, and when it faded, a small purple dragon sat where the daemon had once stood.
Eowyn slowly clapped her hands in feigned amusement. "Oh, bravo monsieur!" she intoned dryly, "A coy disguise indeed. But," she continued, furrowing a brow and tilting her head to one side, curiosity creeping across her features, "what can you hope to accomplish in such a small form?"
The dragonette flittered up into the air and spoke with Giacomo's voice, "Chaos Milady, glorious chaos and corruption of innocence. After all you are what you eat." Evidently pleased with this response, he dropped to the ground, rolling back and forth while laughing in delight. His laughter died when she didn't respond to this outburst, and he shifted back into his more human form. "I'm sorry," he said at last, "I thought for a moment you understood."
"Oh, I do," Eowyn offered quickly, sensing that he was about to leave. "Tell me though," she said as she approached him slowly, allowing the corners of her mouth to turn downward in a small pout.
"Yes, milady?" he prompted. She stopped a few feet before him, looking up at him through lowered eyes before continuing, "don't you get . . . bored sometimes?"
He sighed, taking her actions for jest, "Yes, post homicidal depression is rough, but we all have our crosses to bear."
Her heart and mind racing, Eowyn closed the distance between them until she stood but a breath away. "Perhaps, if you had someone to share it with?" she suggested softly, her voice heavy with anticipation.
Giacomo's eyes narrowed. This was unexpected, but somehow not undesired. He stared at her, questioning her sincerity, searching for her eyes which were hidden in the ever-darkening shadows surrounding them. "And what of your friend, Calo?" He asked at last.
"What of him?" she answered, tossing her hair back in a commingled gesture of defiance and suggestion.
"He won't be happy with us." Giacomo replied, "He never could understand the language, let alone the joke."
Pushing a stray lock of dark hair behind a decidedly pointed ear, Eowyn replied sharply, "If you're so concerned about what others think, then perhaps the cross must remain yours to bear . . . alone." The last word punctuated in a clear tone of dismissal, Eowyn turned and strode back towards the crowd that had gathered about the nearest caravan.
Faster than the watching eyes could follow, Giacomo moved to stand directly behind her, whispering in her ear. "Do you know the joke? Do you understand?" Eowyn turned slowly to face him again. Placing her hands on his shoulders, she stood on her toes to reach his ear, and whispered quietly in response, "And if I laugh at any mortal thing, tis that I may not weep.*" This said, she backed slowly away, watching him in silence, waiting. A single tear trailed down his cheek as he stood transfixed by her response. Finally, in a breathless whisper, he replied, "Thank you . . . thank you," and simply faded from sight.
*Lord Byron, Don Juan canto 4, st. 4
Rianna had loaned them horses, and they tore threw the city at breakneck pace, racing towards the Castle Digerian. They should have gone there first, Eowyn realized. Calo needed to be warned of the danger the city faced, but her conscience made her stop first at the gypsy camp. She smirked quietly as she thought of it. Her conscience, a troublesome thing to reemerge after so many years, and how strange that it should reappear with such crushing weight. Soothing it was a luxury she could ill afford at present, and one which might ultimately serve to increase its power and hold over her. The very thought of it seemed to burden even her mount as she felt her pace slowing. She gently spurred the beast to faster action, and held on tightly, hoping her concerns would tear free in the frenzy of her flight.
Marcus' thoughts were racing as well, most of them focusing on the charge he had been assigned. Calo had instructed him to help Eowyn in discovering who was responsible for the mysterious deaths plaguing Stormpoint. Frankly, he had doubted the wisdom of the choice. It wasn't that he questioned Calo's judgment, he just simply wondered how Eowyn could discover that which the rangers could not. He hadn't voiced his query to Calo, but Calo must have seen it in his face. "She is as yet unknown in the city, and can venture unsuspected where you cannot," the High Justice had explained. Marcus had begun to respond, but Calo cut him short. "Trust me," Calo had said, "she is an old friend, and she is more than she appears."
And so, Marcus had trusted Calo. He was, after all, Stormpoint's High Justice, and a man to whom Marcus and the other rangers had sworn unswerving allegiance. He had allowed this trust to extend to Eowyn, as Calo obviously placed a great degree of faith in her abilities. Watching her tonight with the daemon, Marcus realized that Calo was right. Eowyn was indeed more than she appeared. But did Calo know how much more? Calo had called her a friend, but he hadn't seen her speaking with the daemon. Marcus shuddered as he recalled the interplay, remembering how natural, how genuine each of Eowyn's responses had appeared. When the daemon vanished, she had simply asked Rianna for the horses, and told him to follow. It wasn't until they were several miles from the camp that she told him where they were going. The revelation relaxed him somewhat, but he still regarded her with caution. If she had a reason for consorting with the daemon, it escaped him at present.
Thus they rode without speaking. Each lost in their own thoughts as the city flew past them, two shadows tearing through the darkness, leaving only the deafening sound of hoofbeats in their wake. Soon they saw the gate of the mansion rising into the sky before them. Not slowing, they raced past the guards at this outer gate, ignoring their challenges. Inside the yard, they leapt from their mounts. A second guard, alerted by the first, stood ready for them, moonlight glinting in deadly warning from their drawn blades.
Eowyn raised her arm with a curious gesture, but Marcus, looking to the senior of the guard, spoke a single word, "Chelsea," and with that signal, the guards' eyes narrowed, then went wide with recognition. "We need to speak with Calo," Marcus explained briefly, "clear the way." The ranger nodded in response to Marcus' order. Before he could act, however, Marcus grabbed Eowyn's arm, pulling her behind him as he sped towards the main door.
Following a tortuous path, Marcus led Eowyn through the maze of halls and corridors within the mansion, past the faces of astonished servants and guards, who, though expecting their arrival, were not prepared for their full-scale charge. They found Calo sitting in a private study off a long hall. So urgent was their haste that they were ushered inside without proper announcement. The staff knew Marcus, however, and they had heard of Eowyn, her name following in a fast whisper as the two had raced from one guard station to the next.
Calo looked up from a paper-strewn desk, a far cry from the figure he appeared when Eowyn had first met him. He had been a mercenary then, throwing himself headfirst into any battle, heedless of the danger. In truth, he was courting death, unable to take his own life, yet unable to live in exile from his people. Most avoided him, afraid of being consumed within the glorious death he sought. Eowyn had seen something more, however, teaching him, in time, to see it as well. They became fast friends, and that friendship grew rapidly stronger, tempered by the struggle for survival in which they had found themselves. They had both lost many they called friends during that time, and had relied upon each other, and those few that remained, to draw the strength to continue.
Calo's smile upon seeing his friend slowly faded as he saw her expression, and he braced himself for the ill tidings written in her eyes. Taking a deep breath, Eowyn said simply, "I'm afraid I've got some rather unsettling information."
Following a tortuous path, Marcus led Eowyn through the maze of halls and corridors within the mansion, past the faces of astonished servants and guards, who, though expecting their arrival, were not prepared for their full-scale charge.
Juleana felt the tension before she even heard a sound. Something was wrong. She grabbed her silk robe and tied it loosely around her. Peering over the railing of the main stairs hidden by a screen she watched the door as the two figures burst in. Marcus. And the woman from the shop. The one Calo had gone to see before her. She felt that pang in the pit of her stomach, she hated this feeling. jealousy was an ugly thing. They disappeared down the hall toward Calo's study. Quickly descending the steps she shooed the servants back to work and headed to the double doors. Leaning against the slightly open door she listened to the conversation within. Careful to call out to Calo alone. ~ I am here my love if you need me~
Calo looks up at his old dear friend, feeling the sudden weight of his office returning after the elation of his engagement. In some ways, Eowyn is as much a mystery to him now as she was the day he freed her from the slaver's cage. How long ago was that, he wonders. Shaking his head to clear the cobwebs of the past, he brings his attention back to the present. 'Unsettling information' from Eowyn could very well mean that he will have to evacuate the city.
Sighing, Calo raises a hand. "I had feared as much by your entry, but before we get into the dark grim news, let us have at least a moment of joy. Juleana please come in." Calo stands from behind his desk as Juleana slips in the door. "It seems that I am now engaged and soon to be married. Eowyn, I would like you to meet Juleana, the future Lady Digerian."
"Married?" Eowyn asks, raising a brow. "You? Well, this is news indeed." She smiles outwardly. Not that she isn't overjoyed that her friend has found such happiness, she simply wishes that it could have come at a better time, a time when the daemon wasn't running through the streets of Stormpoint. Her smile falters for a moment as she considers the use to which Giacomo could put such an event should he learn of it. She recovers her smile and turns in time to see a stunning young woman with long blonde hair and crystal blue eyes step quietly into the room. Juleana, for it can only be she, is wearing a long silk robe and a look of slight embarrassment and confusion as she crosses to stand next to Calo. "Juleana," Eowyn says, inclining her head in greeting and smiling at the woman, "I am pleased to meet you."
Extending her hand Juleana smiles tentatively in return. "I am happy to meet you as well," she says, eyeing the woman with some jealousy. She is beautiful and quite the opposite of herself. Eowyn's long dark hair and dark eyes are striking. Why is this woman here, and why does Calo seem to be spending so much time with her? She can tell that she is not happy about their engagement either. Grasping Calo's hand she smiles, "Isn't this the woman who owns the Kuriousity Shop?" she asks, beginning to ramble as she does when she is nervous. "I hope I haven't interrupted Mas...Calo " stumbling at her mistake. "I was startled by all the commotion."
Calo watches the reaction of his beloved and his friend to each other. It did not seem to go badly, still . . . whatever Eowyn had to tell him seems to bother her even more with the engagement; and was that a hint of jealousy in Juleana's eyes? Sighing inwardly, he replies. "Yes, Eowyn owns the shop, but we are old friends who go farther back then anyone else I know." Turning to face Eowyn again, Calo returns to the purpose of her visit.
"Well, now that introductions are taken care of, back to the business that brings you here my good and dear friend. From the look you had on your face I was expecting you to tell me that Lord Sable cracked a smile, or that the moons have been stolen, or that Giacomo has come back............. His grin fades suddenly as Eowyn breaks eyes contact with the mention of Giacomo's name, and a feeling of dread shakes him to his very core.
"Well, now that introductions are taken care of, back to the business that brings you here my good and dear friend. From the look you had on your face I was expecting you to tell me that Lord Sable cracked a smile, or that the moons have been stolen, or that Giacomo has come back.............
Eowyn waits until the smile on Calo's face fades and is replaced by a look of solemn realization before responding. "Giacomo is back," she says finally, her tone flat and emotionless, "and it seems he's on a mission to eliminate every assassin in Stormpoint. Oh yes," she replies in response to Calo's raised brow, "the killings you wanted me to investigate, the victims were all assassins. And no, you can rest assured that Giacomo is not acting out a sudden sense of civil responsibility." She smiles wryly and draws a deep breath, expelling it quickly before continuing. "He's been commissioned by someone, a man, as yet unknown; someone who, in Giacomo's own words, has very 'orderly plans' for the city; and ultimately . . . someone who cannot control him."
Eowyn clenches her fists in silent anger. The sheer arrogance of it, she thinks, pondering the identity of this unknown individual, to believe that he could contract with a daemon and expect it to behave. "It seems that assassins just weren't satisfying enough for him though," she continues, ire and sarcasm mingling in her voice, "so he's made a few new friends and is up to his old tricks again; not attacking his quarry directly, but rather striking at that which is held dear." She pauses meaningfully, and casts a quick look in Juleana's direction before continuing, hoping that Calo will understand. "He's taken two gypsies in order to teach their leader proper etiquette, and he may be masquerading as a purple dragonette in his spare time." She watches as the tension mounts in Calo's face, and tries to lessen the burden she has just placed upon him. "You know, Calo, I really should be angry with you. I thought you said Stormpoint was a quiet place."
Juleana watched the exchange between the two old friends intently. There was a commonality between them, like they had known each other for a very long time and had seen a lot. She knew that Lady Eowyn had been responsible for banishing a demon soon after she and Triana had arrived from New Orleans. Giacomo, she thought may have been his name then. Juleana shivered. She remembered the night Calo had cornered her in the alley, the demon coursing through him then. As he listened to Eowyn she watched him. Would that monster come back? She listened again to Eowyn.
"So he's made a few new friends and is up to his old tricks again; not attacking his quarry directly, but rather striking at that which is held dear." She pauses meaningfully, and casts a quick look in Juleana's direction before continuing, hoping that Calo will understand.
Whether Calo caught Eowyn's drift Juleana did. She was afraid that Giacomo would come after her, to hurt Calo by attacking her. Or did she just want Juleana out of the way? She decided to remain silent.
"You know, Calo, I really should be angry with you. I thought you said Stormpoint was a quiet place."
She saw her opening. "A quiet place? Calo, my love how could you have told her such a tall tale. Stormpoint is as bad as New Orleans. But then I held my own there too." And with that she just smiled sweetly at The Lady knowing full well she would catch her meaning.<\p>
'And she looks so nice,' Eowyn thought with mild amusement, parrying Juleana's barb with a silent, yet pointed smile. For Calo's sake, she resisted the urge to riposte, and simply made a mental note to speak privately with Calo about such concerns in the future. She did, however, stare at Juleana for perhaps a bit too long, trying to remember if perchance she had met this woman before, and if this veiled animosity she exhibited had its roots in some prior encounter. Unable to recall any such event, she concluded that it must be her friendship with Calo that sparked Juleana's inhospitable, and entirely unfounded, reaction. 'Foolish,' Eowyn thought, 'and potentially problematic.'
Not wanting to add any further fire to Juleana's apparent apprehension, however, Eowyn resolved to keep her contact with Calo to a minimum, at least to the extent possible given present circumstances. It wasn't as if Calo was her only friend in the city. She knew . . . well, she knew Giacomo, and he no doubt would provide ample entertainment for the immediate future. For now, however, she was here, and she would not adapt her behavior to allay Juleana's ill-conceived concerns---she knew of no better way to raise Calo's suspicions. And so, turning her attention back to Calo, Eowyn ignored Juleana's mounting displeasure.
What is she staring at? Juleana continued to smile at Eowyn as the woman seemed to mentally size her up. She searched the room for random thoughts and there was nothing. Even in her gaze this woman let nothing sneak by. Juleana had learned in the past people like that you just done pry into. But why was she so closed up. Maybe her thoughts would give her away. Standing close to Calo she let her hand fall to his shoulder. He Is mine! she thought. Not really throwing it out there but thinking it all the same.
The silence in the room had become deafening. What had started out in a frenzy had quickly become a dreadful problem. She knew that when Calo wasn't talking his mind was working overtime. Usually indicating something major.
"Excuse me just for a moment my love I think it better if I dress." Glancing a bit shyly toward Marcus, Juleana slips out of the room.
~Not good. What to do? Not good. What to do?~ These were the thoughts racing through Calo's his head. Missing the nonverbal exchange going on around him, Calo simply nods and smiles at Juleana as she leaves the room. Looking back towards Eowyn, his gaze rests on the liquor cabinet for a few seconds, ~I could use a drink~. He shakes his head clearing out that thought. Not anymore. Not since the 'change.' Becoming what he is has cost him a great deal.
Pushing these thoughts into the back of his mind he sets to work on the current problem. "Marcus I want every Ranger with magical abilities assembled and searching the city before sunrise--groups no smaller then five. They are to find him, no more, no less. Is that understood?"
Marcus nods, "Aye, milord."
"Good. Put Sherrill in charge. She has a good head on her shoulders. And I want Soren to take over your duties for the duration of this crisis."
Marcus nods again, "As you wish milord. And what will I be doing?"
"You, my friend, are to pick the five best Rangers to keep a discrete eye on Milady, and you yourself are now Eowyn's personal bodyguard." He looks quickly to Eowyn and sees that she is about to protest. Before she can speak, Calo cuts her short. "I know that look Eowyn, and I am not taking no for an answer. You're in as much danger if not more than anyone else. After all you and Jesse were the two who banished him the last time, and he might get the idea in his head not to give you a second chance." When Eowyn doesn't respond, Calo scrutinizes her expression. ~Her silence may mean that she accepts this, but I have the strangest feeling that Marcus has his work cut for him.~
"Once we find him and can track his patterns better we can make a plan of attack and see if we can uncover the identity this mysterious benefactor Giacomo seems to have acquired. This person maybe a bigger threat than Giacomo is. Clearly he has already unleashed Giacomo as a chaotic element to distract us while he makes, unnoticed, whatever moves into the city he desires. This is getting to be dangerous time so please be careful you two." This said, Calo catches Eowyn's eye meaningfully. "So, got any ideas as to how to get rid of him this time, or as to who this benefactor might be?"
"You, my friend, are to pick the five best Rangers to keep a discrete eye on Milady, and you yourself are now Eowyn's personal bodyguard."
Juleana approached the office door balancing a tray in each hand. Why she had thought of food or drink who knows. She wasn't even sure if these people eat. Well, she knew some did but this woman she wasn't sure. She heard the last comment as she approached the door. Biting her tongue so not to protest.
"So, got any ideas as to how to get rid of him this time, or as to who this benefactor might be?"
Sliding back into the room she placed the trays of food and drink on the table near Calo's desk. She had changed into her leather pants and a black lace up tunic. Her pentacle shimmering against the black fabric.
Without looking up she spoke, " I wasn't sure what would be appropriate but I thought maybe you might be hungry?" Juleana handed Calo one of the silver goblets she had acquired when he first asked her to furnish his house. She leaned in close and smiled," I had a feeling you might need a drink."
"As you wish milord." Marcus replied, "And what will I be doing?" "You, my friend, are to pick the five best Rangers to keep a discrete eye on Milady, and you yourself are now Eowyn's personal bodyguard."
'Oh really? A bodyguard? Surely he must be joking,' Eowyn thought to herself. She was about to say as much when Calo cut her short.
"I know that look Eowyn, and I am not taking no for an answer."
'Fine,' she thought as she continued to listen to Calo's plans, 'not a word, but we'll see about this.'
"So, got any ideas as to how to get rid of Giacomo this time, or as to who this benefactor might be?" Calo asked at last.
Juleana chose this moment to make her return to the office bearing trays of food and drink--an innocent gesture perhaps, but one which met with curiosity from Eowyn. Surely Juleana had no desire to prolong this visit. Indeed her every action and word seemed instead to say, 'Leave, he is mine.' But if not for hospitality, then why . . . 'ah, yes,' Eowyn thought 'to demonstrate her place, to remind me that this is her home.' Seeking the response that would least annoy Juleana, and perhaps evince her understanding of this message, Eowyn politely declined and turned to Calo's questions.
"As to the former . . . no, not as yet," she answered, her tone giving rise to a small suspicion in the back of Calo's mind, "but as to the latter, possibly yes. It seems that the master of the thieves' guild has had a rather curious response to the murders."
"How so?" Calo queried.
"He didn't respond."
Marcus scoffed in reply, "That's not very surprising."
Eowyn was quick to correct him, and perhaps a bit too defensive, "Oh, but it is. You shouldn't believe everything you hear. There is honor among thieves. For a guildmaster to allow one, let alone multiple deaths to go unavenged is quite . . . suspicious." She let the last word hang in the air for a few moments before continuing in a quiet and slow voice, "There are rumors that he's no longer in control of the guild, and that he's simply a puppet for whoever is."
"And you think this is connected to Giacomo," Calo said, rather than asked, picking up on her reasoning.
Eowyn nodded in reply, "I thought it very likely . .. but wasn't sure," she said, spreading her empty hands in a gesture of uncertainty, "until I found this." The last word was followed by a flip of her right hand, revealing a small, dark object. She tossed the trinket towards Calo and watched as it rolled slowly about on the desk before him. When it came to a stop, she raised her eyes to Calo's, and Juleana's, and said simply, "Our friend was carrying it."
Eowyn's last word was followed by a flip of her right hand, revealing a small, dark object. She tossed the trinket towards Calo and watched as it rolled slowly about on the desk before him. When it came to a stop, she raised her eyes to Calo's, and Juleana's, and said simply, "Our friend was carrying it." By "friend," Calo knew that Eowyn was referring to Giacomo.
Handing Calo one of the silver goblets she had acquired when he first asked her to furnish his house, Juleana whispered, "I had a feeling you might need a drink."
"Thank you, my love but not at the moment," Calo replied, taking the silver goblet from Juleana and giving her a gentle kiss on the cheek. Placing the Bloodwyne aside, Calo picked up the strange ebony coin, turning it this way and that in his fingers. Most people would no doubt think it a strange foreign coin and dismiss it, but it was much more then than that. Any thief worth his salt would recognize a token from across a crowded, dark, smoke-filled tavern at the merest glance. A thief's token was his license to practice his art within a certain territory. It denounced his skills, rank, and if there was more than one guild, his allegiance. Calo had used them once or twice on missions into a besieged city to spy or sabotage. Eowyn herself had quite a collection she had garnered in her travels, and her business. But he had never seen one such as this before it. Working it back and forth he stared deeply into the intricate carvings on its face as if some secret message to its meaning would suddenly leap out at him. After a short while it became apparent that no such revelation was forthcoming. "I've never seen a token like this before." Calo said finally.
"I have," Eowyn replied, amusement and trepidation mixing in her voice, "It's called a 'dec', well, in the cant anyway. They're exceedingly rare. You might get one for filling the guild's coffers with a particularly large score. But you're more likely to get one for doing a personal, and generally a dangerous favor for the guildmaster."
"Like killing all the assassins within the city?" Calo asked dryly.
Eowyn's eyes locked with Calo's, and all traces of jest disappeared. "Precisely."
A small curse escaped Calo's lips. Stormpoint was barely learning how to walk and already someone was playing dangerous power games. That's what he and the Rangers were for--to make sure Stormpoint got its chance to grow. Eowyn had already risked a lot and Calo saw no sense in putting her at further risk. They could handle it from here without Calo having to worry about his friend getting hurt in the crossfire. "Eowyn, thank you. Go on back to the shop and get some rest. You have done enough. Let us take it from here. Just let Marcus look out for you, and keep a low profile till this passes. I don't want you trying something foolish and getting hurt. Agreed?" Though the last word was spoken as a question, Calo locked gazes with Eowyn to emphasize his point.
Juleana watched the exchange between the two. Despite the apparent seriousness of the situation she couldn't help but be happy this woman was leaving. the questions swirling through her head needed answers.
With a nod to Calo and a nice meeting you to Juleana Lady Eowyn left the room with Marcus close behind.
Juleana waited at the window watching as they rode off down the gate. Turning she smiled her sweetest smile to Calo. "My Love? How did you and Lady Eowyn meet?"
Taking his lady love by her hand, Calo leads Juleana through the starlit garden, silent for a moment. Then, placing his arm around her shoulders as the weariness begins to overtake him, Calo turns his vision to the predawn light and allows the memories flow ....
"I had been hired on as a bandit privateer in the kingdom of Aliure, raiding the various supply, merchant, and slaver caravans. I had met with a great deal of success, building quite a following of freed slaves who joined my cause without realizing that I worked for the kingdom of Nethreial, with whom they were currently at war. One day, I attacked a slave caravan flying the colors of the royal house. The guards had fought to the last man, rejecting all offers of quarter and mercy, absolutely refusing to surrender.
Amidst their fallen number, I opened the door to the caravan and found only a single elven woman chained to the floor--Eowyn. She stared at me with such a strange expression, her eyes seeming to see through me and into my very heart. Without thinking, I helped her from the wagon, and was so perplexed by her stare and solitary presence that I did not even flinch when she swiped the dagger from my belt and began to work the locks entrapping her wrists and ankles. The locks yielded quickly to her hand, and the chains soon fell to the ground in a useless heap. Then, tucking the dagger into her own belt, she crossed to my warhorse, Ash. I was completely dumbfounded when Ash let her mount without so much as a neigh in protest. Riding the large grey charger over to me, and she spoke for the first time. "So, are you coming Calo, or do you plan to wait for the royal guard to arrive and arrest you?"
On the ride back to the ruined keep I had taken as a base of operations, she told me her name, but nothing of her history. Still, we fell into an easy friendship, as if we had known each other for ages. Later that evening as I read the Caravan's captain's journal, trying to pick out some useful information, I came across an account of Eowyn. She had been found wandering at the edge of what was reputed to be a haunted forest the morning after a strange lightening storm swept trough the area. According to the report, she showed no signs of knowing who she was or even that she understood the questions that were being asked her.
Frustrated by her silence, they took her to the closest garrison where she was questioned by the captain's superiors and the garrison's mage. The latter believed that she possessed an incredible power, perhaps one that could be harnessed for the use of the crown. Apparently, the caravan was taking her to the capital for further study when my group attacked it.
Well, she stayed with my group, and after the war we traveled together for a time, seeing quite a bit of adventure along the way. I suppose I know her better than anyone, but in many ways she's still as much a mystery to me now as she was the day she stepped from the caravan. Anyway, now it seems that we've both settled here in Stormpoint."
Juleana listened to Calo's story without uttering a word. The more he spoke the worse she began to feel. It was obvious that these two had a connection and now she knew how deep it was. Her petty jealousy was ridiculous.
"I will have to make sure she comes by more often then. She is a good friend. Hopefully this demon thing will be over soon and we can all get on with more important things. I wanted to let you know I am planning on going out early tomorrow so if I am not here when you rise don't be alarmed." She smiled at him as they made there way through the gardens back to the house. She was going to see the new priest tomorrow but Calo didn't need to know that just yet. The sun had begun lighting the sky, "Shall we turn in my love?"
"Shall we turn in?
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