Currently combining multiple different drafts. Apologies to whomsoever might read this in the mean time, for the choppiness and redundancy.
Story Outline (remember word: “prow”)
Chapter I: Nordington -- From the diaries of Jady Michelle A’Rowan.
Chapter II: Abigail -- From the diaries of Jady Michelle A’Rowan. When Abigail expresses the desire to engage in some thievery, Jady takes her to the Stonewall Hall Guild of the Scarlet Phoenix.
Chapter III: Sisters -- From the journals of Abigail Renée NicLyrian. (Thinks the Stonewall Hall Guild of the Scarlet Phoenix looks like a mead-hall built by a fort-wright, such as the famed mead-halls of Eurinth.) Jady explains to Gail how all the local ____ are substrates of the Guild of the Scarlet Phoenix, and how the local economy, for the most part, depends on members of ___ profiting from money made by sale on the black market of goods stolen from other ____, and that retail prices are absurdly high, so the only folks who buy legitimately are nobles; consequently, the Guild of the Scarlet Phoenix does not take kindly to outside thieves, with the exception of those who are close friends of local guildmembers.
Chapter IV: Beckoning the Betrothed -- From the word sent by Jady Michelle A’Rowan in Nordington, capital of Nordingshire, in the fells at the tail of the Phoenician Alps, east of the Regal Crescent and north of Easterleigh, to Master Durst the ____ of the Underfoot Lairs Guild of the Blue Heron in Duncheap of Duncolnshire in the south of Middenleigh.
Chapter V: Reunion -- From the diaries of Jady Michelle A’Rowan. Dunham, where Durst’s aunt and uncle, Elvis’s mother and father, are the Guildmaster and Guildmistress. Meet with Durst. Acquire two-horse carriage & driver. Meet Elvis at the Woodland Fort Guild of the Green Ibis.
Chapter VI: Return to Dunstoke -- From the diaries of Rylen Llanley. Jady, Abigail, Durst, and Elvis visit Rylen Llanley, Llarallyn Sylving, William Huxley, and Liliana Tifwing, who, with Jady as their Guildmastress, make up the Forgotten Manor Guild of the Blonde Bittern in Dunstoke, a subsidiary Guild of the Woodland Fort Guild of the Green Ibis in Dunham.
Chapter VII: Word of Adventure -- From the word sent by Abigail Renée NicLyrian NaRowan from Dunstoke of Duncolnshire in the south of Middenleigh of the Confederate Shire-states of Eurinth to Faxvin Leathwaite of Llanllyn Ormetarn and Kara Xantha of Fayton Keldawray, both at the Silvern Halls Guild of the Argent Phoenix in the Dryopoleis-surrounded City-state of Samelphame in the area of northeast Sylvany known as Dryopoly, just southeast of the Transmeridian Pass and just north of the ____ Alps.
Chapter VIII: Of Riches in the South of Easterleigh -- From the word sent by Abigail Renée NicLyrian NaRowan from Atham in the midst of Wraymoss of Anarchy in the Transmeridian Pass of northwest Sylvany connecting East to West Meridy between the Meridian Sea and the East Wing of the Phoenician Alps to the itinerant and little-known Pan-Meridian cartographer and oft-time thief Derry Ayer of Dryopoly, East Meridy (in the Sylvanian forest vein betwixt the Faylands of Transylvany in the north and the northernmost reaches of the ___ Alps in the Theocratic Republice of Eutopy in south) while in West Meridy he mapped the Luciferean Penalps of the Meridian Peninsula. Abigail requests in her message to Derry that he meet the party at the gate to the northern Eydellmoors’ high, expansive, pillar-suspended canal-city of Masonwrought, which sits at the northern edge of the wall built to contain the dread myrkwood surrounding the city of Harcroft Hollow in the south of Myrkshire, and repose to the Underden of the Archways’ Eaves Guild of the Grey Heron for a meeting on the business opportunity of a lifetime. Gail then advises Derry to tell Guildmaster Eric the Swart whom he is and that he’s arrived several days early for a meeting with Master Elvis the Jewelifter O’Reigncaster, and informs him he’ll be roomed and fed till the rest of the party can arrive.
Imegesis: The Journey
Account I: “Chronicle of the Harkers” -- As related from the journals of Jady Michelle A’Rowan. Part one of five of “The Sacking of Harcroft Hollow”. Bound Towers Guild of the Black Phoenix in Harcroft Hollow.
Account II: “Phantasms” -- From the journals of Faxwyn Leathwaite. Fax reads about the distinctions between various sprights and their relative strengths and weaknesses from The Demonicon (The Book of Sprights).
Account II: Egregation -- From the journals of Kara Xantha.
Account III: “Journey to the Hollow” -- From the journals of Jady Michelle A’Rowan. Part two of five of “The Sacking of Harcroft Hollow”, continued from part one: “Chronicle of the Harkers”.
Account II: Egregation -- From the journals of William II O’Huxley.
Account II: Egregation -- From the journals of Durst Pencarden O’Duncheap.
Account II: Egregation -- From the journals of Elvis Pencarden O’Reigncaster.
Account II: Egregation -- From the journals of Abigail Renée NaRowan.
Account II: Egregation -- From the journals of Derry Ayer of Dryopoly.
Account IV: The Arrival -- From the diaries of Jady Michelle A’Rowan.
Hemegesis: The Harcroft Estate
Account I: “The Somberwood” -- From the journals of Jady Michelle A’Rowan. Part three of five of “The Sacking of Harcroft Hollow”, continued from part two: “Journey to the Hollow”.
Account II: The Sacking of --
Account III: The Phantasmata of Harcroft Hollow -- (by Abigail Renée NaRowan)
Account IV: Egregation –
Mesogesis: The Journey
Neogesis: The Journey
Exegesis: The Harcroft Tombs
Chapter I: Idylls of Ephemera
Chapter II: Captivity
Chapter IV: Passing Away
Hemegesis Beta (Επυλλιον Βητα)
Part 1: Exposition Chapter A: “Passing Away” 11th Month, 4th Night, VII 4631
The Sun had set on the Barrows of Graelark, leaving the morbid pall of dusk in wake as the day had finally waned to twilight. Thus had also set the day of Larissa Rowan, a woman stripped of her mortal coil, raped of her destiny; a woman whom the Fates of Urd had never rightly beckoned. In her wake were those she loved, and those that loved her, and those bits of themselves they sent with her beyond the veil and into the Worlds Awaiting. And so white-clothed kin and clansmen gathered both to celebrate and to mourn, to honor and lament she without whom their hearts now seemed hollowed of joys, who was reft from them so savagely. Everywhere save that place in the heart wherein Larissa Rowan still dwelt, it seemed could only be filled by the list to gaze upon her once more; this longing foremost in the hearts of those two kindred who survived her, and knew of her death.
The first of these was her widower, Isaac Rowan, who stood at the alter whereupon her body rested, looking over the empty husk that once was she. There it lay, a body still more beautiful than any he’d ever seen. Inwardly he drifted back to that night she was taken from him, when the raiders attacked Graelark Hamlet. Isaac relived that night each time his eyes drifted closed. He dreamt it into new being each time he slumbered.
In shroud of night they’d rushed upon the city, cloaked in shadow, seizing the hamlet before a single scream could be upborne. Evil, nocturnal abominations of Elves those wretched things; such as a creature would have to be to terrorize the destitute in such horrid a manner as they. They cared naught for whomever they would’ve harmed -- adult or child, woman or were. Whenever Isaac slept he could see their pale, nigh colorless faces, their blood-red eyes, and their obsidian-black hair. The ancient Scandians called them the Dokkaelfar, to the Celts they were known as the Daoi-Sith, but most folk simply called them Dark Elves.
Amongst their victims was Isaac’s wife, stricken by a poisoned dart. For her, Death was a patient fellow, and he tarried his time as a vulture awaiting the course of fate to fell his prey; his shadow upon her at those times she was weakest. The poison was not so kind. Larissa lingered on for weeks with the necrotoxin devouring her from within, as friend and neighbor alike quested afar in the foreign Emerald Forest of Faelore to search for a rare plant that’s sap was said to contain the only thing to mend her blight.
After the fourth week a party had finally returned with that which could’ve cured Larissa of the insidious darkelf poison, if only they’d been a few moments earlier. They tried of course to hight her back, pouring the sap into her mouth, hoping she’d take breath once more and awaken unto life. But their attempts were in vain. There was no magickal cure for Larissa Rowan, and no mystical return from beyond the veil, for naught was left of her that hour but an empty lich, and there was no lyblaca that could change Death’s bid.
And so there stood Isaac, leaning over what remained of his wife, cursing the Gods Themselves in silent blaspheme.
There stood Isaac, wondering for what he had left to live, if he could even go on and endure this despair that it seemed would bury his heart with her. For a moment it seemed there was nought left for him in this world.
And then, beside him, there was Jadia. (look up Anita Barone; Christina Moore -- no raunch)
Gently the fair young redhead put a hand on her father’s shoulder, and as she did, looked deeply into his eyes, as if searching quietly for a thing that could ease the pain inside of him, not knowing she’d already found it. And deeply he peered back into her eyes, and in their emerald shimmer was his solace -- whatever of it could be for him on this dire eventide.
“Hey dad, are you alright?” she asked, smiling sweetly to her father, hoping to evoke from within him something more than dole and tears.
“Yeah,” her father replied, nodding his head as he somehow mustered a smile. Thus to Jadia’s delight, and she embraced her father warmly as he took her into his arms. “I knew you’d make it.”
“I wasn’t sure if I would in time,” said Jadia, bating back teardrop. “Luckily I was just over in Ravenshire, or I wouldn’t have gotten word in time to be here this evening.”
“Have I told you lately just how much you look like your mother?” asked Isaac as he and his daughter released one another, each still loosely holding the other’s hands.
“Only every time we see each other,” replied Jadia, the smile warm and brighten upon her face, though her eyes betrayed her sorrow. “Mom always said having me around was like looking into a mirror. Though I doubt anyone would argue that I inherited my red hair and green eyes by you. Not to mention that I’ve quite a few more freckles than mom ever had.”
Isaac returned his daughter’s smile.
Now seventeen years of age, Jadia looked almost exactly as her mother had in her youth. The Gods had favored Jadia with the same tith build as her mother, and the same youthful face. A relentless qualm for her father, the years had also wrought Jadia’s figure with the same generous hindquarters and breasts of unkent size and sphery that her mother had been granted as well. Never a day had gone by since Jadia’s thirteenth year of age that Isaac didn’t fret over what sorts of licentious dastards might’ve been stalking about his all too beautiful girl.
His fatherly concerns were helped none-aye by the manner whereunto his daughter was wont to dress. Even tonight of all nights, Jadia had clad herself in a tight linen blouse cut off to scarsely cover her bust, with bag sleeves and squared low-cut neckline, and a pair of billowy, offensively low-risen Aegyptian sarouelles. Her choice of clothing left little to be imagined and much to be desired, though at least she’d dressed with the traditional white in honor of her late mother.
Then Isaac remembered his other daughter, one he found himself thinking of less as the seasons turned year on next; a thing for which he could not excuse himself, far less forgive.
“It’s a shame that Kyra couldn’t be here,” said Isaac, his tone forlorn. “Have you gotten any leads on where she might be?”
“No,” replied Jadia, shaking her head as she wiped a tear from her cheek. “I honestly haven’t been able to ken whither to start searching. I’ve thought I was so close at times, and then nothing. There were times I felt like giving up simply because I didn’t feel as though it was leading anywhere. Just the same old rumors of a girl who looks like me but with darker hair and pointed ears. But then, I think: how could it be anyone but Kyra?”
“I’ve no idea,” said Isaac. “There couldn’t be many women in this world that look much like you and your mother, otherwise no one would so clearly remember seeing this elusive ‘other girl’ as to recall whether or not she looked like you. And if many women in this world much looked like you or your mother, those poachers never would’ve mistook her for a Wood Nymph that day in the forest, I never would’ve met her, and you never would’ve even been born. I’d say there’s more than a fair chance it’s her.”
“You’re right.” Jadia sighed, looking down upon her mother’s lich in remembrance of the woman that once had dwelt within it. “I just wish I knew why this had to happen.”
“As I,” agreed Isaac. “I managed to contact Rylen and Llaralynn, they’re here right now. Lodin and Alyssandra should be coming as well.”
Jadia let out a sigh. “I suppose I should go talk to them.”
“I’ll be right here,” said Isaac.
With that Jadia turned and walked into the crowd of pale-clad mourners, their garments yellowed by the orange light of torches surrounding the wood-bound barrow. Somewhat quelled was her search by her being a mere five and quarter feet in height, lesser of most who were there. Still she looked, her eyes drifting from each person to the next, from right to left and near thither through the crowd, hoping to catch a glimpse of those two she sought amid so many a man and maid. This was made none easier by the mourners’ dress, bedighten almost identically in white as they were, men with and coats, women with bodices and blouses, and all in breaches.
After sorting through the keening host for a short time, she spotted at wood’s edge a female Wood Elf with bobbed, ebon hair, and a blonde half-Elven male escorting her.
Jadia waived to them, but they hadn’t seen her. With the slightest tinge of ire she began to ponder just how unseemly it’d be to give a quick shout. She snapped her fingers in attempt to draw their attention, however to no avail.
“Llara, Riley!” she shouted, somewhat startling them as they turned sharply to face her. She went apace to greet them, embracing Llaralynn before the Sylvan Elf could even speak a word. Llara, who herself was not nearly so outward in affections as Jadia, returned the embrace stiffly, patting her friend on the back as if unsure of what to do.
“How’re you doing?” asked Llara, as Jadia released her from their enclasp.
“Alright, considering the circumstances,” said Jadia, turning to hug Rylen, who held her warmly in effort to console. “Where’s Will?”
“Back in Idlestone,” explained Rylen. “Someone had to stay at home.”
“Toren and Sarahbeth are here,” injected Llara, as Riley and Jadia unlinked, “so are Rioric and Crystane. Lodin and Alyssandra should be here shortly.”
“What about Jonathan and Lorena?” asked Jadia.
“Alyssandra’s parents?” said Llara. “I’m not sure if they’ll manage to make it. Sarahbeth said something about your father asking Jon to perform the eulogy, but that’s as much as I know. Your father would probably know.”
“I don’t think he does,” said Jadia.
“There’s Rioric and Crystane,” said Riley. “They might know.”
Jadia looked to where Rylen pointed. “I’m going to go greet them, I’ll be back in a few minutes,” said Jadia, and strode off toward Rioric and Crystane.
“Rioric, Crystane!” Jadia shouted, catching their attention.
The couple turned to greet Jadia as she approached them.
“Are you alright?” said Crystane.
“As well as could be expected,” Jadia replied.
“How’s your father?” said Rioric.
“I think he’s handling it fairly well,” said Jadia. “He’s at the altar right now, if you’d like to speak with him.”
Rioric began to walk away, making his way to the front of the crowd.
“My son should be here shortly, with Alyssandra,” said Crystane.
“So how’s Lodin been fairing as a paladin since his induction?” asked Jadia.
“Very well, actually,” replied Crystane, “Though he hasn’t been scheduled for his first campaign yet.”
“Has Lodin asked Alyssandra to be handfasted yet?” Jadia inquired.
“Not yet,” said Crystane, “though I’m of the impression that it’s only a matter of time. They seem to be very much in love. If you ask me, I think my son’ll propose to her after she’s initiated into the Priesthood.”
“So her dedication’s still going well?”
“You might want to ask Jonathan and Lorena,” said Crystane, “but from what Lodin tells me, Alyssandra will be a full-fledged Priestess as of the New Year, unless she does something horribly wrong in the next three months. Barring that, she’ll officially become a Witch on the night of Samhain.”
“Are Jonathan and Lorena here now?” Jadia asked.
“They should be,” replied Crystane. “Jonathan’s delivering your mother’s eulogy.”
“He is?” said Jadia
“Didn’t your father tell you?”
Jadia shook her head. “No, but he told me that Llara and Riley were here, and he said Lodin and Alyssandra would be coming. Then when I spoke to Llara and Riley, they knew you and Rioric would be here, but they didn’t know if Jonathan or Lorena would be able to make it.”
“Well I’m not sure what to say about Llara, or Riley, but I suppose your father’s just preoccupied with the ritual,” said Crystane. “I’m sure it helps to have you here. And knowing my husband, he may even have your father laughing at the end of the night.”
Jadia smiled slightly. “Rioric can cheer anyone up. He’s a good man. I can see why my mother loved the two of you so much.” Crystane smiled back at Jadia. “It’s no wonder Lodin grew up to be such an honorable young man,” said Jadia. “I can’t conceive of how anyone could grow up with you and Rioric for parents and not grow up to be a good person.”
“Well thank you, Jadia, it really means a lot to me to hear you say that,” said Crystane. “Your mother and Isaac have always meant a lot to us as well. I just wish you and I could’ve gotten to know each other better.”
“Even though I’m a self-admitted thief?” Jadia queried.
“Well, you know, when the people of Gaia had forgotten the Old Ways, the rich and powerful began to oppress the poor. Many poor people had to resort to thievery in order to survive, and many slaves slew their oppressors and fled into the Alban hills near Lake Nemi in what’s now the Kingdom of Stregheria. When Aradia came down from the Heavens, it was to teach the Old Religion to the thieves and assassins, to give them true freedom, so that they wouldn’t have to steal or kill any longer. So even though Witches comprise a sort of aristocracy or nobility today, and paladins often try to distance themselves from thieves, there are a few of us who understand and have compassion for what sort of life a person must’ve had to make her resort to thievery. Even here in Béowyn, where we have an Aradian theocracy keeping the capitalist monarchy in check, the poor are still oppressed to some degree. When it comes right down to it, most paladins -- especially Rioric and Lodin -- as defenders of the Aradian faith, would sooner put a sword to the throat of a rich man who abuses his wealth than a poor man who’s resorted to living as a thief.”
“I suppose that’s why you never objected to Lodin spending so much time with me, or Riley or Llara or William for that matter,” said Jadia.
“Well the Paladin Camp in Hathor is always there to help Lodin and my husband and I if we are ever in need of financial assistance,” said Crystane, “and the Aradian Council in Stregheria will always do whatever they can to make sure their Witches are well taken care of. But your parents aren’t exactly wealthy, and they don’t have the luxury of being able to receive monetary aid from the paladins or the priesthood. The same goes for Riley’s parents. I know that a lot of what you steal goes to help your families, and I know that you only pick the pockets of expensive coats, so to speak. And I know if the opportunity were to ever arise for you to make a good living for yourselves and your families without having to steal from others, you’d do it in the blink of an eye. You’re a good, honorable woman, Jadia. Don’t ever let anyone convince you otherwise.”
“You’re right,” said Jadia, “It’s just that mom always made me feel so horrible for doing what I do. I mean she appreciated the money that it brought in for the family, but she always told me it was wrong, that I needed to find a better way to live.”
“Jadia, your mother loved you immensely,” said Crystane. “It’s only because of my conversations with her and my son that I know you, Riley, Llara, and William are such virtuous people. She only wanted you to have a better life. She wanted you to be able to make a living in some way that wouldn’t just eventually land you in the stocks. She never, ever believed you were a wicked person. Neither do I, neither does my husband, and neither do Jonathan and Lorena. All your mother ever wanted, and all the rest of us want, is just for you kids to be able to have a safe and normal life.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Jadia spotted two figures moving toward her and Crystane. When she turned to see who they were, she saw a tall, muscular man with a long mane of silken black hair, wearing a white, long-sleeved tunic and surcoat, along with a pair of white trousers, white leather boots, and white gloves. The other figure was an elegant blonde woman with large brown eyes, wearing a white ceremonial robe; a flowing, pallid mantle with long bell-sleeves trimmed in silver.
“Lodin, Alyssandra!” Jadia exclaimed, smiling ear to ear as the couple approached.
“We came as soon as we heard the news,” said Lodin.
“Jadia, are you alright?” said Alyssandra.
“Well, I suppose I’m doing as well as should be expected,” Jadia replied.
“Hi, mom,” said Lodin, turning to Crystane and giving her a warm hug. “Where’s dad?”
“He’s up at the altar visiting with Isaac,” said Crystane.
Alyssandra leaned forward to hug Jadia, and the two held each other tenderly as Lodin and his mother did the same.
“Well, I need to get back to Riley and Llara,” said Jadia, releasing Alyssandra. “I’m sure they’d be pleased to see the two of you.”
“We might as well start making the rounds...” said Lodin. “I’ll be back, mom.”
Jadia, Lodin, and Alyssandra walked away from Crystane and began making their way back to where Jadia had last seen Llara, Riley, and Tif.
“So I hear your father’s delivering the eulogy?” Jadia asked Alyssandra.
“That’s the first I’ve heard of it,” said Alyssandra. “As soon as Lodin and I found out that Larissa had passed, we just sort of picked up and left that day.”
Lodin nodded his head in agreement. “We weren’t even sure Jonathan or Lorena would be here. We just ran into Toren and Sarahbeth a few minutes ago, and they told us.”
“I haven’t had a chance to greet Riley’s parents yet,” said Jadia.
“They’re over speaking with Lorena right now,” said Lodin.
“What about Jonathan?” Jadia asked.
“I would expect my father’s getting himself ready for the ceremony, if he’s the one delivering the eulogy,” said Alyssandra.
“Lodin!” Riley exclaimed as Jadia, Lodin, and Alyssandra approached.
“Alyssandra! How’ve you been?” Llara said.
“We’ve been well, though I really wish we could’ve been here under better circumstances,” said Alyssandra.
“How’ve you been, Riley?” asked Lodin. “Are you and Llara still an item?”
“Of course,” said Riley, looking over at Llara.
“How’ve you been doing, Tif?” Alyssandra inquired.
“Good,” said Tif, sitting on Llara’s shoulder. “It’s been months since I’ve seen you two. What’ve you been doing?”
“Well,” said Alyssandra, smiling proudly, “my Lodin has finally become a paladin, and I’m less than three months from my initiation.”
“Well I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say ‘good luck’,” said Riley.
“Thanks, I’ll need it.” Alyssandra smiled. “Say a prayer to the Red Goblin for me.”
“I just realized I told my father I’d be back in a few moments,” said Jadia. “I should go see how he’s doing....”
Just then, a small bell began to ring. The sound was coming from the direction of the altar. Everyone had stepped back as the Witch, Jonathan Foxley, took his place before the altar to deliver the eulogy. The bell stopped, and everyone was silent.
Part 1: Exposition Chapter C: “The Reunion” 2nd Month, 5th Day, VII 4632
It had been scarcely more than three months since Jady had attended her mother’s funeral in Graelark, and nearly as long since the disappearance of her father, Isaac. Llarallyn and Rylen had returned to their home outside Idlestone with William, Lodin was probably stationed at his paladin camp in Hathor, and Alyssandra was likely either staying with her parents down in Cottwood Hollow, or with Lodin in Hathor. And so, almost inevitably, Jady had traveled to Candleton; there, at least, she had friends in the Candleton Thieves’ Guild who would take her in.
The morning sky was overcast with a soft, white haze as thousands of tiny snowflakes drifted harmlessly to the ground, blanketing the countryside just outside the city with rolling sallow hills and cascades of glimmering white dunes. The streets of Candleton were covered in a thin layer of snow, hatched with hoof prints and track ways from the horse-drawn carriages traveling up and down the brick roads in the center of town as local businesspersons finished setting up their booths and tents for the Market Day bazaar that occurs here each month. A single, immense snow drake circled high above the city, probably planning to scavenge the excess foodstuffs produced each month during the bazaar.
Jadia strolled down the road, her hands stuffed into the pockets of her white ermine duster as her eyes scanned one vender’s booth after another. The buxom thief was careful, not only to examine each booth carefully, but to do so at a swift, steady forward gait with her face forward so as not to draw attention to herself before the bazaar had even begun.
The first booth Jadia’s emerald eyes fell upon wasn’t anything particularly amazing, just another rugman selling tapestries -- most of which weren’t exceedingly inoffensive to the eye at that. The next merchant was a young female saddler; nothing astonishing there either. Jadia was taken aback by the next proprietor, who appeared to be sentier. It seemed odd, in Jadia’s mind, that a maker of girdles would set up shop outside. It seemed even stranger that a sentier would do so in weather such as this. As Jadia could no longer resist the urge to simply turn her head and look at the booth as she walked by, she noticed a small tent behind it with smoke rising out of it, alleviating her concerns that the local lingerie sewer might’ve been several threads short of a chemise.
Jadia continued examining the booths. The thief spied a linener, a clouter, a farrier, a mustarder, a chandler, a nob thatcher, a coal higgler, and a clothier; nothing very remarkable, although the chandler deserved further inspection at some point in the day. Jadia then spotted a lone brewer -- an oasis in a desert of mediocrity; he appeared to carry a wide array of ales, lagers, meads, wines, and possibly even more exotic spirits. Jadia’s eyes continued to dart from side to side as her examination resumed. A powler from the Orient offering exotic hairstyles, a fletcher, a ripper, a cobbler, a goldsmith, a potter, a featherman, and a laceman.
‘Wait,’ thought Jadia, ‘a goldsmith?’ Jadia took another look as she walked by, pretending to brush some snow from the shoulder of her fur coat. Sure enough, it was a goldsmith. Just slightly up ahead were a greensmith and a silversmith as well. After them, a banker, and a jeweler. Jadia would have to be sure to make several passes by this area later in the day, not being foolish enough to attempt reaving five shops in such close proximity to one another, all in one fell swoop.
Finally, Jadia’s eyes came upon a booth that appeared to be owned by a tailoress, fully set and ready to receive business. She decided she’d take what money she had and treat herself to a new raiment while she waited for the bazaar’s business to pick up.
Jadia stopped and waited for a carriage to pass before hurrying across the street.
“Hello, I’m Ellythwen Aldryar,” said the young Elven shopkeeper as Jadia approached the booth. “I represent Aldryar’s Attire on the corner of Market and Fare Street in Westside Candleton. How might I help you?”
“I’m looking to purchase a new winter outfit,” said Jadia. “Something warm, but not too warm -- just something to wear under my fur coat. I don’t want it to be bulky either. Preferably, I’d like it to be snug and formfitting, but I don’t want it to restrict my movement.”
“You’re certainly not asking for much, are you?” the Elven woman jested, grinning brightly.
“Think you’re up to the task?” Jadia requited, smirking back with a facetiously raised eyebrow.
“Of course,” replied Ellythwen, leaning over the booth’s counter to look Jadia up and down. “I can tell you now, though, it’s not going to be cheap. It’ll cost you between twelve and fifteen shales, depending on your measurements and how much material I end up using.”
Jadia removed her left hand from the pocket of her ermine duster and dropped two electrum coins onto the counter.
“There’s twenty,” said Jadia, flashing the blonde tailoress a brazen smile. Jadia reached her hand back into her pocket and pulled out two silver coins, setting them on the counter along with the two electrums. “And there’s another two, just to make sure you do your best work,” Jadia said with a playful wink of the eye.
“Twenty-two shales, huh? Malnioryn,!”
An Elven man stepped out from behind the curtain at the back of the booth.
“What do you need?” said Malnioryn.
“I need you to watch the booth for a bit, I’ve got a customer here who wants a whole new winter ensemble,” said Ellythwen. “I’m thinking of using some of that new crushed velvet we got from Arluin.”
“Are you sure we have enough here?” Malnioryn queried.
“If not, we can always send Ranalia back to dad’s shop to get some more,” replied Ellythwen. She then turned her attention back to Jadia. “Come on back,” she said, gesturing toward the curtain at the back of the booth by cocking her head to the side as she opened the small gate at the front of the booth.
Jadia entered the stall and followed Ellythwen as she pulled back the curtain and stepped inside the tent setup behind the booth itself.
Once inside, Jadia was greeted by a comfortably sultry yet tender waft of air. The stove in the center of the room, with its smokestack ascending through the tent’s ceiling, pots of dye stewing upon its surface, and its intensely burning fire from whence the current of thawing air radiated, was the first thing Jadia noticed.
In one corner of the tent was a large wooden loom, surrounded by piles of various fabrics. In another corner sat a spinning wheel, with several bolts of fabric in various states of unroll scattered around it. In the corner immediately to Jadia and Ellythwen’s right, there was a large, tri-fold partition. There were also three tables about the room, one at each of the tent’s walls with the exception of the one Jadia and Ellythwen had just entered through, and each overflowing with fabrics, skeins of yarn, and spools of thread. Near the stove in the center of the room was a large steaming barrel, presumably into which the dyes were poured. On the other side of the stove was a measuring platform, complete with a tall metal shaft and sliding bar for measuring height.
Sitting in one of the numerous chairs within the large tent, seated at the table on the right wall, was a young Elven girl carefully hand-sewing a dress. She appeared to be no more than fifteen years of age at most; Jadia surmised that this was most likely the aforementioned Ranalia, and probably Ellythwen’s younger sister at that.
“May I take your coat and pack?” asked Ellythwen.
“Sure,” answered Jadia, slipping the ermine duster and backpack off her shoulders. Ellythwen took the garment and folded it neatly over the back of a nearby chair, and set Jadia’s pack on the seat.
Ellythwen was slightly surprised when Jadia removed her fur coat, as she’d expected, despite the complete lack of any fat on Jadia’s face or neck, that she would be quite a rotund woman. In fact, Jadia’s skin-tight linen trousers and the belt cinched tightly around her elfinly slender waist made it quite obvious that the illusion of obesity while wearing her coat was due to her having been blessed (or cursed) with an astonishingly sizable chest, uplifted to such an extent that most would find it inconceivable that there weren’t some manner of support holding it up; the rest of Jadia’s body, with the exception of her bulbous posterior, was as dainty and nimble as any Elven woman.
“If you’d like, I could bring in the waist of your coat so people don’t think you portly,” Ellythwen offered. “After all, a woman with a figure such as yours really ought to show it off. Besides, it would probably keep you a bit warmer.”
“Thank you,” replied Jadia, “but I like having the extra room.”
“So you’re a thief, are you?”
“Y’think?” Jadia smirked playfully.
“I hope you’re not planning to rob me,” Ellythwen teased in return.
“If I were, do you really think I’d be foolish enough to make such obvious reference as preferring to have ‘extra room’ in my coat?”
“You make a good point, but what makes you think that either Ranalia or myself won’t warn the other businesspersons of your presence?”
“Because no self-respecting Elf would betray someone’s confidence, and no self-respecting businessperson would jeopardize the possible return patronage of a prospectively loyal customer. Not to mention the fact that Lyraennon Aldryar was once a member of the local Thieves’ Guild, and that the thieves here in town know to let alone any shop run by an Aldryar in exchange for your family’s silence concerning our doings.”
Ellythwen’s eyes grew wide; “I feel as though I should know something of you. You seem to know so much about my family.”
“Don’t feel so bad, I don’t actually know anything else of your family. It’s just that I’m no stranger to Candleton and I have friends here in the Guild. Besides, I show off my figure plenty when the weather permits.”
“Huh? Oh, the coat thing.”
“So, am I your first customer today?”
“No, actually,” answered Ellythwen. “We like to get a head start on things, so we set everything up at dawn and open at sunrise. You’re actually the second person to come in today.
“I’m going to have you change into a gown so I can take your measurements. When I’m through, you can simply tell me what it is you want and come back in a few hours like the woman whose dress Ranalia is working on now, or you can stay here and help me give you exactly what it is you’re looking for.”
“Well I’m not horribly picky, and I’ve learned you can never go wrong trusting an Elf’s judgment when it comes to her craft. I’m sure you’ll be able to conjure up something that I’d like as much as anything I could think of myself if I just give you an idea and leave you to your own devices.”
“Good call,” Ellythwen remarked with a smile. “Ranalia, there’s a gown over by you on the table. Could you toss it here?”
Ranalia set the garment she was sewing down on her lap along with the needle and thread and reached next to her, searching through the linens.
“Here, this one should be big enough,” said Ranalia, tossing one of the gowns in the direction of Jadia, who reached out and grabbed the garment as it flew toward her.
“I’ll just be a moment,” she said, walking over to the changing screen in the corner to her right. She stepped behind it, slung the gown over the top of the partition, and began disrobing.
“So have you ever met my father?” asked Ellythwen.
“Who?” replied Jadia.
“My father, Lyraennon. He owns Aldryar’s Attire on the corner of Market and Fare Street over on the Westside.”
“No, I’ve never spoken with him personally. Is he Ranalia’s father as well?”
“Yes,” said Ellythwen, “and Malnioryn’s.
“So what’s your name, anyway?”
“No,” said Ellythwen, “I mean your surname, for when you pick up your clothes.”
“Oh,” replied Jadia. “It’s Rowan.”
“Height: five feet even.”
“Didn’t we have someone in here last month with almost these exact measurements?” asked Ranalia.
“I think so,” said Ellythwen.
“What was the name?” said Jadia, her eyes wide and hopeful.
“Same as yours, if I recall,” Ellythwen replied. “Rowan. I could be mistaken, though -- I mean a tailoress isn’t going to forget proportions as extraordinary as yours or hers, but I may certainly still be wrong.”
“And you’re certain she had the same measurements as mine?”
“Similar, at least,” said Ranalia. “From what I can remember, she looked just exactly like you in the face as well. Darker hair, though. Why the interest?”
“I lost a sister ten years ago, and I’ve attempted to keep an eye out for her. Whenever I hear rumors that someone was seen who looks like me, I can’t help but think that perhaps it’s her. Perhaps I’m just being zealous.”
“Well,” said Ellythwen, “unless the Nymphs have begun to wear clothes and come into the cities, I’d be inclined to agree that this mystery woman you keep hearing about, if she is indeed one woman, is probably that sister of yours.”
Without warning, Malnioryn peaked into the tent.
“We’ve got return business,” he said. “There’s a woman here who wants you to make some alterations to something you made for her last month.”
“Maybe that’s your long-lost sister now,” said Ranalia.
“I should only be so lucky,” replied Jadia. “I can recall dozens of times I’ve thought I’d finally caught up with her, only to discover that I’d missed her by the most meager of margins.”
Just then, as Malnioryn had disappeared to the other side of the curtain, a young woman entered into the tent.
She was a living mirror to Jadia in every conceivable capacity, with only the most trifling exceptions; a solid complexion devoid of freckles, straight, dark brown hair with a streak of blonde descending along each side of her face, bright blue eyes, and points on her ears.
After what had begun to seem like the foundation of a lifetime that the Fates had decided should have its entirety spent in the fruitless search for Jadia’s estranged half-sister, it appeared her hereto-futile endeavor had come to a comfortably anti-climactic end.
“I was hoping you could add some pockets to the inside of this coat I bought last month....”
“Kyra, is that you?” said Jadia. “Kyra Rowan?”
“No,” said the girl, slowly rocking her head. “My name’s Abigail, Abigail Rowan. And might I ask; just who the hell are you?”
Part 1: Exposition Chapter D: “Domicile” 5th Month, 16th Day, VII 4632
It was a relatively warm, sunny afternoon. Though the trees were still bare, their buds were becoming clearly visible with a mere thirteen days left until Ostara, the vernal equinox. Most of the sky was overcast, though a break in the clouds shone brightly down through the hazy air, reflecting almost blindingly off of the damp, muddy ground and the long-dead leaves that had remained unscathed on the forest floor thanks to the preserving effects of a snow-filled winter. Though the heat from the sun was irrefutably and pleasingly warm, the air itself was cool, and filled with a light, misty drizzle.
Rylen leaned tightly against a tree, hiding behind it as he listened carefully to the clicking, clacking, and slapping of horses’ hooves upon the somewhat muddy road that snakes through this quadrant of Hyllbriar Forest. His keen half-Elven ear intently studied the sounds he heard as he began to detect the faint squeak of two axels, and the smooth, low hum of track ways being depressed into the soft topsoil by four distinct wheels.
“A carriage, heavy load, two horses,” Rylen whispered as he readied his short bow.
William, across the road, hiding behind yet another tree, began to sniff at the air.
“Two male humans, if none are inside the carriage,” the half-Ogre whispered back to Rylen as he tightened the grip on his double-headed war axe in his right hand and choked up on the handle of his warhammer in his left. The half-Human Ogre’s great size and strength allowed him to use both weapons, which most pure-bred Humans would find awkward wielding with both hands, with just one hand each.
Both thieves turned their attention upward, to Llaralynn, who strolled casually along the length of a thin tree branch directly above the road. Llaralynn crouched for a moment, then stood up, and walked back to the base of the branch itself. She then began her descent down from the tree in a manner that neither Rylen nor William ever tired of seeing; she simply walked down the trunk of the tree as though it were a horizontal surface, the same manner in which all Wood Elves are able to move in their arboreal climes. Even her hair and clothing behaved as though the pull of gravity were coming not from the ground below, but from the tree instead.
Once she arrived at the ground next to Rylen, she reached over her shoulder and removed her repeating crossbow from its holster on her back. She took a wooden box magazine from her belt and loaded into the crossbow, lifting the cocking lever and then forcing it back down again, in turn drawing back the crossbow’s string within the wooden groove.
“One of them is armed with a musket,” Llaralynn whispered.
“And the other?” asked Rylen.
“The other one doesn’t appear to be armed.”
“Quiet,” Rylen whispered, “they’re getting close.”
Llaralynn, Rylen, and William waited there by the broad dirt path, listening as the stagecoach drew nearer by the moment.
They waited until finally the carriage had come almost upon them before dashing out into the road.
The carriage driver pulled back on the reins and the horses slowed to a stop as Rylen readied his short bow. Llaralynn had her repeating crossbow aimed carefully at the musketeer, and William held ready both his double-ended war axe and warhammer.
“Use your musket!” the driver shouted. Of course, the musketeer had his weapon held tightly and crossways against his chest, and would have to take aim before he could fire.
“Try it and die, musketeer,” said Rylen, with his arrow aimed between the man’s eyes. “All I have to do is let go.”
Suddenly, Llaralynn saw the door on the carriage’s right side swing open.
“Bloody thieves!” exclaimed Jadia, climbing out of the coach.
“Now that’s the pot calling the Sacred Herb green,” said Llaralynn, putting her crossbow back into its holster as she walked up to her fiery-haired friend.
“Jadia!” Rylen shouted, placing his bow and arrow back into the quiver strapped to his back as he ran around to meet Jadia, following Llaralynn’s lead.
“I’ve got my eye on you,” William warned the musketeer, pointing the head of his warhammer at him as he slowly went around the carriage to greet Jadia.
“We weren’t expecting you,” said Llaralynn, opening her arms to Jadia.
“Obviously,” Jadia replied, embracing the Wood Elf. “I’ve got something to show you.”
Another young woman, wholly identical to Jadia in almost every respect, emerged from the car. Her hair was a dark brown highlighted in front with streaks of blonde, her eyes were blue, she had no freckles, and she had points on her ears that protruded just slightly through her hair, but was in no other respect distinguishable from her redheaded traveling companion.
“Kyra?” Rylen asked.
“No, my name’s Gail. Abigail Renee Rowan.”
“It’s a long story,” said Jadia. “I’ll fill you all in once we get back to the house.”
Just then there was a loud boom, a cloud of smoke, and William was dropped to the ground.
The driver stood to his feet and pulled a small badge from his pocket.
“Thank you for taking me to your secret hideaway,” he said. “In the name of the Court of Law of the Kingdom of Béowyn, I hereby place you all under arrest!”
William stood up almost immediately, his bearskin tunic with a large hole torn into it and his skin beneath covered in powder burns. A small lead pellet was imbedded slightly into the thick Ogren skin of his right shoulder, with just the slightest hint of blood around it.
Rylen shook his head disapprovingly as the musketeer scrambled to reload his flintlock, pouring some of his gunpowder from a cartridge and into the bore, but spilling most of it. He was so utterly shocked that William had returned to his feet so quickly, that he unwittingly cut himself on his own bayonet.
Rylen very casually pulled out his short bow and a single arrow, and shot the musketeer between the eyes before he’d even managed to place the wadding into the bore.
The carriage driver leaped from the springseat bench of the stagecoach and attempted to escape, running between William, Llaralynn, Rylen, Jadia, and Gail. William reached out with his right arm and grabbed the bailiff by his shoulder, and with one hand flung him high into the forest’s canopy.
Several hundred feet away, the man came crashing out of the trees and plummeted to the ground, disappearing behind some bushes before impacting with a resounding ‘thud’ which frightened a flock of birds into the air.
“Nice throw,” said Gail.
“Would’ve been better if I hadn’t just been shot in my throwing arm,” William complained.
Gail began squinting as the glare from the damp foliage started to bother her eyes. She reached into her pocket and removed a pair of darkly stained spectacles and put them on, shielding her eyes from the harsh rays of the sun.
“So,” said Jadia, “does anyone know how to drive a coach?”
* * *
Back at the house, Gail set her backpack and cloak on the chair just inside the door as Jadia, Llaralynn, and Rylen took their seats at the long, slightly rotten table in the living room.
Gail took a moment to scan what she could see of the house. The voluminous yet somewhat crowded living room seemed to function also as a dining room, kitchen, and a bedroom as well, with a great, Ogre-sized bed against the wall left of the door, a smaller bed in either corner of that wall, and a birdcage in the corner furthest from the door, on the opposite wall from the beds. To the right were two dressers on either side of a wardrobe, which sat against the wall to which the weapon room was adjoined through a small doorway. Directly across from the door was a brick fireplace, where the cooking would be done. The walls themselves appeared somewhat worn, and were made of adobe. The living room, though surprisingly large, was the only room in the house, other than the weapons room, which appeared to be no larger than a wealthy merchant’s pantry.
Despite the small size of the home, it seemed a relatively comfortable dwelling. The roof was made of oak and pitch, rather than having been thatched with straw, the tiny window on each wall had a decorative pane of stained glass, and the small gaps and holes in the wood floor revealed a foundation of brick with straw insulation under the floorboards.
Gail took a seat at the table as William walked through the door, hauling a large burlap bag. He walked up to the table and emptied its contents, overflowing the tabletop with coins of copper, bronze, silver, electrum, yellow gold, white gold, and even platinum.
“That’s quite a wealth the two of you’ve amassed,” said Llaralynn.
“There must be enough there to buy an entire town,” said Rylen.
“There’s four more bags like that in the carriage, and some clothes,” replied Jadia. “We also brought presents for each of you, and some expensive spirits we lifted from a traveling brewer in Candleton.”
“I’m not bringing anything else in,” said William, “my shoulder’s killing me!”
“Will, get that lead pellet out of there and clean out your wound!” Rylen scolded. “I’ve got some garlic cooking in the cauldron, so get yourself a rag, get your arse over to the fireplace, put some hot garlic-water on the rag, and clean your damned hole.”
Gail couldn’t help but chuckle a bit as Rylen mothered the eight and a half foot tall half-Ogre, nor could Jadia. They attempted unsuccessfully to mask their amusement as Rylen looked over at Jadia, then at Gail.
“What’s so damned funny?” Rylen demanded.
“Sorry, Riley,” Jadia apologized as she continued to giggle. “I just keep forgetting that your father’s an apothecary and your mother’s a hedge Witch. You just don’t seem like the nurse type.”
“Damn little half-Elf ... kick his pasty little pansy arse...” William grumbled as he made his way over to the cauldron in the fireplace.
“So, Jadia, Gail’s your half-sister too?” Llaralynn queried.
Jadia nodded her head.
“From what we’ve been able to put together, my mother was captured by poachers who thought she was a Dryad while she was still pregnant with Kyra, and they attempted to sell her on the black market in Béowyn when my father, Isaac, bought her freedom for her. He offered to take care of her, and they were handfasted just before Kyra was born. My mother became Larissa Rowan, and Kyra was named Kyra Denise Rowan. Mom became pregnant again about three months later and eventually had me, but then the war started a little over a year later and mom was basically exiled because of how closely she resembled a Dryad, not to mention all the people who really were of Faerykin descent who were rounded up and driven back into Faelore.”
“We know all of this already,” said Llaralynn.
“Right, but what I never knew, is that while she was in Faelore, she returned to Arlianor to resume her relationship with Aramyn, I think since she probably didn’t know where else to turn and didn’t have any idea as to whether or not she’d ever be able to return home to Kyra and me. She obviously couldn’t tell Aramyn that she’d married, and that some other man was raising the child that should’ve been his, so instead she made up a story about having been taken in by a family in Béowyn and adopting their surname for her own, which is how she got the name ‘Rowan’ -- or so went the story she told Aramyn. And since Aramyn knew she was pregnant when she was captured, she told him she’d had a miscarriage. So she and Aramyn had another child, a little girl named Abigail Renee Rowan, since mom was very adamant that Abby have her last name.
“Anyway, when the Unseelie Court finally took over Faelore in the middle of the war, the kingdom of Béowyn reluctantly allowed a lot of the Faerykin to cross the border as refugees, and mom escaped from Faelore almost a year later during the mass exodus at the end of the war itself. By the time the Neutral Zone had officially been established, mom was safe and secure in Graelark with me, Kyra, and dad, and Aramyn continued to raise Abby and even found a new love, a half-Elven woman named Karianna, who Abby’s always known as her mother.
“Even before Aramyn and Karianna had even met, they’d each decided to stay behind in Faelore to aid the local resistance movement against the Unseelie Court while everyone else fled, which is why Aramyn didn’t leave for Béowyn with mom. Well, that and mom had left quietly during the night because she knew Aramyn would’ve tried to send Abby off with her, and she couldn’t exactly return home to Kyra and dad and me with another child after being gone for nearly two years.
“Then, out of the blue, Abby and I just sort of ran into each other in Candleton a little over three months ago during their Market Day bazaar.”
William, Rylen, and Llaralynn stared at Jadia, uniform among them a look reminiscent of that upon the face of a rather dim Orc to whom a complex alchemic equation had just been presented.
“That’s ... complicated,” said Llaralynn.
“Well, she said it was a long story,” Rylen reminded the Wood Elf.
“I never would’ve guessed your mother was leading a double life like that,” added William, furrowing his brow slightly.
“So, how is it you thought this Karianna woman was your mother?” said Rylen, looking to Gail. “I mean I don’t want to sound lewd or anything, but you must’ve been more ‘developed’ by the time you were twelve years old than any Elven woman, or even most Human women, will ever be.”
“Well, I never thought she was my birth mother,” answered Gail. “I’ve known that my so-called ‘real mother’ was a Human woman for as long as I can remember. My dad never even attempted to hide that from me. But growing up, I always assumed that I took after my father. I mean I have the classic Elven frame; slenderer than any Human could healthfully be, as far as I ever knew -- until I met Jadia.”
“Yeah, but what about your --”
“Anyway,” said Jadia, “where’s Tif?”
“Hey Tif!” Llara shouted.
Tif sat up from her bed in the birdcage in the corner of the room, yawning and rubbing her eyes.
“Jadia!” the Pixie exclaimed, her wings instantly perking up. She walked over the wall of the cage and opened the door, and then flew out, her fluttering wings emitting a bright light. “Wait...” said Tif, hovering near Gail, “who the hell are you?”
“I’m Gail Rowan.”
“Nice to meet you, Gail,” replied Tif, landing on the table in front of her, setting herself down at a low spot in the heap of coins.
“Likewise,” returned Gail.
Part 1: Exposition Prologue: “The Harcroft Estate” 8th Month, 7th Night, VII 4632
¶I. The sisters Jadia Michelle and Abigail Renee Rowan dismounted their horses, their boots clapping hard against the wet clay as their feet hit the ground. The rain had begun to lighten as the clouds above began to clear, giving way to brilliant field of stars as the sisters Rowan started making their way up the stone path to the time-ravaged mansion ahead. Surrounding them on all sides were withered, dead trees; an unusual and somewhat discontenting sight to behold with only a bit more than a month to go before the summer solstice. Although it was quite thankfully a warm night, neither Jadia nor Gail could deny the chilling stillness of the air as they approached the mansion’s front steps.
¶II. The two women stopped at the large, granite stairway and pulled down the hoods of their long brown mantles almost simultaneously as they began to examine their surroundings. On either side of the stairway were expansive granite railings, each with a towering iron gryphon mounted at its front most end. And at the top of the stairway, a rotted yet imposing pair of huge, oak doors. The mansion itself seemed to stretch on for a near eternity in either direction, and was at the very least five stories in height. It was a surreal notion that such a castle could lay hidden so well in the forest just outside the wee town of Harcroft, where one would more likely expect to find a small, abandoned cottage than such an imperial estate.
¶III. “Well, Abby,” said Jadia, “we’re here. Harcroft manor.”
¶IV. “Yeah, great. Are we going to actually go inside, or are we going to just stand out here being all awe-struck by the big house?”
¶V. Jadia stood, gripping the straps of her backpack in her fists, her eyebrow raised in disdain at Gail’s mordant ridicule as she stared back at her younger sister. “Let’s just go inside,” she said, her eyes narrowed disparagingly and her teeth borne in an gritting, insincere smile. A sheet of her scarlet mane fell curtain over half her censorious face as her critical gaze scorned young Gail, the elder sister now silent and awaiting reply.
¶VI. Gail let out a withering sigh. “Whatever you say, mother,” she scoffed, rolling her eyes as she followed Jadia up the steps.
¶VII. Jadia took off her backpack and set it on the stoop, then bent down to unbuckle it. She rooted through the pack for a few moments and retrieved from it a small black purse. She opened the purse, and pulled out a small, gold-handled lock pick, which she then used to probe carefully at the left door’s keyhole. Within just a few moments there was a “click”, and Jadia stood straight up and attempted to push the door open.
¶VIII. It wouldn’t budge.
¶IX. “Abby, could you help me with this?” Jadia asked her sister.
¶X. Gail came up beside Jadia and with her began pushing on the door. Both young women put their full weight against it, leaning their shoulders hard against the oaken barrier. Soon there was a creaking, and the door came crashing down with the two sisters atop it.
¶XI. “That went smoothly,” said Jadia.
¶XII. The girls clambered to their feet and shortly retrieved their lanterns, and Jadia her backpack, from just outside the doorway, and then proceeded to examine the room.
¶XIII. The interior of the Harcroft Estate was even more impressive than the outside. It appeared Jadia and Gail were in an atrium of magnificent spaciousness. The floor was tiled with marble, and upon the marble tiles were centuries-old rugs of fine detail, embroidered, it appeared, with Aegyptian gold-weave in the most intricate Celtic knot work; already a rare find. Upon the walls hung ancient, faded paintings of personages long deceased, and from the ceiling hung a chandelier crafted of woolly mammoth tusks, with aged and broken lanterns strung about it. In the center of the hall was a stone column, upon which sat a marble bust -- presumably that of the adventurer Lord Richard Harcroft himself. Far behind that were two grand archways, each leading to another room. Supported by these archways was a great upper hall, to which led a grand stairway on each wall of the atrium to the right and left of where Jadia and Gail stood. Between the archways there stood a towering grandfather clock with a broken face, swathed with cobwebs and spider webs draping from its crown to floor below. In every nook and crevice of the room there were rats scurrying about, avoiding, if somewhat unsuccessfully, the lanterns’ light.
¶XIV. “Where do you want to go first?” asked Gail.
¶XV. “Let’s check out that room over there,” said Jadia, pointing to the archway on the right as she threw her pack over her shoulder. And the two girls stepped cautiously across the marble floor, making their way toward what soon appeared to be a sprawling library.
¶XVI. All four walls of the library were shelved and filled with books, many of them rotting away and coated with centuries of dust, but a few looked as if they’d been printed last week. As they entered the room there was a huge set of doors to their left leading to the next room, the room to which the other archway had led. Just ahead was a great stone fireplace, crumbling away as if before their very eyes. To their right was what remained of a lounging area, an island composed of extravagant couches and chairs, there being two of each type, encircling a small table. Just beyond that was another archway, this one somewhat smaller, leading to yet another room.
¶XVII. The Rowan sisters crossed the library’s creaking, disintegrating hardwood floor to the archway and peaked inside, finding only an ordinary, if not unusually large billiard room, its walls shelved with books in the same manner as the library. They turned around and continued exploring.
¶XVIII. Jadia found her way to the fireplace, and knelt on the stone hearth before it, setting her lantern down alongside her. She opened the front of her lantern, and then broke a piece of badly rotted wood from one of the dry and ancient logs set upon the grates within. She took the tiny chip of wood and placed its end within the lantern’s flame, allowing it to catch fire, and then wedged it between two of the logs in the fireplace. The dry, dusty wood slowly caught fire when otherwise the flame certainly would have died, and after several minutes light began to fill the room.
¶XIX. Jadia closed her lantern, took it and stood up, stepping back from the fireplace. “There, that’s better.”
¶XX. “Hey, what’s that?” said Gail, walking up to the fireplace. She reached up to the mantel and grabbed at a tiny gold candleholder. It was short, not taller than a young child’s thumb is long, and was bejeweled with emeralds. But when she attempted to remove it from the mantel, it was snapped back by an iron chain, and the entire hearth spun around. Gail and the fireplace disappeared behind the wall, as a second, identical hearth took their place.
¶XXI. Jadia huffed and stepped up onto the hearth and pulled on the candleholder, and allowed the fireplace to spin around once.
¶XXII. The sisters now found themselves in a ballroom, one that seemed to have at one time suffered from a horrible fire. The floor, the walls, and the ceiling were all charred black. The huge windows on the far wall were broken out, allowing a chilling breeze to circulate throughout the expansive chamber. In the center of the room was a huge, fallen chandelier. To their left was a set of large double doors, probably leading to some sort of dining area. All around the room were charred, gnarled black skeletons.
¶XXIII. “Why would Harcroft have a secret entrance to a public room?” asked Gail.
¶XXIV. “From what little I know about what Lord Harcroft was like, it probably wasn’t a secret. This was probably his way of poking fun at the secret rooms all the other Lords of his time were putting into their manors. Either that, or it was just to entertain his guests.”
¶XXV. “Probably both,” said Gail.
¶XXVI. Slowly a dark fog began to manifest within the room, and within moments there were dozens of nearly transparent, ghostly apparitions dancing about the ballroom.
¶XXVII. Gail and Jadia watched for several moments in silent horror.
¶XXVIII. In the distance the sisters heard a wailing cat, and the dancing phantoms vanished along with the dark mists. There was the faint sound of young children singing in an almost monotone rhythm. Their nonetheless melodic voices resonated through the sisters’ minds, each chilling note and inaudible word brushing past the girls’ ears like a cold cemetery breeze. Then the words seemed to become clearer:
“The grown-ups on the dancing floor
Don’t know about the secret door
Watch us smile, watch us grin
We’ll set the fire an’ lock ‘em in!”
¶XXIX. Six children of varying ages between three and eight appeared slowly out of the thin air before the Rowan sisters. Unlike the ghosts before, these children were entirely opaque, with skin so white as to be nearly blue. Their heads were bald, their eyes were as pools of blood, and their clothing was non-existent. The corners of their mouths curled hideously as they began to grin, and drops of blood dripped from the corners of their eyes. As they opened their mouths in smile, they exposed to the sisters their shining metal teeth; crooked, sharp, and marbled with blood from the cuts they made in the children’s own gums. The youngsters salivated a steady flow of the sanguine drool, resulting in drips of blood running steadily down their stomachs and onto the burnt floor below.
¶XXX. Though their lips did not move, a second song was sung forth from their open, blood-filled mouths:
“We’ll watch them as the flames get high,
We’ll sit right here and watch them die!
Burn burn burn, fires bright,
Burn in our most sweet delight!
“They think they’re better cuz they’re tall,
Soon we will have killed them all!
Burn burn burn, fires red,
Burn until the last one’s dead!”
¶XXXI. Then, raising their knife-tipped fingers, the children began slowly stepping across the vast ballroom floor toward the two sisters. Out of their mouths came the sounds of children innocently laughing and playing.
¶XXXII. Gail fell back and ran to the hearth and pulled the candleholder, causing the fireplace to spin around.
¶XXXIII. “Jadia, come on!” the younger Rowan shouted, disappearing to the other side of the wall. Jadia followed quickly, tugging on the candleholder and spinning around to the library to meet Gail.
¶XXXIV. Gail exhaled relievedly, her hands nested in her hair, her heart pounding as she now panted from the fear that had completely taken her breath moments before. Her hands fell to her sides as she looked to Jadia, who was as well gasping for breath with her hands resting on her knees. Jadia stood up straight and looked back at Gail, both girls’ eyes as wide as shales.
¶XXXV. “Let’s not go back in there,” said Jadia.
¶XXXVI. Gail’s panting turned immediately to shallow-breathed laughter. “No, I’m reasonably sure we shouldn’t do that,” replied Gail, holding her nearly concave belly as she laughed at her older sister.
¶XXXVII. Jadia joined in with Gail’s laughter. “Come on, let’s go check out what’s through that other archway,” said the elder Rowan, brushing past her nearly identical younger kin.
¶XXXVIII. The tails of their open, hooded mantles trailed behind them as they marched back into the atrium, still laughing slightly along the way. Once the partially cloak-clad sisters were there, however, they discovered that the great oak door that had fallen only minutes earlier had somehow erected itself once more.
¶XXXIX. “That’s a little strange,” said Gail, her lips pursed and her brow burrowed in bewilderment. Jadia wore a similar expression, though just slightly more agape as she walked up beside her sister, looking the door up and down from afar. Just in front of the door was a man squatted, his back to the sisters as he toiled attentively at whatever it was he was doing.
¶XL. “Come to rob old Richard Harcroft have ye?” said the man, standing and turning to face the sisters Rowan.
¶XLI. “No,” said Gail, “we were on our way to Greenloft. A tavernkeep back in town told us we could take a shortcut through these woods, but we were frightened by some strange sounds we heard, and decided to come in here for shelter.”
¶XLII. The old grey-haired man simply laughed for a moment. “Ye don’t honestly think I’ll buy that load of Orc shit, do ye? No, I know ye’ve come to rob the manor. Ye’re thieves, that much is quite obvious. Not that I mind, of course. Not a soul has occupied these grounds in well over two hundred years. Well, no one but souls, it would seem. Although, as I recall, there were two or three thieves in that time. They were made short work of by the ‘residents’, though.” He pushed his spectacles up on his nose, and then continued speaking; “I don’t imagine the two of you will last much longer here, either.”
¶XLIII. “Are you a ghost as well?” asked Gail.
¶XLIV. The old man looked behind him momentarily. “No need to be so formal.”
¶XLV. “Sorry,” said Gail. “Art thou a ghost as well?”
¶XLVI. “Nay, not a ghost exactly,” the old man replied. He snapped his fingers, and instantly the lanterns that hung from the chandelier were lit, brightening the entire atrium, the stairways, and apparently much of the second story. “Ye see, a ghost is like an ‘echo’ that one leaves behind when one exits the world of the living. One’s soul will transcend to the netherrealms, whether it be to the upperrealms or the underrealms. But, many, many centuries ago, the old cemetery’s Guardian Spirit was driven away by all of these damned ghosts running about, haunting the estate. So, when my time came, being that I was Richard Harcroft’s favorite groundskeeper, rather than moving beyond the veil between worlds, I was made to remain here as the permanent guardian of the estate, charged with repairing the damage done by vandals and thieves, and with keeping the vandals and thieves safe from the estate’s residents, along with any unwitting passersby stumbling onto the premises.”
¶XLVII. “So what’s thy name?” asked Jadia.
¶XLVIII. “Leif Grimsson.”
¶XLIX. “And thou doesn’t intend us any harm, doest thou, Leif?” Gail pressed.
¶L. “Well if either of ye take anything as far as money is concerned, I don’t supposed it’ll be missed. But don’t ye dare be taking any heirlooms, or be breaking down anymore doors, or knocking over any tombstones, or any of that sort of thing, or I’ll be feeding you to the residents myself.”
¶LI. “And if we obey these rules of thine, thou wilt protect us from the residents?” Jadia queried.
¶LII. Grimsson laughed. “Don’t be getting the wrong idea. I’m not about to escort you around the estate so ye can help yourselves to the Harcroft fortune, but I’ll be around. And perhaps Lord Harcroft’s spirit could find some peace after all these years if some of his studies were to reach the outside world. Though I don’t suppose ye’ll last long enough to lend any help in that regard. No thief ever has, despite my protection. But, ye are certainly welcome to try, by all means, so long as ye tread lightly and do no harm.”
¶LIII. “And what were those children in the ballroom?” asked Gail.
¶LIV. “Well,” said Grimsson, “every family has its black sheep. But the Harcroft family seemed to be a whole flock of them, with a white sheep here or there, such as good old Lord Richard. He was a great man. But not his brother Gareth. Gareth was what we used to call a ‘jack-ass’ back in those days. There wasn’t anything particularly ‘wrong’ with him, though.
¶LV. Gareth’s children, on the other hand; they were a different story. He had two of them, named Neirin and Brynn. There was definitely something wrong with them. They’d been having a secret, incestuous love affair with each other since young Neirin was old enough to notice girls, and quite a bit before Brynn was old enough to notice boys. I still haven’t figured out if little Brynn would’ve turned out right if Neirin hadn’t done what he’d done to her, but I don’t truly think she would have. Ye see, when a girl has something like that happen to her, she loses a part of herself. The twinkle in her eyes fades away, and her smile turns to blankness, as if something inside of her has died. But not for Brynn. No, for Brynn it was as if she’d come alive for the first time. There were brief moments before that, of course, when she was pulling the legs off of beetles in the garden or when she was torturing rats in the basement. Still, part of me wishes to think she could’ve grown to be a normal young woman if not for Neirin.
¶LVI. “But as families tend to do, the Harcrofts ignored what was going on, hoping it would go away. Neirin eventually married a woman who looked strangely like his little sister, and Brynn was married to a man who suspiciously resembled her brother just two years later. Brynn and her husband spent two years trying to conceive a child, until they returned here one summer and Brynn immediately became pregnant. She and her husband remained at the estate with Lord Richard, Neirin and Brynn’s parents, Gareth and Llewella, as well as Neirin and his wife Carwyn. Over the next four years Brynn gave birth to her child and had three more children on top of that. During that time, though, Gareth and Llewella had both mysteriously passed away; both somehow got turned over in their sleep and suffocated themselves in their own pillows, and both in the very same night, it seemed. Lord Richard died of old age the following summer, leaving his entire estate to Neirin and Carwyn, since Richard had no children of his own. In the autumn, Brynn’s husband, Idwal, had a strange accident. He fell down a flight of stairs and onto a knife, according to Brynn. Brynn remained at the estate, choosing not to remarry. It was when she became pregnant two months later that Carwyn left Neirin, horrified by what that meant, and by what she realized had been going on.
¶LVII. “Neirin and Brynn had two more children together. The strange thing about those children was how normal they were, despite their parents being siblings. In fact, these six children were extraordinarily bright. Then, one night, when Brynn was entertaining guests in the ballroom, for some reason, something inside those children’s minds snapped. Two of them went into the ballroom while the other four put the crossbar across the ballroom doors and locked everyone in. The two in the ballroom started a few fires, and in the commotion escaped through the fireplace. No one saw how they made the fireplace spin around, and no one figured it out before they all burned to death. Of course they died because their clothes caught fire -- the fires never grew large enough to spread beyond the room, or do much more than superficial damage to the room itself.
¶LVIII. “Anyway, after that night, Neirin Harcroft began to experiment on the children in his laboratory down in the basement, feeding them all sorts of potions and concoctions, performing all sorts of strange spells and rituals on them, and performing surgeries that he was far from qualified to perform, being that he wasn’t a surgeon, and only had a few of Richard’s volumes on anatomy to have studied from. He was lucky he didn’t kill those poor children. Well, come to think of it, he’d have been more fortunate if he had. They cut him to ribbons with those knife-tipped fingers he gave them, and with their new metal teeth they ate his flesh. It’s a shame those children were so damned smart, too, because they managed to keep poor Neirin alive and conscious throughout most of the ordeal.
¶LIX. “The children killed a few of the servants and fled into the woods after that, and their corpses were found by some of us who still lived in the estate’s village a few months later.
¶LX. “That’s just one of a thousand stories I could tell ye about this old estate, though.” And with that, Grimsson faded away slowly.
¶LXI. Jadia shrugged. “Guess we should go check out that other room now,” she said, turning and walking away as Gail followed.
¶LXII. With their lanterns in hand the sisters left the bright light of the atrium and entered what appeared to be a breakfast room. On their right, the pair of double doors they’d seen in the library, and ahead, and archway leading into a similar, larger room. Jadia and Gail walked around the large breakfast table and made their way through the archway into the adjacent room, finding themselves in an enormous dining hall.
¶LXIII. Straight ahead of the sisters, across the dining table from them, was a large broken window. To their right, the doors leading into the ballroom, with the crossbar still barricading them and scorch marks beneath them.
¶LXIV. Then they heard the voices of children singing:
“We’ve found two friends with which to play,
We’ll kill them both, to make them stay!
Slash slash slash, sisters’ flesh,
We’ll eat them both, while they’re fresh!”
¶LXV. “I’m leaving,” said Jadia, turning and darting back out of the room at breakneck speed.
¶LXVI. “Me too,” said Gail, sprinting along behind her. Both sisters skidded to a stop once they’d made it back to the atrium, and turned around to look into the dark, blank archway.
¶LXVII. “I think we’re safe from the children as long as we stay in the light,” Jadia observed, looking to her younger sister.
¶LXVIII. “Then what about our lanterns?” Gail argued.
¶LXIX. “Perhaps they don’t cast enough light?”
¶LXX. Gail shook her head. “No, I think it’s just certain rooms that the children haunt. The ballroom where they set the fire and the dining hall where they locked the guests in.”
¶LXXI. “Did you want to look upstairs then?” asked Jadia.
¶LXXII. “You lead,” replied Gail.
¶LXXIII. Jadia walked back toward the entryway and turned sharply right, her hand on the banister of the left staircase as she began making he way up the stairs with Gail following closely after. When finally they reached the top of the huge marble stairway, they found themselves in another large foyer, with yet another huge stairway at the end of the hall, and two huge sets of double-doors on each wall to the right and to the left.
¶LXXIV. “Let’s go in this first room,” said Jadia, gesturing with her lantern in hand to the nearest set of doors on the left.
¶LXXV. Gail nodded her head, and the two sisters proceeded cautiously into the room as rats began scurrying, terrified, to their holes. This the rats did to avoid the sisters’ lantern light, which pierced the binding darkness that swathed the room in blackest shade.
¶LXXVI. In the center of the room were two large lounging chairs and a table with several bottles sitting on it. Lining the walls, about a foot above eye-level for the girls, was a series of plaques. Mounted on many of these plaques were heads, and below the heads were captions.
¶LXXVII. Jadia began to inspect the plaques, one by one.
¶LXXVIII. Jadia moved on to the next series of mounted heads.
¶LXXIX. As Jadia and Gail continued looking around, they found that there were plaques for every known variety of Human, and all with captions included.
¶LXXX. “I’m guessing this was Neirin Harcroft’s trophy room,” said Jadia.
¶LXXXI. “Neirin certainly had some odd hunting habits,” added Gail.
¶LXXXII. “Looks like there’s going to be a lot more ghosts here than either of us would’ve thought.”
¶LXXXIII. “Looks like you’re right,” said Gail. “Do you think that perhaps we should leave?”
¶LXXXIV. “What, are you afraid?”
¶LXXXV. “No, it isn’t that. I’m just wondering if the payoff is really worth all the trouble.”
¶LXXXVI. “Trust me, Abby, it will be.”
¶LXXXVII. Jadia and Gail walked over to the table, through the fluid, almost living shadows that stretched across the room. Jadia set down her lantern and grabbed up one of the bottles.
¶LXXXVIII. “Hmm, three-hundred year-old brandy,” said Jadia, inspecting the bottle. Jadia then handed the bottle to Gail and turned her back to her younger sister. “Here, put this in my pack. I doubt anyone’s going to be getting much use out of it anytime soon.” Gail complied, unbuckling Jadia’s backpack, slipping the bottle inside, and buckling it back up again.
¶LXXXIX. Just then men began to manifest from within the darkness; headless men, their bodies almost transparent. Most of the beheaded men were dressed as though they hailed from tribal societies, and those that weren’t seemed to be outfitted in some sort of warrior garb. Each man was armed according to the preferred weapon of his culture: the Neanderthal and Light Elf each with a composite shortbow, the Borean with a longsword, the Mountain Dwarf with a battle axe, the Blunderbore with a warhammer, the Wood Elf and darkelf each with a crossbow, the Redcap with a miniature glaive, the Gold Elf with a javelin, and so forth. The headless warriors stood, motionless, surrounding the Rowan sisters almost completely yet leaving them an escape route to the doors through which they came.
¶XC. “You are in grave danger,” said the Ettin’s head.
¶XCI. “Heed thy warning,” the Neanderthal’s head added.
¶XCII. Then, out of the mass of transparent, headless warriors, an arrow was shot, striking Jadia in the abdomen and continuing straight through her.
¶XCIII. Jadia doubled over and fell to the floor, crying out in pain as she dropped her lantern.
¶XCIV. “Jadia!” Gail shouted, helping her elder sister to her feet. Gail placed one of Jadia’s arms around her own shoulders and grabbed her lantern, then quickly helped her sister back out into the foyer and kicked the door shut behind her.
¶XCV. Jadia regained her footing and withdrew her arm from her sister, taking back her lantern as she held her stomach.
¶XCVI. “What’s it look like?” she asked, removing her hand.
¶XCVII. Gail knelt down in front of her sister to inspect the wound. It was only a small red circle; nothing that appeared painful in the slightest. Yet from it there came a small wisp of grey smoke, and as Gail put her hands on her sister and guided her to turn around, brushing the long brown cloak aside, she could see that the wound went all the way through.
¶XCVIII. “It goes all the way through,” said Gail, “but it doesn’t look that bad. Just a little burn. You’re lucky that wasn’t a real arrow, or you’d be slowly bleeding to death right now, and it’s a long ride back to town.”
¶XCIX. Jadia returned her hand to the front of her abdomen, still wincing somewhat as she held the wound, and breathing heavily from the pain. “It may not have been a real arrow, but it stings like hell. If it burned me all the way through, that means that these ghosts can do some real damage, and I’ve a hunch that was only a warning shot.”
¶C. “I wonder how it was able to aim / how it saw where to shoot,” said Gail, standing to her feet. She unbuckled her sister’s backpack and fished out the bottle of brandywine she’d placed within it back in the trophy room, then handed it to Jadia.
¶CI. “Are you kidding?” replied Jadia, taking a swig. “They had eyes all over the room.”
¶CII. “Still think the payoff’s going to be worth it?”
¶CIII. “Yeah, I do. C’mon, let’s keep looking.” Jadia hobbled across the foyer to the doors opposite of the trophy room. Gail followed her, shaking her head slightly, amazed by her sister’s determination. Jadia took another swig of the brandy and handed it back to Gail, who returned it promptly to Jadia’s pack.
¶CIV. “Aren’t you going to have any?” the redheaded sister asked.
¶CV. “Do I look like I want to die?” Gail quipped. “That stuff’s three-hundred years old. It’s probably about a hundred and fifty percent alcohol.”
¶CVI. “I feel just fine....”
¶CVII. “You just got shot!” said Gail, as she feigningly punched her sister in the shoulder with a lively, playful grin. Jadia smiled back as she turned and opened the door and peaked into the room, then shut the door again.
¶CVIII. “Just a lavatory,” said Jadia, proceeding to the next set of doors as Gail closely followed.
¶CIX. Jadia turned the doorknob slightly, but was stopped before she could open it by a slight chill she felt down the length of her spine. Gail had felt the same icy twinge, and together the sisters slowly turned round to gaze upon that which beckoned them silently from astern.
¶CX. Upon having turned around, the sisters saw before them a rather portly woman in a maid’s uniform. Her skin was pale, yet blotched with sickly red blisters, and her eyes seemed to have been torn out crudely. All around her brow and the bridge of her nose were slash marks, and her lips had been shredded to blood-sopped sinews. In her hands she carried a tray of food; a loaf of bread covered in dilute blood made chunky with the occasional clot sliding down from atop it, and a glass filled also with thin, watery blood.
¶CXI. “Children,” said the maid, “it’s time for your supper. Please hurry up and eat, or it’ll get cold.”
¶CXII. “Uh, they’re downstairs,” said Gail, “in the dining hall.”
¶CXIII. “Oh thank you very much,” the maid replied. “I haven’t been able to see anything in ages.” She walked away from Jadia and Gail then, across the foyer, through the wall opposite the sisters and into the trophy room. Then there was screaming, and then silence.
¶CXIV. “Huh,” said Gail, “I suppose it wouldn’t have done much good to point her in the right direction, either.”
¶CXV. Jadia smiled, rolling her eyes and shaking her head as she opened the door and stepped inside. Gail followed her sister into the room and closed the door behind her as she entered.
Part 2: Exposition Chapter G: “Phantasmata” 8th Month, 7th Night, VII 4632
Part 2: Exposition Chapter H: “The Spectre’s Trove” 8th Month, 7th Night, VII 4632
Part 1: Exposition Interlude: “The Campaign” 8th Month, 7th Night, VII 4632