Part 1: (Sidebar) Sundown on the Southside
Festival night in Sandpoint. After a day of abundant revelry, the town's morally astute citizens had gathered uptown in Cathedral Square for a solemn ceremony to dedicate the new temple and give thanks to the Great Dreamer. Meanwhile, on the southern end of town, another event had gotten underway for the more philosophically progressive set who cared little for religious pomp and circumstance. It was the Sandpoint Arts Fair, an event held annually on the night of the Swallowtail Fest that featured local artist galleries and street performers spanning the length of Festival Street from the theater to the docks, and across Market Street to the Rusty Dragon.
Katariah al'd'Keleshii Suleiman Saharkar
The sea air whipped through a cloudless sky in the tiny rustic town of sandpoint. Buildings of raw wood vied for space with stone and wood dressed in plaster - a vibrant spirit flowed through this tiny community, something of growth and a newness absent in the older, more established seaports and seaside towns Katariah had travelled to in the past - or perhaps it was just having left behind the trammels and travails of travelling as a princess, bedecked in a thousand skirts and carried in a palanquin, surrounded by ubiquitous guards and hidden watchers, mothers raising babies into the air in the hopes of them getting a single glimpse of her, the business of the land stopping like a broken clock until she was beyond view. In either case, she paused, taking a huge breath of air, tasting the salt of the sea, the faint odours of the docks and the town, and nearly causing the burly tradesman coming down the gangplank being her to trip into the sea. "Watch it, you." He grumbled, but she didn't mind. An apology swift to her lips, the dour tradesman consoled, Katariah took a few seconds longer to watch the town.
There was little sign of the coming festival unless one knew where to look - a spring in a dockworker's step, a bit of bunting put out in preparation, packed crowds in streets that looked more used to sparsity or emptiness, bright clothing and an air of gaiety.
Settling her sword in it's massive sheath, she looked back up at the tiny coaster she had just exited, looking for the strange scholar she'd met aboard ship, the one obsessed with ancient relics of civilizations long gone by. "Braids! Are you coming, or do I have to get up there and drag you out? I want to see some of this town before the festival starts and everything closes!"
A pleasant flow of colour and motion defined the limits of the hostess' dance, and Katariah laughed easily at the shocked and pleased looks on the faces of some of the male patrons as the limber singer and dancer swayed and moved around the room without once altering the cadence of her song. The barkeeper's finer qualities could not be denied, and Katariah found herself losing the plot of the song as she watched her move. If she was more sure of herself perhaps she would have risen and danced alongside the barkeep, but this new into this town, not to mention the region, she felt unsure if that would be a good idea. Besides, she thought, looking briefly under her lashes at her new companion, I don't know what my new friend would think of that sort of behaviour. Perhaps it would send her looking for a new bodyguard. She smiled. She doubted it, given the lively nature of her new employer, but it never hurt to be cautious.
Once the song ended, she joined in the applause with a lively hand, and whistled loudly with two fingers just to see if the barkeeper would blush. "She is certainly a talented dancer," She said as the applause began to die away, turning back to her companion. "To dance and sing in two different cadences isn't easy." An odd look in her eyes seems to indicate that she's remembering something from her past. "At least, so i'm told."
As she made her rounds catering to the crowd, Ameiko Kaijitsu approached the table where Katariah and Braids had settled. "Evenin', ladies," she warmly welcomed with a wide grin as she pulled a towel from her waistband and gave the table a quick wipe down. "Don't think I've seen you two around these parts before," she wondered aloud. "Can I get you some refreshments, or are you just here to enjoy the show?"
Braids felt under the weather.
The intrepid adventurer and keeper of ancient lore stood within a water closet, her arms on the block of stone that held the bowl of water. She raised her tired gaze to the mirror before her, looking at the weary face that stared back. The trip had been brutal on her, due to her queasiness from traveling over water. This wasn't something she was used to. This wasn't the soft sand that engulfed her feet as she walked, nor was it the dry and arid weather that she felt at home to. Everything was salty and moist to the touch, plus the swaying motion of the ship sometimes left her disoriented if she moved too much and also if she stayed still for too long. A sigh slowly drew out from her lips. Damn it all.
When the elegant woman, now hired as her bodyguard after an impromptu meeting, called for her from outside, she sighed and looked down, letting her two prominent braids that originate near her temples fall into the water. Her hands dipped into the water and cupped for a moment, then rose upwards, causing the water to splash against her face. Braind then placed her hands back on the stone block, took another deep sigh, and responded, "I'll be there in a moment!"
Next, she took out a handkerchief and patter her face. She had perspired quite a lot, and she didn't have much time to freshen up. With a wiggle of her index finger, Braids uttered some arcane words and a purple spark of magic washed over her face, and slowly crawled over the rest of her body, cleaning and freshening as it passed over. Soon, she smelled of lavender.
As she looked up, she smiled weakly in the mirror, breathing in the pleasant smell. Better.
Something moved in the mirror while Braids was admiring the scent, and she noticed immediately. A pale old man stood near the exit, dressed in elegant clothing, which included an embroidered vest with fancy buttons, a big hat with four feathers, simple pants and boots, and most noticeable, a sword sticking through his chest and his flesh being completely white and particularly chilling.
The man was impaled from behind.
Braids stood still, keeping a calm yet worried eye on the man, her hands slightly clenching the stone basin. When the man just stood there, nonthreatening and calm, she gave him a sideways glance at him and held it. Slowly she turned towards him, getting a better look. Moss grew along the left side of his face, wriggling into his eye even. His hair seemed to float into the air, giving the impression that he was underwater. His mouth opened as she faced him, but no sound came out.
This seaman, most likely a previous captain, reached out to her hands, as if to grab it. Braids maneuvered away from him, trying to get past him. He moved slowly, giving the woman the edge in the small and cramped room. "I can't..." she lied as she opened the door. She could help him, but she couldn't help them all. "I'm sorry." She slammed the door and headed for the exit of the ship.
Braids rushed as she exited and almost bumped into Kat, her sudden and abrupt halt causing her to lean slighlty, but she recovered. "Oh, there you are." She looked over her shoulder, and spotted the captain, the current captain of the ship, a youthful man that from the looks of it had two extra buttons to his vest, had a bigger hat, and had four more feathers. "Farewell now, ladies!" he called to the two, his voice smooth and devilish along with his sharp smile he showed of to them.
Braids blinked, and the old sea captain appeared behind the other captain, his mouth still open, and his hands slightly reaching out in her direction.
She turned from the sight and walked away. "Let's go now... if you're ready." She wasn't never known to be a strict boss.
The archaeologist had a book before her and a folded parchment that was folded twice, and was in a small rectangle that was slightly smaller than a page from her book. She held a pencil with her left hand, occasionally fiddling and twirling it in her hand as she examined both her book and the map piece before her. Sometimes she would hover the pencil over a certain word on the map, look back at the book, and then proceeded to decipher the text on the map after double-checking it once more.
At Kat's mention of dance, Braids curiously looked up at the dancer, still holding her book open before her. "Hmm... is it really? And who was it that told you that?" She looked at her curiously, glancing back at her map occasionally but maintaining her attention on her new-found bodyguard, who she knew little about.
When the woman approached, she gave a kind smile. "I think we're here for... both? Well, for me, I could use a mineral water if you have it."
Katariah al'd'Keleshii Suleiman Saharkar
Katariah looks over from where she was watching the barkeeper start to make the rounds of the bar, a slightly surprised expression on her face. "Who told me? It was just.. ah... someone from my... home town. Someone who loved to dance, and sing, and all the beautiful things in life." A faint twinge of sadness mars her face for an instant, her eyes hooded and staring a long way past Braids, into a past long ago. In another instant, it's gone, and she smiles at the archeologist, a wide friendly smile with just a hint of wickedness. "I'm not terrible at dancing myself, perhaps you'd care to take a turn around the floor?"
Completely unnoticed by the Keleshite girl is Ameiko Kaijitsu swanning across the floor and arriving quietly behind her. "Evenin', ladies," comes the voice from behind her and the erstwhile bodyguard is visibly startled to hear it. She half-turns to greet the hostess, and smiles awkwardly. "We just arrived today, on a ship." Her eyes cross slightly as she realizes how dumb that sounds. Yeah great Kia, 'we arrived on a ship', how else would you have arrived, way to sound like a dolt, safaista. "By which I mean we arrived on the Seaside Dream, out of Sefer." She treats the hostess to a dazzling smile, or at least she hopes it's dazzling. "I really admired your dancing, by the way. I dance a little myself, so I know how hard that was - I didn't expect it from a small town like this." Oh god, i'm hopeless. Make friends with skilled dancer by insulting her town! Sarenrae, please kill me now. Trying to appear casual, she adds. "If you have
Dragonsfire, i'll take a dram of that, and my friend will have some
spicewine, if you have any." And now you're asking her for a hard, exotic drink... what exactly was the purpose of all this, again? Oh right, not to come off sounding like an idiot or a blade bravo. Bravo. She tries hard not to wince as what she has just said reaches her disbelieving ears.
Ameiko's smile grew from a sideways smirk to a wide grin as she listened to the foreign traveler fumble with her words, Katariah's royal refinement clashing in vivid color with her desire to appear at ease in this folksy, urban alehouse. "Oh, you're a dancer too? Well maybe you'd like to demonstrate the style of the eastern lands?" The saucy server playfully prodded the Keleshite Princess, hoping to score her patrons some free entertainment. She knew that the crowd was particularly fond of... exotic dance, and that with their spirits lightened after an evening of drinking, they were sure to appreciate a show from this elegant newcomer.
"You think it over. I'll be back with your drinks," she said, turning for the bar. 'Dragonfire, huh,' she thought as she walked away. 'She must have guts of iron, this one. I hope she'll setttle for the house brandy spiked with a few of my signature spices.'
Oh, I couldn't." Katariah says automatically, although secretly she's thrilled. A dancer wants to see her dance. Although, she's sure, in comparison to the innkeeper she will seem clumsy and useless - perhaps it's less of an opportunity and more of a trap. The prodding produces an almost blush from the keleshite girl. "I'll uh, think about it. But i'm really not very good. Thank you." The knowing look in the innkeeper's eye as she walks off to get the drinks is almost enough to have her hang her head, or at least exclaim 'I really do like dragonsfire!' the way she would when younger when her brother teased her about it.
Braids inhaled rather sharply, as if surprised. "Me? Dance?" Her deep blue eyes, so vibrant and colorful they were often described as sapphires, darted around the room at least three times. "No no, that's not... no, that... just no." She was flustered slightly at the prospect of putting herself out there to dance when she would rather curl up with a book and transcribe some languages. She just felt more comfortable with a book, or with parchments in her hand. Dancing? She never thought she had the body for it. Hers was lean and slightly muscular from digging and climbing. She was rather graceful within ruins and while balancing, but to perform onstage in front of people? Impossible.
Blood swelled in her cheeks, causing her to blush slightly. "No thanks." she said finally, in a dismissive yet jokingly tone. She couldn't help but smile, mainly from embarrassment, perhaps? Still, as she blushed slightly, it brought some color to her slightly tanned face, a tan which she earned from her excavations. Of course, around her eyes her skin stayed the same soft cream color, mainly because of the assorted eyewear she always wore, from goggles to sunglasses, she always wore eye protection while she worked, which caused an even transition from her natural creamy-colored skin to her slightly tanned and sienna-colored face. This even transition in skin tone also served to make her blue eyes sparkle even more against the natural cream skin color she still retained around them.
When her companion spoke about how they arrived on a ship, even giving the name of the ship, Braids slowly halted her writing on the parchment before her, but recovered as Kat continued on with blabber about dancing.
As Kat ordered for her, she didn't object, but before the hostess left, she made sure her own order was confirmed. "Yes, spicewine... but don't forget the mineral water as well." She flashed a smile as the woman left the two of them.
When they were alone once more, Braids continued her transcriptions. "Katariah, I failed to convey this to you before..."
She did not look up, but spoke now in a low tone, so as to prevent other people nearby from hearing what she said.
"So I'll bring it up now. My line of work, being an archaeologist, a delver of lost treasure, is fraught with danger. Partly because of the elaborate and deadly traps that are usually involved in protecting such treasures, but also from the men and beasts that also go at great lengths to seek such treasures. Some would even kill me if I knew where a lost artifact could be found, simply because I was in the way of their prize. Plus, if is magic involved, then it would be so simple to quickly snuff my life out and then ask my corpse where the treasure lies. Easier that way, but far more deadly for myself."
She spoke calmly about the matter as she scribed. Then, she glanced up at the Keleshite.
"I have to always be careful, which is why I prefer a bit of anonymity when I travel." She quickly looked the bodyguard up and down. "I'm sure you too would prefer to 'tread lightly' as well, no?"
The revelry continued at the Rusty Dragon. The sights and sounds of a full tavern filled the air and delighted the senses. Here, unbridled laughter as one patron spun a farcical fable for the enjoyment of all; there, a tempting glimpse of a dancing ladies' leg as her skirt rose for a few seconds too long, or the sweet aroma of fine tobacco burning as a waft of smoke curled up from a gentleman's pipe.
Braids had made herself quite comfortable, her work spread out before her on the table as she carefully studied a manuscript titled 'Lost Ruins of the Fourty-Second Century.' Kat kept herself busy observing the mannerisms of the local people, the way they dressed, talked and walked, savoring the opportunity to witness a class of people whom her family might call common enjoying themselves with such abandon.
Miss Ameiko approached with drinks for the table, when suddenly...
A sharp retort, like the crack of distant thunder, cut through the crowded room and rippled across the early evening sky outside. The people seemed startled for a moment at the sound, but almost immediately, everything returned to normal. "Oh, the ceremony must be getting started," the hostess calmly observed, knowing that the use of a thunderstone was common practice for a speaker to gather the attention of a large crowd. Ameiko went about her business, setting the drinks down on the table along with a couple of folded, cloth napkins.
But the peaceful atmosphere did not last long. Moments later, you thought you heard a disturbing sound in the distance. Yes, there it was again, the unmistakable sounds of people screaming in terror. Beyond them, you could barely make out a surge of strange new voices as well—high-pitched, tittering shrieks that sounded not quite human. The crowd at the Dragon grew quiet. "Did you hear that?!" one patron exclaimed. "What in hell is going on?!" another wondered impatiently.
All the while, the strange voices grew closer, and the screams grew louder. Sensing trouble, Ameiko Kaijitsu did her best to calm the crowd. "Everyone remain inside!" she instructed as she headed for the door. Most of those inside the tavern were happy to comply, but a few brave souls felt compelled to follow Ameiko outside.
* * * * * * *
Once outside, it became abundantly clear who the source of the foreign voices were, as the first verse of the strange rhyme reached your ears...
"Goblins chew and goblins bite.
Goblins cut and goblins fight.
Stab the dog and cut the horse,
Goblins eat and take by force!"
Apparently, the nasty little things had taken the priest's detonation of a thunderstone as their signal to attack, and now they could be heard chanting and shrieking throughout the streets, along with the terrified screams of the townsfolk and their guests. Sandpoint was immediately thrown into absolute mayhem! At the far end of Market Street, the outdoor gallery was being overrun. Goblins were smashing sculptures and setting paintings ablaze as they chased people around with torches and jagged blades. The townsfolk scattered in all directions in futile attempts to escape the filthy little marauders.
"Come on! We've got to do something!" Ameiko yelled, and she started double-timing it over to the scene. As she deftly moved among the fleeing crowd, she reached to unclasp her belt, which seemed odd at a moment like this, until she pulled it loose and you realized that her belt was actually a concealed, leather whip, at least six or seven feet long.
The Market Square was rapidly emptying, as several goblins could be seen in the area. On the eastern side of the square there was a waif of a girl desperately trying to gather her things before she fled, but the goblins were closing in on her fast and she appeared to be in deep trouble. on the western side of the square, there was a single guard who was attempting to keep the raiders safely away from any remaining civilians, but he was quickly becoming surrounded...
Ameiko Kaijitsu, huh? She was charming, quick-witted, an amazing dancer and performer, and owned her own bar. Perhaps one day she'd have the poise of that woman. Truly, out in a place like this, seeing people like that, is where she belonged. Besides.. there was something homelike, comfortable, about being in an inn full of happy, laughing people. The atmosphere just washed over one like a warm blanket, blurring the edges even without alcohol, and taking the harsh bite from the edge of life.
"Katariah, I failed to convey this to you before... ... I'm sure you too would prefer to 'tread lightly' as well, no?" Katariah blinked once, slowly. "And I thought archeology was all dusty old ruins and old books." She gave a small smile to the slight woman. "Don't worry. I'll keep things quieter. My old master used to say, though, that a bodyguard can take one of two approaches to guarding the principal's life - she can be the shadow in the darkness, waiting with no sign of her presence for the assassins, so they have no idea that you are there, or she can be an eye-catching placard that advertises her presence so that assassins will plan their attacks around the bodyguard, and the bodyguard, knowing that, can be ready for attempts in those ways. And he said I was only ever suited for the second role, so he made sure I was good at it." A faint smile follows the words, as she remembers a fond, if harsh, time. Her tone and face turn serious, though, as she looks back down and meets Braids' gaze (or the top of her head if she's still buried in a book) "You don't need to worry though. All my life, I have been taught to take my troth very seriously. It doesn't matter to me who comes after you, men, beasts, monsters, magicians, devils - i'll protect you regardless." True to her words, though, Katariah conducted this entire conversation sotto voce, and made sure in the rest of the celebrations (as short as they proved to be) to keep her interest on the proceedings in way that attracted less attention.
"What in sarenrae's name?" Katariah blasphemed, half-turning in her chair, hand reaching for the comfortingly well-used sheath of her incredibly massive greatsword, relaxing only slightly when Ameiko made a comment about the celebrations starting.
Looking down at the thick black surface of the 'Dragonsfire', Katariah felt her trouble bump ease up slightly. "Thank you, this looks really..." High pitched yelling and screams from outside made her start up again, sitting up and looking towards the doorway. "What the hell is going on out there... that is not a celebration." Throwing herself to her feet in a fluid tumbler's move, a foot reaches out and flips the sheathed greatsword into the air, Katariah's arm swings around and snatches it out of the air, bringing the massive weapon to rest across her shoulders. "Everyone remain inside!" Ameiko shouts as she rushes out the door. "Like hell." Katariah answers under her breath. Reaching up to her face, she quickly hooks her veil, leaving only her eyes visible. Around the keleshite girl a black aura coalesces, a large burning teardrop of black flame still mostly transparent but now hazily visible even in the darkened evening light. Katariah turns back to Braids, a firey light in her eyes. "Stay here. I'll go and find out what is going on." Sword still over her shoulders, she turns again and runs out the door, leaning forward into the wind with the black flames streaming behind her, turning to yell one last thing as she runs "I'll be back soon!"
In the street outside she saves her breath for running (unless she sees Braids), focusing on keeping pace with Ameiko with a strange loping desert run. What could be making that sort of noise? I'm going to look like an idiot if it's just part of the celebrations... but no. That screaming sounded real. People in danger, from something... and those high pitched noises don't sound like anything human... Alright. "
Arel'eocho Iallai, karvain di safastae avar." Holding her hand out and squeezing it tightly until bright light forms in the palm and rolls down her arm, becoming a slim black fore-arm guard, and continuing down her body until her clothing has lightweight ninja armour covering about half the surfaces. Alright then. Let's see what the hell this is all about.
She bursts into the square a few steps behind Ameiko and sees chaos, fleeing crowds, a guard swinging a shining blade, and.. goblins? What in sarenrae's name are they doing in the town? More importantly, though, her eyes lock onto a thin young girl left behind by the fleeing townsfolk, right in the path of the charging, laughing goblins with bright torches and dirty steel in their hands. There is no time to evaluate the situation, not that Katariah needs to. Someone is in danger. Leaning forward and darting into the square, her leather slippers making a tap-tap-tap-tap noise as she runs, she rips her greatsword out of it's sheath, throwing the sheath to one side, and ducks behind an artwork, shadows wreathing her for a bare instant before she steps out in front of the girl, her massive sword slamming down onehanded to block the goblins' path to the goal, her tall forbidding form wreathed in black flame and staring with dark eyes over her veil at the raiders.
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