Private Tales Graves Too Horrid to Dig

A private roleplay only for those invited by the first writer

Caeso Diemut

Force Solves All
Character Biography
Pernach was a town under siege.

Not in the traditional sense, no. There was no army entrenched around imposing walls (Pernach's walls weren't imposing at all, as it were: wooden, small, an ogre could just barely peek over them on the tips of his big toes). There was no foe which presented himself openly for a fight. Yet an evil assailed the small town all the same, coming in the dead of night if indeed they did come. This was their knowledge to know, for they tormented the town seemingly at their pleasure.

The vampires.

* * * * *​

Caeso Diemut stood in Pernach's church. Hundreds of years old, this church, a relic of an age long past, and no one living in town even knew what religion had been practiced here. All the church retained of its old religious purpose was the iconic shape of the building itself, for the inside had long since been renovated, changed to suit more practical purposes in the intervening centuries. The church was more of a town hall than anything in these days.

Today, however, it was serving a grim purpose. Something which perhaps harkened all the way back to its original intent.

Caeso frowned tightly as he beheld what was on the platform stage of the church/town hall. A child-sized coffin. Beyond the stage and propped up against the back wall, there were more such coffins. A sober and practical measure taken by the visiting undertaker, Hans Helebor, from the next town over (Vel Yuna, which had earned the Vel designation from the King which always seemed to elude Pernach).

Caeso shook his head. He said solemnly, "I do not believe I have cast my gaze upon a more awful sight than this. What could surpass it, this construction laden with terrible implications?"

Hans's expression pinched slightly. A certain loss of sensitivity came with his line of work, yet still he said, "I don't like making 'em."

Caeso looked to the undertaker. "And what is the number of dead now?"

Hans reported matter-of-factly, "This'll make the fifth one. It's the Koningfair boy—the townsfolk found him right about the time you three got here, I believe. They're bringing him now." After a pause, Hans added, "The Lord Mayor's with the Koningfairs right now, if you were wondering. He'll be coming here with 'em."

Caeso nodded to the undertaker. Then glanced to Lumen and Zinnia.

The weight of their responsibility to Pernach was clear.

Lumen Zinnia
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She frowned. While this was one of the few missions she'd been on where it seemed to actually matter and wasn't just about delivering a message to another place. It was clear this was still a lower-level assignment. This was a small, nearly unwalled town. And even without the 'Vel' in front of the name, it still fell under the firm protection of Vel Anir proper.

And if Lumen disliked anything more, it was when folk took advantage of towns like these, thinking no one would come to the rescue of some non-Vel named place. And they could get away with anything. Her grip on the sword sheathed at her side tightened for a moment as her tawny eyes swept over the small coffins one more time before settling on Hans.

"The four before this. Have they all been children?" She had a lot more questions but doubts this undertaker would know them. That didn't mean she wasn't keeping him as a firm suspect in her mind. Everyone in this town was a suspect.

Her attention shifted to the door as she heard voices outside. Perhaps this was the Mayor with the others now.
Ritualistic murders were becoming far too commonplace an event for Zinnia's liking. In fact, "zero" would have been the preferred number under ideal circumstances. This time it was children that were being periodically exterminated. The thought of that was enough to make Zinnia's stomach churn.

"M-more have they d-died? Has it b-been the same m-method every time?" She prodded the undertaker, but her gaze didn't break from the coffins lining the wall. Her brows furrowed. This was so wrong. The fact that she already had experience investigating strings of killings at age 16 was probably something that would have been concerning for someone of a background other than her own.

Then again, neither she nor her compatriots were ordinary. That was something Zinnia had to constantly remind herself. They were Vel Anir's finest--or, at least they soon would be. To serve was to pay the debt she owed to her city, her country, and to do so alongside her brothers and sisters was the greatest honor she would ever have. That was why she volunteered for this nightmare in Pernach in the first place, after all.
Hans looked to Lumen. Maybe his face would've been grim or heavy if he was anyone else, or if he was still in his first year as an undertaker; the sting to him was now less like being run through with a rapier and more dulled, like a teething puppy's toying bite.

"Yes they were. All children." And with a sober and slow sweep of his hands back toward the line of coffins at the back of the church. "Hence my...what's the word?...pre-emptiveness. It's horrible, but a pattern is a pattern."

Caeso glanced over to Zinnia, mildly surprised she had the presence of mind to ask an astute question. Then he looked back to the undertaker for his answer.

"Same method. Every time." Then he gestured toward the church doors, those voices outside the preamble to the doors opening. "You'll see in moment."

First in came a small group of five men, townsfolk who had found the boy's body at Pernach's periphery. The man at their lead carried the corpse of Frederich Koningfair, aged ten. He brought it up to the open coffin at the platform stage and gently laid it down and exchanged a few, murmured words with Hans, saying mostly "It's a damn shame." Solemnly, the group of men turned and left.

Caeso looked at the boy's body. Completely pale. Desiccated. The flesh clung to bones, his cheeks sunken in, his closed eyes sitting in deep pits. He had been drained of all his blood and had dried up.

"What is the nature of the attacks?"
Caeso asked. "Have they been taking their victims one at a time—?"

Hans lifted his hand. "The Lord Mayor is in a better position to answer all those type of questions. He briefed the last Dreadlord that came through."

Caeso's brow furrowed. "The last Dreadlord?"

Hans looked a little puzzled then as well. "...yes. The Republic sent a full Dreadlord out here for this before you three. No one knows what happened to him though."

Caeso looked to Zinnia. To Lumen. Asked of them, "I suppose our magnanimous Proctors did not deign to inform you, Zinnia, or you, Lumen, of this either?"

Lumen Zinnia
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Lumen's fair face paled further at the body of the boy. He was only about a year behind her own twin brothers. It could've easily been one of them. And as horrifying as the thought was, she still gravitated toward the body. Tawny-eyes forcing herself to look at him closely. Look for any clues.

Gaze snapped to Caeso Diemut at his question. Swallowing, she took a step back from the casket and boy. To her credit, her tone never waivered. Voice remained steady though her emotions were a raging storm within. "No, not me."

But she had to trust they had a reason not to. Or perhaps it slipped their mind. The former being the preference over a third option. That something nefarious was going on. Prior to the revolutions, she might've suspected this to be one of their tests to cull the numbers. But now...

A glance back at the small coffins. The boy. A flash of her brothers' faces as she woke up to their screams. And suddenly she felt like she needed some air. "I'm going to go patrol the perimeter, see if I can spot any clues." She didn't wait for their permission as she slipped outside.
Unfortunately, if what she'd learned from the last round of killings was anything to go by, checking the bodies for mode of death was an important step in the whole investigative process. She hadn't much cared for examining the corpses of adults; those belonging to children made her much more squeamish. Look she did, however, and the sight was just as displeasing as she thought it would be.
"C-Caeso they look almost...m-mummified..." She pondered aloud, brow wrinkling up in both focus and disturbance. The bite of info that the undertaker dropped just after was even more concerning. "I d-don't know what could d-do this, but If they're all l-like this, then it m-must be the same p-person--or monster-- d-doing it...I think..."

Shaking her head, Zinnia looked to Lumen for further confirmation of that fact.
"I h-hadn't either...why would th-the proctors not have t-told us that?"

Lumen had already walked out before the usually reliable young woman could provide any insight. Zinnia stretched out a hand as if to catch her as she slid from the room, fruitlessly. Lumen in a somber state was a rarity, from Zinnia's experience. That she apparently wanted space was probably cause for concern, but...

"I...*sigh*...w-we should probably s-speak with the mayor..." Zinnia concluded, resignation in her tone.
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Neither Zinnia nor Lumen had been told about the Dreadlord either. Caeso would have loved to chalk it up to incompetence, that perhaps only one of their mentoring Proctors remembered to mention it. Now he couldn't help but to assume an explanation of a more dangerous character. Was it a small reemergence of the old way? Or mayhap even the Proctors themselves were not told of the missing Dreadlord in Pernach?

"He's coming," said Hans, nodding toward the open church doors.

Not long after Lumen departed, weeping could be heard outside. The Koningfairs stepped inside, each dressed in simple clothing; Nia Koningfair had her hands steepled over her face, saying over and over into her palms, "Not my boy...not my boy...not my baby boy," while Peter Koningfair had his hat in his hands and was trying mightily to keep his expression level and unbroken. At the sight of Hans, the open coffin on the stage, the little nose just visible over the coffin's edge, Nia collapsed at the church doors and her open wailing echoed to the high ceiling. Peter knelt down to comfort her.

Escorting them was a man dressed in more expensive attire: Lord Mayor Yuri Kurkagin. An obscure and unaffiliated noble house, Kurkagin, one which Caeso did not know. But if Pernach was the only title of land the house of Kurkagin had to its name now, likely it was that they were on the wane, as it often was with minor houses over the grind of centuries.

"And there he is," Caeso said. A glance to Zinnia, and then he jerked his head toward the Lord Mayor, and started across the aisle.

Yuri saw them coming. He stepped forward into the church proper (right as Nia's open wailing became tiny, shivering sobs) and greeted them, "You must be the Initiates the Academy sent." Then, focusing on Zinnia, "A bit...smaller than I expected."

"You will find that size does not correlate directly with deadliness," Caeso said in Zinnia's defense. Somewhere in the back of his mind, the thought: she had better not make a fool of him by collapsing into a useless heap like Kristen Pirian at Vel Acan...

"Yes. I suppose you are right. Lord Mayor Yuri Kurkagin." After his introduction, his brow gave a puzzled bend. "I was told there was to be three of you?"

Zinnia Lumen
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"There are," Lumen cleared her throat as she came through the back entrance. She'd done a quick walk around the small, partially dilapidated church. A quick clear of her head and an initial look around. It was cold outside, though with her magic, temperature never really bothered her. She had to wonder if she'd kept her head back at Friendsgiving because her body always seemed to burn up any drugs.

And sadly any effects from alcohol too.

Being immune to poisons had its perks but was it really worth not being able to get high or tipsy?

For the better good, she supposed so.

"My apologies, Lord Mayor. I am Initiate Adagio. This is Initiate Diemut and Initiate (insert Zinnia's last name or just Zinnia if it's unknown)." She'd always shined when it came to people. She had a way with making them feel at ease and she never met a stranger. "We will do everything we can to help you get to the bottom of this. To help protect the people of this town. We do have some questions," a glance at her fellow initiates. "But before diving into those, can you tell me if you've instituted any kind of curfew or other protective measures?"
The wailing of a heartbroken mother was difficult to listen to. That anyone should have to bury their child was a travesty beyond reckoning, and the grief that now filled the room was enough to churn Zinnia's gut. Would that she could show the comfort that the family deserved. Would that she could have denied them the pain instead of having to offer them justice. This was the cold truth of the world they lived in.

She couldn't bend to that truth now, not with Caeso looking at her. Especially not with Caeso actually...defending her? That fact...that made a bit more confidence flare in her chest. The will to stow her tears bloomed in her, and she steeled herself. The girl gave Caeso a nod of affirmation, brow furrowed but otherwise stoic.

By now, Lumen had returned. The girl used Zinnia's so-called surname to introduce her and...well, that was another hurdle to struggle over entirely. That name...she'd come to hate that damn name. It mocked her, a constant reminder that she'd been discarded refuse, trash to be picked up and looked after until someone else scooped it up. Zinnia had to fight the urge to spit on the floor. To spit that name out like bile and stomp on it until it was nothing.

Decorum demanded she maintain her good behavior, though. Like she'd already considered, others were watching, not the least of whom, Caeso.
Yuri glanced past Caeso and Zinnia when Lumen announced herself, and Caeso half-turned for a moment to regard her entrance. Caeso wondered briefly what, if anything, Lumen could have done in such a short amount of time outside the church, but decided to drop the line of thought. Likely it was that she saw the Lord Mayor, Peter, and Nia coming and simply returned.

Yuri gave Lumen an acknowledging nod. "Well met then, Initiates. I'm relieved to be in your presence." He put his hands to his hips, a sort of weariness descending upon him. And then he answered, "Pernach has been troubled by this nightmare for almost two months now. No one even dares to venture outside at night. As for protective measures,'s difficult. Many people have strung up garlic, holy symbols of foreign religions, lined the perimeter of their houses with salt, any known countermeasure against vampires no matter how esoteric, but, alas, we don't know what strain is responsible."

"But you do know for certain that your assailants are vampires?"

Yuri made a long face and then gestured over toward the poor Koningfair boy's coffin. The ghastly state of Frederich's corpse seemed to say more than words ever could, the result of the midnight work of bloodsucking fiends.

"Wretched beasts and lowly leeches all," Caeso said of them. Perhaps Lumen and Zinnia might espouse a similar sentiment if inquired about it, but Caeso himself took an especial satisfaction, a sublime delight, in slaying the base creatures of Arethil who dared prey upon humanity. "I assume neighboring towns are experiencing woes akin to Pernach's own?"

Yuri's lips pressed together meagerly, and then after a second's passing he answered, "No. Strange, is it not?"

Then Yuri looked to Lumen and Zinnia and invited, "Please. Any questions you have, ask them, and I will do my best to answer."

Lumen Zinnia
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Lumen was very good at reading people. Shifts in their emotions and tells on their faces. From the corner of her eye, she caught the shadow that passed Zinnia's face. Strange. She'd have to ask her fellow Initiate what was wrong.

Was she just squeamish because of the body?

Later. She'd ask later.

Surprise at the Mayor's response from Caeso's question. This was the...only town? And if protective measures were in did the children keep getting taken? Tawny-eyes flickered to Zinnia and Caseso. Did they also think it odd? Something just wasn't lining up here.

"Can you tell us more about when and where the Koningfair boy went missing to when he was found? And the other dreadlord that came before us. Do you remember the name?"

Who had it been?
Vampires. Well, that certainly explained the state of the bodies. So far as she knew, vampires usually had a pretty explicit set of weaknesses: garlic, silver, holy relics, running water, wooden stakes to the heart...really none of which their little group of initiates had come equipped with. She had to wonder if the proctors already knew about this egregiously important detail as well.

The revelation that these monsters were only preying on Pernach just added to the confusion of this whole situation. That didn't make any sense at all. This was a backwater. The towns around here were backwaters. Why would a vampire, or especially a group of them, not just feed unbridled if given a perfectly good opportunity? Why only here and why only children?

"This...doesn't make s-sense..." Zinnia muttered, trying to wrap her head around all of this. She'd take the opportunity to ask questions as well. "When did th-the other D-dreadlord come? H-how long has it b-been since they w-went missing?"
"A tragedy, what happened to Frederich. To all the children," said Yuri to Lumen. "This is the one that truly has Pernach frightened. All of the other children had been abducted from their homes at night. My townsfolk thought they were safe after putting up countermeasures—really, though, I think it was the arrival of the Dreadlord Ramon Muldoon which gave the vampires some pause, it was all around the same time you see. Ramon goes missing, and then Frederich is abducted in broad daylight. Broad daylight. Yet no one, not even the boy's mother or father, saw it happen. There was only a spilled bucket of water by the Grove well at Pernach's south edge."

Yuri sighed, and gave a little glance to Zinnia. "As for Ramon, he showed about three weeks ago, disappeared about two weeks ago, and now you're all here."

"Two months plagued by these fiends, and yet only five dead." Perhaps it would sound cold, but it needed to be said. This was important to getting the measure of their foes. "These vampires do not seem to be very voracious, as is often the wont of their sickly kind."

"I don't know what to make of it," Yuri said, shaking his head. "I truly do not."

Caeso glanced to Zinnia and Lumen. Then said, "Where was Dreadlord Muldoon's last known location?"

"South. He wanted to investigate the Grove south of town. I told him it was probably a waste of time—to the northeast there's plenty of rough terrain and rocky outcroppings, caves you see, which the vampires might well be using as their dwelling. But...he insisted."

"Then perhaps we should insist as well."

If nothing else, they could recover the body...if there still was one.

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Lumen shifted her thoughts to Ramon Muldoon. Burly fellow if she remembered correctly. Sported a handle-bar moustache that had been out of style for the past 100 years. But she couldn't remember what his power had been. She thought it might be water bending but she couldn't be sure. Perhaps she'd ask if Caeso or Zinnia once they were alone.

"I agree with Caeso. We'll start at the groves then perhaps make our way to the northeast. Thank you for your assistance Mayor." And Lumen had the balls and charisma to dismiss the mayor, though in a way that wouldn't seem insulting to him, as she focused on the boy's family. Something felt off about Yuri. And so far, her instincts hadn't steered her wrong. Time would tell if it was just paranoia or something else.

Gingerly, Lumen made her way over to Peter and Nia, letting Caeso and Zinnia take over in asking the mayor anymore questions. Digging beneath the plates of the light armor she wore, she knelt by them and offerent them her handkerchief. "I'm so sorry for your loss," she whispered. "See them over there? That's Caeso and Zinnia. I'm Lumen. We'll catch them. I promise we will."
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Quiet contemplation and the occasional nod was the only reply Zinnia gave by now. Every new detail wove a more curious tapestry, each answer leaving only more questions. Again and again the same words turned in Zinnia's mind: "none of this makes sense."

"Maybe...if the g-grove is dense enough, it could be p-providing enough shade for a v-vampire to survive in the d-daylight? Or maybe...the well...?" Zinnia wondered aloud, half to herself and half as if to ask the others if she wasn't stupid for thinking it. Infrequent drainings...overly specific targets...brazen attacks in broad daylight...only one town...these were nothing but incongruent pieces that all seemed to line up to a different jigsaw puzzle.

Suddenly, Zinnia's pupils tightened as something dawned on her. An uncomfortable thought, and hopefully an inaccurate prediction. She couldn't say it in front of the mayor, but Caeso and Lumen needed to know immediately.
"Y-yeah...G-grove it is...shall we?" Zinnia asked Caeso now that Lumen had already gone off to comfort the mourners. Lumen was more brave than Zinnia in so many ways. She didn't have the heart, nor the stomach for that. Instead she just tugged on Caeso's arm and nodded towards the exit. The sooner they got away from here, the better.
"Thank you. Thank you," said Nia, reaching out and touching Lumen's arm. Her eyes were swollen red after all the tears she shed, and Peter accepted the handkerchief with a grateful nod and gently dabbed at his wife's face.

Meanwhile, Yuri nodded gingerly to Caeso and Zinnia, both by way of agreement with the plausibility of Zinnia's postulation and acknowledgement that the Initiates were to head out and begin their work. "For the good of Pernach, I hope you'll be more successful than Dreadlord Muldoon."

"Lord Mayor," Caeso said in parting. And then he looked to Zinnia and ostensibly concurred, "Yes. We will begin in the Grove." Unknown to him, of course, was that he had a similar idea to Zinnia: the need to confer privately amongst the three of them.

He turned and started for the church doors and inevitably laid eyes on Lumen there, having heard her speak her consolations and now seeing it. And again he was struck, as he had been during their shared dance at Lumen's own Friendsgiving feast. Her concern for family, even those not her own, was a true rarity. Quite becoming, especially when compared to a wide selection of other Initiates.

Caeso slowed his pace as he neared the doors and stepped out of them, giving Lumen time to part gracefully from Peter and Nia and come into stride with himself and Zinnia.

He walked south through Pernach. Not a particularly well-to-do town, each building (almost all of them log cabins of various sizes) exuding that sort of rustic charm found far from large city centers like Vel Luin or Vel Anir proper.

Caeso did not go all the way to the south gate though. Some distance from the church/town hall, he abruptly veered into a quiet space between two storehouses, and there turned to face Zinnia and Lumen.

"I suspect," he began, his voice low and confidential, "that I am not the only one who feels something to be amiss with this situation."

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Spending a few more moments with the family, she quietly extracted herself and followed after Zinnia and Caeso outside, leaving her handkerchief behind. As they passed by the homes, the curtain to one moved aside and a little girl with bright red hair and a smattering of freckles on her nose squished her face against the pane of glass. Tongue stuck out as her foggy-breath plumed over.

Scolding voices could be heard as, perhaps the mother, took hold of the child and drew her away from the window, a worried look as she quickly shut the curtains again.

Catching up to her classmates, she eased into the intimate space with them, leaning against the side of one of the storehouses, arms crossed. "None of it makes sense. Just attacks on this town. Someone taken during high daylight. A full dreadlord vanishing." Lumen gnawed on her lower lip a glance between them each.

"There's something about the mayor that I don't trust."
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I suspect, he began, his voice low and confidential, that I am not the only one who feels something to be amiss with this situation.
What was she more thankful for, that they were out of that tomb and away from those people, or that the others seemed to have already caught on?

"N-no, you're n-not, and I think L-Lumen t-took the words out of my m-mouth." Anxiety was gripping at Zinnia's chest, her posture hunched and much less relaxed than Lumen's. Her stutter was worsening; she really didn't like the words she was about to speak into reality. "I...I don't know, b-but...wh-what if there aren't any v-vampires at all? What if th-this is s-some kind of s-s-set-up?"

She shuddered at the thought. Vampires doing some grazing from a series of backwaters was logical, but this was not. What would anyone want with a simple, rural town?
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Lumen took the next thought straight out of Caeso's head (all of them were thinking as one, deeply in tune with each other). He didn't trust the mayor either. Something about his demeanor was off, despite his humble nature and willingness to be as helpful as could be. Maybe it was those two qualities, neither being genuine, each two halves of a mask he wore...but for what purpose?

Zinnia filled in with a suggestion that Caeso hadn't considered. Could it be true? He couldn't fathom the purpose or the methods—the young Koningfair boy's pallid suffering told a grim tale indeed—but if it were so?

"I will kill the Lord Mayor myself if that is the case," Caeso said, feeling the slight rising of heat in his blood. He let the anger simmer down. "Yet it must be discovered, and it must be undeniably so."

Caeso placed one hand on his hip, the other to his chin. Considering.

"It is difficult for us to act on vague suspicion alone. Neither would we want to alert Yuri that we are, in truth, suspicious of him. None of us possess powers particularly adept at spying." Unless, of course, Lumen and Zinnia hid some things well during all their years at the Academy—a strategy almost every Initiate employed if they could.

"This leaves us with little in the way of options."

So far as his current reckoning went, but the thought was forwarded. They might not have much choice other than to pretend all was straightforward and just go searching the Grove.

Lumen Zinnia
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Tawny eyes flickered between them both. Her body cast in half-shade from the storehouse and where she leaned. She was very familiar with Caeso's powers. Zinnia's? She wasn't so sure.

Could she spy?

And Caeso was right, temperature manipulation didn't lend itself to sleuthing. She would never be Agent Carter of the minor house Bond. That woman was legendary in what she did during the second Elven Wars.

"Let's not jump to killing anyone yet," she warned to the noble in the group. Because he was right. They needed evidence if that was the case. Even initiates had the authority to act out justice. Judge and executioner, at least for a low-level mayor in a small-outskirt town. She doubt others would take too keenly on initiates doing anything if it were...say, for the major noble houses.

"Maybe we should start with the fields? Should we split up?"

She was leaning toward no but wanted to hear what the group thought.
Proof was often a difficult thing to come by. Zinnia would be the last person to condemn an innocent to death, of course, but this did present a particular problem. The trio wasn't really equipped to deal with something like this.

"I'm...okay at n-not being noticed, b-but I don't think th-that'll be enough. N-nothing in my b-battery would help with that, either." She admitted bashfully. Maybe if this wasn't so small a town, or if the people around here hadn't already seen her come in with the other initiates, she might've stood a chance with her mundane sneaking, but as it was she believed she'd be found out fairly quickly.

Then Lumen made her suggestion.

"N-no! Absolutely not!" Zinnia blurted out, flabbergasted that their class's 'big sister' would suggest such a thing. "I-if a f-full fledged D-dreadlord vanished alone out h-here, w-we wouldn't s-stand a chance by ourselves, and w-we have no way of com-m-municating with each other...s-sticking together is our b-biggest advantage"

On this she was adamant. Splitting up was a one-way ticked to getting captured or killed.
Caeso nodded and made a sweeping hand gesture toward Zinnia, one of agreeance.

"She has the right of it. Covering more ground faster is appealing, but given our precarious circumstances, staying together would be best."

Then Caeso started to think a little further on what Lumen said. Splitting up. Maybe not an advisable idea outside of Pernach, but...

"But maybe," he began, "we could split up to canvas the town, looking for and inquiring of possible witnesses to any of the kidnappings or to sightings of the vampires. Someone may have seen something, even if the Lord Mayor did not direct us to them himself." And this would be especially so if their suspicions about Yuri's untrustworthiness were correct. "Doing this is easily within our purview and would not arose suspicions at all. And...if the Pernach citizenry can be subtly coaxed to give candid opinions of the Lord Mayor as well, all the better."

He looked to Lumen. To Zinnia.

"What say you? Shall we spend an hour doing so and reconvene back here?"

Lumen Zinnia
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Lumen looked to Zinnia and felt a sibling-like-pride swell in her chest. Zinnia was really coming out of her shell out here. Speaking her mind even if she didn't agree. Way to go, Zin.

Stepping forward, she nodded to Caeso. "Right. That's a good compromise. I'll take the Eastend. Caeso, you the West? Zinnia, the North? And meet back here in about an hour?"

That gave them plenty of time to cover the Pernach area. They were already in the Southside and it looked mostly like farming storage. So not much to cover on this end. "And if one of us gets in trouble," voice trailed off. "Yell and we should hear you."

What else could they do? If only she'd gotten one of Alistair's communication runes before they'd left. long as they weren't venturing out of the town limits, maybe it was fine...she still didn't much like it, but...

Zinnia sighed, still apprehensive, then began to pull something off of her belt. Three metal, cylindrical devices, each with a seemingly glass core, no more than 8 inches in length. Anyone who had seen Zinnia's hammer before would recognize the similarities in the design.

Lightning was hard to come by. Fire, water, ice, wind, stone, those were all mundane things that Zinnia could freely absorb on a daily basis as needed to collect in her battery. Lightning? Either she had to very patiently wait on the Academy's lightning rod during a storm (an incredibly stressful ordeal, all things considered), or she had to negotiate with an initiate who could produce it. There weren't many who were very cooperative.

Even still, the "glass" cores of the three cylinders would, one by one, light up with crackling energy. Precious lightning channeled into the miniature, artificial duplicates of what her body did naturally. The Academy had been very generous in inventing and supplying gear that would help Zinnia's magic be less...middling.

"If you b-both insist, then p-please take one of these..." Two of the three cylinders would be passed to Caeso and Lumen. "Point it sk-skyward and p-pull the sheath down if you g-get in trouble. It's a b-bit more n-noticeable than yelling..."

After handing the mortars off, she'd begin the begrudging trudge northward. "O-one hour, no l-later, please!"
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Caeso nodded to Lumen—the west end it would be. And he as well took one of the cylinders from Zinnia, inspecting it briefly. He had a general idea of Zinnia's magic—no one could hide everything about their magic in the old way—but this marked the first time he had seen her produce such a device. He pocketed it.

"Then we are in concordance," he said. "One hour."

He couldn't help but to glance toward the sky, toward the familiar arc of the sun, when he reiterated their timeframe.

Daylight was always precious when your foes owned the night.

* * * * *​

Fifteen minutes.

Thirty minutes.

And then, a little after half an hour passed, a bolt of lightning arced up into the air from the west end of Pernach.

* * * * *​

"Tryin to scare us, are ya?" said Boris Ulthwreath, the man who spoke for the angry crowd, some dozen or so Pernachers, bearing down on Caeso.

Caeso shoved the spent cylinder back into his pocket. It had taken a considerable effort to not aim it at Boris and the rest of the belligerent townsfolk projecting the sum total of their misfortunes onto him. They were lucky, this incensed lot, that Caeso practiced forbearance, held himself back despite what heat coursed through his veins from resorting to brutish methods at first provocation. Other Dreadlord Initiates would have broken Boris in half to send a message to the rest of the crowd.

Caeso would do so if he were pushed. If dialogue failed. So he had to try to reach Boris and the upset Pernachers with rhetoric. And in this he needed the help of Lumen and Zinnia. Even just their very presences would tip the scales ever more toward a bloodless resolution.

"No," said Caeso, his face stern. "Your ability to even ask the question is proof of it."

Boris sneered a little more, his anger a shield against the intimidation. A woman in the crowd shouted then, "ANSWER THE QUESTION!" to which all the others replied, "AYE!"

And Boris asked it again, more pointedly: "How can we trust you, huh? Your kind? Never been a Dreadlord in these parts before that Muldoon fella, and what happened to him? Huh? He abandoned us!"

"Thinks our plight ain't worth it, he did!" shouted a man from the crowd.

"To hell with Vel Anir! We're better off on our own!" shouted another.

And the discontent was only getting worse.

Lumen Zinnia
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