Open Chronicles Something not so Wicked

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Maybe. He’d take that over whatever counted for go-fuck-yourself as of late. Some progress.

Giving but a grim nod, he submit to remaining on foot next to the cart as Amelia climbed on. It was getting crowded, so he was glad enough to be excluded from whatever requirement the dawn knight had for the squire’s eyes and mind.

He rounded the cart slowly, glancing about the road and yards of little houses, the onlookers therein. All too curious. He hadn’t but his dissatisfied stare to give them.

Putting a foot on the wheel, he levered himself up as softly as he could, the side of the bed his support as he settled to watch. And listen or eavestdrop, depending whichever one had the mind to call it.

Amelia Hawthorne Faramund
Faramund made room for Amelia by moving across to the other side. He was a big guy, but the inquisitive look in the young squire's eye had him feeling like he was under sudden and direct threat. Clearing his throat, the dawnling nodded to the body.

'Take a look at her face,' he said. 'Anything jump out at you?'

His eyes moseyed over to Aarno as the squire did as bid. The he-orc was glancing around at the nearby buildings. Faramund did the same, albeit with a bit more subtlety. Quite the audience, he thought, playing off his actions with the usual disinterested grunt.

'I noticed you got an eyeful of the crowd, earlier,' he remarked, turning back to Amelia. 'Saw the way you took in their features, the cut of their garb.' The cart rocked gently as Aarno clambered up the side, like a curious child with the muscle mass to kill grown men.

'I followed one of the two standouts. Bastard gave me the slip, though.' The others had been in the room with him, but Faramund didn't mind shouldering the blame. It would have landed on him regardless. 'There was another. A woman,' he nodded to the body between them before meeting the youngster's gaze.

'See what I'm getting at?'

Amelia Hawthorne Aarno
There hadn't been time to make notes in her journal like she had wanted between all the things happening. Amelia didn't want to miss a detail. But it seems that Syr Faramund was showing there was indeed a clever man beneath the brute persona he portrayed, and he showed his hand now with the details he helped gather where she couldn't.

It was a pleasantly humbling experience, and Amelia was nothing if not a scholar who was willing to adapt her views to new and better information. Her initial impression of the Dawnling shifting into a more positive light in the span of this brief interaction. She respected competency above all else.

Following Faramund's lead, the squire took a closer look at the dead woman, brushing the wet hair from her face while Amelia went over everything from the day in her mind, in lieu of her notes. There was something, almost there at her fingertips... a memory.

Hesitantly, she looked up and across the body at Faramund. "That woman in the crowd from earlier. She had the same face."

Faramund Aarno
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They were figuring something out alright.

He’d been listening without really looking until Amelia’s concluding remark, his stare pulled to the deceased in a frown that deepened.

“ The same face. “ He repeated in a low mutter, some disbelief in it. “ The very same, or same in a familial, resembling sense? “ As his stare rose to refresh around them, he spotted Into across the bed from him, staring. Since when had he been there, the weasel—

“ What's going on here? Detect something? “ The man asked in a whisper, chin resting on his forearms.

Amelia Hawthorne Faramund
'Same as in-' Faramund's reply was cut short by the look on Aarno's face. Turning, the knight very nearly jumped out of his skin when he saw Into staring back at him. How the militiaman had managed to get the drop on all three of them was anyone's guess. Must be slipping, he thought, or there's more to this boy than meets the eye.

Yeah, right!

'What's it to you?' He asked, going on the offensive. 'Shoo, before someone else gets murdered!'

Technically, someone already had been shuffled off their mortal coil, though Faramund failed to mention that part. Watching Into disappear from view, the dawnling waited until the man was out of earshot to continue. 'Strange boy,' he remarked, eyes narrowing in thought. 'Best be keeping an eye on him, methinks.'

Shifting on his haunches, the dawnling cleared his throat.

'Anyways, where were we? Ah, yes! I believe the squire was correct in her assessment. Our poor victim here has a doppelganger, one that looks exactly alike,' he paused, amused by the look on Syr Aarno's mug. 'What? Surely you must have heard tell of Lord Weilburg having sired two daughters before shipping one of them off, never to be seen again?'

Amelia Hawthorne Aarno
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Amelia followed Faramund's gaze as Into walked away, a seemingly characteristic pep in his step, despite the rain.

She hummed her agreement with the Dawnling's assessment while turning back to the dead woman. She hadn't seen the resemblance between the two women much before because the difference that life had made in the animation of someone's face versus this new state of death, was enough to sometimes make one a stranger at first glance.

"I'm going to be honest with you two." She stood up from her crouch and stretched, trying to release the pressure at the base of her spine. "I don't know much about doppelgangers. And what I do know, is not going to make this investigation any easier." Amelia hopped down from the wagon and turned to the men, her arms crossed as she casually tapped her chin in thought. "But I think that we need to hurry and get her body someplace dry. And then we can ask the townspeople what they know, away from the prying eyes of their Elder woman?"

Faramund Aarno
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Promptly dismissed.

He looked into the peasant’s wake for a moment, nothing but agreement in the hum he gave as Faramund remarked on him. That sentiment, once again, wasn’t to last.

It was quick replaced by his usual unimpressed weariness as the dawn knight continued, appearing to engage in some snark at his expense. He regarded it with all due respect and reaction — none whatsoever. Only as the squire spoke did he finally flicker from his dead stare, lowering from where he’d been perched to observe.

“ Agreed. If she was indeed here in a search, asking around, plenty should know what for. “ Remaining at the cart’s side, he turned on heel to face the squire. “ As comes to a doppleganger — “ He put weight on the word to illustrate all the disblief he could muster, eyes landing at the ground instead of Faramund. “ Or a possible sibling, at least we’ve a detailed description to go off of, no? “

Blowing a breath that bordered on pained, he made to the front of the cart.

“ Why don’t you drive, Syr Faramund. I’ve about the idea where our promised shack is, so I’ll lead on foot. “ A glance went past the draft horse to the old man that’d lent the vehicle and was currently sitting down on a bench outside the tavern, puffing at his pipe.

“ We’ll return the cart at the end of the day, if that is quite alright. “

To it, he got but a nod as the man settled firmer into just being, appearing in no rush. All well and good.

With that settled, Aarno wasted time no further, taking off in a march down the street.

Amelia Hawthorne Faramund
Pulling the cover back into place, Faramund rose with the squire. 'Sounds good,' he said, head swivelling to face Aarno. The dawnling nodded. Syr, yes, Syr! The cart sighed as his two companions disembarked. Hopping over the front-board and onto the driver's bench, Faramund scooped up the reins, waited a moment for Aarno to explain to the old timer that they were borrowing his wheels.

The greybeard didn't seem too fussed.

With a flick of the reins, Fara got the cart moving. The oxen yoked to the task knew what they were doing, and barely needed any encouragement from the knight.

'Not my usual method of transport,' he grumbled, glancing around at the surrounding homes. He caught a woman staring at them through a window. Didn't even try to hide, he mused, waving politely. The gesture earned him a look, and not an entirely friendly one at that. 'Curious bunch,' he smiled, 'sure know how to make a stranger feel welcome.'

Rolling on through muddy streets, they passed several more villagers, each as interested in the cart's contents as the last. It was almost a relief when they reached the place set aside for them. Parking as close as he could to the doorway, Faramund dismounted. His sabre rattled as he walked round to the back.

'I'll carry her in,' he said, hesitating as he drew near to the body. He turned, sharpish. There was a shimmer of movement. 'You two can deal with the boy. Silly sod's been on us since we left the tavern.'

Amelia Hawthorne Aarno
Amelia grabbed the apple out of Into's hand, as she had stalked up to him meandering completely conspicuously in front of the lone market stand that was half a block from where they had parked the cart. The man was even whistling and pretending to inspect the fruit.

His mock look of shock when she appeared only fueled her irritation. "Good sir. Last I checked you were a guard for this town. Although you are not above suspicion, you were more than welcome to aid us in our investigation as long as you didn't prove to be a nuisance." She slapped the apple back into his hand, but didn't let go, instead used his grip to pull him a mote closer. "And you are proving. to. be. a nuisance."

Collecting her indignation, Amelia took a deep breath and blew it out through her nose, setting her shoulders back and letting go of the apple to brush off and straighten her shawl and tunic. She was nothing if not pragmatic. And she had meant what she said. This guard, as odd as he was, was allowed to help. But his aid did not place him above reproach should evidence surface of his involvement. Which meant keeping him close was their best bet if they were to make his meddling obvious.

"Now." Her hands folded neatly in front of her. "Seeing as how you know these townspeople better than we do. I would be deeply in your debt if you would prove as a liaison for us as we go about conducting interviews. Understandably, this murder has made your people jumpy. And I'm afraid of how reluctant that will make them with information." Pivoting, she extended her arm back towards her Knights. "If you please, sir."

Faramund Aarno
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Carry her in all in your lonesome. Alright then.

Brows arched high, first at the insistence and then at the sudden suggestion, Aarno’s stare bounced from Faramund to their constant shadow of a man. A groan left him, but he hadn’t but to nod and go after Amelia who’d already taken to the assignment.

She was already in full swing by the time he’d marched over. Remaining silent, he settled to hover behind her shoulder, positively glaring. The squire had definitely asked nicer than he’d had the patience for at this point.

Liaison. In debt. Gods be good.

“ Well, but of course! “ Into begun, slapping both palms upon his chest. “ I would love to help, in fact. Anything for you knights and your good cause. “ His twinkling eyes bounced betwixt the knight and squire, then eventually past them wherein the cart lay.

“ What are we doing now? " First order of business-like. Spotting Syr Faramund, the peasant smiled all the wider. " He doesn’t need help, does he? “

Amelia Hawthorne Faramund
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The building the ealdorwoman had set aside for them could well have been someone's home once. Furniture, old and worn down from years of use, had been cleared away to make space for the body. The air was cool here, stale. Sniffing, Syr Faramund laid the victim to rest on a nearby table.

Death had added pounds to the newly departed, but she may as well have been made of feathers for all the hassle she caused him.

Shuttering the windows, the knight stepped out to find his companions. The door banged closed behind him.

No lock, he muttered, his inner voice as grouchy as his outer. There was a bar and brackets on the inside, but unless the victim decided to get back up and lapse it herself, it wouldn't be doing them much good. An oversight on their part, or done on purpose?

Entertaining his paranoia, Faramund clambered up onto the driver's bench. Wheeling about, he drove the oxen back the way they had come. Where had Aarno said to leave it?

'No, he bloody well doesn't!'

Pulling up alongside his companions -and Into, unfortunately- Faramund peered down at them, his annoyance not-so-clear. 'Since he's still here, I suppose you've recruited him to the cause?' It wasn't a question. 'Very well.' Straightening up, the dawnling coughed, sniffed. The morning was beginning to warm up, and whilst he enjoyed the freshness, he could have done without the lovely aroma of pig shit 'pon the breeze.

'How do you wish to go about this?' He conferred with his fellow Syr. His gaze flickered to the squire. 'Amelia? How would you go about conducting our next move?'

Amelia Hawthorne Aarno
The ghost of a smile escaped Amelia's lips at Faramund's question, she did so love to be asked her thoughts on how to do things. Especially when she already spent so much time mulling over how to do them in as many ways as her mind could fathom. She didn't exactly enjoy not having the answers, but for what she didn't know, she at least knew how to get to the answer.

Resourcefulness was just as useful as being clever in her eyes.

"Well, I'm glad you asked, Syr." She nodded to him deferentially. Her field journal already whipped out before her and opened to the beginning of her notes and theories that she had hastily written on their cart ride over.

She scanned the contents with a pointer finger. "Let's see... the barkeep is now out, for... reasons." Her eyes flashed up at the Dawnling for a moment. "So that leaves speaking to the other shop keeps that the woman might have bought supplies from. I imagine whatever she was looking for, she probably also asked the local townspeople for information. So perhaps we can track down her purpose by first discerning what her questions even were."

She snapped her journal close and folded it to her chest protectively. "But we'll need to be mindful of people's stories being too similar or too different. One is evidence of coercion by a higher power and the other that they are lying to us of their own volition. Both of which are cause for alarm."

Faramund Aarno
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Aarno kept his place and silence, merely rotating on heel to see Faramund arrive. A real ray of sunshine of a man today, aren’t we. Himself was questioned, but lacking any particular preference he’d gladly allow the squire speak her mind first, which she seized journal in hand.

“ A higher power — my my. “ Into breathed out, making a little gesture at the base of his throat, one much too deliberate to be but an absent swat at some itch. Aarno arched a brow at it, meeting eyes with the peasant.

“ She means the likes of the Elder. Not some boggard. “ He clarified, watching realization dawn on the man’s face. In genuine surprise, even.

“ Oh. “ Smile fading Into stepped a little closer, coming to form a loose square with the rest of them. His eyes bounced betwixt the squire and knights, a nervous shift upon him as he regarded Faramund like one might a wild animal.

“ Whyever she’d have anything to do with a knight’s murder is beyond me. “

“ You know her that well? “ Aarno asked, disbelief colouring his tone. A shrug was the initial response, doing nothing to alleviate his impatience.

“ Am just saying it seems awful unlikely. Can be a real bitch to outsiders, her, but not a killer. “

“ None ever is, until they suddenly are. “ He responded in a sigh, some unbidden weight in the statement. Into’s lips twisted with thought at that, arms folding as he glanced down the street.

“ No. Some have that— something. “
“ Out with it. “
“ Am just saying — There are people here who’ve — Are more likely, let’s say. “
“ Like who? “
“ Well — The smith’s son, Jali, bashed a guy’s head in with a hammer once. Everyone saw. “ Voice low, the peasant lifted his stare back, defiantly keeping an eye for doubt on their faces.

“ Plenty others have resulted to violence too, but none so brutally. Save for maybe old man Ringbom, who went to war and never came back the same. Then there’s the witch — “ Making that gesture again, the peasant shuddered like from a chill.

“ I hear she was charged and barely avoided the noose in some fancy town to the west. For what, none knows. “

Amelia Hawthorne Faramund
'Hmm. Been there, done that.' Faramund dismissed Into's last words with a lazy wave of his hand. 'This witch got a name? A hut on the outskirts, too?' Of all the "potentials" Into had mentioned, the Witch seemed the most promising. Sure, this Jali character had bashed some poor milksop's head in, but then so had he. Aarno, too, unless those muscles were just for show.

As for Old Man Ringbom... well, Faramund was loath to disturb him any more than he -apparently- already was.

'I don't know her name. No-one does,' said Into, as useful as ever. 'But she does have a hut! On the outskirts, that a-way!' He pointed, using the spear the militia had given him as his indicating finger. The damn thing nearly took Faramund's eye out. 'Odd how you knew where she lives, though. Are you sure you've not been here before?'

Looking down his nose at Into's infuriatingly curious face, Faramund shrugged.

'Maybe. Maybe not. I've found myself in plenty of shi-t... places over the years.' He shrugged again. What else was there to say, really? 'Okay! Amelia, go and question these shopkeepers about what they may or may not know, find out if their stories match up. Aarno,' he turned to regard the orc, at a loss on what to say. For once. 'You... follow your whims, see what you can't uncover.' Maybe keep an eye out for this mystery woman while you're at it, he thought to add, deciding against it.

'I'm gonna go pay this witch a visit, once I've dropped the cart off.'

And perhaps I'll even get that drink I promised myself, he mused. Wouldn't that be nice.

Aarno Amelia Hawthorne
Auburn brows rose higher on Amelia's forehead the longer Faramund chose to speak. She heavily questioned his methods, but he seemed to get results. And at the end of the day, on this mission at least, that's all that mattered.

"Very well." She acquiesced. "I shall start my search in the local market then."

With Faramund's instructions spurring her forward, Amelia tucked her field journal back onto its leather strap and turned towards where she had deduced the village sqaure to be. Pausing, she looked to Aarno and then Into, then back to Aarno.

"Unfortunately..." She began casually, an apology in her eyes, "I believe I shall be more successful on my own. Let's meet back at the hut with the knight's body before dark, hm? After all... we still need to procure a place to sleep." Another accusatory glance at Faramund and without waiting for an answer from any of them, Amelia tucked her shawl closer to her neck to stem off the chill and popped away at a brisk pace.

It seemed life went on in a village like this. Cows still needed to be milked, crops still needed to be tended, and goods still needed to be traded with their neighbors for the coin they needed to buy new cows and buy more crops. A rinse and repeat cycle that refused to quell despite the inconvenience of murder amongst them.

Although Amelia would admit that what was probably a more animated affair when it came to the normal bustling around of a market day, seemed muted and wary this day. The squire was sure that the gossip mill was flourishing with theories and rumors at such a scandal. The news of the knight's untimely death had evidently shaken this close-knit community, casting a shadow over their otherwise simple and quiet lives.

Amelia didn't blame them really. In fact, she had to admit that there had yet to come a day when she regretted her decision to leave the life of nobility and pursue a higher cause within the Order. A place where she felt like she could be more than a blue blood. Do more for the world she had been born into. In a way, it was a simpler life. And she would choose it time again, no matter the danger.

As she meandered through the square, Amelia couldn't help but overhear snippets of conversations. People speaking in hushed tones, and as Amelia understood the importance of discretion, she did her best to blend in, trying to capture anything that would be prevalent to their investigation.

Further down the square, the blacksmith's shop, adorned with various tools and weapons on display, drew intermittent visitors. The clanging of metal against anvil echoed in the air as the blacksmith toiled away, engrossed in his craft.

Hmmm. Perhaps it would behoove her to begin there. Either by contacting this, Jali, or asking if the blacksmith had indeed spoken to the woman before her untimely death.

Faramund Aarno
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He stared, a mix of disapproval and weary defeat clearly writ on his face as his kin split away one after the other. It wasn’t too surprising of a trajectory for Syr Faramund specifically, an individual route, but that the squire should’ve so adopted it already did not bode well.

Some Order. For once, he failed to see what himself had done so wrong that they’d both deem themselves this overly confident in succeeding alone, rather than as a group. Efficiency? Fuck it all to some Seventh Hell.

He’d mark it down for the future — let this be the last time he went anywhere with the two of them, if he could help it.

Fresh out of patience, he glanced sidelong at the peasant at his side. The man smiled, all to pleasantly as if he was willfully oblivious to the glare he got in turn.

“ So — What are we doing? “


At a witch's hut

A thin ribbon of smoke sprouted from the chimney of a hut, the grey sunbleached wood of its walls shimmering in the morning sun. The thick logs bore a heavy turf roof, one that though maintained, sported one baby spruce in the midst of soaked grass. For flare or whimsy, maybe both.

Under the eaves had been set a table with a cutting board, upon it a knife and some dried herbs in a row, stalks yet untrimmed. Next to them stood a three legged clay pot, one rather recently made or purchased. In the rectangular garden just a few steps away, sat on a stool next to a weathered log with a axe stuck to it, was a hooded figure.

A bright voice was humming, a length of grey blonde hair mingling with the red beads of a necklace that shifted alongside movement. Settled atop unassuming skirts and an apron, a dead cockerel was being defeathered. On the path that lead to the yard from the village, were footsteps, approaching.

“ Murder, murder, murder afoot. “ The witch said, look roused to see whom was coming, her face ashift like it was having trouble deciding on a shape. Young, old, something betwixt, back again. Green eyes, brown eyes. The strands of long hair at her shoulder bled to red, to black. Blots of ink dropped to water.

In the end, seeing the man coming, she decided on a mix of features that mimicked his. A long lost sister, once more.

“ I expected someone would be coming soon. How fortunate that it should’ve been you. “ Knight. Not having meant it with any particular judgement, she continued her work, dark stare dipping away.

“ You stray in your lonesome, yet again. Why? “


Back in the village

Many pairs of eyes were trained on a stranger that would walk down the street, sword at her hip and journal at hand. Sharp in her garb and sticking out for it. Everyone knew of the death, the killing, the murder at this point, as they did the fact that the Elder had sent for the Anathaeum. No accident, then, but exactly whom was this young knight remained question.

Like dogs expecting a beating, many were silent and at their guard, watching her. Lest she think to point a finger at any which one, accusing and bringing to justice by some intuition. The word was she could summon fire in but a flick of the wrist and had a pair of fellow knights in tow, but where were they now?

Not all were coloured by suspicion, naturally. There were some who had livings to make, no matter the means, and a healthy amount of jolly denial when it came to worst case scenarios. Surely, was one to only speak the truth and nothing but the truth, having nothing to hide, naught bad would befall oneself. Surely.

“ You appear positively on a mission, Syr Knight. “ Called a voice, belongst to a man unloading a cart next to his stall. Some steps away from him a fellow shopkeep gave him a marking glare, but the discouragement went wholly unnoticed. The woman was much too busy hassling about with her pockets, trying to produce change to a customer.

So, the man continued, smiling wide as he picked a crate filled with straw and fresh eggs from the bed.

“ How goes your quest? “

Faramund Amelia Hawthorne
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'Not how folk usually react when they see me coming,' the dawnling remarked, coming to stand before the witch and her hut. Tall, dressed to kill, he was everything she wasn't. Watching her work, Faramund's brow furrowed as he took in her features. There was a haze, around her face. The Mund sensed magic, put the knowledge to one side.

She was a witch, after all, and witches loved casting spells.

Taking in the axed stump and knife-stuck carving board, the dawnling stayed standing as he mulled over the witch's question. He knew she was trying to appear mysterious; she had a reputation to uphold. Frankly, he could have done without the theatrics, but he respected the grind. 'Because it's necessary,' he said, certain. 'My companions, they are of the capable variety. One's a bit book-learned, mind. Thought she could use the experience.' A pause. 'The other... reminds me too much of myself. Haven't yet decided whether that's a good thing.'

Probably not.

Glancing around the garden, Faramund took inventory. Quite the green thumb, he thought, smiling slightly as the she-orc continued pluck, pluck, plucking away. She reminded him of Syr Oliver. Kind of. A long-lost relative, perhaps?

'You said you were fortunate,' the knight gestured to the ground in front of her, as if asking to sit. The morning dew had dissipated, he noted, and the day was bright. No risk of getting a wet arse. 'Were you expecting someone else?'

Aarno Amelia Hawthorne
At a witch's hut

She felt him studying herself, but not in the way that people usually did when she used the spell to appear as them — nay, there was an alarming lack of surprise for that. A softer type of recognition was upon the Knight, but for what she’d fancy figuring out later. For now, he was speaking, so generously obliging for her questions.

A smile crept on her face as she watched him meander closer, unfazed and unafraid. Came with the occupation, most like, as concerning as it was refreshing.

“ Yes. “ The witch answered, toneless, one eye peering at him past the edge of her hood. “ The villagers, mostly. While I am tolerated here, perhaps even liked, it has never served me well to feel too secure. There’ll be a reckoning for the Death. “

Pausing, she ripped a couple more handfuls of feathers from the cockerel’s belly, down landing at her feet like softest midwinter snow.

“ Which is what brings you, no? Doubt it was just my cooking fire you smelled from across yonder. “ Though I wouldn’t be opposed to dinner guests. She flashed some teeth then, stare narrowing as it regarded him, daring.

'If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear,' the knight reassured her, glancing back towards town. His eyesight wasn't what it used to be, but he couldn't spy any pitchforks and torches just yet. Of course, that didn't mean they weren't coming. Turning back, he smiled at the witch's quip.

'I'm afraid not, though, it does smell quite appetising.'

Grabbing a stool from beneath the eaves of her hut, Faramund made to sit across from the witch. He could still sense magic in the air, see it in the way her features shifted irregularly behind the mask she was trying to weave. For my benefit or hers? The dawnling wondered, still smiling as he looked the witch in the eye. 'You can dispense with the illusion, if you wish,' he told her. 'It's not working, and quite frankly, what I see behind the veil is nothing to be ashamed of.'

Faramund had met plenty of greenskins in his life. Some were friends, some had tried to kill him. Few ever chose the path of deceit. But then that was why he had come here, wasn't it?

'I need to ask you some questions,' he continued. 'I imagine you already know what about. Do so honestly, and I will be gone from here, back to the village. To make sure none of the villagers decide to place the blame on you.' It was more a promise than an offer, but if she chose to see it as such, he wouldn't stop her.

'Failing that, I wouldn't mind sharing some of your witch's brew with you,' he scratched at his beard, somewhat sheepishly. 'Tavern's closed, y'see. Something about a killing.'

Aarno Amelia Hawthorne
Dispense with the—

The witch blinked, the dawn of realization blowing through her expression at the knight’s remark and following compliment. How bold, if not untrue. Stifling a cackle, she dropped the spell in a toss of the head, dark stare bearing into him with both conspiracy and refreshed interest.

Just as with curiousity, the man provided plenty a promise and request, both of which she quickly judged beyond his powers to extend so callously. Honesty for safety, but at what additional cost? How will you stop them, knight? Will you kill them too, if they choose against your promise?

Suppose she found herself admiring the confidence, in a way, as inflated as it appeared.

“ You propose an exchange of trust betwixt strangers. “ She started, head tilting as she set the naked cockerel down next to the axe. “ All too reasonable, was I a woman of such persuasion. But alas— “ Wiping her hands on her apron, she shrugged with an amount of aloofness.

“ A witch is bound to bargain in her own terms. Your wants you’ve made clear, so answers it be from me, but what I want in turn is no fleeting protection. “ Settling a hand on her thigh, she leaned closer to where he lay across from the beheading block.

“ In your leaving, I should like to be taken with. To your monastery, perhaps, of which I've heard many a tale. What say you, knight? “

'I say I'll considerate it,' replied Faramund, leaning in also, unintimidated by the wildling's ways. 'Assuming you weren't involved in the killing, and assuming you have information that'll aid us in our investigation... Perhaps I will be able to swing it with my companions, not to mention the folks back home.' He could be mighty persuasive sometimes.

'Astenvale is a lovely place, no word of a lie,' he smiled.

A sound from behind made him check over his shoulder. For a moment, the dawnling thought he spied movement amongst the trees. Blinking, he watched as a flight of blue-feathered birds took to the sky, as if spooked.

'Something strange is going on in this village,' said the knight, turning back to the witch, a hand brushing the hilt of his sabre, touch light as a ghost's. 'I know not what. Or why. But I feel, of all the people here, you are the only one willing to tell me the truth.' He paused as he contemplated the woman sat across from him. Her true face was not hard to look at, but the smile in her eyes reminded him of all the monsters he had ever slain.

'Who killed the noblewoman? Who stood to gain from her death? And why is that little bastard Into so stealthy?'

Back in the village
Many pairs of eyes were trained on a stranger that would walk down the street, sword at her hip and journal at hand. Sharp in her garb and sticking out for it. Everyone knew of the death, the killing, the murder at this point, as they did the fact that the Elder had sent for the Anathaeum. No accident, then, but exactly whom was this young knight remained question.

Like dogs expecting a beating, many were silent and at their guard, watching her. Lest she think to point a finger at any which one, accusing and bringing to justice by some intuition. The word was she could summon fire in but a flick of the wrist and had a pair of fellow knights in tow, but where were they now?

Not all were coloured by suspicion, naturally. There were some who had livings to make, no matter the means, and a healthy amount of jolly denial when it came to worst case scenarios. Surely, was one to only speak the truth and nothing but the truth, having nothing to hide, naught bad would befall oneself. Surely.

“ You appear positively on a mission, Syr Knight. “ Called a voice, belongst to a man unloading a cart next to his stall. Some steps away from him a fellow shopkeep gave him a marking glare, but the discouragement went wholly unnoticed. The woman was much too busy hassling about with her pockets, trying to produce change to a customer.

So, the man continued, smiling wide as he picked a crate filled with straw and fresh eggs from the bed.

“ How goes your quest? “

Surprised that any of the villagers would engage Amelia in conversation, she halted half-past the man's stall, turning her head bemusedly to find the speaker. And when feeling the glare of the other shopkeep, Amelia kept her eyes focused only on the man who addressed her, even if it was with an unearned title.

"Ah, I am no Knight quite yet, good sir." She acquiesced sheepishly. "Just a Squire I'm afraid, albeit a sharp one nonetheless." A chuckle followed, her friendly mask easily falling into place. One she donned when speaking to strangers, who otherwise might find her monotone and blunt demeanor unsettling.

Inspired by his jovial attitude, Amelia stepped towards the cart, intending to help him unload his crates. 'Here, allow me. After all, a squire is a position of service."

Despite accepting one of his crates with a grateful nod, his question immediately had her on guard. Politely she corrected him, "I don't know if I would call this a quest per say, so much as a murder investigation. Although just like yourselfwe're not opposed to help."

Placing the last of his crates at his stall, she dusted off the dirt from her hands and turned back to him, stretching out her hand to shake his callused one. "The name's Amelia, a pleasure to meet you." She motioned a thumb towards the blacksmith. "Now about that help. What can you tell me of the boy Jali who lives there."

Aarno Faramund
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At a witch’s hut

This was turning out to be none so simple as she was used to. The unafraid would not bend nor be persuaded to games.

He mirrored the gesture, closing the distance betwixt ever so slightly, staring back. For it, a dark delight bloomed on her face, a sliver of teeth bared in her widening smile. Nothing was readily given as he spoke, the lot of it as meaningless to her as a chime in the wind. Beautiful, but without weight.

Slowly she withdrew, straightening on her spot as he continued on, finally reaching his point and prying for what she knew. Questions three, all terribly large, as was that blade carried along and so errantly touched. Just to tease him with suspense, she eyed him for another five seconds until rising with the slowness of any fabled crone, a low hum in her throat. The cockerel was picked up by its stump of a neck.

“ Who killed, who gained— “ She started, tasting the words like she was yet to decide on their meaning, a turn on the heel seeing her towards the chopping board.

“ Many killed, blood and love killed, though only one held the spade. Would you have me name him? “ Leaving the cockerel on the table, she bent to reach under it and produced a little burlap bag from a chest. It was empty, neatly pressed flat, and she forced it open with her hands as she returned upright.

“ Who gained — the entire community did. For in killing the Mother, they got to keep the Child she’d come for. The shadow that trails the Elder, to whom the Mother was naught but a stranger. “ Trailing back to where she’d defeathered the slain, she squat down and begun gathering the down into the bag.

“ As for the one you’ve mentioned by name — He is fae. “ Flinty eyes cast upwards, meeting his. “ It surprises me you’d ask such a thing, Knight, for doesn’t your Kin mingle with the sort plenty? “

Back in the Village

“ My— by all means. “ The man responded to the offered help, pleasant surprise upon his face as he gestured accordingly. The expression was quickly swallowed by something darker as she explained, the word murder coming so easily from her mouth. Initially, he merely hummed, eyes drifting about to see whether people were watching, listening closely perhaps.

Anything for a good story. Tempering his eagerness to indeed help for good measure, the man put down the crate into the small compartment behind the stall. The squire’s cordial gesture was met with a smile, hand taking hers.

“ Likewise. “ He said, smiling, eyes tracing the gesture that indicated a direction. Straight to the point, wasting no time.

“ Jali, huh. More a young man than a boy, him, wouldn’t you say? Six foot and then some. “ His look sought the woman in the stall next to his, her hands busy with arranging some last year’s carrots into a row. She shrugged one shoulder, look trained on her task.

“ I believe he is twenty and one, this year. “
“ As I thought! “ The shopkeep smiled wider, turning back to see the squire in the eye. “ Whatever would you want with him? He’s been off since yesterday noon, rode off with some smith’s goods strapped to his horse. Probably to sell in town to the west. “

His look narrowed as he sidled to her, conspiracy in his lowered tone.

“ You don’t think he had anything to do with the— you know? Certainly, not. “

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Women. Life would have been so much simpler without them. Much more boring, too. Sighing to himself, the knight was forcibly reminded of that fact as the woods-witch began to weave a series of riddles he had no patience for.

Would you have me name him?

'Yes, that's why I asked.' Brown-gold eyes followed the witch and the poor, unfortunate bastard of a cockerel to the chopping board. A bag materialised. To collect the gathered feathers, most like.

He had more interest in the contents of that bag than he did her bullshit.

'The child...' His brow furrowed as he thought back on the meeting that morning. The face of the murdered woman came to mind easier than the faces of the potential murderees. Half the bloody village had been shadowing the ealdorwoman, though few had been the children in attendance. Faramund mulled the witch's words over carefully.

'Into!' That slippery little shit? A fae? Meeting the witch's eye, Faramund stifled a laugh. 'My kin mingle with plenty of folk, each as tricksy and dangerous as the next.' He held her gaze. Perhaps to get his point across, or perhaps simply because he wanted to.

'This fae-fellow, is he of the dangerous and tricksy variety?' Faramund asked, casting a glance over his shoulder. Again, for but a moment, he saw something move amongst the trees. Short. Close enough to a human as to be something else entirely.

'I ask for no particular reason, other than the fact I think he has followed me here.'

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At the witch’s hut

A great wheel was turning, but no machination was revealed. Her skin prickled with a strange thrill as he held her look, marking on the tricksy and the dangerous. Staring like a hound threatening to sniff out every last secret. She had naught against it, but damn if she didn’t intend to hold onto them for a moment longer, waste some more of his time. Nothing given, nothing gained.

Where are your fangs, knight — Press on as you know best. One should love to see when will the gloves come off at long last.

“ All fae are tricksy and dangerous. In this they differ none from the rest. “ She smiled pleasantly, shrugging at the shifting within the young willows and dead rose bushes. “ Wouldn’t you agree, Into? “

Branches whipped with a faster movement, but none came forth. Instead, it became terribly still, artificially silent. Mischief rippling over her smirk, she lined up some larger feathers on the log she had been sitting on. In the sun, they shimmered.

“ On the eve of the killing, one whom entertains no visitors received some. A hearth was left untended, belongst to a hut not a hundred paces that a way— “ Her stare swiveled, pointing out a well beaten path into the woods. There were greater recluses than even her, yet.

“ In there, lives whom everyone in this town knows as old man Ringbom. Did he put back his spade next to the door in his late return, I wonder. “