Open Chronicles The Stalker of Minds

Lazule

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Rostok.

The ghost town.

And there underneath the fire burns. A consuming of the blackstone, the furnace fueling itself in the copious deposits of the tunnels. An accident which years ago sparked the lasting flame.

The seeping of toxic gas up from those depths. Wisps and great plumes alike through the cracks in the cobblestone roads and the through the floorboards of houses and through the fissures in the land itself. A lingering of the gasses like a constant fog. The town choked in a perpetual, deadly haze.

The Stalker of Minds awaited in Rostok, veiled by the hazardous mists. A thing whose limbs were thin and long, whose tight leathery skin was a sickly beige, whose mouth was forever twisted into a sinister sneer baring teeth. A thing which lacked eyes and breathed not the poisonous air.

It, and the smaller creatures like It, subsisted on one thing.

The horror of nightmares.

* * * * *​

Lazule had been traveling with Rebecca Fourtuna for nearly a month. A northerly path across the forests of the Allirian Reach. With each new day in the journey she rose to give praise and gratitude to the morning sun. For it shared its bountiful warmth and light with those of Arethil. And it was this light which Lazule forged into a weapon with her Luminomancy. For hers was the domain of the Hunt. And yes, there were monsters to slay.

A wake of cleansing as Lazule and Rebecca traveled north. A slaying of those wicked found by happenstance in the wild, and a slaying of those wicked by contract from small villages. The corpses of trolls, giant spiders, and various other monstrous and ghoulish things. Felled by arcane and weaponized light, or torn asunder by claws and spines and fangs, or both. Trophies taken from each slain monster. Offered to those innocent who had been so beset by terror, or placed into makeshift shrines nearby each kill.

And Lazule and Rebecca traveled north. A guiding mantra to light their way:

Slay the monsters. Give no mercy. For they know none.

Hunt. Kill. Pray.

They must all be destroyed.


And soon, as they neared the Sayve River, they began to hear tales of It. The terrible, unnatural nightmares inflicted upon the majority of folk in each new village they came across. And these nightmares were spreading. To more villages, to more people in said villages. It was getting worse and worse. So great was their torment and terror that many staved off sleep as long as they could before their eyes grew to be too heavy.

In these nightmares, a single common sight: that of an abandoned town, choked with some kind of mist or fog or smoke. Yet none of the villagers in these small afflicted villages knew the name or location of this place, or even if it was indeed real.

Until couriers were sent out with an urgent message, relaying with great haste these words and parchments bearing the very same:

"People of Grishino and all her sister villages. The Lord of Grishino believes he now knows the source of these horrific nightmares. An adventuring party is being assembled that shall be properly equipped to travel to this source and tasked with ending this scourge once and for all. Direct all manner of mercenary and adventuring persons to the town of Grishino should they happen upon your village, for all our sakes."

* * * * *​

Lazule crested a small and gentle slope of a hill and stopped at the top. Her boots on the dirt road.

And there, some short distance away, perhaps ten minutes walking pace, was the town of Grishino. A clearing and fields for farming around much of the town. A gleaming radiance in the afternoon sun, as the town curiously had the Elbion-style architecture of white buildings with red roofs. Tiny figures of people, within the town and walking along the evident cobblestone roads thereof and out tending the fields.

Lazule looked to Rebecca. Put a hand on her shoulder. Offered a small smile. A hope for reassurance.

"Will you be alright? This town is larger than those villages previous."

A matter of concern. Rebecca, surely as a result of living isolated for such a long time, maintained a feral sort of apprehension in villages and while around other people. Some displays of aggression. Worrying. Lazule did not want to see her friend succumb to the bestial tendencies the demons of Pandemonium had afflicted her with. She did not want to see innocents harmed.

It would need to be overcome. Somehow. They needed to enter Grishino and they needed to work with any and all who were assembled for this adventure.

For a true monster awaited them.
 

Rebecca Fourtuna

The Bayou Bone Eater
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"I-I'll be fine..D-don't worry about me. I m-made it through t-the last village pretty well didn't I?"

She said with a weak smile while she rose from all fours to walk normally.
The village she was referring to had been the smallest yet and she had still been miserable.

She pulled up her cloak to further shield her ears.
She stood close to Lazule so her tail could stay coiled around her arm as they walked ever closer to the town. It was something that had worked in villages before to keep her calm.

Her ears were already twitching painfully as the noises of the town invaded her senses, Every harsh sound and smell seemed to wash over her as they entered. Her right eye was already twitching slightly as the color of both seemed to flicker red occasionally.

Her fangs began to slide out of her gums as her jaw unhinged halfway. They didn't make it halfway before someone bumped into Rebbeca as they brushed through the gates. Though he was much larger than Rebecca the man fell back like he had run into a pillar.

"What the.." He muttered in a slight daze.

Her tail began to slowly uncoil from Lazule's arms and a spine began to grow as her eyes narrowed at the fallen man. It's purpose was clear as she seemed to almost break into a sweat trying to not tear everything around her to pieces just for some quiet. In villages she had been slightly grumpy and a little over stimulated.
They werent even through the gate and she seemed close to a melt down.
 
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Teodron

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Apparently Elbion had numerous research sites—or at least some of the professors at the college did—all over the world. Teodron had been vaguely aware of that fact, but it hadn’t ever really applied to his life.

All that changed after the half-dwarf’s foray into the woods on what was supposed to be a routine retrieval of a missing package. Instead, Teodron had faced down horrors in the trees and beneath the earth, both mundane and magical, and had emerged mostly unscathed. At least physically: emotionally, physically, mentally he was scarred, still having nightmares about the woman he’d killed and the monsters he’d nearly succumbed to. He knew both that he’d needed to slay her—she’d been a necromancer or worse, and had been planning to kill him and his companions—and that he was stronger for the ordeal.

But her eyes haunted his dreams, along with her laughter.

Still, after returning to the college and giving them the full account of what had happened (doctored slightly, of course, to leave out some objects he’d pocketed and corroborated by his companion and the party they’d sent to check out the ruins), Teodron found that he had developed a certain reputation. The mages at the College of Elbion were powerful and learned, that was true; however, they were also often academics and more often lazy, not wanting to do work when a student would do.

So as a result of his reputation—and a result of the fact that he’d ‘proven himself’—Teodron had found himself with increasingly more offers for ‘field work.’ Sometimes that required hunting down rare reagents or obscure spellbooks, but other times it involved him being sent to far flung reaches of the world, where there were magical anomalies or sites where the college wanted to study something. Those trips were often the most fascinating. Of course, they could also be the most dangerous, seeing as the wilderness wasn’t always that safe.

Which is why he kept his staff laid across the back of the pony he’d been given by the college and there were numerous protection charms in his saddlebags and on his person. After more than one brush with danger (and after almost dying more times than he liked to think about), Teodron’s magic had by necessity grown both more powerful and more versatile, but he was still best at wards. He also had a detection rune strung on his necklace: if it glowed, he knew there was a threat out there somewhere.

He was sore from traveling, but he hadn’t quite reached his destination yet, which was an area or a village called Grishino. Having grown up in the city in a family that wasn’t rich by any means, Teodron wasn’t a great rider, and his height meant a horse was out. Hence the pony: it was easier for him to handle and he could actually mount it. Grishino was quite some distance from Elbion, and Teodron had been gone for longer than he liked.

However, the half-dwarf didn’t have much of a choice in the matter; Professor Hadry had gotten a distressing note from the Lord of Grishino, who knew she had an interest in the area, and seeing as she was a rune mage like Teodron and he was one of her favorite (or at least best) pupils, she’d sent him to investigate in lieu of going herself. It was annoying, but the half-dwarf tried to remind himself that by doing his favors for Maestar he was gaining their trust, improving his skills, and exposing himself to disciplines he otherwise wouldn’t have experienced.

At least, that’s what he told himself.

The sight of a village in the distance cheered him up, and he nudged his pony into a slightly faster pace. Or maybe she just wanted to get there too: Chestnut was patient, but she didn’t like traveling long distances much either. It was oddly comforting to see that the buildings resembled the ones he was used to, strange as it was to see Elbion’s distinct architecture this far from the actual city. Still, Teodron wasn’t going to question the comfort where he found it. Idly he wondered if the research outpost had inspired the style, or was just a happy coincidence.

If he got curious enough, he might just ask a local. For now, his attention was captured by two figures at the base of the hill he’d just crested, who were making their way towards the village. He hadn’t seen very many fellow travelers, and it seemed from here that those two weren’t local. Regardless, Chestnut kept plodding forward, and he closed the distance between himself and the two in front of him relatively quickly.

In fact, they ended up entering town at almost the same time. Teodron was just a little bit behind them when the shorter figure bumped into a much larger man, who was knocked down.

Unfortunately, he fell directly in front of Chestnut. The pony obviously didn’t take that way; even tempered as she was, she had her limits. She reared up, whinnying in distress, and before the half-dwarf knew exactly what was happening, he found himself flying through the air.

Wham. The impact knocked the wind out of the student, and he hit his head as well. Luckily, his dwarven ancestors had blessed him with a thick skull, else he might’ve been seriously injured. Still, it took him a few moments to regain conscious thought. When he did, he sat up, wheezing, and rubbed the back of his head. At least Chestnut had settled down and hadn’t run off; Teodron didn’t know what he’d do if she decided to gallop away from here.

He was so caught up in that thought (and recovering his wits) that he wasn’t really paying attention to anyone else.
 
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Lazule

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I'll be fine.

A natural trust extended. As Lazule so often did. Such was her inclination for it that she at times had been called naive, this happening most notably in the Monster Slayer Academy in Elbion. Caution had been stressed by those there, that a watchful eye ought to be maintained even among those who seemed altogether trustworthy. A certain truth to this. That discernment was required at times, that monsters were not always of the variety immediately obvious to the senses and perhaps not yet catalogued in the Monster Slayers' library.

But it was in her nature to trust humans, and to trust the allies of humanity. For Father had been human.

And here, now, she trusted her friend, for she had discovered that her capacity of trust for Rebecca had only grown in the time she had known her. Yes, it was accurate to state that her trusting of Rebecca exceeded her trusting of most others. A quality of friendship. Something discovered, for Lazule had not known and understood another for as long or as well as she did Rebecca.

So it only became more and more surprising as Rebecca seemed less and less fine as they approached Grishino. The twitching of her ears. The color change of her eyes as Lazule glanced and noticed. And her fangs and her jaw.

Then the man who accidentally bumped into her as they only just crossed the precipice into town. That, and the rider behind them whose horse had gotten spooked and the rearing of the animal and the throwing off of the rider. The uncoiling of Rebecca's tail from Lazule's arm. Her friend's stance and demeanor growing dangerous. All this happening in a single moment.

The man who had been bumped muttered something. Got up and started walking away. Lazule ignored him. A concern for the fallen rider, yes, for he might well be injured from his fall, but first she needed to speak with Rebecca. She was a good person. Lazule had seen it. But her difficulties in life had been great.

Lazule stepped in front of Rebecca and placed a hand on her shoulder and the other to the back of her head. Bent forward enough to be at eye level with her.

And said, "Rebecca. Listen to me. You are a good person, and you are in good company. There are no m-monsters here."

The stutter. The sudden emergence of nervousness. It caught Lazule by surprise, for she had not felt as such in Rebecca's presence for a long time. Yet it had come again, despite the trust extended. And for that moment she stayed still with that tiny look of surprise and her hands on her friend, not knowing what to do next.

The stillness passing. Words finding her again.

"You will be fine. We will be f-fine. Alright?"

An attempt at a smile. A light scratching with the hand behind Rebecca's head. She was fond of those.

And now it was her duty and obligation to check on the fallen rider. She stood up straight and her hands slid away from Rebecca and Lazule looked past her and the rider's horse to the rider. He at least had sat up under his own power. A good sign.

"A-Are you hurt?" Lazule said to him. "Do y-you require aid?"
 
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Rebecca Fourtuna

The Bayou Bone Eater
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Rebecca's eyes were glowing red as she began to shake from the effort of holding herself back.
Every noise and every scent dug into her mind like a knife as her hed throbbed with so much demanding attention.
A rope of venom dripped from her mouth as it fell to the ground and it began to smoke.

She was about to tear into the next person she saw until Lazule stepped in front of her causing her to bump into her.
She felt a hand on her shoulder and the other slipped behind her head. She almost snak her half extended fangs into Lazule's arm in reflex completly disregarding the scent and touch of her master.

Before she could however, the hand at the back of her head forced her to look into her eyes gently.
Their eyes met, and hers shifted back to pink as Lazule spoke.

"Rebecca. Listen to me. You are a good person, and you are in good company. There are no m-monsters here."
The stutter made Rebecca blink. She hadnt heard that from her master in sometime...

"You will be fine. We will be f-fine. Alright?"

Rebecca nodded.

"I'll....I-I'll b-be fine! He j-just startled m-me is a-all.."

Rebecca said with a front of cheerfulness and a forced, pained smile as her jaw hinged back and her teeth sank back into her gums allowing her normal teeth to show.
Lazule would still be able to feel how tense she was as her ears still twitched painfully, and her right eye was still occasionally twitching, but the color of her eyes was no longer red and her breathing was calmer.

She after a nice light scratch that curled her tail she simply followed after her master as she approached the man who's horse had thrown him.

She stood close behind her master protectively.
Glowering at the stranger with a silent menace.
Begging for him or anyone to give her a reason.
 
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Teodron

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It took a moment for Teodron to register that the woman was speaking to him. It took another moment for him to gather his wits enough to respond to her. “Oh. No? I mean...I don’t think so.” He shook his head, trying to clear a few lingering stars from his vision. They danced around, mesmerizing, and he did his best to ignore them. “Half-dwarf, so my skull is still thick enough apparently.” He tapped his head to demonstrate, then winced when he hit the bump forming there.

Maybe he wasn’t in as good shape as he was pretending.

Still he managed to get to his feet with a minimum of swaying. Once the world stopped spinning, he turned to Chestnut, who snorted unhappily at him. “Shhhh. It’s okay. You’re okay.” He gave her his best soothing voice and approached as cautiously as he dared. She looked at him warily, almost as if he was also about to fall over. Given how his head ached, she might be right.

Thankfully she allowed him to gather up her reins. Breathing out a sigh of relief—both because his mount hadn’t run off and because he was beginning to feel a bit more like himself—he turned back to the two figures. Then, he frowned. He knew his vision was a bit wonky at the moment, but he could have sworn there was a third figure here. A man. The man who’d fallen and startled Chestnut to begin with. “Did he...I mean, did that man run off?” The half-dwarf’s tone conveyed just how pissed he was about that. "Metisa take him." That was about the worst curse he could think of at the moment.

Of course it wasn’t the man’s fault. That was apparently the smaller figure (although it appeared accidental, so really it was no one’s fault). However, running off when someone might be hurt didn’t speak well of the man.

It was over, now, and it wasn’t like Teodron was going to go chasing after the fleeing man. No, the mage was here on a mission—well, assignment or field work was more apt—and he’d stick to it. First, though, he should probably check in on the woman who’d asked after him and her smaller shadow. Teodron spared a glance for the smaller figure. She was feminine, looking, but no race that the half-dwarf had ever seen. It wasn’t important (and she was staring at him intently and not exactly in a way he appreciated), so he turned his attention back to the taller woman. This one was a blonde woman, and though she wasn’t friendly, exactly, she was better than her smaller friend.

Teodron gave them his most polite smile. “Are you two alright? I’m sorry if I scared you.” He knew from experience that seeing someone fall off a horse—well, pony, but for him it was basically the same—could be quite distressing.

Then he grinned, a real one this one, something he rarely did. “Although I do actually need some aid. You don’t happen to know where I can find the Lord of Grishino?” It would certainly make the half-dwarf’s life much easier. If they didn’t, however, he’d probably just find the local tavern (or taverns) and ask around until he got the information he needed.
 

Lazule

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I'll be fine.

She could only trust Rebecca. Her words. Her demeanor. The gesture of the smile was there yet somehow it seemed hollow. Contradictory, perhaps. For her assertion and her smile were belied by the twitching of her ears and eyes.

It all came down to observation. Studying how others interacted, reactions then to said interactions. First with Father, then in the Monster Slayer Academy, and then in the wider world. Tone and gestures, stances and cues. Certain words and certain contexts. All of this careful observation was made necessary by Lazule's poor innate sense of the meaning of them all. So often it came to mimicry of what she had seen and heard.

And there through her observation and in this particular instance her listening had emerged a noticeable pattern:

Fine often did not truly mean fine.

It seemed the case now. A hope that she was wrong. But Rebecca was objectively calmer at present than moments before, standing close behind her. No overt displays of aggression. Still, that hope remained.

The man then. He rubbed his head and appeared coherent. That was good. Lazule loathed to see pain and tragedy befall those innocent, even if such were merely a simple accident or a misfortune in circumstance.

"A half-d-dwarf?"

Oh. Yes. As he stood he was, in fact, short like a dwarf. What was his other half, then? She didn't know, and didn't presume. She had not had many interactions with dwarves before. They tended to live in greater numbers in places she had not been, hence the lack.

The shakes came. That slight quivering in her hands. It was not her wish to harm or offend, yet the danger of such was clear and present in her mind. Inadvertently it could happen, much like the accident with the man and the horse.

Did that man run off?

"Y-Yes. He is gone now."

Metisa. Who was Metisa? The man spoke of her as if she were an unique manner of friend, a vengeful one. It must be a common name, Metisa. Vague remembrances of overhearing others say the selfsame name in conversation.

Are you two alright?

"We have not been h-harmed. I was worried that y-you had been."

His smile turned to a grin. Lazule blinked. The shaking of her hands.

"Oh. Y-Yes. Well, to clarify, we do not kn-know where exactly to find the Lord of Grishino, b-but we seek him all the same. You have heard the criers or seen the n-notices too?"

Heartening. To see others taking up the cause. For something was responsible for the terrible nightmares inflicted upon Grishino and the surrounding villages. Some malevolent thing. What it truly was happened to be a mystery. Something in that town cloaked by the strange fog. Something that either needed to be destroyed or slain.

A glance back to Rebecca. Perhaps her evident confidence would reassure her, for Rebecca did not take well to strangers. But this man was no stranger if he, too, sought the same thing that the two of them sought. Their purpose sacred, their task holy, and in this a shared righteousness among them all.

Lazule looked to the man who was a half-dwarf. "Shall we go seek him out t-together then? M-My name is Lazule."
 

Rebecca Fourtuna

The Bayou Bone Eater
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Rebecca remained mired in her own turmoil as she watched her master converse.
She didnt like this half dwarf.

This didnt speak much for his character in anyway negative or positive as she hated strangers generally.
She was so lost in trying to hold herself together that she didnt notice a wagon passing behind them to go through the town gate. A wagon with wheels. Specifically one wheel that decided to roll right over her tail. The effect was instant.

Her assaulted senses kicked into over drive as the pain crashed into her like a wave. She screeched like a panther as her eyes glowed blood red.
Her claws sank into the wood of the wagon as she grabbed the back of it. She pulled it back towards her until the driver was level with where she stood.

Grabbing the driver by the neck she kicked the wagon over and out from under him. The single horse cowed as it was suddenly yanked from it's hooves.

She didnt even say anything as her jaw unhinged and her teeth sprang out like switchblades. Rebecca seemed to pause for a moment before moving to sink her teeth into the mans shoulder.

If her grip on his throat wasnt so tight the man wouldve been screaming, but as it was all he could do was gurgle in protest. She seemed almost gone snarling as bits of foam and venom dripped from her maw as she moved for the kill.
 
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Teodron

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It took a moment for Teodron to parse the woman’s words. Whether that was because of his lingering head injury, or because she appeared to have a pretty bad stammer, he couldn’t say.

However, when he did finally figure it out, he grinned. “Well, my dad would say I’m half-human, actually.” Then, realizing that the joke would probably go over the woman’s head, he hastened to add, “Yes, half-dwarf and half-human.” It was odd that she hadn’t recognized him for what he was; half-dwarves weren’t exactly common, but dwarves and humans were, and it was usually pretty easy for people to see his frame, his height, and his features and put two and two together.

However, he wasn’t bothered by the question. It was clear from her tone that she was confused, not malicious. Plus, he was in an unfamiliar place, so he was trying to be on his best behavior. While he didn’t know these women—and he didn’t know if they were even from around here—it was always best to be cautious in a strange land. The first couple of times he’d ventured out, he’d managed to offend a local, which had ended up making his job significantly more difficult. Plus he’d felt bad about it.

Besides, she seemed almost as nervous as he sometimes got in a social interaction. It was hard not to reassure her, even though by all rights he was the one who needed looking after, what with his tumble. The pain was fading fast enough that he figured he’d gotten off lucky.

The other man was long gone at that point (and there wasn’t really anything to do but scold him for not sticking around anyway), so Teodron dismissed him. “That’s alright. I don’t know what I’d even say if he’d stuck around.” Besides, he was far more interested in the pair of women. The smaller figure seemed content to let the taller lady take the lead, even with her nerves and her stammer. So the half-dwarf decided that being kind and open, and hopefully not at all threatening would serve him well here. He smiled at them when the taller one said they weren’t hurt. “Well that’s a relief. That could've been a whole lot worse for all of us.”

Doing his best to ignore the taller woman’s reaction to his words and expressions—try as he might, he couldn’t understand why she might be worried about speaking to him, unless it was just general anxiety around strangers—he listened eagerly to her response to his question about the local leader. He couldn’t help but perk up when he heard they were also seeking the Lord of Grishino. “That’s good to know.” Meeting nobility alone was intimidating; meeting them as part of a group would be much easier, he felt, though he couldn’t say why beyond a vague fear of being alone with a powerful person. He’d always preferred lectures to one on one meetings with the Maesters at the College.

Then his mind caught up with his ears. Giving the woman a sharp look, Teodron frowned. “Criers? Notices? What’re you talking about.” He bit his lip, suddenly worried. He’d assumed this was a spell gone awry, or a lost artifact, but if others were seeking out the Lord of Grishino there might be more here than met the eye. “I don’t know anything about that. I was sent here by one of the Maesters at the College of Elbion. Professor Hadry? Have you heard of her? Anyway, she got sent a note by the lord about some disturbances in the area, and sent me along to check it out, but the letter didn’t include a whole lot of details.”

Not for the first time he cursed the secrecy at the college. Maesters—especially the more academically inclined ones—were always worried about others trying to scoop their research or meddle in their spellcraft. It made Teodron’s life a lot harder, especially because they rarely trusted students and apprentices with all the relevant information.

Still, he’d come all this way, so it wasn’t like he could back out now.

Bringing his attention back to the present situation, he forced himself to smile at Lazule. “I’m Teodron Stonecutter, and I’d be happy to seek out the Lord with you” It sounded like the half-dwarf might need help with this one. Plus, with three of them, it would make the search go much faster.

He turned to ask what the smaller, silent woman’s name was. After all, he’d like to know who he was working with. However, before he could, chaos erupted.

It started with a wagon: the foolish driver hadn’t watched closely enough and had apparently run over the tail of the smaller woman. Before Teodron could even blink (or properly process the fact that she had a tail), she screeched in outrage, the effortlessly dragged the (significantly larger) wagon driver off his wagon; the half-dwarf watched with horror as she gripped the driver by the throat, and then unhinged her jaw shockingly wide and sank her large and sharp looking fangs into the man. Her grip was so tight the man couldn’t even scream.

Sparing a glance for the smaller woman’s larger companion, the half-dwarf hesitated, just for an instant. Maybe the tall blonde would do something. But he couldn’t stand by and watch as this poor man got attacked, maybe killed. Sure the driver had messed up, but it was an honest mistake, and this retribution was hardly proportionate to the crime.

Before Teodron could think about it too hard, he was running the short distance to the woman and her victim, Chestnut’s reins forgotten. He called up his power and frantically called up a barrier: he tried to shove it between the man and the attacking woman, but they were so close and intertwined that the half-dwarf wasn’t sure he was successful. Besides, rapid and improvised spellcasting, with no preparation and almost no focus was not his specialty.

So with his left hand he grabbed at the fingers she had she had wrapped around the driver’s throat, trying to pry it loose. Teodron’s right hand grabbed the reptilian woman’s shoulder (for this close he could see she was some confusing mix of reptilian and feline, though he couldn’t examine her too closely), and tried to pull her off the other man that way.

Almost distantly Teodron could hear himself shouting, “Let go! He didn’t mean it, you need to let go!” and variations on that theme He really didn’t want to hurt her, especially since she was just reacting to being hurt, but if she didn’t release the driver soon he might have to resort to stronger and more dangerous magic.

The half-dwarf was so wrapped up in preventing the driver’s death that he forgot all about the taller woman. Nor was he conscious of any potential danger to himself: all he cared about was stopping the woman with a tail.
 
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Lazule

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Half-human, half-dwarf, then. It truly was astounding to Lazule the ease in which ordinary life was made. The lack of sacrifice. None needing to die. Pure creation. Perhaps this miracle was in fact so ordinary to those who existed because of it that they might go their entire life without once noticing.

His demeanor changed after the mention of the criers and the notices. A mild puzzlement. A frown. Worry? No, he didn't hear from the criers in the nearby villages nor see the notices. He had no awareness of either.

His own question. Which, in turn, brought mild puzzlement to Lazule.

"Professor H-Hadry? No. I h-haven't heard of her."

She had not been the College of Elbion at all. The Monster Slayers spoke about it at times in the Academy, and it was the landmark of Elbion, but that was the extent of her knowledge, general and approximate as it was. She had not trained there, visited there, or truly talked to many people from there, and thus had little experience with names and people from there.

"Disturbances. Y-Yes, there have been, according to the criers and the n-notices. The people of Grishino, and the p-people of other nearby villages, have all been experiencing n-nightmares. Relentless, unnatural nightmares, to c-clarify. And a shared sight of s-some kind of town, common to all. A p-party is being formed here to investigate."

She nodded as he introduced himself. A curt little movement of her head. A tiny dangling of the bangs which covered her right eye. "Teodron."

Then it happened.

A wagon had been approaching all this while. A thing in her peripheral vision, slowly moving along. And then as it neared them where they stood at the precipice of the town where the dirt road became cobblestone, a screeching from Rebecca. Lazule did not see what exactly had happened to her, but she did turn to see the collapsing of the wagon and the horse and the man taken and Rebecca's hands about his neck.

And her teeth sinking into his shoulder.

A widening of Lazule's eye. The shakes gone immediately. And as Teodron sprung into action and used his own magic and tried with his hands to pry Rebecca from the innocent man, Lazule snapped her right hand open. A strange, high-pitched whine as a Shiv forged from yellow light manifested in her hand and she grasped it. Tiny was the blade. Effortlessly would it cut and pierce.

Those hard steps taken to be beside Rebecca, the side opposite of Teodron. A hand grabbing Rebecca's forearm as Teodron grabbed her shoulder. The other pointing the Shiv deadly close to the side of her face, perhaps a hair's distance from it. The emanating heat of the blade. A warning to be seen and to be felt.

"I will kill you," Lazule said, a paradoxical mix of heavy reluctance and unflinching conviction existing in it simultaneously. Her eye wide and intense and distant with terrible sorrow. "Please do not make me kill you."

Lazule's body still as a stone. Not even breathing.

Some shouts and commotion from inside the town. Pointed fingers their way. A few onlookers running away up the cobblestone road.
 
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Rebecca Fourtuna

The Bayou Bone Eater
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The screams.

Rebecca felt them digging into her brain as her fangs sank into the man.

The taste of blood and flesh, the feeling of bone splintering. These snag thier praises to her instinct as if her mind had simply had enough and passed the reigns of her body to it.

Her tail wrapping around the half dwarfs waist to throw him away.

Then she heard her masters voice. The promise of death. A reluctance to act and a resolve to do what was neccisary seeming to intertwine. Though she felt the heat and saw the blade hovering next to her face it was her voice more than the weapon that forced her mind to take back the reigns however reluctantly.

She spat the man's shoulder from her mouth hitting her knees as the man fell and began to shake as paralytic effects of her venom began to take over his body. She curled up in a shivering ball clutching her poor twitching ears.
Her eyes still shifting from bright pink to blood red as tears leaked from them.

Her tail began seeking her masters hand where she lay like a fallen child feeling around for a security blanket they had lost in a tumble, or a ship looking for it's anchor.

"I-I'm sorry.." She whimpered.
The noise..
The people...
It was all just too much. She would face a thousand terrors alone before she could face this.

So many possible threats, so many things to see, hear and smell all of them offering her brain safety or danger with none of the time to figure out which was which.

They all ran together.. Safty was danger danger was safty. Her body simply had reacted the way it was trained to. Threats were to be eliminated.
And if she had no time to pick what that was then killing everything eliminated it just as well.... eventually....
 
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Teodron

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It couldn’t be a coincidence that they’d all come here after news of some incident. Teodron was forced to conclude that whatever had brought the two women had also been why the professor had sent the half-dwarf. That was good news, actually: it would be nice to actually have some help on a job for once. Usually the college left him to his own devices. While he’d made it out so far, he’d ended up in some pretty dicey situations.

He wasn’t surprised that the tall blonde hadn’t heard of Professor Hadry. Actually, he’d have been a little worried if she had: few knew most of the Maesters at the College of Elbion, as they were often a reclusive lot. It would’ve been one coincidence too many.

As he listened intently to the woman’s explanation about what was going on, the half-dwarf frowned. Nightmares and visions, not a good sign. What was especially worrisome was that everyone said they were having the same dream; the sort of being that could create a mass hypnosis worried him. If it was a spell gone wrong, that would be even worse. At least a monster they could kill, or, more likely, contain.

A spell would be hard to counteract without knowing exactly what it had been to begin with and how it had been altered or broken.

Well, regardless, it seemed like he had a lot of work to do. Again, though, it seemed like he’d have these women—and maybe even more help if others had answered the call—at his side. At least, Lazule seemed to think that would be the case, and Teodron had no reason not to believe her.

He was about to ask her more questions about these nightmares and the vision (he was particularly interested in details about the village), but then the second woman attacked the driver and he ran to her, then got tossed through the air by her tail (she really was stronger than she looked) and he slammed into the ground near Chestnut (which hurt and rattled his already pained head), who whinnied and pawed the air again, and he had to roll to avoid her.

Only a few moments had passed. Thankfully his mount calmed down quickly, so he snatched his staff and sprinted back towards the fight. He was just in time to see the blade in the tall blonde’s hand, which shimmered oddly along with the air around it, though that may have been his shaky vision. For some reason, the tall blonde got through to the reptilian catwoman where the half-dwarf couldn’t; the smaller woman retreated from the driver and curled into a ball, though her tail sought out Lazule.

Teodron didn’t slow down: he kept sprinting towards the two women and the driver, though the half-dwarf altered his trajectory slightly. Once he reached them, he dashed in a circle around the women, the end of his staff dragging on the ground. It was a rough sketch, but it would do in a pinch. It was mostly a mental exercise anyway.

That done, he sank down by the injured driver. “Someone call for a healer,” the student called out frantically. He had to hope that a village of this side had someone with more training in medicine than the half-dwarf. Then he shot a wild look at Lazule. “If you can’t keep her under control,” he jerked his head towards the smaller woman, “then I’ll have to.” He didn’t say what he would do, exactly—since he wasn’t exactly sure himself—but for starters he’d raised a barrier from the circle he’d just made.

Now, though, he had to focus on keeping the driver alive long enough for more help to get here. He just hope someone had heeded his call for a doctor; as he sank into a healing chant and poured what energy he could into the driver, Teodron prayed frantically to Metisa that it would be enough.
 

Lazule

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Rebecca let the man go.

And the light which comprised the Shiv contracted until the arcane weapon disappeared entirely. A slow breath then, and Rebecca's arm slipped from her loosened grasp as her friend curled up on the ground. An absentminded and meek closing of her hand around the tail which sought it out.

There was no mantra for this. No words of guidance. No rigid law which served to make the right action clear. Not for this. Only for if Rebecca killed an innocent person. Then and there would Lazule's path be certain. She would not want to do so, and it would pain her greatly to do so, but slay Rebecca she would, for it would then be demanded. Gone would be that heavy reluctance. Only the unflinching conviction would remain.

But this. Fine was not fine at all.

The tipping back and forth. Between the good person Lazule had seen of Rebecca back in Bayou Garramarisma, and the savagery that surfaced when in these villages and around these strangers. Lazule did not know what could be done to make her well. She did not know what she could say or do. All she knew how to do with the utmost certainty was to Hunt and to Slay. There was nothing but that.

This problem was a thing not of her domain. Only violence solved problems in the world she inhabited. And this was a problem that violence could not solve; not in the manner that she wished it to be solved.

Had Lazule and this man Teodron been slower. Had Rebecca been allowed those few seconds more to kill the innocent wagon driver. Tragedy.

The shakes returned as she regarded Rebecca. The intensity fading from her eye. And she said, "I-I..."

But words failed her. The sudden loss. What could be said had already been said. Yes. Lazule would be made to kill her if she killed an innocent person. There the only certainty. And yet it was lacking, the outcome neither of them wanted, and she could think of nothing to fill the void.

Teodron came back then. Ran in a circle and formed a magical barrier. Dropped down next to the poor injured man.

* * * * *​

At the same time some men-at-arms, a loose group of four of them, rushed down the cobblestone street and stopped by the barrier. They weren't a professional guard force; the town had none. Just part of a simple militia. Working men of noncombat professions who also took up the call to defend Grishino whenever it was necessary.

They took in the sight of the magic and the toppled wagon and the horse and the injured man. And the three strangers inside the barrier.

"What's all this, then?" said the tallest among them. Another poked the magical barrier curiously with the tip of his shortsword.

Someone call for a healer.

The Tall Man turned and yelled at yet another man-at-arms running down the street and yelled to him, "We need a healer out here! Fetch Kyrene! Getterix! Somebody! Quickly now, quickly!"

One of the men-at-arms in the group of four around the barrier squinted and looked at Rebecca and said quietly, "What the hell is that...?"

Another man-at-arms looked back to the wagon and to the three in the barrier and to the wagon and said, "How did this even happen?"

* * * * *​

Lazule looked to the injured man as Teodron dropped down next to him. It was terrible, what had happened. He would need to be compensated. It was only fair. And the only way to properly do that with the means Lazule had available would be to give any payment she would receive for the Lord of Grishino's task to this man. Such was all she could do within her power to make it right. As right as she could.

"I am s-sorry," she said to the paralyzed man. "I d-do not know any healing magic."

But the men who had assembled on the outside of the barrier called for a healer. One should be coming soon.

And Teodron spoke. Lazule regarded him with a hopeful curiosity, her mouth a touch open. It warmed the fire in her chest to hear him offer his help, even if his words didn't precisely match the look on his face.

"How? H-How can you keep her under control? Can you sh-show me? I do not wish to k-kill her."
 

Rebecca Fourtuna

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Rebecca shrank back as the guards surrounded her. "Master?" Her tail no longer being held.

Trapped and surrounded.

She began breathing heavily as she back into a wall of the barrier casting around glances for her master and only finding armed men towering over her. She seemed beyond frayed now. Scared and pushed into a corner she seemed to bounce between being ready to attack again, and curling into a ball to cry. "Master!" She yelled with her voice cracking in pain and fear.

"L-LAZULE!"
She yelled her voice bore a tone Lazule had heard in her voice only once before.

"P-please..."

She whimpered.

When she spoke of Philip...Had opened herself to her. She was calling not as a servant to a master.

She was calling like a daughter to a mother.
She was trapped, scarred, confused and in pain.
Like when she had saved her life so many countless times on their quests with no regard for her own safety.

Risking everything to save her master.

Her friend.

She wasnt calling for rescue. There was no doubt she could kill every person here with no problem. She was holding it back for her.
She needed her aid before she did something her master would disapprove of.
The idea of letting her down how hurt she would be having her hand forced to put Rebecca down goaded Rebecca to hold on.
 
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Teodron

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They had drawn a crowd, but Teodron was too wrapped up in his spell to pay much attention to them. Still, when they began to speak—well, shout really—it broke through. He finished the last couple words of his current round of the chant, and glanced up from the fallen driver to evaluate the scene.

Encroaching men-at-arms; small woman still curled in a ball; Lazule standing by the reptilian woman, the tall blonde looking at a loss; the half-dwarf took in the scene in the instant. He panicked, slightly, not knowing what to do. If this had been a magical experiment gone wrong, or a spell gone awry he would’ve known the correct course of action. But this was complicated, and one misstep could prove fatal to someone.

Right now, the injured man was Teodron’s biggest priority. So the half-dwarf would do what he had to keep the driver alive.

With that thought, Teodron’s mind cleared (well, slightly, he was still freaking out about the fight inwardly), and he cleared his throat. “If you’re not a ah healer, I need you to stay back, uh, please.” It wasn’t exactly confident—not that Teodron was ever all that confident—but maybe they’d heed his words. Besides, it had occurred to the half-dwarf that in the reptilian woman’s current state, she might attack someone else. Unfortunately, Lazule didn’t know any magic. He wondered about that knife he’d seen: it didn’t seem normal, but he didn’t know if she was a mage or if it was just an artifact. However, it really didn’t matter at the moment.

Lazule seemed safe, but seeing as Teodron didn’t know why the smaller woman had attacked the driver to begin with, the half-dwarf figured it wasn’t worth taking any chances. Regardless of what the men-at-arms would do, Teodron bowed his head again, gathering his energies in preparation to resume the healing chant.

Then Lazule spoke, and Teodron couldn’t help but glance up at the plaintive note in her voice. He bit his lip, glancing at the reptilian woman, who was clearly the tall blonde’s…friend? Charge? Slave? The reptilian woman kept referring to Lazule as the smaller woman’s master, but Teodron didn’t know what that meant for their relationship. Still, the two women were obviously close.

He couldn’t bring himself to pity the reptilian woman, not after what she did to the driver. But the half-dwarf felt his heart go out to Lazule; between her concern for her friend and her obvious uncertainty about, well, so much, it was clear she needed some help. So Teodron would do what he could, even if it wasn’t much.

Plus, he was sick of pain and carnage, and he didn’t want to see another corpse.

Sighing, he met Lazule’s eyes. “I...might, MIGHT, be able to ah help. But…” he bit his lip, trying to figure out the best way to put this. “I need to uh, know why your friend....attacked the driver.” The half-dwarf didn’t know if she would react poorly to his questioning, but he couldn’t do anything unless she diagnosed the problem for him.

While he waited for her answer, he started chanting again, just trying to keep the driver stable. This time, he spoke loudly and clearly, while still sinking his magic into the injured man. If anyone in the crowd did have magic—and was willing to pitch in—they might pick up the chant and help out. Whatever they could do until a real healer could get here might make the difference between life and death.

For more than one person.
 

Lazule

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The men outside the magical barrier. Their presence and their weapons. The palpable tension that Rebecca felt. The girl's cries and her collapsing back into a ball on the ground.

An arresting thought. Was it cruel to allow Rebecca to come with her? To consciously expose her to such environments that tortured her senses? Her prowess in slaying monsters was not in doubt. It was here in places where small moments of respite and reprieve ought to be found that she was in the most turmoil. It was true to say that these places, the villages wherein those innocent gathered and lived, threatened to turn Rebecca into a monster.

The worst possible outcome. For Rebecca. For those who suffered because of Rebecca. For Lazule.

Teodron told her to stand back on account of having no healing magic. She would need to regardless. For Rebecca needed guidance--more than guidance, certainly, but guidance nonetheless. And it was all she could offer. She had no firm solution for keeping Rebecca under control other than that. Flashbang spells would not suffice, and she had no other nonlethal spell that would be suitable. Only words, as meek and uncertain a solution as they were.

Lazule knelt down by Rebecca. Placed a hand on her head. Spoke quietly.

"Rebecca. What you have d-done is wrong. This man you have harmed is n-not a monster. He is a good person. Y-You are a good person, but here you have caused a tragedy. I am s-sorry that the circumstances of your life have conspired to b-bring you to this. I am t-truly sorry."

A pulling of her lips into a frown. A steadying.

"Follow my guidance. You shall not harm anyone or anything I do not explicitly tell you to harm. I shall proportionately escalate the use of violence upon you for infractions of this rule, no matter the circumstance. I simply cannot allow you to harm more innocents. I do not wish for this rule to exist, but exist it must. For that is all I can do to help you."

Teodron said something. Something beside his chanting. He needed to know why Rebecca attacked the driver. Did his magic work based on intention? Otherwise, his question was incomprehensible to Lazule. The reason for the violence was irrelevant, only that the violence had been done. Said violence was undesirable. Force of some manner would be necessary to prevent further violence. The rule Lazule was establishing would be a soft use of force, the aforementioned promise of a hard use of force for infractions. It was the essence of Law.

And "might" was not good enough. For it was uncertain. Lazule's rule was certain. Clear and firm guidance. Appropriate punishment for any infractions. In lieu of a solution from Teodron or a solution to be found at some point in the future, this simple rule would have to suffice.

Lazule didn't look away from Rebecca. Held up a gesture she had seen others use before to prompt for more time. A raised finger to Teodron.

And she said to the girl, "Rebecca. Look at me. Do you understand this rule?"

* * * * *​

The men-at-arms, mundane men as they were, could do nothing but stand and wait outside of the magical barrier. Still, whatever had happened seemed to be over with for the most part. Nobody was fighting and everything save the man's injuries was under control.

They milled about. Listened to the short man's chanting and the blonde woman's quiet words to the female...thing on the ground. None of the men-at-arms knew what to make of it, but all were glad that they didn't have to fight this day.

Two men running toward them now down the cobblestone road. The man-at-arms from earlier, and another bearded man in a green tunic.

The Tall man-at-arms pointed and called, "Getterix! Here! Man's got some kind of bite wound or something."

Getterix the apothecary slowed and stopped by the magical barrier and poked it. "What's this, then?"

"That's what I said," said the Tall Man.

Getterix, at a lack of what exactly to do, opted to knock on the barrier as if it were a door. "Oi. Which one of you put this magic thing up? Pretty good at it I'd say, but I've got to get close to help that man. Mind letting me in, would you?"
 
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Rebecca Fourtuna

The Bayou Bone Eater
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"Y-yes master.."

She mumbled into the dirt unable to meet her eyes.
Until Lazule snapped at her again forcing her to look her in the eyes.

"I understand master Lazule..."

The toppled wagon remained on its side.

The old horse long gone from it's harness. It seemed the man had been so sort of Smith as there were tools and such scattered about along with a black leather collar reenforced with steel and black steel chain.

It had been made to handle incredibly strong and aggressive animals that were used in guarding or fighting.

Spikes were placed along the the
outside of it. But rather than facing outward they faced inward. And while the collar was smooth if not tight the more it was pulled on the farther and harder the spikes would sink in.
 
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Teodron

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Dimly, in the back of his mind, Teodron could hear Lazule giving the smaller woman—who was apparently called Rebecca—instructions, or a warning, or something. The half-dwarf was too deep in his chant to be fully aware of his surroundings. Given that he was, at best, a novice healer, and he really only knew this one spell, he was sinking everything he dared into it. He clung to the knowledge that all he had to do was keep the driver alive until a real healer arrived.

Hopefully that would be soon, though, since Teodron didn’t know if he was even accomplishing anything here.

He was aware that the tall blonde didn’t exactly answer his question, but that was fine for now. It wasn’t as if the half-dwarf was going to be doing anything other than this chant for quite a while. Indeed, it was draining his magic: while he wasn’t in danger of burning out and depleting his reserves, between the barrier and the chant he’d need some time to recharge his energies.

Then Teodron felt something prodding at his barrier; he blinked and finished this round of the chant before raising his eyes to the people assembled outside his circle. Immediately, his eyes found the healer—or at least, he assumed Gelletrix was a healer of some sort, given how the soldiers were acting and the attire—which sent a wave of relief coursing through the half-dwarf. With a thought he lowered his barrier. “Sorry. Got caught up in the spell.” Biting his lip as he stood up, he stepped back, though hovered nearby in case the healer needed what little assistance he could lend. “I think I stabilized him, but far as I can tell there’s something nasty in that bite.”

He was guessing (though it was an educated one), since his chant would normally have started closing the bite wound. Since his chant essentially accelerated the body’s own healing process, drawing from physical reserves in the process, it targeted the most pressing concern first. If it wasn’t the teeth marks, then there had to be another issue. Teodron simply wasn’t a skilled enough healer to diagnose it though.

Gelletrix didn’t waste a moment. As soon as the barrier went down, the apothecary was through, kneeling down to examine the driver.

Teodron, for his part, turned to the two women. “Is everything under control over here?” Although the half-dwarf didn’t want to cast another spell for a while, if it came down to protecting people from the reptilian woman or his own safety, he knew which one he’d choose. These people were innocents—the wagon driving over the tail had been an unfortunate accident, nothing more—and they didn’t deserve to be traumatized any more. Between the nightmares and this incident they’d been through enough.

Luckily, it seemed the danger had passed for everyone. Still, Teodron was wary; there were too many unknowns for him to be truly comfortable. Besides, he didn’t like being in a strange place, with potentially hostile people. Even as he watched the two women, a couple of the men-at-arms wandered over to interpose themselves between the reptilian woman and the fallen driver. Their looks were anything but friendly, though they refrained from doing anything. Yet.
 
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Lazule

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Good. She understood.

This is what it would have to be. The rule, an inferior reactive measure instead of a superior preventative measure. But such was in Lazule's power to provide. Harsh but effective guidance tended to come from those who were held in high regard. As it was with Lazule and Father. Those lessons of the ways of the world. How to act. Firm punishment and correcting counsel. The establishment of a way of being was a process that could at times be arduous and painful.

But it was necessary.

And so it was here. These villages and towns of Epressa seemed to be things alien to Rebecca's sensibilities, the scarcity or outright lack of any equivalents in the Bayou Garramarisma having ill-prepared her. And let alone the twistings and morphings brought on by the demons in the red mists. But she knew. Rebecca knew of mercy. Of discerning between those wicked and those innocent. The humane yet dwelled within her, like the embers of a fire. And Lazule sought to rekindle the flame as best she could.

The barrier dropped. The healer, Getterix, went to work. Lazule answered Teodron's question with a quick "Yes."

And the Tall Man took a step forward and looked from Rebecca to Lazule to Teodron and said, "Alright then, who's responsible for all this?"

Without hesitation Lazule stood and turned to face him and said, "I-I am."

The other men-at-arms glanced at each other. The Tall Man glanced down at Rebecca, then back to Lazule and perked an eyebrow. "What? You bit this man's shoulder, did you? I find that hard to believe."

Resolute, despite her stutter, she said, "The responsibility remains m-mine. I have c-come to Grishino to aid in the b-banishing of the nightmares. This I will do, and I will p-pay all of my compensation to this man for his injury s-suffered. It is only right."

Surprise mixing in then with that earlier doubt, the former expressed more strongly. The Tall Man said, "Hmm. Well, if that is the truth, then it seems an adequate sentencing for the crime to me, though it is not my decision to make. As it so happens, the Lord of Grishino is personally leading this expedition to quell these godawful nightmares. He, of course, is the arbiter of law in our town, so it is for him to decide."

"He's bound to take you on, our Lord is," said one of the other men-at-arms, his apron stained with splotches of wine and ale. "That's how bad its gotten."

Lazule nodded.

The Tall Man didn't sheath his sword, though. Neither did any of the other men-at-arms. "We'll escort you then to the Lord's manor. He'll decide what is to be done. You and..." A wary glance to Rebecca, "...you, I suppose."

"Yes. She is c-coming with me."

The Tall Man looked to Teodron. Said, "You're free to do as you like, stranger. Welcome to Grishino, and thank you for aiding the wagon driver."

And the Tall Man motioned with his head for them to follow. Lazule would, but she wouldn't allow herself to be distanced too much from Rebecca. Enough patience and waiting as necessary for Rebecca to come along and to remain close.

Still, some curious glances to Teodron as well. He knew magic. A kind Lazule had no aptitude for and could not practice. Did he, in fact, have a solution to control Rebecca's aggression that was certain? A solution that was preventative instead of reactive? Did he know someone from the College that could help if he could not?

She wanted to talk to him more about it. He said that he, too, was going to see the Lord of Grishino. An opportunity would arise, with time.

Lazule followed the lead man-at-arms, the Tall Man, into Grishino. Boots on the cobblestone streets.
 
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Rebecca Fourtuna

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Rebecca seemed subdued. She was holding herself back with every crash, shout, shove and offensive smell.

She walked like a zombie.

Her ears never ceased aching.

The smells made her eyes water. She had resigned herself to misery in this awful place as she walked along side her master. Lazule had to basically drag her along as her pace was that of an undead.

She could do nothing but follow, and follow she would. Her claws clicked on the cobblestone as she had forgone walking up right and instead opted to walk on all fours. Her tail wrapped around Lazule's wrist, tightening and untightening with apprehension.

She no longer looked raging or aggressive. She looked miserable and in pain like she was in danger of a stout breeze finishing her off. She glanced up to Lazule as they walked.
Her master was all that anchored her. She made the pain bearable by reminding Rebecca why she bore it.

So she followed.

Wherever her master would lead.
 
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