Fable - Ask Within The Walls

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Vlas

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"Oh yes that will hold me." Vlas commented dryly as iron manacles were fastened about his wrist.

The Guardsmen standing in front of him looked at him as though he were a leper. They were all young, younger than him for sure. One of them was a Sergeant, likely just a recruit when Vlas had joined the Imperial Guard. He looked at the man expectantly, as if waiting to see what he would claim next. It was a shaky voice that answered him.

"Y-you are an exile, and therefore have no rights under the law. You will be held in prison until the Imperial Guard in Neus is alerted to your presence."​

Though he was an Exile, Vlas had been a part of Neus' Imperial Guard before his exile. That meant the regular army didn't have the authority over him that they might have liked. They could arrest him of course, as they could any other citizen, but a trial had to take place in front of a tribunal of his fellows. For returning, he would probably be executed.

A shrug rolled over his shoulders. "Sure."

The Allomancer contended.

"If you want your Princess to die." All of them tensed, one of them stepping forward.

"Is that a threat?!"​

It was clear that the young lad was more than a little defensive. Was there something going on? Something with the Princess? Vlas did not know much about her, painfully little in fact. He wasn't here for her, but for what was after her. "Not at all. I just thought she might like to know there is an assassin in her court."

The Guards stared at one another, dumbfounded.
 
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Irina

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Irina rested her cheek on her knuckles and tried to make her features look less bored as the man before her prattled on about his livestock being eaten. It was his own fault if he decided to take his flock beyond the walls into a land where wolves were the least of his concern. Honestly, she thought he was rather lucky he had only been losing one a day and not the whole flock. Still if wolves were prowling this close to the walls then it might be a sign of trouble further afield pushing them in this direction which was worth investigating.

"Perhaps this requires an old fashioned Hunt," she announced causing several of the younger courtiers to stir in interest. They hadn't had a Hunt since her parents had died in the devastating fire that had wracked through the castle some years ago. A few glanced at one another in interest.

"Your highness is most kind, most kind," the man grovelled, stooping low as he was ushered out. A tall man who had stood beside the throne leaned down to murmur in her ear like a snake.

"Are you sure that's wise, your Majesty? Your safety-"

"I have been Hunting for as long as I could walk, Nikoli," she scowled and waved a hand dismissively. That and she was going insane of these four walls. An excuse to stretch her own abilities as well as let the younger courtiers burn off some of their pent up frustrations on something other than in a maid's bed was necessary. The man inclined his head politely but the way he wriggled his moustache let her know he wasn't best pleased.

"Your Highness should know... we caught Vlas snooping about the grounds today," there was no hiding the disdain in his voice. "He claims there is an assassin in the court."

Irina managed to smother the snort with a cough. There were assassin's everywhere. But... listening to him would be far more interesting than another farmer.

"Bring him in, let us hear what he has to say."
 
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Vlas

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Vlas had never much liked any of the Princes.

There were few who had learned any sort of kindness in their youth, and even fewer who displayed nothing but arrogance. Seventeen years ago before his exile he had met all of the Royals at one point or another. He'd either guarded them or escorted them somewhere else.

The Imperial Guard was always neutral, at least they were supposed to be. Most of the time they rotated shifted, moving men around so that no one got too...attached. That had not worked for him, though as far as he knew the system was still in place.

He was brought before the the new Princess by two of the guards who had originally 'captured' him.

Both of them looked more than weary of the allomancer, perhaps because they had finally realized who he actually was. A smile plucked at his lips as he was brought before the new Princess. He did not recognize her, but that was no great surprise.

Vlas stood tall, towering over most men within the room as he waited to be addressed.

One never talked first in front of the Princes.
 
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Irina

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The Princess reclined slightly in her chair as she looked down her nose at the man before her, only possible because her throne was raised. She had no doubt that otherwise she would be looking up in order to meet his gaze. The mask of arrogance and displeasure settled over her face naturally as she considered him like a bored cat might consider a mouse it had found after a heart meal, deciding whether or not it was worth the effort to kill it.

"Prince Miliokv will be most upset it wasn't his guards who caught you snooping around," Irina purred, the hint of a smile threatening to tug her lips upwards in to what would have been a cruel smile. She idly played with one of the rings on her fingers instead; the insignia of her family which still bore a few faint scotch marks. It had been the only thing she had found remaining of her fathers body after the flames.
 
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Vlas

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"I'm sure he will be." The man had likely still not forgiven him for sleeping with his wife.

Any argument to the fact that it had been her idea of course was entirely ignored, but he couldn't blame the man. He probably would have felt the same. "Though I didn't know he was still alive."

Too much time spent on the continent.

Neus was it's own city, it's own place. They traded with some of the larger cities outside of their home, but news of politics did not travel fast. He had always thought that was an intended consequence of their insular society. Keeping the nose of foreigners out of their business.

"Though, I have little interest in him." He explained. "Nor you for that fact."

Any of the Princes really. "I care only about what has come to hunt you."
 
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Irina

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"Ah yes, this supposed assassin," the man to her right sneered down at him. "And what makes you think that Her Highness' guards cannot handle any threat that comes her way?" he sniffed and folded his arms over his chest.

For her part, Irina stayed quiet and busied herself with her ring as though this conversation didn't interest her in the slightest. It was exactly how her courtiers would expect her to react to the news someone was attempting to kill her. She, of course, was protected so well - her guards assured her - that nothing and nobody could get close to her. She didn't need to worry. Her eyes flickered over to Vlas though as her advisor continued speaking.

"How do we know this isn't some trick of your own to get in to Her Highness' Castle and kill her yourself?"
 
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Vlas

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"Well for starters she would already be dead." As he spoke the manacles around his wrists seemed to shift, and then suddenly melt away.

The fell to the ground, pooling and then somehow solidifying into a solid heap before he raised his hands and wiggled his fingers. The act obviously earned him a rebuke, and one of the guards quickly jutted the hilt of his sword into his stomach.

A muted oof escaped from his throat, and he coughed slightly. "Ouch."

The Allomancer said under his breath, pulling himself back up to find a sword resting at his throat.

Hands raised quickly.

"Her assassin isn't some common knife in the dark." Vlas explained. "It is a doppelganger."

Sinister little things. Not always evil, but easily corrupted and bent to do so.
 
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Irina

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Irina raised a slender brow.

You didn't live in Neus without hearing of the dark and sinister things that lived in these lands. Their children's stories were full of warnings not to go into the woods, how to fight creatures most of the world thought dead, and most importantly the consequences of not following the strict order to stay inside the boundaries. But whilst giants and harpies, banshees and faeries had been seen a plenty, nobody had seen a Doppleganger for centuries.

"That's ridiculous," the advisor laughed and the other courtiers joined in, albeit some of them nervously. People glanced at one another with a shadow of fear which didn't go unnoticed. Irina pressed her lips into a thin, annoyed, line.

The laughter stopped when she indicated for the guard to remove the sword from his throat.

"And why were you already hunting this... Doppleganger?"
 
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Vlas

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Vlas offered a smile to the Guard who took the blade from his throat, now freed hands gently rubbing at the small nick that had been left there. "It slaughtered a small village on the Krai Peninsula three months ago."

He explained.

"As a rule Doppelgangers aren't the most vicious creatures." Vlas had encountered them half a dozen times in his life. Mostly they were mischievous, wanting to play pranks and fool people just for their own benefit.

The problem came when they tasted flesh. That was when their...jokes became more serious. "I'm not sure what set him off, but I have reason to believe he's here now."

Vlas explained.

"Promised more than a few meals." Likely more than that.
 
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Irina

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Nervous murmurs filled the hall but Irina simply watched the man before her with a level and steady gaze.

"Your Highness, please, we have had no reports of such incidents. This is ludicrous!" The advisor wriggled his moustache with another indignant sniff. Clearly he was expecting for his Princess to agree with him because when she remained silent he looked down at her alarm and continued, leaning close against her ear and whispering furiously.

Her eyes never left Vlas.

Eventually she stood up and the room fell quite, the advisor falling back with a look of rage.

"See that our guest is given a room and space to do his work," she took the three steps down from the dias, her dress following her with a soft whisper. She paused only when she was beside him, turning briefly to hold his gaze. "You have three days to prove this creature exists," and without another word she strode from the room.
 
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Vlas

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Vlas smiled. "Easy enough, right lads?"

He looked at the other guards expectantly, though they only looked at him with utter disdain and a mixture of fear.

Most never wanted to admit to the existence of monsters. It was a threat that the common folk would rather ignore and pretend did not exist. A thing that could change it's shape and pose as your greatest friend was a threat that most could ill-conceive of.

Vlas didn't blame them.

"Well." He gestured. "Let's get going."

The Guard stared at him with a scowl mimicking that of the Advisors, and then they let out a huff. A few minutes later Vlas was lead to a room of his own. It was comfortable enough, though nothing too grand.

Three days was not a lot of time, though in this case it would have to be enough to last him. The night was spent not sleeping, but going through his journals, marking the correct pages and preparing at least the beginnings of his case.

By the time dawn came, Vlas had already petitioned the Guard outside his door to see the Princes again.

She was the focal point of this, easiest to start there.
 
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Irina

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The Guard didn't look to pleased when he returned to Vlas' room to inform him His Lady would see him in the Parlour.

Now.

The Parlour was a bright and airy room that opened out onto the castle's courtyard garden. Said doors were currently thrown open to the bright spring air and the white gauzy curtains were fluttering in the breeze. The walls were painted a light blue colour the same shade as an early morning sky and the furniture was painted in neutral cream tones that gave the effect of clouds. The Princess sat at a small table set for two right by the doors which she was gazing out of dressed in a lemon yellow gown. Her light brown hair had been delicately curled and left loose down her back.

She turned only when the guard cleared his throat.

"Please, sit," she motioned to the seat opposite her and a servant stepped forward to pour tea. With a wave of her hand the Guard turned and left. "Tea?" she offered, tilting her head to the side.
 
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Vlas

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"Sure." He said as he made his way across the room and pulled out the chair.

Once upon a time he had known every little manner and ridged little thing that he was supposed to do in the front of the Nobility. If he truly tried he probably could have remembered, but right now he didn't care to do so.

Perhaps he never would again. "I will need time to find proof it is here."

Vlas began simply.

"But I thought perhaps you would like some insight into what I believe to be here." With his left hand he brought forth the journal. It was an old and worn thing, but held together through fine craftsmanship. "At least so you understand what you're dealing with."

The Hunter contended.
 
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Irina

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The only one who seemed to care about his lack of manners was the servant who gave a very pointed sniff of disdain before the Princess dismissed him with a wave of her fingers. He lingered for a moment before bowing and backing out of the room leaving the pair completely alone. Once the door clicked there was a subtle easing of her shoulders. The bored expression was back as Vlas prattled on about what it was he wanted to discuss as she buttered herself some toast and then spread jam on top.

"It might surprise you to learn, but my time is rather precious. If I wanted a lecture, I could summon several scholars here to give me one," she took a delicate bite of her toast and chewed slowly. Icy blue eyes examined him as she did.

"I gave you three days to find this thing and kill it. Does sitting here lecturing me help you do that?"
 
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Vlas

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"I doubt your scholars would know jack shit about doppelgangers except for whatever rumors some scribe wrote down a hundred years ago." Vlas said blankly.

He folded the Journal open, and then laid it out in front of her.

It was clearly something he himself had done, though the artistry of it was good. There was a depiction of a humanoid like creature, except its face was malformed and different from that of a mans. It's flesh as well had odd lines all over it. "It does actually."

He told her simply.

"You're the creatures target." Vlas explained simply. "Probably hired by one of the other Princes if I had to guess."

He remembered the hatred they'd held for one another. "You're the person most likely to see the creature."
 
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Irina

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Irina's eyebrows rose sharply at the tone. Clearly the Princess was not used to being spoken to in such a manner but she didn't say a word to reprimand him, even if she would be well within her rights to do so. Instead she finished off her toast and lowered her eyes to the page of his journal he angled to show her.

"Princes, one of the courtiers, the Duma himself," she shrugged a shoulder as if it couldn't matter to her less who it was. "But I probably won't see this creature like that will I? I assume you believe it is already one of my household?" She looked up at him with those grey-blue eyes that looked like the stormy seas.
 
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Vlas

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He shrugged his shoulders. "I have no doubt you're all trying to kill each other still."

That much hadn't changed in seventeen years. There was a constant vying for power, for money, for whatever else they could get a hold of. The Princes were a greedy bunch, and they tried to use whatever they could to get ahead.

Vlas wouldn't be surprised if this wasn't the first Doppelganger to have been employed by one of the Seven.

"It is." He said confidently. "I'm not sure who, with my presence here it will feel more urgent in it's task."

There were a few signs of the creatures, though they were subtle. "Which reminds me."

He began.

"Do you know who I am?" It wasn't a question of ego, more genuine curiosity.
 
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Irina

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Irina was only five years Vlas' younger. She had seen him in the shadows at multiple events over the five years he had served in the Imperial Guard when she accompanied her older brothers or father to such things. She could even remember how one of them - her father - had commented on how his prowess in stopping a particularly nasty assassination attempt on the Duma's life. When he had been exiled it had come as a shock to them all.

Though, as was the way with most nobles, they claimed they had always not trusted him.

"No," Irina lied with the perfect mix of bland arrogance one would expect from her. "Should I have?" she countered with a small sneer and leant back in her chair as she sipped at her tea.

"As long as you can find and kill this thing before it kills me it matters to me very little who you are."
 
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Vlas

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That was probably for the better.

Vlas thought to himself with a brief smile, wondering how many actually did remember him. It was not as though his name were infamous. He hadn't tried to kill anyone or anything, just slept with the wrong woman at the wrong time. "Maybe not."

He said with a shrug of his shoulder.

"It won't kill you." That much at least he could guarantee. "I need access to the Kitchens."

That was the easiest way of doing this. A bit of silver powder sprinkled into the morning porridge. He had enough for the servants at least, and that would eliminate most of them. After that? Well he'd have to start on the higher ups.
 
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Irina

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Irina gave a pleasant little vacant smile as though his words merely confused her as she bit into another slice of toast.

"Of course, you have access to everything in the Castle," she said pleasantly at the same moment the doors to the parlour flew open and the advisor from yesterday stormed in. The tiny little amused light that had danced in her eyes vanished and the storms once more became dull, vacant things as the man who reminded the Princess of a grey weasel raged his way to their table.

"Your Highness I must protest! For your safety this... this villain cannot be allowed to wander as he pleases!"

Irina took another bite of her toast.

"You are dismissed," she said to Vlas, ignoring the advisor entirely even as he fumed again in a shrill voice to let him at least put guards on the man.
 
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Vlas

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Vlas offered another bow as he stood from his chair.

His eyes briefly glanced towards the shouting man. A frown touched his lips as he looked at him, searching for something for a moment. His head tilted to the side, as if considering something.

Then he took half a step back. "What was your name again?"

Vlas asked, keeping his expression blank.

He didn't really suspect the man, at least not seriously. The advisor would make the perfect point to attack the Princes from, but then why hadn't he already followed through with it? There would have been a dozen opportunities by now, and the doppelganger would want it done quickly.

Still, poking a bees nest was always fun. From his pocket he pulled a small slip of silver.

"You wouldn't mind holding this, would you?" Vlas asked innocently.
 
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Irina

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The advisor seethed as Irina finished off her cup of tea and then stood.

"Lord Melchett, it's not polite to ignore someone when they ask you a question," her gentle reprimand turned the man the shade of beetroot and he spluttered.

"M-my lady he-" she held up a hand that stopped him dead. Guards were slipping into the room now they had realised the Princess was alone with two men, one of whom was not the person she had invited to her breakfast.

"You have nothing to hide," she plucked the piece of silver from Vlas and held it out towards him. He stared at it for a moment, clearly weighing up the options before taking it delicately from his Princess' hand. When nothing happened he threw it roughly towards Vlas with a triumphant sneer.

A sneer which quickly vanished with Irina's next words.

"Lord Melchett I want you to help our Hunter here with his search, you know this castle better than most."

"But-"

"I have a Hunt to organise, if you'll excuse me gentlemen," and with that she swept from the room.
 
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Vlas

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Vlas caught the bar of silver with deft hands, almost like it was compelled to land in his palm. It slipped back somewhere onto his belt, next to an arrangement of a dozen other pouches that contained gods knew what. "Lovely."

He said with a smile.

"Lord Melchett is it?" The Hunter said with a roll of his shoulders, motioning for the man to come closer.

"I need to see the Kitchens." He told the man. "And take a list of the workers here in the castle."

Vlas had no illusion that the man liked him, in fact if he had to guess, there was some hatred there. Perhaps even envy. There was no doubt in the former Imperials Guards mind that Lord Melchett did in fact know exactly who he was.
 
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Irina

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Lord Melchett stared after his Princess like a dog who had just been punished by its master and had no idea why. Vlas' demands did a good job of shaking him out of his melancholy mood. He stormed over to the other man and poked his finger rudely against the Hunters chest.

"Don't think I don't know your little plan," he snarled. "If you so much as touch my Princess I will have the skin flayed from your back and will turn it into the parchment upon which I'll sign your death order," his eyes blazed with fury but his words no doubt confirmed Vlas' suspicions.

Yet he did at least tell one of the servants who had come in to clear away the dishes to show the Hunter the kitchens before leaving and later that day a full list of the Household was delivered to him.
 
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Vlas

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"Your Princess?" Vlas mused. "That seems like an interesting way of referring to your sovereign."

The comment was of course a small spike, but nothing more.

He had absolutely no designs upon Irina of course. The phase of his life where he chased princesses and royal women was over, once had been enough for a lifetime. His shoulders shifted in a shrug, offering the man a smile before he found the servant that would bring him to the Kitchens.

There he spoke to the cook.

He asked what meals were served when, then gently nudged a bit of silver into his palm. A few convincing words, and some friendly jokes and the Cook was fully on board with his plan.

By the afternoon Vlas had gone down the listen of household staff, each of them having either eaten a bit of the silver dust or been touched with the small bar the Hunter had on his belt.

That was how he found himself in the courtyard, leaning against one of the pillars. He watched as people set themselves up for the hunt, his eyes flickering over those dressed in finer clothes. "Which one of you is it."

He mused to himself quietly.
 
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