Fable - Ask Within The Walls

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Vlas

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"Of course." It didn't take much thought. "I can send a missive, the mere hint might be enough to distract."

It was only one idea of a few.

Vlas now knew that the creature he was hunting was smarter than he had thought before. It wasn't just waiting for an opportunity to cut Irina's throat, it was likely actively plotting and thinking of half a dozen different plans. "Plus I have research to do in the library."

The Hunter reminded.

"We'll catch the thing." He assured the Princess. "One way or another."
 
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Irina

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Irina gave a bland smile but the mask wasn't fully in place; there was something in her eyes that hinted at the fact she already believed she would die at this things hand. She didn't say another word to him about it though as the final things were packed away and she strode off to go and bite someone's head off for not doing their job properly. Her father had once told her being one of the Prince's was like being a sheepherders dog. Even when the herd was doing the right thing it always served to go and nip at their heels to make sure they didn't falter form their path.

A few minutes later they were back on the road.

The journey back was more subdued even if several of the hunting party had managed to catch a wolf. There were five of them; their great bodies carefully put in the back of one of the large wagons to be skinned and harvested for meat when they got back to the castle. She just hoped it was another of the things to drive the rest back up into the mountains.

When they did arrive back she faintly told Melchett to deliver her grandfathers journals to Vlas and have his things moved to the room next to hers before disappearing to her suite.
 
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Vlas

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Vlas followed after Irina, and when the deliveries came he simply took up a spot in the hallway in front of her suite.

It wasn't exactly comfortable, but then again he hadn't spent the last seventeen years in the lap of luxury. Most of his existence had been straw beds and cold wooden floors. He'd made it through those years fine, and he would make it through these as well.

Lips thinned for a brief moment as he began to flip through pages.

His own journal was added to those which he'd been given, and before long he began to form a small picture of what this creature was.

It was as he had assumed a Patriarch, though just what that meant was still not something he could be entirely sure of. Most of what was there would be rumor, legend, stories that had been pieced together through stories themselves.

Helpful, but far from exact.
 
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Irina

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Irina didn't leave her room for the rest of the day. Exhausted, she even sent the maids away so that she could have a moment alone. She didn't want to be constantly thinking that anyone that walked through that door could be the creature there to finish the job. So she ran her own bath, she combed out her own hair albeit with a lot of cursing, and then dressed in her soft chiffon nightdress.

The only thing she couldn't do herself was redress her wound, despite her best efforts. Quietly she slipped out of her room into the antechamber Vlas was set up in and awkwardly cleared her throat.

"Would you mind?" She asked, holding out the bandages and indicating her wound.
 
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Vlas

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Vlas looked up as she cleared her throat, a shrug rolling over his shoulders as he slowly picked himself up off the ground. One of the books remained in his hand, an old thing, pages barely keeping together.

He motioned for her to get back inside of her room. "I found something."

The Hunter said as the two of them stepped into her apartments, The Princess walking over towards one of the tables in the corner of the room. Upon it was everything that he would need to dress the wound, some of it already half laid out.

She'd clearly tried to do it on her own once before.

He placed the book down onto the table.

"A connection, maybe." Though perhaps one that was found only in fiction, or slander. "Come here."

Vlas said as he began to redress the wound.
 
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Irina

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Irina's lips twisted as though she might stubbornly change her mind, before stepping over with a sigh. Sometimes she needed to admit when she needed help even if it was hard to do. With her uninjured side she lifted up her hair and drew it round over her front so it was out of his way. Then she sat in the chair in front of him.

"Did you figure out who it was that wants me dead or how to kill it?"

She wasn't sure what else would be important enough to get him excited.
 
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Vlas

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"I found a connection." He repeated.

Vlas was the furthest thing from a doctor, but he could dress a wound well enough. Hunting Monsters wasn't exactly the type of profession you went through without gathering more than a few injuries. He'd learned to deal with it over the years.

"There's a story in here." He pointed to the book with his elbow. "Written by one of your great grandmothers."

The Hunter unbound the bandages from Irina, picking up a bottle of anti-sceptic and pressing some of the liquid against her wound with a cloth. "She was at a Ball at the Lebedev Estate. Then controlled by Mikhail's Great Great Grandfather."

He seemed amused at the history.

"She swore that she witnessed a man change into another in the gardens as she was...gathering herself up." He had to stifle a laugh.
 
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Irina

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A hiss escaped her clenched teeth as the anti-septic touched her wound. Her eyes closed and pain was written clear across her face as she clenched and unclenched the hand on her uninjured arm. Forcing herself to relax she listened to the story.

"So... you think this thing has even a part of Mikhails court for centuries?" She mulled it over thoughtfully. Where would he even keep something like that, or did it have a favourite skin it wore? Kress, had she met this thing before?

"I mean it is possible, I wouldn't put it past him to associate himself with such things. He has always dabbled on the edge of the supernatural."
 
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Vlas

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His shoulders shrugged. "Doppelgangers only live for a decade or two."

The ordinary sort.

"Patriarchs...I'm not sure, but they do..." How the hell did he put it? Briefly he wondered if there was a scholarly term for it. Some mage in Elbion that has catalogued and told of these sorts of things. He was sure there probably was. "Spawn?"

He shrugged. "They have off-spring."

It was possible that perhaps Mikhail's family had been dealing with these creatures for generations.

"It could explain a few things that have happened over the years." Mysterious disappearances. Certain votes going the way of their family.
 
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Irina

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Irina mulled that alarming bit of information over with surprising serenity. For the rest of the time it took for him to bandage her wound she was quiet though it was clear from her cold blue eyes that the gears were turning over time.

"I wonder..." she said finally and stood up abruptly. In a few long strides she was across the room and rummaging on the bookcase there. Finally she pulled out a hefty, dusty volume and plopped it on the bed, motioning for him to take a look.

"Look up some of the noble families who appeared around that time."
 
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Vlas

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Vlas frowned for a moment.

His lips thinned, but he grabbed the tome and began to flip through it. "This is always my least favorite part."

The hunter grumbled quietly.

"You know that I can jump from the tallest tower of this place and not be hurt?" That wasn't a brag, it was just fact. "But here I am reading books."

He had always preferred to fight.

After a few moments he found what she was looking for, pulling through the pages until he found records of a few of the Nobility that had crept their way to power. Most had done so through trade, gathering wealth in one form or another, though some had held patronage with the Princes. "What are you looking for?"

He asked.
 
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Irina

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Irina snorted and perched on the edge of the bed as he flipped through the book. Her eyes ran over every family tree they went past. Searching. Another link, even a small one, might help them somehow to catch this thing before it managed to complete its job. It would also confirm whether it was Mikhail controlling the monster.

"Mikhail's family wouldn't have wanted a monster skulking in their dungeons; they're smart. They would have given this thing an identity, a title. Something that would have given him access to information and important faces it could use for its jobs," her finger ran slowly down the page, tracing all the lines and histories before tapping one of them.

The Grenov's.

"The best place would be as a noble. There's no history of this family at all before they appear randomly and take up a position in that court on their council. That seems suspicious to me."
 
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Vlas

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He mused for a second. "It's possible."

The Grenov's. They were a minor family, within the sphere of Mikhail's own and supported by them almost entirely from what he could tell. There was no explanation in the book, but then again that was not too strange when it came to things like that.

Many noble families were former merchant sons, things of that nature. Perhaps this was more of the same, though Irina had a point.

"I think perhaps it's time I send that letter to Dimitri." He mused. "And you hold a Gala in celebration of...your survival?"

Vlas chuckled. "I think we have an opportunity to bait the hook...as it were."

They needed more information still, and this was a good way of gathering it.
 
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Irina

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Irina gave him a look that clearly said she thought he was insane.

"You want me to invite more people into my castle and give this creature more possible faces to use when you still don't know how to kill it?" Her voice was as incredulous as her expression. Of course she could see his point of view but she had a little thing called a fucking desire to live.

She took a breath and puffed her cheeks out as she thought it all through. Irina might have been a Princess but she certainly wasn't as hot headed as her father had been, nor her brothers.

"Fine," she relented reluctantly. "Fine, I'll host a gala in three days. But you better have found something to at least hurt the fucking thing by then."
 
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Vlas

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"Oh I know how to kill it." Though the method was not a subtle one.

Everything died when you forced it to become little more than pulp. Even a Changeling Patriarchy couldn't escape that fate, though it wouldn't be the most subtle. He would do his best to avoid that of course, but if he had to it would be a last resort.

Vlas just had to make sure there was enough metal around to ensure it would work. "Three days works well enough."

Perhaps he'd find something more subtle.

"I'll write my letter to Dimitri." He said simply. "I assume you have messengers who can reach him."

Even if relations were not well off.
 
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Irina

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Irina's expression made it abundantly clear she didn't believe him but she didn't press him further. Instead she sat on the edge of the bed and fingered through the book some more.

"I do, if you give it to one of the servants they'll see it on their way. Of course, we don't know if they will be our doppleganger friend but I guess that's a risk I'm going to have to take every time I see someone now," her voice was as bitter as a lemon and the press of her lips into a thin line only exemplified her unhappiness with the situation. In a world where she couldn't trust many people as it was, she now found herself unable to trust anyone. Half of her household she had known since she was a child and she had trusted them. Now?

The princess ran a hand through her hair with a sigh.

"You may go, I'm going to sleep."
 
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Vlas

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"Paranoia is common in these sorts of situations." Vlas offered, knowing that it was most likely not what she would want to hear in that moment.

"Doppelgangers are confusing creatures." They made people feel as though no one could be trusted, nothing was telling the truth. "If it helps."

He said with a shrug. "Their blood is black."

Vlas doubted that Irina would go around stabbing her servants and courtiers, mostly because it was rather inefficient. The test might work in an emergency, though he knew that if she was in range to draw blood then she was also in the sphere where the changeling could rip out her throat.

A shrug rolled over his shoulders. "Sleep well...lock your door."

It seemed good advice.
 
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Irina

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Irina snorted but there was a smile on her lips as she stood.

"I'll keep your wise counsel close to my heart," she gestured to the door and walked him out. When he stepped outside back into the antechamber she leaned against the door and paused. Her eyes flickered over his set up on the low coffee table and straight back chairs which were all covered in dusty books. She opened her mouth as if she were about to say something then shut it instead.

"Goodnight," she shut the door and locked it.

As she thought, the courtiers and nobles were delighted for the distraction of a gala after the horrors of the hunt. They all seemed to breathe and relax around her once again as if they had been waiting until that moment for her to have them all executed. So as the mood turned from one of fear to excitement, Irina watched who didn't fit in to the scene. Was it the maid who seemed to hesitate before putting down the table placings as if she hadn't done it a thousand times before? Was it the courtier who forgot to bow to her as she went past? The thoughts kept her up at night which in turn made her more irritable. It got to the point she almost hoped that the doppleganger would try and kill her at least to get it over with.

"I can't sleep," she announced the night before the gala. She'd tossed and turned for hours, drank tea, meditated. Nothing had worked. So she had pulled herself out of bed and gone to seek out the only soul she knew was also awake: Vlas.
 
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Vlas

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Vlas was in the library, or the study, he wasn't really sure which one it was.

There was a scattering of books all around him, most of them were the same that Irina had someone bring to him days ago. Some of them had been written in an old dialect of Neus and it had taken time to properly translate.

"I have something for that." He mused as he flipped a page. "Though I don't think it would work on you."

It was Lead powder.

He almost never carried it, mainly because one dose put him out for nearly a week. It helped with his healing, but put him out of commission. "Perhaps you should try some reading?"

Vlas said, sliding her one of the books.
 
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Irina

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Irina looked at the book and ran her fingers over the open pages.

"I did but it didn't work," despite her dismissive tone she slid into the vacant chair and turned a page. Dust billowed into the air and she scrunched up her nose in disgust. Still, she flipped another page and rested her chin in her other hand giving the impression of a bored student who wished she was anywhere else.

"Everything is ready for the Gala tomorrow, have you got any kind of plan on how to figure out who this thing is?" she paused in her mindless flipping of pages on one page which portrayed a horrific looking mutilated human devouring another. On the opposite page the deformed creature had turned into the man he had been eating.

Irina paled.

"Do you think they want to take my place?"
 
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Vlas

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"Possibly." Vlas answered honestly.

At this point there was not much he could keep from her, or rather it wouldn't make sense to try and lie. There were few lies that did not come out at the end of the day, and here it was more critical than most would have assumed.

"Power makes people greedy." He mused. "Here and on the continent."

The Hunter had seen it more than once. "You are an avenue of power, and a particularly vulnerable one compared to some others."

A changeling taking her place would make sense. "But, I suspect there may be something...deeper at play than just replacing you."
 
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Irina

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What Vlas said was nothing new to Irina. She knew her position was the weakest amongst the Seven families and the others had been circling her since the fire. It angered her, but it scared her more. She had had two older brothers and her father hadn't been an old man - she shouldn't have ever been landed with this type of power. Now she found herself with it she didn't know what to do. Her advisors were kind, patient even, as she tried to find her feet but they were still interested in their own gains.

The Princess ran a hand down her face.

"You still think it is something to do with revenge?"
 
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Vlas

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Vlas shrugged. "I don't think we'll know until we get to the bottom of everything."

Perhaps even the monster itself did not know.

He wouldn't have doubted it in a way. The games of politics were always half an enigma. Things were laid out to be deliberately confusing. Everything was shrouded and cloaked in some way so that finding the truth was nearly impossible.

"Killing you would be easy enough with a regular assassin." Vlas pointed out. "At least traditionally. Replacing you is another story, and you are..."

He trailed off. "New. So perhaps it's just convenient for them, but I don't know."

Vlas frowned.

"I was an Imperial Guard. I stood in rooms and listened, watched. All the schemes that happened." He shrugged. "There's always something more, isn't there?"
 
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Irina

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Irina snorted.

"Thanks for not saying weak," because that was what the others thought of her and they both knew it. Even if Vlas had been away from the city for so long he knew enough about the politics to be able to judge her position fairly. She ran a hand through her hair slowly as she mulled over the rest of his words and then slowly nodded.

"It does seem a lot more personal using this thing; maybe they want to frame someone else with my murder too so it doesn't go directly back to whoever is the real mastermind," the servant would have got the blame if she had died from that arrow wound. It might not have been someone important that they chose to imitate, but the servant had been a personal one of her chief advisor and would have implicated him heavily in her death. "Or maybe they wanted to take out my biggest supporters in this court too to make it easier to take over."
 
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Vlas

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He nodded. "It could be."

In truth he didn't know the answer, neither of them really could until they actually caught who the fuck was behind all of this.

Vlas had been a hunter for nearly a decade now. He had fought Hydra's, slaughtered vampires, killed werewolves. Changelings were always different. They had motivations beyond just what was on the surface. Now was no different.

"There will always be questions when it comes to these things." He told her. "Unfortunately for you, there won't always be answers."

It was a cliche. The wise old man offering advice. "Even if you win, you will need to plan your next step."

It wasn't just about survival, but how to turn a loss into a win.

One that would benefit her.
 
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