Fable - Ask Within The Walls

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Irina

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Irina barked a cold laugh.

"You sound like the rest of them," she waved a hand towards the door behind her. It was what they had been saying since she was a little girl, even when she hadn't been destined for the throne. It is like Chess, Irina. You must think of your opponents next two moves and plan accordingly. It had driven her nuts then and it did now too. Still, it had kept her alive up until now when it hadn't done the same for her family.

"I don't want you to kill this thing straight away, I need answers," like who it was behind the attack in the first place but also whether the creature was the only one that person had at their disposal. If there were more then Irina might just end up cutting off the head of a hydra to find three more growing in its place.
 
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Vlas

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He shrugged. "I was around it enough to see."

Vlas could remember the games that they played, all of the different plots and intricate lies that they told each other in order to get little slivers of power. Lips thinned for a brief moment, and then he shook his head to dismiss the thought.

"A few years ago I was in a city where it was even worse." Vel Anir it was called. "They stabbed one another in the back without even a second thought. Women marry men just to slit their throats in the bedroom."

He shivered. "Terrible way to live a life."

That much betrayal turned you into something else.

"I don't intend to kill it, but the things are...slippery." As she'd already seen once.

His eyes glanced down back to the book for a moment, re-reading the passage in old Neus. He frowned a moment, and then took a breath.

"I've found something that might help though." He told her. "Ordinarily silver does it against Changelings, but Patriarchs are immune to it. There is something else that harms them though."

He shoved the book towards her.
 
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Irina

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Irina pushed aside the thoughts that Vlas had stirred in her mind and looked down at the page instead.

Across the double page spread was a detailed recipe and description of a poison of some kind. Her old Neues was rusty but as she read through the lines carefully the dust began to fall off her old knowledge and by the end it all made perfect sense. At least, in so far as how to make it not why it would work when silver didn't.

"Have you got all these ingredients?" The Princess frowned. She knew that at least three of the herbs listed were not local to the city perimeter and would require a hike up into the mountains beyond and there was one powder on there she had never even heard of before.

"It says it's not harmful to humans so perhaps... if I were to wear it as a perfume of sorts someone who was allergic to it would react to smelling it, it might give us a clue to who the creature is pretending to be."
 
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Vlas

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"No." He told her with a shrug. "But I can find them all by the time of the Gala."

Of that much he was sure. "This powder would ordinarily prove difficult, but I think it won't be an issue given the circumstance of who you are."

He looked up at her.

"It's Marrow powder, made from the bones of a virgin." Vlas looked at the book. "I'll have to go grave digging."

A crime, but she was the authority in this Fortress. With a word she could do whatever she pleased, something he was counting on.

He nodded at her suggestion."It could work, though could also spook it."

Though perhaps that was a risk they would have to take.
 
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Irina

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"Such fun hobbies you have..." Irina said with disdain and without raising her eyes from the page. Her brows pulled down into a small frown as she read the last section again and tilted her head thoughtfully. The book claimed it had not conducted enough studies to know how effective it was against all patriarchs and had results that range from giving it boils to killing it outright.

"Perhaps a diluted one in with my normal perfume to give it the sniffles or something," she had no idea if monsters got 'the sniffles' but she supposed a sneeze wouldn't alarm it as much as breaking out into boils. Irina sighed and then stood up. "As for grave robbing, you won't need to. Come with me," the princess waved a hand and sauntered out of the room without a backward glance.
 
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Vlas

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"Oh good. Never much liked digging." It was a lot of work.

Slowly he stood from the table, frowning for a moment as he glanced at the book and closed it. A second later he slipped it into his pack, deciding it would be for the best that the book wasn't left out in the open where anyone could see it.

A few seconds later he took quick steps to catch up with Irina and fell in behind her. His eyes flickered through the small hallway as they moved, watching any corners.

It was hard to tell if his inbuilt paranoia came from his time of being a hunter or Imperial Guard. Yet as he moved behind Irina it was clear that the man was ready to pounce on just about anything that came at them. Like a coil wound as tight as could be.
 
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Irina

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Irina strode through the castle like she, well like she owned the place. Even in nothing but a dressing gown and her arm still in a sling she managed to look regal. Servants that were still up swept out of her way and bowed with murmured greetings, curiosity lingering in their gazes as they watched the two descend into the lower levels of the castle. Eventually the Princess came to a stop outside a large oak door which she pulled open with a soft huff. She grabbed the burning torch beside the door and then carefully led Vlas down another set of stone steps.

There was a marked shift in temperature as they descended with their breath fogging on the air. For citizens of Neues though it was nothing.

The crypt below was enormous with the light from the torch not even touching the edges of it. All around them were tombs. Irina didn't give it any pause as she set off in a seemingly random direction to get to some of the newer looking tombs.

"Most of my family burnt in the fire and there were no remains, but my little sister's bones are here. You can use them," she explained as she walked.
 
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Vlas

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Vlas did not make a quip.

Most would have balked at using their own families bones for such a practice, but perhaps Irina thought that it was commemorative in some way. Her sister would be the thing that saved her life, at least in a way. Some might have seen beauty in that.

The hunter just thought it convenient.

Slowly the two of them made their way to the correct tomb, the heavy marble laying atop it.

"I only need a little." He said, a small offering as he pushed the marble away and revealed the bones of her sister. A frown touched his lips momentarily, Vlas unsure of the etiquette in this type of situation.
 
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Irina

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"It's only bones, take what you need. My sister is long gone."

Irina lounged against another statue as she watched the Hunter work with some bemusement but there was a touch of sadness in those cold blue eyes too. Nobody knew the truth of how her sister had died. Many suspected of course that Irina had killed her but the official ruling was that she had died of her burns.

"I am aware of what they say about me, the ice princess, and I suppose they would only think of that more so if they knew about this. But, what kind of ruler wouldn't use their own family but demand it of someone else's?" She shrugged. It made zero sense to her. Besides, she knew for a fact her sister was a virgin whereas she would have had to trust others about their dead loved ones.
 
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Vlas

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"Pragmatic." Then again many of the nobility were.

There was a need to work without the bounds of...morality, for much of the Princes. Those who did not often found themselves in dangerous and complex situations. Still, he had long learned that everyone had their own sort of line.

Apparently this was not Irinas.

From the tomb he plucked one of the finger bones, freeing it with a slight tear and plume of dust.

More wasn't needed for the recipe. With the finger along he could make enough poison for a dozen doses. It would be the herbs that present some difficulty, but that would be overcome as well.

"Ruling is never easy." Vlas commented as he closed the tomb. "A fact many would deny."
 
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Irina

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A faint smile tugged at her lips.

"It's nice our efforts do not go completely unnoticed," she mused and pushed herself off the wall once he closed the lid. Her fingers ran briefly over the plaque before she led the way back out of the crypt. "I don't think I can help you with the rest, but my men are at your disposal if you wish to send them off into the forest looking for mushrooms in the dark," there was a faint hint of humour in her tone even though her face remained neutral.

A servant balked when he nearly collided with her coming out of the crypt door. He looked from her to Vlas and back with wide eyes before scuttling off. She barely suppressed a sigh as she led the way back to her bedroom.

"Oh, I had the tailors make you something for the Gala, you'll find it in your rooms," she threw him a smile over her shoulder. "Goodnight," with a quiet laugh she shut the door behind.
 
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Vlas

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Vlas had attended a dozen Gala's in his life, more probably, but never as an actual guest.

He had been a silent Guard standing in the corner of the room.

A few times he had stopped an assassination, pulled one raving noble off of another, but by and large they were boring events. He suspected that this one would not be, if only becaue the changeling would make an assurance of that fact.

Slowly Vlas stretched slightly, fingers tightening as he drew himself up and glanced around as she walked away. A shrug rolled over his shoulders.

He'd never particularly cared about what he wore. Though his furs were the most comfortable.

The rest of the time between the Gala and then was spent preparing. Hunting the right herbs did not take long, and the potion was brewed in secret. He thought that he had done well in concealing it's creation, though only time would tell.

On the morning of the Gala Vlas stood in the fitted suit Irina had created for him, his hands slipping various powders into the jacket.
 
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Irina

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"So you can shower," Lord Melchett sniffed derivatively from the doorway which he leaned against, his eyes flickering to the vials. A shadows crossed those eyes for just a second and then they were gone, replaced once more with the sneering look of disdain which had been his mask of choice for whenever Vlas was near.

"Just because the Princess favours your counsel right now does not mean you should get used to the comforts of the palace. Once you fail again to catch this monster out to kill her, you'll be out of here and we'll get a professional to handle the situation."

The Advisor was dressed in a similarly well tailored suit consisting of fine maroon breeches and a matching jacket tapered at the waist with gold braiding across the breast and down his sleeves. He took out a handkerchief and rubbed at his runny nose.

"The Princess sent me to tell you not to be late."
 
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Vlas

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"A professional?" He asked.

Vlas didn't sound insulted in the least, more distracted than anything else. He slipped another vial of dust into his coat sleeve, then shifted and turned towards the Advisor. "I suppose that would probably help."

The Hunter said blankly.

"After all I've only been doing this for fifteen years." More like ten, but it wasn't as though the man would be able to fact check him. "I'm practically an amateur."

He smiled at the pompous little shit, then frowned a moment. "Don't I know you from somewhere? Before all this I mean...I could have sworn we've met."

Vlas mused for a second.
 
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Irina

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Lord Melchett huffed at the insolence but didn't rise to the bait; 15 years was nothing in politics.

"I was Advisor to his late Highness, Alexei, I am sure you probably saw me around at events and such," he waved a hand frivolously. "I can't say I was disappointed to hear of your... demotion when it happened. I always thought you were an arrogant little man for a mere guard," he straightened his cravat and tugged at each sleeve on his jacket.

"As I said, don't be late," and with that he turned on his perfectly polished heel and headed for the ballroom.
 
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Vlas

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He considered for a moment, watching him.

'Demotion' hardly chalked up what had happened to him. The rumors perhaps would have said so, but...lips thinned and his head shook. Maybe he was just seeing ghosts, suspicions in every corner of the room that he passed by.

Perhaps it was best not to point fingers, at least not until they were sure.

Vlas took in a breath, then quickly made his way over towards where he knew that he needed to be. In the back of his head he wondered how many would recognize him, who would call attention to his face or might try to remind him of his...discretion.

The Hunter grimaced as he moved towards the ballroom, shifting in his clothes uncomfortably as the sound of music and fanfare began to pick up.
 
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Irina

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The ballroom was heaving with people from the eight different courts; those of the seven families and the Duma's own, even if he himself were not in attendance. Irina, like all of her court and Vlas, was dressed in red. Hers was far brighter than the dimmer tones worn by other courtiers and against her skin it looked like a blood stain on the snow. She didn't so much as look in his direction when he entered, though many others did. Whispers were soon passed behind fans and with pointed looks at the fact he was not only in attendance but that his suit was a fetching shade of crimson.

Servants milled through the crowds offering drinks and food designed to be eaten by hand. One drifted past Vlas, offering him similar refreshments, before moving on.

"Irina never was subtle," Prince Dimitri spoke up from behind the hunter with a chuckle.
 
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Vlas

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Vlas would not have called any of the Princes his friend. He wouldn't have called any Royal his friend really.

They were a step above and away from others in Neus. Something that had been crafted by design. There were arguments as to why that was. That they were supposed to be objective, that they were something else, that they were meant for other things that most could not understand.

Vlad didn't see them as anything other than men and women of course. He'd spent far too much time enrolled in their petty grievances and fights. More often than not they had been human, just the same as anyone else he'd met.

Dimitri was no different than that.

Yet out of all of them, out of the Princes he had served and those he had not. Vlas had always gotten along with the man the most. Perhaps it was his attitude, the bluntness and the forthwithness he showed.

"Subtlety is overrated." The Hunter counter. "Who needs a knife in the dark when you have a warhammer."

He said with a smile.
 
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Irina

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Dimitri threw back his head and roared a laugh before clapping Vlas on the shoulder. Dressed in a deep green suit of a similar cut with rich gold embroidery on every hem. The Prince was in his later years with greying temples and streaks in his neatly kept beard. His face was worn with harsh lines but his eyes crinkled often showing he laughed as much as he barked at people.

"Well you were always the hammer rather than the subtle knife," the Prince smirked before glancing to Irina once more. "I got your letters, very interesting," he strokes a hand over his beard and then ran his eyes over the rest of the room. "Just try and stay out of Nikolai's way tonight, he is enraged Irina has made you a part of her court for the evening."
 
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Vlas

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He smiled for a brief moment. "He always did know how to hold a grudge."

Vlas couldn't really blame the man. An Imperial Guard had 'seduced' his wife and escaped execution. He would have probably been angry too, especially due to the fact that in Neusian culture one couldn't very well rid themselves of a wife.

Still, the Hunter had a right to be amused too.

There were games to be played even back then, and the Imperial Guard had been thrust into the middle of more of a few of them. What he'd done had been stupid, but it had been sweet revenge.

"How is Katarina anyway?" He mused. "I saw her earlier..."

Vlas smiled at Dimitri.
 
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Irina

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Dimitri chuckled again and took a glass from one of the trays as they moved past. In his bear like hand it looked tiny and proved to be so by the way he downed the contents in a single mouthful. The disgruntled look on his face suggested how irritated he was by it as he put it down and picked up another.

"If rumours are to be believed she had found another guard to keep her bed warm," he shook his head and pressed his lips into a thin, displeased line. "But I doubt it is true, after you she is barely out of Nikolai's sights. It wouldn't surprise me if he locked her bedroom at night," his eyes roamed over the crowd thoughtfully.

"Have you come closer to figuring out who this monster might be wearing tonight? I did as you asked as a favour to you but I am not keen if it brings down this thing onto my court to push it any further."
 
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Vlas

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"I have a few theories." Vlas said as he glanced around, watching some of those within the Gala.

The joke he'd told was already forgotten, parsed over as the matter at hand was brought back into focus. He was not here to parse through old dramas and reignite old flames. Vlas was here to hunt, to kill, and go take care of a problem.

He glanced briefly at Dmitri.

"Watch yourself." Vlas told the Prince. "She might be the target."

He spoke of Irina of course, something that the both of them knew. His eyes flickered away from the party and towards Dmitri. "But you would make a convenient second best."

The older Prince had always been a thorn in certain paws, getting rid of him would almost be as sweet as replacing Irina.
 
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Irina

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Dimitri gave another broad grin and then clapped Vlas on the shoulder once more.

"I didn't know you cared so much, old friend," he mocked and might have said more if his eyes hadn't caught a hand gesture from one of his men. With a murmured apology he strode on in to the fray of people and struck up conversation with a group of courtiers dressed in greens, reds and deep purples - the Duman's men.

Irina sighed as she leaned against one of the columns that soared into the high ceiling ballroom, lazily flicking the fan back and forth in front of her face and watched the room. It was hard to enjoy herself when her shoulder throbbed with agony and the thing that had done it to her was still out there, no doubt in this very room thinking of how to finish off the job. She had in no way put all her faith in Vlas to catch it. Plans had been made in case she died and she had ensured her estates didn't fall into the hands of those who would profit from it.

A final fuck you.

Her eyes flickered to Vlas and inclined her head politely.
 
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Vlas

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"I never much enjoyed these things." Vlas said as he came up to his patron with a smile.

His eyes roamed the room once more.

There wasn't much different here than twenty years ago. Some of the same famous still milled about too. Most of them didn't look at Vlas, most of them wouldn't recognize him. He had been clean shaven with short hair the last he'd been in Neus.

Now he was practically a mountaineer. "They always seem some...fake."

Ironic really, given the fact of what they were looking for.
 
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Irina

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The corner of Irina's lips curled at one side briefly; the closest she tended to get to a real smile in public.

"It is," galas were thrown as a way for politics to be plaid out. Nobody attended them out of any real love of dancing alone - even the youngsters attended in the hopes of finding a husband or wife. The older lot used it as an excuse to be seen in the company of others they might not usually be seen. "With two older brothers I didn't really have to think of anything other than keeping an eye on my sister and finding a suitable match that would honour the family. Sometimes I wish I had paid more attention to what it was they were doing," a soft sigh escaped her lips and a tightness bracketed her mouth.

Perhaps if she had paid more attention she would feel less out of her depth.

"You know," she said in amusement and flapped her fan. "It was at a gala I first met you."
 
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