Fort Slaughter was certainly an intimidating sight... But not a terribly pleasant one.
At least, it wasn't pleasant unless the Venatori were eager to spend their days listening to the centurions shout at their legionnaires. Everything was remarkably clean - cleaner than they may have thought. But the legions had strict rules regarding cleanliness, and it certainly showed.
Athens and Lyneth came into a fort constructed of impressive walls and well-structured, perfectly aligned tents and small buildings. They quickly made their way toward the last contact of the missing Venatori: Centurion Tullus, who was busy patrolling and eying his troops as they trained.
He, a stern man with absolutely no hair, turned to face them as they approached. "Venatori, are you?" he said, seeming to not have terribly much interest. "Those monster hunters who have more interest in preserving the monsters than their victims? Didn't I just speak with two of you?"
They explained in brief, to which Tullus... had absolutely no alteration in his eternal scowl.
"I see," he said, and there was no alteration in his barking tone, either. "There's little doubt what happened, then. Those two left to make contact with a village of lion-folk just to the north of here. People have been disappearing, mostly toward the north, near that beastman village."
He arched a brow. "They should all be destroyed," he appended. "I suggest you don't waste your time, and your lives, trying to talk peace with those monsters. I can provide you with a full legion to go and slaughter them immediately."
Cristina gave Auric an encouraging nod - though Caiden didn't move, at least not until Krystia spoke up.
"I think we should follow Caiden's lead," she interjected suddenly, moving to stand just slightly too close to his left side. "You know this area well, right?"
Caiden's shoulders and arms visibly tensed when Krystia moved to stand on his left side. Cristina arched a brow, but said nothing, while Caiden turned to face Krystia and get her out of his blind side
Before he could answer, Agethar said, "I'm sure he does, "but th' good lady just gave us suggestions. I'll help ye, Auric o' Axa."
Caiden opened his mouth to say something-- and again was interrupted. "Well we should all stick together, make sure nobody else goes missing." Krystia said as she grabbed Caiden by the arm again and turned to begin following the others.
He didn't budge.
Silently, he removed Krystia's fingers from his arm and turned to Cristina long enough to say, "We need to talk. Later."
Cristina shrugged and replied wryly, "We don't have to. You look like you've got your hands full."
He huffed. But turned and left with the others as they made their way toward the western districts of the city - Caiden kept Krystia on his right side the entire time.
The western district of the city was just as breathtaking as the rest, though it was in a few of the shadier looking buildings close to the walls that they figured they would find the people who heard these supposed sounds... unless they also wanted to check with the soldiers patrolling the city walls, or asked one of the nobles passing down the streets instead of the common folk. Who they asked was their choice.
"The questions are not about the Tome, but about Caiden of Redfield." Cyrus said "I and several members of our order are investigating him as a potential suspect."
Daisy frowned thoughtfully, until Cyrus appended, "We do not hold Caiden responsible for these deaths. However, he has been acting suspicious as of late, and any information you can offer us on his involvement in the search would be appreciated."
She shrugged. "His involvement was only that he helped us look for the tome, and we found it. Not much t' say beyond that. I wasn't with 'im the entire time, though - a lot of us split up early on, and we only met up in Artorius after the tome was found there. When we got there, he'd just finished takin' a bolt in the back fer one of our own, 'cause if he can't find a shield to protect someone else with, he just throws 'imself in the way instead. That's the only significant involvement o' his that I'm aware of."
"Brennus!" Yggmindl hollered across the great hall. "Just what in all the hells happened that made all those sad folks I passed on my way in decide to derelict their duty?"
"Don't pretend you haven't seen the order falling apart," Brennus replied darkly. "We're still missing six Venatori. Everyone's turning on each other... That's why they left."
He crossed his arms. "I've been getting together what Venatori I can to aid in figuring out what's happening... and all Venator private quarters are open as part of the investigation. Your experience would be useful in getting to the bottom of all this."
Keva arched a brow at the Inquisition collar on the skinny little dog, but she scratched his ear when Bullseye nuzzled her leg... and while Maugrimm started eating, this Inquisition hound instead stared up at her pleadingly. Keva looked slightly miffed and shook her head at something, though Bullseye wasn't sure what. Hopefully not him. From the way she patted him on the head, she guessed he wasn't the problem.
"It's alright," she said with a shrug, kneeling to nudge the food bowl closer to Bullseye. "Go on and eat."
"Venator Daisy," Cyrus said calmly "it's good to see you again. I was wondering if you could answer some questions about the search for the Faustus Tome in Artorius."
Daisy gave a chuckle. "Ah, ye say that like it was some magical artifact. 'Twas just a book, in the end... But," she shrugged, "I'll answer any questions you might have."
In Caiden's room, Asti stood guard while Kate busied herself investigating the chest at the foot of the bed... and found it locked, with no obvious signs of a key anywhere. The lock was embedded into the wood itself, so it wouldn't be simple to break, unless she somehow had the strength to smash the entire top of the chest in.
Crestwell, meanwhile, hobbled over toward the alchemy table... but his crutch thudded on a floorboard with a hollow thunk that made him - and Kate - pause. Thudding it again, it still sounded hollow, unlike the rest of the floor. And the nails in the floorboard were loose.
It didn't take Kate long to find a hammer, in this room full of weapons and tools, and pry the board up. Underneath, they found a huge, heavy chest - this one unlocked. Throwing back the lid, they saw something else immensely organized stash of... Everything.
Firstly, there was alcohol. Loads of it. That wasn't the incriminating part, though it very clearly indicated an impressive problem. There were also potions - stacks of potions, some of which Crestwell and Asti both immediately identified as illegal and many of them very dangerous... and some he didn't recognize at all, which worried him even more.
Digging around further, they found a very beautiful set of syringes. All well-kept, unrusted, from what Crestwell could only guess was recent and frequent use, judging from the pristine condition Caiden kept his weapons in.
Lastly, as if they needed more than this, there were two books in the trunk as well: one on dark magic, curses, and demons - and the second on illegal potions, each one delicate from age. Kate recognized them as books that had long since been banned by the Inquisition, and all copies were meant to be turned over to the Inquisition around the time of the fall of Ildrius - countless ages before either of them were born.
"Then perhaps we should get going as soon as possible" Hollí suggested, taking advantage of the opening. "It is no short trek to Dragon's Lair, and—though the chance is unfortunately faint—if our missing comrades yet live, then time is very much of the essence."
Caiden nodded in agreement. But while everyone else gathered their bearings to leave, Krystia returned to the group- to put a hand on one of his arms. Caiden's eyebrows hiked up a good inch or two on his face as he instantly threw Krystia a look.
"I apologise for that. Lyneth had some.. important business to discuss." She pulled slightly. Gods only knew why.
He grunted. Krystia had no idea what that was supposed to mean, but he didn't sound mad, at least, right?
"So, Caiden," she continued in a fair approximation of Lyneth's more sultry tones, "I look forward to working with you. I'm sure you can show me so much."
He swallowed. Huffed, and she had no idea what that meant, either. When she tried squeezing his biceps and smiling, Caiden quirked a brow at her this time and said, "Right... Hopefully I can teach you something useful."
He glanced at her hand on his arm again, then gently reached over to detach it from its hold and unfolded his arms afterward. "We'd better get moving."
Soon thereafter, Holli, Auric, Agethar, Krystia, Araven, and Caiden - plus his unseen passenger - departed Castle Greywatch and made for Dragon's Lair.
"I've packed brains aplenty!" Sivan hollared to the assembled hunters "so brawns and bows will be needed on the road east!"
Keva, who had just reentered the room from feeding the dogs in the kitchen, promptly approached and gave him a nod. "If you need the help," she said, "I'll come."
Sivan knew this huntress: a woman from the Far South who'd seen more than her fair share of combat. Good with a bow and an experienced tracker. Occasionally, he'd heard her temper would get the better of her, but Sivan had never seen such events personally.
The journey to Dragon's Lair was a quiet one, as they passed through some decently civilized portions of the Empire. They took the road through Stonebridge - though that resulted in a slight delay, as the troll under the bridge was overjoyed to see Caiden when he collected their tolls. The troll invited them for drinks in his home under that bridge, and Caiden said it would be unwise to refuse.
So the lot of them ended up sharing some surprisingly delicious ale with the enormous stone troll. He was an unintelligent fellow, but gentle and kind enough. It turned out his name was Krug.
Eventually, Krug did let them go, though not without giving Caiden a jug of the ale to go, which Caiden seemed to appreciate.
Upon reaching the city of Dragon's Lair itself, they were met with quite a sight: a city covered in dragons. Dragon statues flanked the main gate, guarded by soldiers and knights clad in armor decorated in red dragon heraldry and bearing wings on their helmets, with shields like wings as well.
The city itself was hardly different: dragon grotesques decorated the buildings, along with dragon gargoyles and other dragon motifs - and if not proper dragons, things generally at had least wings, fangs, horns, scales, claws or some other draconic feature worked into their designs.
Great banners of red, white, and gold flew everywhere, displaying the city's pride - and all of these displayed dragons as well. On their way to the castle, the Venatori passed by a massive statue of a knight, tall and incredibly handsome, with a helm shaped like a dragon head tucked under one arm. Behind him reared a massive statue of a dragon, wings on full display.
The plaque, for those who could read, said, "Sir Chrisanthos Fireblood Draconius, A Dragon of the Red and Founder of Dragon's Lair."
Onward they pressed through that breathtaking city, until at last they reached a castle equally as decorated in dragons as everything else around them. The knights there let them inside, where they were to hold an audience with Cristina Drake, one of the daughters of Warren Drake, who was apparently busy in Illikon.
She met them in the great hall, though she wasn't busying herself being seated in one of the chairs by the throne and holding a proper audience. She was properly beautiful, with chiseled features and long, brown hair worn in a bun at the back of her head.
Cristina simply gave the lot of them a nod after surveying them with her steely blue eyes - her gaze briefly lingering on Caiden, who offered a brief bow of his head.
"I assume you're all the follow-up to those first two Venatori," Cristina said, seeming to struggle not to sound rude. She succeeded, but her trouble doing so was apparent, and she almost seemed to wonder why she bothered.
"I don't have much information to offer you, so I'll tell you what I told them: locals in the western districts of the city claim they're hearing strange noises, always in the night. But no one's been hurt or gone missing, so - frankly - I'm not sure what business Venatori have muscling their way around Dragon's Lair trying to find more damage to cause..."
Her voice drifted slightly, and she folded her arms over the red dress she wore. She turned her face away from them briefly as if she hadn't wanted all that to come tumbling out.
Caiden took a step forward then, resting a hand on Cristina's shoulder for just a moment before letting it return to his side. She glanced at him for half a second and then back at the other monster hunters.
"You know we didn't mean for things to go that way," Caiden said gently.
Cristina folded her arms a little tighter. "I... can't know that, actually, Caiden. You were his friend... But I suppose it's not your fault what happened," she muttered under her breath, as if she didn't want to acknowledge that part.
She looked to all the assembled Venatori and finished, "That's all I know. I didn't put out any contract for Venatori - the locals in the western districts asked my father to, and he did. If you want more information, you'd best go speak with some of the citizens near the western gates, leading out to the coast and the swamps."
DM post coming up - and the Dragon's Lair group will now move out.
The Fort Slaughter and Kyjovia groups will move out soon, once everyone is done with their interactions and indicates they're ready to go.
Note that these separate zones are not the highlight of the RP. They will not last very long. I'm planning 4-6 major DM posts per zone depending on player actions. The zones shouldn't last more than a few weeks at the most.
Then players regroup at the castle, as the castle is the center of this campaign.
"Given your particular experience with the area, do you have any thoughts on what could have gotten Indigo and Darin?" Araven asked Caiden.
Agethar interrupted, "I might be able tae offer a few guesses. I doubt t'was Beastfolk what did th' pair in, or land-based Beastfolk at least. Plus, what with 'em being so close tae Deltalund, perhaps they were lost tae th' nearby swamp-lands. I've heard stories from about the quest fer th' mage Letom that mention a specimen of Creep takin' over part o' th' place."
While Agethar spoke, Caiden's gaze wandered. He grunted, just once, quietly and seemingly to himself, as he shifted his weight between his feet.
When Agethar was done, Caiden's scowl worsened a tad. "If the Creep is there, I hope it hasn't gotten that close to Dragon's Lair."
He folded his arms. "We heard rumors of undead or werewolves. Some claimed vampires. Given the dragon knights are good at keeping the region safe... I'm not sure. More werewolves have come into the area, it's true. But all we have to go on are 'strange sights and sounds.' We'll have to go there and talk to the locals who summoned Venatori there, see if they have more specifics."
Brennus listened in silence as Crestwell and Cyrus discussed the potential situation with Caiden. Brennus frowned and let his gaze wander out one of the nearby large windows.
"I can see both sides of the issue," Brennus muttered. "Should you want aid, either of you, ask me. But for now I'm going back to the great hall, see who's left yet... I won't let anyone disappear again. I'm going to keep better track of our hunters."
With that, Brennus left. Crestwell and Kate, meanwhile, made their way down the halls, up the stairs... and located Caiden's private room.
It wasn't hard to find whose room was whose, as each door bore the mark of its owner - the crest of their home city, in most cases. Or, in the case of shared home cities, the crest and another mark or signature, if the inhabitant could actually read.
Caiden, however, was the only Venator from Redfield. But his door didn't carry the scorpion heraldry of the Lysanders - it had a heraldic bull, an ancient symbol of the city many years before. A symbol Caiden also wore on the short sleeves of his leather jerkin, so it was easy to match up.
The door was unlocked - they weren't entirely sure why, but that was perhaps a mystery for another time. It didn't matter, as it meant that they had easy access to the room.
And there wasn't much to see. It was immaculately organized. Some weapons on a rack on one side of the room - swords, axes, crossbows, bows, shields... equipment to clean them with, as well.
A very large and robust table meant for alchemy and potion-making stood on one side of the very small room, but it was perfectly clean and all the bottles put away. No sign of reagents left out or on any shelves there, either.
Lastly, there was a bed that looked a bit too small to fit Voros's exceedingly tall frame, with a chest at the foot of it.
If the room hid anything else, it wasn't obvious at first glance.
((Note to Taco: If you want Asti and Sivan to go up to Caiden's room as well, feel free to have them accompany Crestwell and Kate in your post.))
Maugrimm led Bullseye off down the halls of the castle, making his way straight to the kitchens. There weren't many Venatori cooking meals at the moment - for themselves or anyone else - but Maugrimm saw a very familiar face and headed straight for her, because he knew she always gave him treats.
A tall, ebony-skinned Aethiopi woman stood by a hunk of meat roasting on a spit, watching it as it popped and cracked, spitting hot grease. She absently polished a silver dagger for what was probably the fifteenth time while she waited for the meat to cook.
Maugrimm knew her name was Keva. And she liked dogs, so Maugrimm liked her. Because Maugrimm liked food.
Keva turned to regard the pair of hounds as they stopped and stared at her with their longing eyes. She put on an amused smirk and shook her head.
"What'd you do, adopt a stray?" she asked Maugrimm, scratching one of his ears. She muttered, "You two will still eat less than Redfield..."
In just a moment, she took the meat off the spit and picked up a nearby knife to start carving it. She set a pair of bowls on the floor, each one with a succulent slice of roasted meat.
In the great hall, one Venator showed up a little late. Yggmindl trudged on in and took quick stock of the situation: a hall full of Venatori, mostly familiar faces, including Caiden and others - Daisy, Jed, Forge... and plenty of groups seemed to be forming, everyone chattering about something or another. At the back of the great hall, she saw Brennus enter, wearing a frown.
((Note that there ARE other Venatori around. Other NPCs. Sorry for being somewhat vague with that so far. You can even bring some of these NPCs along with you on your hunts, if you ask them. If you're looking for a companion of some particular skillset, race, or some other variety, feel free to say so and I'll let you know if there are any fitting your companion search. ))
"Looks like we'll be be traveling wit' a pretty big group," Agethar remarked to Caiden "It's like they be attracted to ye!"
Caiden was lost, to say the least. The overwhelming majority of the room had their eyes on him at various intervals, and now Krystia was... behaving very strangely. The brief but noticeable shiver that ran through him didn't help any of it, either.
Before he could shake Krystia's hand, though, another Venator woman appeared and took her hand instead.
“Oh, Krystine, I’ve been looking all over for you!” She smiled widely, her pearly whites almost shimmering in the hall’s lighting. “I had some hunting techniques I wanted to show you! Don’t worry gentlemen, I won’t be long~...” Brys added, flashing Caiden a warm grin as she hauled ‘Krystine’ off.
For a moment, Caiden watched them leave. Then he folded his arms and grunted... and muttered something very quietly under his breath.
Luckily, Agethar said something that he actually know how to respond to. "Ye seem familiar wit' Dragon's Lair. Would ye mind sharing what ye know about it wit' us, or is it more of a...er, private matter?"
"It's not," Caiden replied. "I went there shortly after a long mission in Rognosst Swamp. I'm familiar with Cristina and I'm familiar with the region. It's a good city, ruled by the Drakes. And it's full of good people... all of whom respect their ruling family." His eternal scowl worsened just a tad. "It'd be best if we didn't mention Tom or what happened to him."
Brennus grew steadily, visibly more irritated as the conversation drew on. First there was Kate's implying that Silvius hadn't trusted them and had been right to do so - and then Cyrus saying that aloud.
And then an exchange of discussing scars. Brennus rubbed his temples and Crestwell caught his eye.Only when Crestwell had offered drinks did Brennus finally take a deep breath.
"Let's go to the study. We can read this note of yours away from all the noise, and I keep the good stuff nearby."
Crestwell led the way to the study then, exiting the great hall and leading Brennus, Cyrus, and Kate down a short hallway before they stepped into their destination.
The study must have once been grand - now it wasn't, terribly. The once-lavish chairs were faded and worn, but still reasonably comfortable, and there were several stands and desks about: one of which Crestwell kept a personal stash of drinks in. There were large windows lining two of the walls, letting in a great deal of midday sunlight filtered through grey clouds.
Quick heads-up, I leave on Monday for my summer job at a Boy Scouts summer camp. I will have service, albeit spotty. Unfortunately, I will be on mobile the whole time. Shouldnt be too much of an issue.
Noted. Thanks for letting us know.
I'm technically back home now with internet, etc., but I really don't feel up to doing much today, so any major DM posts will still be put off until the weekend, at least. I will toss up a smaller reply today, though, and reply to my PMs.
Caiden quirked a brow when Krystia suddenly appeared beside him, and he threw a brief glance down at her, standing there looking... nervous. Looking - all kinds of things.
"What's the plan?" she asked abruptly, trying and failing to sound at ease and professional.
Before he could answer, she added, "You're really great. Great at Venator things I mean. Really impressive and -. Ahem. I was just wondering what you thought was the best course of action."
And she kept hovering there by his arm.
"Thanks," he said, with only a very subtle touch of awkwardness that no one visibly present picked up on. Then he added, "Exactly what we're doing right now. Split up into teams, cover more ground... If you're talking about coming with us to Dragon's Lair, I assume we'll talk to Cristina first. But it's not exclusively my decision."
Another Venator joined them then, another one Caiden wasn't sure he recognized. But he offered a hand to shake and said, “I don’t believe I’ve officially had the pleasure. Araven of Pikeston. I see you’ve already met my hunting partner, Krystia Ravenswift.”
Giving Araven's hand a firm shake, he replied, "Caiden Voros of Redfield." He gave Krystia a low nod, as well. "Pleasure to meet you both."