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Four Days Earlier - Burg Castle

Burg castle, built into the Lycian-Bernese mountainside, overlooked a quaint village further down the mountain. The castle was in disrepair, the victim of sieges forced upon the structure during several of Bern's conflicts over the centuries. Until a few months prior, it's only residents were wildlife who found their way inside and the occasional steward, tasked with maintaining the structure by their now dead employer. But that changed with the shift of Lycian government. The once dead employer was replaced with his son, and soon the wildlife was replaced with those with ties to his house. However, that wouldn't last too long.

In the master bedroom, sleeping comfortably wrapped up in a fur blanket was Maria Hyperion. The young girl thought she was the safest in the world. She had a bunch of really good and strong people to defend her. Her future husband, a boy a half year younger than herself, was there to protect her as well. And then she had the white haired woman shadowing her, always just out of her sight. No one could possibly harm her here. Not like in Etruria. Not like in Lycia. There she is vilified by the Church of Preservation of Sanctity and there she would have been persecuted or worse, had her brother not sent her here.

She began to stir a bit, hearing some loud noises from the floors below. She then felt someone shaking her awake. She opened her eyes to see the white haired girl. "Mistress, wake up. We need to get you out of here." Maria looked at her with sleep in her eyes, then turned over in her bed. It was still dark out, why was she waking her? That was when the door was kicked open. Her head snapped up towards the door on the opposite side of the room to see several burly men enter the room. They were covered in something, she couldn't make it out. A book was then tossed on her lap. She looked at in quickly, recognizing it as her spell book. "You have to fight mistress. We have to get you out of here."

Something within her withdrew a bit. She then knew what that was she saw on those men. She stumbled out of bed behind the white haired girl, still clad in her night gown. "I-it's o-okay. Shad will s-save us. He's on his way. Sir Marcus said he was."

"Ah little girly? Ah 'onduh 'ow much we be gettin' fer her? He he he" She recoiled at those words. She gazed towards the window, as if her wishes would be granted, and then turned back towards the brigands. She calmed herself a bit and opened her tome. She wasn't going to let them take her without a fight.

Present Day - Mountain Path

A group of riders on horse back were walking through the mountains. It was a rather eclectic group, consisting of dissidents and refugees. All escaping the powder keg that was the the surrounding area of Tania. It appeared as if the cogs of war between Lycia and Bern were turning. Bern was the safer retreat, due to their offensive, and perhaps had promises for them for the future. But for now, they needed a place to recoup. "I think I've narrowed it down everyone. I believe this is the correct path to my safe house. According the map, there's even a village nearby, so perhaps we can fish for information there," said Shad, who had become their navigator to their first destination.

"Do you even know what this place looks like? Will there even be enough room for us all to stay the night?" Shad's passenger Taika question. It was a fair one at that.

He kinda shook his head between nodding up and down, examining the map and the path before him. "Regrettably no. I know our family still owns the place, how to get there, and how much is being transferred out of my coffers to pay for upkeep monthly. Considering how much I'm paying for this thing, it must be of a decent size. We'll probably know when we see it." He replied, before turning his head back at his companions. "It probably shouldn't be too much longer. How are you all holding up?"
"Fine," Ambrose said, though his voice was sleep-fogged. He'd woken up only a bit ago, aching in places and yet wanting to sleep yet more. The mercenary shook his head, adjusting himself on his horse and blinking away the bleariness of his eyes. He adjusted his sword and armor, as they'd started to get itchy. He yawned, reaching for the sky and stretching out his legs. What he wouldn't give for a bed.
Paige happened to be walking with the group, as she was still reluctant about horseback riding. The exercise helped keep her awake, a plus considering how far they traveled in such a short time. Her mind wandered to her home in Lycia and how she couldn't go back after her involvement in prison breaks and battles. It was the only country she ever knew; even then, she lived primarily in Pherae. She felt conflicted going to Bern, considering the history between it and Lycia. Yet it was the only choice she had.

"Are we much farther?" Paige asked Shad. "Or should we make camp to recover our strength?" She wasn't sure how far into Bern they needed to travel, but surely they were far enough outside Lycia's borders for them to not worry about Lycian forces from catching up to them.
It seemed as though the amount of time she spent traveling did nothing to improve her ability to handle the current journey. Cecily was more accustomed to sitting in a carriage, where she could comfortably rest without having to worry about where she was going. However, since she was commanding her own horse from the saddle, the noble had to actually pay attention to her surroundings for hours at a time. She found herself savoring every break that the group took along the way.

Her long hair had not been well cared for as of late, so the stench it collected had been getting on her nerves. However, she has not seriously considered cutting her hair yet. Cecily had cared for her hair for over a decade, only pulling out the scissors to trim the ends and keep her mid-riff length hair at a consistent length. The only way Cecily could keep her mind off of the smell of her own body was to chew on berries that the group managed to forage along the way. At times, she wasn't sure if the scent she smelled was herself or her bodyguard Satsume.

"I'll settle for a cold bath at this point," Cecily responded to Shad's question with a slight sigh.

Cecily was torn between the thought of resting and making camp now, or potentially having a place to wash out the grime at whatever house that Shad is referring to. In either case, she wanted to be able to rest for longer than what it would take to have a quick meal.
The rest of the group didn't seem to thrilled about the travel. Well, Paige and Cecily didn't. Ambrose was probably used to it, but he was still recovering from the Cecily's song. That isn't to say this travel is easy traveling to Shad. He did most of his own traveling on foot, so horseback wasn't exactly his cup of tea either. He learned a bit when he was young, then Marcus had to drill it back into his head a couple years back. But Paige was a librarian and Cecily actually spent the entirety of her life as a lord, instead of living half her life as a commoner. Shad's train of thought was broken by Taika starting to shiver. "What's wrong Taika? Getting cold?"

"We are in the mountains. I'm also not really dressed that warm. My scarf can't do the job of sleeves after all."

Shad chuckled a bit. Faint sobbing noises could be heard as they moved on, but Shad was still oblivious to them. "Well, between Maria, you, and me, we should be able to get you a hot bath. You too, Cecily." He turned back down towards the map as the horse kept along it's path. The noise slowly got louder as they moved. "It looks like we are on the last stretch. There should be a break in the path up ahead. In fact..." Shad looked up ahead and saw a woman on her knees crying into her hands at the fork in the road. Shad stopped the horse and climbed off. Silver hair? He noticed. Just like...no. The sobbing stopped for a second as the woman on the road turned towards the sound of Shad's dismount. He slowly approached her, picking out more and more familiar details. Green eyes. Freckles. So many freckles. And that ponytail, just off center.

She blinked her eyes for a few seconds, before wiping her eyes with her sleeve. She looked at the man in front of her almost as carefully as he did her. With a hint of hope in her voice that had seemed lost to her, she spoke. "Shad?"

Perhaps it was seeing his 'sister' among the Tanian clergy. Perhaps it was a reminder of a more peaceful time. Perhaps it was the sad state he found her in. Whatever it was had caused him to forget his surroundings and his companions for a moment. "Mom!" He ran over to her, and she did the same. She, in fact, wasn't his mother. But as his own sister was raised with Tyber Fen and his wife as her father and mother, this woman had become the mother figure he and Lennox lacked after arriving in Ostia. They embraced each other, having not seen each other in over two years. When she let him go, he recalled the crowd behind him and tried to maintain his composure. "Ah...M-maisie. Why are you here? What's caused you so much distress?" That caused her to breakdown again. Great, he was never great at consoling people. "Uh, guys, a little help here? I'm not too good at this sort of thing."
The last thing Paige expected to see on this lonely mountain path was a sobbing woman. Judging from her attire, she didn't appear to be from the immediate area. Shad initially addressed her as his "mom", so this wasn't a random passerby. Unfortunately, it may have meant that things weren't well at the safe house. At Shad's request, Paige approached the grieving woman.

"Hey," Paige said to Maisie as she knelt down to her level. She reached out to Maisie's hands to help her back on her feet. "My name is Paige. Can you tell us what happened?"
"I will be looking forward to it," Cecily replied to Shad, in response to the notion of a hot bath.

When the group stopped by the crying woman, Cecily pulled her horse alongside Shad. She understood the feeling of sympathy towards the unfortunate person, but there are more pressing concerns at the moment. The noble opened her mouth to speak, but froze when Shad identified the woman as his mother. The figure did not look old enough to be Shad's mother, but Cecily knew better than to judge people by their appearances.

As Shad and Paige tried to comfort the woman, Cecily took a weary look around. It is not immediately clear why Shad's "mom" was out here instead of at her house. Perhaps there are bandits? Raiders from Lycia? The woman met her concerned eyes with Satsume's, who took her cue and kept a hand close to his weapon.

"As much as I would like to bask in this biting air, we do not have time to stand around; let her speak along the way," she said, mentally prodding Shad and Paige with the urgency of their travel. As she finished speaking, Cecily hoped that they did not interpret her choice of words as impatience in being outdoors much longer (as true as it may be). There was another concern regarding idling in the wilderness, after all.

With the latest and most bold Bernese raid likely to be over, the relations between Lycia and Bern are at its most tense since the era of King Zephiel. That tension could spill over into open conflict at any moment and ruin any chance of meeting a Bernese officer. The entourage simply cannot afford to waste time now.
The sobbing woman snapped the mercenary into instant alertness. Where there was sobbing there was often also death and violence. Ambrose shook himself and dismounted. "Shad, let her take my horse. We can discuss the matter on the way to the safehouse. And make it safe once more if necessary." He stretched in his armor, took a swig of water, and drew his longsword, resting the blade on his shoulder. "Cecily is right. Now hurry, and focus."
As Paige helped Maisie to her feet, Shad realized that there were probably some questions that needed to be answered. So, he decided to preempt them as she calmed down. "Everyone, this is Maisie. I hired her to serve as the personal healer to myself and my cousin Lennox, when I was eight. So, uh. That little...uh, 'mom' comment...well, she took on the unofficial role as our guardian and mother figure. Coincidentally, her daughter was the sister in the Tanian church where I got fixed up. She was the one who warned me about the missive concerning out Santaruz breakout."

Maisie had calmed down enough to hear both Cecily and Ambrose's suggestion, and immediately shook her head. "No. I'm not going there. I-I..." She looked down trying to keep composed. "You need someone useful, and my staff is not with me. I wouldn't be able to heal you."

Shad was oblivious what exactly was going on. "What, is the village not safe?" He asked.

"No it's safe, for now," She replied. Then it dawned on her. She let out a small chuckle. "What did he say to call you? Young pup, was it?" Shad's eyes widened, hearing that nickname from her was completely alien to him. Was it Wolfram or Marcus who told her that? "Your safehouse isn't in the village. It's Burg Castle."

"Oh. It's the castle." he paused. "I own a castle." He looked at the sign and saw the sign pointing out the castle aiming the same direction as the fork in the map. "What."

"And...a band of brigands seized the castle." Shad turned his head towards Maisie, staring at her as if she grew a second head. "They...they have Maria, Lowell, and some of the servants." He looked back at the path and began walking down in, absentmindedly. He sniffed the air shortly after to find a rather horrid stench. Before Maisie could speak the last bit of bad news, he turned his head towards the source. "And they slaughtered the soldiers. And..."

Shad took two steps forward and dropped to his knees. In front of him was a mutilated torso, severed at the midsection. It was wearing teal armor plates that were very damaged. The face on the head attached to said torso bared a variety of bad scars, one on the cheek, across the bridge of the nose, and one just adjacent to the now empty left eye socket. The other eye was covered up with a grey wrap. The hair was a similar shade to that of Maisie, but the exact same shade as his spymaster Cassandra. He looked back down from the face, only to see a mass of insects working their way on his body where he was split it twain. He turned his head away and vomited in the ground next to him. Death was something he dealt with before. The man scorched to death by Dyrnwyn in Tania was disturbing and unsettling. But he never had a personal attachment it. He felt some warmth dripping down his face. He was crying. "Why Marcus? You said we'd meet again here? Why did you have to go and do this?" He began pleading, punching the ground next him. His eyes shot back open when he recalled Maisie's words. He jumped back up and darted towards Maisie. "These BASTARDS" he shouted. "They have my sister?! When did this happen?! Maisie?!"

"They took over the castle four nights ago. Marcus and I were stuck in town overnight, so we were spared, initially. Marcus noticed...the bodies on the way back the following day and told me to return to the village. Later that day, he...well," She said, alluding to his sorry state. "This morning, or perhaps last night, I don't know. They...they posted a ransom about two 'noble brats' and that if it wasn't paid by the end of the week, they were going to sell them to the highest bidder...along with the staff." Shad's eyes flickered with a reckless gaze, and he quickly turned away from her. But Maisie grabbed his hand. "Don't start running off now, you have people to help you. Have them HELP you."

Shad turned back towards Maisie for a second and then towards his companions. He looked at Taika, who shook her head. "I'll stay behind. Not that I don't have confidence in you, but I'm going to try to get some money together in case a ransom is needed."

He turned towards the others. "This is my fight, so I won't look upon you poorly for refusing. I'd probably end up killing myself unless someone can deter me from my bad ideas. But I think it's time we kill someone who deserves it instead of someone doing their job." Unless it's only Paige. Her ideas are as bad as mine.
Paige wasn't far from Shad when he discovered the body. She had only met Marcus briefly, but he seemed very capable as Shad's bodyguard. To see half his body strewn across the wilderness was tragic, nevermind sickening. The librarian had to back away to avoid the overwhelming stench of death.

"The village is still safe, yes?" Paige asked. "Why don't we go there, rest, and figure out how we're going to approach this."

Paige could understand Shad's desire to save the day, but after escaping a warzone, she wasn't exactly prepared to jump into another battle. It would be quite a battle: no normal brigands could tear a man in two.
"You hired her at the age of eight?" Cecily raised an eyebrow at Shad's explanation.

It sounded like there was more to this story than what Shad was letting on. She could already guess that Shad was someone important. If he was the son a wealthy merchant, then Shad's safe house would have been more discrete than an abandoned castle: reputable trading guilds usually had their own hidden networks for less than savorable business.  The more likely possibility is that he is from the higher social class.

Not that the answer is important at this point, since there are more pressing matters in the present, like the brigands that Maisie mentioned. The sound of a castle for a safe house was pleasant until that small detail marred its worth.

"Lovely," Cecily sighed to herself.

As Shad made his way a little ways up the path, Cecily wrinkled her nose as she smelled the scent of death. Then Shad vomited, prompting her to avert her eyes. With how powerful that smell was, it was a wonder how no one noticed it until now. She would like to think that it is just the turn of the wind, but an equally likely possibility was that everyone smelled terribly enough that no one noticed until now.

It was during Shad's outburst that she noticed the intricacies of his accent: an Etruscan accent. There was no way she could mistake it since the noble lived in Etruria for about a year for personal studies. Cecily recalled meeting the newly appointed Etruscan marquess Urai Zann, who spoke with similar peculiarities as Shad did in that moment.

As their guide went on his tirade, Cecily watched with a little sympathy muddled in her impatience. She also lost someone important to her: her loyal bodyguard from her youth, Theodore, who served her until he sacrificed himself to protect Cecily from assassins. It was difficult for her to blame Shad's reaction, but do they have enough time to deal with this detour?

"I do not know if your words are supposed to be inspiring or humbling, but I have my reservations on whether we all take this task upon ourselves. We have not agreed on a contingency plan in case we fail in our original task and we do not have an indication that there is time to resolve additional problems along the way," Cecily replied to Shad's request.

She raised a hand to stop any objection that may arise from her words. Cecily had no expectation that her point of view would be popular among her recently met traveling companions. Satsume's easily readable expression told her that much.

"However, the journey thus far has been long and I must rest a time before continuing on. Until then, I may consider a request," she added. "Let us take Paige's suggestion for now."

Cecily took the reins of her horse and continued down the trail as to indicate the end of discussion. Her lack of address towards Satsume's part in this, as her companion, was an intentional omission. If Satsume felt obligated to help, Cecily will not stop him: even allowing him a day or two to help before she will press on. But even so, Satsume is fully aware of Cecily's lack of prowess in battle, having protected her several times before. Traveling on unsafe roads alone is suicidal.
After Cecily agreed with plans to go to the village first, Paige turned back to Shad. She placed her hand on his shoulder as a gesture of comfort.

"I'll go with her and find a safe place to lay low," Paige said. "Join us when you're ready."

The librarian felt Shad needed time to grieve before moving on. At the same time, clearer heads needed to evaluate their predicament before walking into a losing fight. After her attempt to comfort Shad, Paige joined Cecily on the road, walking beside her horse.

"I was hoping our troubles would be behind us once we crossed the border," Paige commented about their situation. She was counting on a temporary respite from brigands and soldiers to soften the pain of leaving her homeland.
Ellie had remained silent through the majority of their ride; she wasn't so much concerned with the journey, however, but the destination and task at hand. How would Leroy react? How would she manage to get word to him, anyways? It was evident that those in her group weren't willing to take hostages, so that left a significant hole in the plan.

Most of the conversation had gone over Ellie's head until Shad's demeanor changed - he had heard something, or seen something; a woman, all alone in the mountains. "Mom!" Ellie's head spun so fast she could have taken herself clean off her horse. Ellie unslung her bow and drew a single arrow, peering across every ledge and in every nook she could see, but she wasn't unjustified in her paranoia.

That smell...

It wafted through the air to each and every nose present in what seemed like an instant, and Shad pushed on before crumpling to his knees; heartbroken, furious, every emotion you could possibly imagine. She averted her gaze, uncertain which words would offer solace, and which would provoke a rash decision. It seemed that there were bandits in the hills, and their safety was no longer guaranteed.

Paige and the others opted to make for a nearby village, gather their bearings and wits. Ellie wasn't opposed to the idea, but there needed to be some sort of recompense for this; the remains of the man were battered beyond belief. Simply unforgivable. She returned her arrow to its quiver, dismounted her horse and made her way to Shad's side, placing a firm hand on his shoulder. She didn't wait for his response.

"They're right, Shad, we shouldn't rush this," she started gently. "But I'm with you." She could do with a bath, and a good meal wasn't such a bad idea. Besides, her and Paige hadn't had a chance to speak since their last moment alone, and there was plenty to be said.
"He's leaving out a lot of details, I assure you," Maisie chimed in, just hearing Cecily's comment about his age.

Part of Shad's heart crumpled a bit when the others said to delay their attack. To rest in the village. How can he be expected to rest when who knows what is happening to his sister just down this road? How can he be expected to stay his sword when a man who was practically family was strewn along the path like litter? It was up to Maisie to sway him.

"Who selected the guards to watch over Maria?" That question alerted him slightly. Why? "Did Marcus choose them...or did you?" That was it. He hand picked these guards to watch Maria. He knew half of them from when they were his father's retainers. He trusted them like his father once did. He looked back at her as to ask why. "The bodies of the other soldiers are further on along the path. Would you really be able to ignore their presence and put up a proper fight?"

He hadn't thought of that. She did say 'bodies', plural. Of course. That was how Marcus and Maisie knew something was up, by seeing the other dead soldiers. He wasn't as attached to some of them like he was Marcus, but he'd seen some of them almost daily in his youth. He had been estactic to see them when they returned to swear fealty to him. To see them in the same sorry state as Marcus would be too demoralizing.

Eli had approached him and put his hand on his shoulder. He advised waiting, but that he was with him. "You're right." He sighed. Maisie, satisified with that answer, began following after Paige and Cecily with Taika. "When night falls, can you help me out with something? We need another approach. One with less...familiar faces along the trail."
Taking the lead for the party, Cecily headed into town with the intention of searching for the local inn. They passed a sign along the way, simply saying "Valais," presumably stating the name of the town in question. With Satsume in tow, Cecily approached and greeted the local tanner, who was going about his work beating furs outdoors. The man looked old, as though nearing the retirement age, but his body was well conditioned from hard labor. Accompanying him with the task was a much younger man who looked the part of an apprentice.

"You're lucky to make it here without encountering the local bandits. The outdoors are getting more dangerous with the two great beasts rearing at each other," said the tanner.

Cecily immediately understood his meaning, being the two nations locked in that exact struggle.

"If only there was a master as talented as yourself to whip them back in line," she replied.

The tanner chuckled. "The hand will only aggravate them. Words like your own will charm them more."

The two engaged in a little more wordplay before the tanner pointed her towards the inn. After offering her gratitude, Cecily went on her way in the direction that the elder tanner pointed her towards and took in what sight there was to see. There is a significant lack of bustle in the streets: although there were people about, there were few sounds that resonated in the town, in contrast to its size. It is the middle of autumn, meaning that the harvests should be underway and excitement in the air for the upcoming harvest festival. There are crops being brought into town, townspeople speaking of the festival, and the like, though Cecily's trained ear could tell that there was something bothering them. Of course, heightened bandit activity is enough to make any town concerned, as it can affect the flow of merchants: something that the noble could sympathize with.

Once Cecily arrived at the inn, a fairly large-looking building from the outside, she spoke with the innkeeper. The innkeeper was a man of few words, but it was not as though he was adverse to conversation. He looked tired, though Cecily could scarcely imagine what for. Unlike the tanner, the innkeeper was not very interested in Cecily's verbal joust and spoke purely business. 

Cecily selected a smaller room for her small budget: a single bedroom quarters. The others, should they select the inn to stay at as well, have to pay for their own rooms. After writing a name down in the guest registry, Cecily headed upstairs. Satsume followed her example. Once they arrived at their assigned room on the second floor, Cecily closed the windows and plopped herself down upon the bed with a sigh. For a moment, she looked as if to fall asleep right there, but the noble opened one eye to look directly at Satsume. She quietly gestured for him to come close. When the man complied, with a look of uncertainty on his face, Cecily pulled him in close.

"Before you delve into any silly ideas, did you notice anything unusual here?" she whispered, looking at her bodyguard sternly.

"Do you mean the guest registry?" Satsume blinked. The guest list did not have any other patrons listed as present before they arrived, meaning the inn was completely devoid of visitors before they arrived.

"Possibly related, but equally possibly a coincidence," said Cecily. "Your eyes were open since we entered this village, were they not?"

Satsume reflected back on their arrival, meeting with the tanner, and the trip down the few streets to the inn. The town itself looked fine, with nothing out of the ordinary. He took a minute to reflect on it, before shaking his head out of resignation.

"No local militiamen," Cecily said. Satsume mouthed an "oh" as he realized what she was getting at. It was not the town that was strange: it was the people.

"No sense of concern over brigands rampaging just outside their doors not only from a lack of security but from the attitude of people like the tanner. Also, villages like these are usually hard at work all year, either producing their primary or secondary goods to send to the nearest city marketplace in order to get by. Apart from the tanner, it is surprisingly quiet: not even an apprentice running errands," she continued.

"Do you think this is related to Shad's family?" asked Satsume.

"It would be utterly ridiculous to think these are unrelated occurrences, as the castle is well within sight," Cecily answered.

Her eyes narrowed. "Under these circumstances, it may be too dangerous to travel ahead as I originally planned."

"Should we warn the others?" the knight asked her, to which Cecily made a questioning face.

"Would you have obeyed me if I said 'no?'" she asked.

Satsume paused to think about it for a moment.

"I suppose not," he relented.

"Woe is me," Cecily sighed, letting out an exaggerated groan as she leaned back onto the bed. "I should have picked a more obedient vassal."

Satsume saw through her ruse, being used to this treatment, and simply gave her a disapproving look before leaving the room. She could only presume that the knight went to do as he suggested.

As Cecily pondered the explanations that could cause this village to be unusually peaceful, she wondered whether it was wise for her to be alone. After all, there is no guarantee if there are spies in the town. Back in Laus, she was once told that the most dangerous place in the world was one's own home.

Cecily scoffed at her own paranoia; after all, there were plenty of opportunities for Satsume and herself to be ambushed by brigands along the way to the inn. In the meantime, she had more pressing matters to attend to.

The noble got up and followed after Satsume in search for Paige.
Ellie was thankful that Shad didn't oppose the group; they needed him just as much as he needed them, and a lone assault on an unfamiliar castle was assured suicide in the most grizzly fashion. "You're right... when night falls, can you help me out with something? We need another approach. One with less... familiar faces along the trail."

"Like I said, I'm with you. Can always count on Eli Vael!" Ellie piped playfully with a wink. She patted her friend on the back before setting off with the others. "First thing's first, food and drink!" She hadn't quite realized how hungry she'd gotten - the meal in Tania had hardly tied her over what with the commotion that followed, and she hadn't so much as eaten a crumb since. However tense she was, she was somewhat relaxed in knowing that they weren't too much further.


The town was quiet, almost eerily so. The men and women on the streets seemed almost in a hurry to get to their destinations, or simply looked uncomfortable. It was strange, that the town was so quiet yet not so much as a broken stall in the market to emphasize the bandit threat looming over them from the mountains; surely a ransom would be more readily paid with a show of force? Whatever their reasons for keeping their distance, Ellie was at least content there'd be no civilian casualties this time.

It took a few moments, but she eventually found herself at the inn. Somewhat in disarray, yet entirely empty. It seemed almost abandoned, save for the clatter of footsteps as Cecily and Satsume made their way up the stairs nearby, and an innkeeper who'd seen better days.

"Excuse me, sir, I'd also like to book a room if possible?"

"Aye, sign 'ere."

Not the warmest of welcomes to say the least. Ellie handed over a small amount of gold and signed her alias messily just below that of Cecily and Satsume - yet there were no other names? Odd... with a smile, Ellie took the key and made her way up the stairs and found her room, taking a moment to shed her leathers and belts. She slipped out of her shirt and unwrapped her chest and midsection, checking on her bumps and bruises from their brush in Tania; no worse for wear, but she'd seen better days, much like a certain man in the lobby. She felt exhaustion creeping on her as she slipped back into her shirt, tossing her bandages in the corner and her wrap in a bucket on a small desk next to the bed - she definitely needed a bath, wearing that for so long.

Sprawling out on the bed, she thought a thousand thoughts as her eyes began to close. How long had it been since she left the brothel? She couldn't quite remember... how would she greet Leroy, if he even came? To first deceive him, then admit her deception to her friends? She hadn't been Ellie for so long, it almost felt weird, laying in this bed, a young woman. A little bit longer.
"Thanks Eli." He replied as he got up to his feet. He took a deep breath, which instantly regretted with the smell of death in the air, then let out a large breath. He took one final look at Marcus. "Just give me one more day. You'll have a proper grave after I take back the castle." He said to his departed 'brother'. I'll give them no quarter. Now that's not a bad idea. He mused as he turned away.

But he couldn't budge his feet. Not yet. He turned back towards Marcus and approached his head. He unwrapped his grey headband that had been keeping his silver hair out of his face. It had some blood stains, but was relatively intact. He contemplated wearing it on his person somehow, but instead wrapped it firmly around the sheath of his Schiavona. With memento in hand, he finally was able to get his feet moving.


The town was surprisingly quiet. Maisie did tell people about the bandits right? How is it almost dead silent right now? You would think there would be some panic regarding the castle attack. Shad beckoned Maisie over during Cecily's banter with the tanner. "You did tell people about the bandits, right?" She nodded. Of course she did. "Is this town always like this?"

"Honestly, I don't know. It wasn't like this when we came for supplies, but there was also a lot of refugees passing through town as well. Honestly, we spend so much time in the castle itself, I can't say just how this place is day-to-day."

With that, they kept observing their surroundings as Cecily led them to the inn. Maisie could of led them, but perhaps Cecily doubted Maisie's mental state with the sights they just had. Or perhaps as she was leading them along, she didn't think of that. They arrived at the inn and nothing seemed wrong. Cecily and Satsume got their rooms, then Eli.

"I'm going to go rest. I'll see you later," Maisie said as she tried passing the counter.

"'old on. You need to book a room."

"Hold on. What?!"

Shad was confused and looked at the sign in book. Sure enough, the only names on it are Cecily, Satsume, and Eli. "Uh, Maisie. Your name's not listed." No one's names are listed. Was no one else here? Why wasn't Maisie already on the book. Perhaps they switched books?

"What? I booked a room two days ago for the week!"

"Oh, sorry fer tha mix up. Thought you wen back to tha castle, so aye checked you out. Just sign in. No extra cost."

"Okay...fine." Maisie signed the book. "Same room?" The man nodded. "See you later."

Shad and Taika followed suit and got rooms for themselves. Shad thought something was up, so despite how bad of an idea it was, he signed it 'Lord Shadrach Hyperion'. Perhaps if he sees Lord attached to the name, he won't suddenly think he checked himself out like what happened to Maisie. He didn't seem phased by the signing. So Shad dished out the money for him and Taika and they got their keys. "I think I'll skip on magic training today. Not in the right mindset for it, you know."

"Fair enough Shad. I'll be in my room." Taika said as she went into her own room.

Shad sighed and opened the door and stepped in. The room was a bit plain. But even these conditions were probably a few grades higher than whatever accomadations the bandits have Maria in right now.  He put his bag down and went through his things. And then he saw it, the basket hilt for the Schiavona that Cass gave him when they parted. Perhaps he could find a blacksmith to switch the hilts out so the Schiavona looked like a proper sword again instead of being disguised as a walking stick. He took them both and left the room. He approached the innkeep again. "Is there a blacksmith in town?"

"Look for smoke outside. Pro'ly 'im."

"Thanks." He said, dropping a couple pieces on the counter and leaving the inn.
Having no personal experience outside of Lycia, Paige didn't see any particular issue with how quiet the village was. As they traveled to the inn, the librarian heard talk of a festival, but those talking weren't speaking in excited tones. Perhaps the people of Bern were simply more reserved than their Lycian counterparts. Funny, for from what Paige had read of Bern, the people were filled with pride for their traditions.

The castle supposedly under siege by brigands was within view. In most cases, the village would owe some taxes to the head of the castle, in exchange for protection. And yet, there wasn't a word of any change in leadership. Even Shad and Maise were dumbfounded at the behavior of the village. Perhaps this wasn't normal behavior after all.

While the others immediately headed for the inn, Paige's curiosity was sparked. Now that she knew where the inn was, the librarian double backed to the tanner that Cecily spoke to. If they were to discuss their next move, they needed to know what was happening in the village.

"Excuse me sir," Paige called out to the tanner. She approached his stall and smiled politely.

"If you have a moment," she began as she pointed towards the castle. "That castle over there. Who runs it?"
"The castle? We here have been lording over ourselves for a while now, miss," the tanner paused in his work on the hide, giving the librarian his attention. "The old lord Valais passed away and we have not received anyone to succeed him."

"We elected a man named Laurent to handle our negotiations with the other cities. He does his job well," he said.

"In fact, the castle was abandoned until fairly recently; we received a sizable sum of money in exchange for the castle's residency by some wealthy family, so long as the family stays out of our business," the tanner continued. "The servants usually come to town every week to purchase supplies."

The elder man paused for a moment, his face contorted in thought. "Speaking of which, it seems that they have not come by yesterday. I don't usually see them, but the apprentices around here often ask about the maids when it happens. Perhaps you'll see them later today or tomorrow."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

As she looked for Paige, Cecily found herself wandering through the streets, passing by numerous houses along the way. She noted that some had either a bouquet at the doorstep or a flower bed of poppies by the window. In Lycia, poppies were typically not used for flower arrangements: they were for mourning. Cecily understood that she might be misinterpreting the significance of this, but she could not help think of some worst case situation. Each scenario the noble concocted spelled trouble.

Cecily eventually found Paige speaking to the tanner from earlier, who gave her a friendly wave upon noticing her approach. In a fashion befitting of her upbringing, Cecily nodded her head with a warm smile to avoid interrupting the ongoing conversation. She stopped next to Paige to listen in.
Shad made his way to the blacksmith, more or less with blinders on. He could probably make his way back perfectly fine, but everything along said path would be a blur. He wouldn't be able to point out anything, especially things that would stick out in his experience. If he can jump into something immediately, he does. Otherwise, he speculates on thing to various extremes. But right now, his concern was making his sword appear like a proper sword. The time for hiding was done in Lycia. He wasn't going to pretend to be some cripple on a cane to avoid a conflict.

He found the blacksmith, noting some set-up outside, before heading in. An overwhelming heat hit him at first, following the sounds of metal on metal. The blacksmith had his back to the door and as Shad approached the man, he coughed a bit, hoping to get his attention. He kept striking the metal he was working with, despite Shad's efforts. When he had finished, he dipped it into a reservoir of water, shooting steam into the air. Shad coughed again, now that he was done. He almost jumped in his skin at the sound and turned towards Shad. "Oh! Sorry, sorry. Give me a few, will ya?" Shad nodded and stepped away. He was happy he was in this sacaen outfit. His old coat would be absolutely dripping with sweat in this heat. He looked around and saw various tools on the walls. Farming implements mostly. Shad hoped this guy had some experience with weapons. He actually kinda felt stupid assuming the blacksmith had such knowledge in the first place. Shad almost jumped in his skin when a large gloved hand plopped itself down on his shoulder. "Let's speak outside." The pair moved outside, with Shad almost freezing now due to the difference in temperature. He led them to an anvil outside and motioned for Shad to sit while he leaned against the building. "So what can I do for you?"

Shad pulled out his sword and the basket hilt. "I was hoping you'd be able to replace the hilt with this one." The man took the Schiavona and examined the sword carefully. He examined a multitude of angles, examining the craftsmanship, before examining it's hilt in detail. He then took the basket hilt and gave that a look over as well. "You see, my father wanted to step away from combat, but still have a weapon on hand. So he had the hilt replaced so the sword looking like a walking stick when sheathed. When I inherited the blade, I couldn't find the original hilt. But one of my friends found it and gave it to me. I kinda want it to look like a proper sword again."

He looked back the man who gave Shad a very puzzled expression. "You're a weird one aren't ya, kid. You sound like those people who took up residence in the castle, but you dress like one of those savages. And you have this expensive looking sword to boot."

"Don't call them savages. I have cousins who are Sacaen. This is..."

"'Course you do, kid. You Etrurian, right? Good way to get prying eyes off you. But putting that hilt on this sword would kinda work against you kid." Shad kept squeezing his hand tighter and tighter every time he said 'kid.' Perhaps it was because, subconsciously, he was expecting to hear 'pup'. That was tearing him up inside, despite hating that nickname. "Sure, I'll do it. Shouldn't be too hard."

"Really? Do you have much experience with weapons?"

"Not particularly. Occasionally some of the men from the castle would bring some of the gear to be mended. That's the most experience I've had with weapons outside of my apprenticeship. I still have some outstanding work for them." Shad was about to make a comment, but he cut him off. "And that's not me bragging. I have some unfinished work is all. Want to come back inside? This shouldn't be too long."

"Uh, sure." He replied as he followed the large man back inside. The heat was actually not that bad this time. He let the man go about his work as he looked around. He actually saw what the blacksmith was working on when he got in. Chains? He looked some more and saw several other chains as well. In fact, some looked a bit like shackles at the end of it. Yeah, right. As if bandits would actually put in an order for chains from the blacksmith. Perhaps this is used on the farm, or somewhere around town. Perhaps it's an export. He stood there thinking to himself as he waited. His thoughts, however, went back to the chains. And how there were almost undoubtedly meant for the castle. Shad slapped himself. My imaginations too much for my own good. Without the guards, there couldn't be more than ten people in the castle. They'd be no need for chains and shackles with that much. He rationalized. Then his mood soured as he reminded himself he wasn't freeing Maria right this second. Please hurry up.
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