The James River forms the border between Vesper in the south and Dogwood in the north and until recently it was one of the safest places in the Mid Atlantic outside the two cities. Tensions between the Republic and the Kingdom – while never nothing – hadn’t been particularly high in over a generation and the vigilance of Knight and Armsman alike kept the monsters out toward the borders for the most part.
In the last month or so reports of serious trouble in Richmond have troubled the small farms and sleepy villages on both sides of the James. People saw things in the night. Sometimes people vanished. Then Vesper started raising an army and in response the Duchess of the Southern Marches ordered her knights to prepare for war.
Under these circumstances it’s understandable that anything out of the ordinary gets people’s attention on both sides of the river and something is definitely out of the ordinary in Brookstone – so named for the only building with any signage on it when people reinhabited it. Smoke is rising from it. It’s on the North side of the river, Dogwood territory. Naturally the moment it was seen someone was sent. The knights are a bit busy, so despite the fact that Brookstone is technically under the Holden family, it will likely be a mercenary or similar sent to see what’s going on, and resolve whatever trouble may be occurring.
Of course, Brookstone is right on the river more or less. There’s no way Vesper won’t send someone to look in on things either. As people approach it becomes clear that the smoke is mostly coming from the east side of town, specifically from a cluster of structures centered around a large building that may have been a tavern. There appears to have been a fire, and certainly most of the roof and a good chunk of the north and east walls appear to be simply gone.
One such mercenary could easily have been Elpida.
Any strangeness is likely to get the Gorgon’s attention at this point and, so, sure. She’s here and with her hood up, none the less. Just because people in Vesper are acclimating to a lady with snakehair doesn’t mean everyone else is, especially on the road.
And so she’s arriving at Brookstone alongside whoever else from Vesper decided to come with her.
Go figure, he has a day off and this is what he does. Then again, Baldur’s ideas of work and vacation may have become slightly skewed for all the years he’s been sitting between jobs.
The cyborg is well aware of the growing tension between the two cities, but so far as he’s concerned, it’s never really ever dissipated. That doesn’t mean that he likes the growing prospect of another war, especially when he can remember parts of the last one all too well, even if he’s pretty sure there’s a lot he doesn’t remember, although perhaps that might be a small mercy to be thankful for.
He’s already got one of his pistols out of its holster, twirling it in hand as he makes his way along the road and towards the area of concern. Smoke’s always a good sign- or a bad sign, rather. And when there’s smoke…
The structure comes within sight eventually, what’s left of it. “Well that doesn’t look good,” Baldur mumbles to himself, ceasing his gun spinning as he starts closer. If anyone else is investigating, he wouldn’t be surprised, but he hasn’t caught sight of anyone just yet.
Dogwood is a place that Slaine tries to avoid particularly after the run-in with the King. However, Sanka’a had been adamant that she and others go take a look, the Justicars and Armsmen are stretched thin as it is. Gathering who she could find, sending messages to meet along the way if they must and hoping a certain grey eyed psychic was around to receive the messages, the little redhead has made the journey in relative silence.
“Well, here we are.” she murmurs, green eyes scanning the area. Nodding to the cluster of buildings, biting her lip she guides the little group in that direction “Looks like it started in the Tavern. Let’s have a look around.”
It’s then that she see’s the gun toting Cyborg “An’ we ain’ alone, it seems.” Beat. “Hello there…” she calls out carefully.
There’s a third figure approaching from the river-side. A certain grey-eyed psychic. He doesn’t have a weapon out though he’s wearing a pair of pistols. He doesn’t need a weapon out, but most people can’t tell that just be looking at him. Which is good. This is Dogwood. People here like psychics less than they like mages.
What Baldur can see that the other two can’t quite yet is that there’s a woman sitting in the ruins of the tavern. She’s got long dark hair, is wearing a knee length skirt, rugged leather boots, a sleeveless tunic and bracers. She’s also drinking… some very expensive scotch from the looks of it. Several things that may be bodies are scattered in various places about the room. She turns slightly when Slaine calls out, sees Baldur as she does, shrugs and takes another drink.
“HOLY SHIT,” is what Elpida says when she sees Baldur because, you know, gun toting CYBORG. Sure, she’s seen some things, but Baldur is another one of those things all together.
“…Jesus,” she adds, after a moment. “The things I see.”
“Hi,” she sayts, raising a hand as Slaine greets the Cyborg.
“Holy fuck,” she adds again.
Well, it isn’t exactly the cavalry, but the few that seem to be attracted to the same smoking building are about as ragtag as they come. “Hey,” Baldur replies, raising his gun in something of a salute. “This ain’t a place for lookie-loos. Might wanna stay back,” he adds. Some people can be too curious for their own good, after all.
“Ma’am?” This he calls out to…someone else, it appears, as the cyborg’s turned his head towards the remnants of the tavern. He starts forward, optics ticking this way and that in case there might be anyone else hanging about, namely those who might be responsible for the damage. “Hey, ma’am? That there’s a pretty odd place to be. I mean….” He pauses. “….yeah, that’s just downright suspicious. Where’d you turn up from? You see what happened here?” Started it, maybe? he could ask, but he doesn’t. Yet.
Slaine can’t see squat from where she is and keeps moving towards the Cyborg though she does cast a look to Aiden. He’s much better in these types of situations and she’s … just a tad impetuous. “Glad ye could make it.” she murmurs to the man, rounding the corner as Baldur starts talking.
“I know. He’s wearin’ clothes. Don’ see that often.” she responds to El, anything else she was going to say fading as she sees the woman in the tavern.
“I’d be careful, if I were ye.” the caution goes out to Baldur. “An’ we ain’ here for a lookie-loo, we’re representin’ Vesper, tryin’ to find out what happened here.”
Given Baldur’s asked the questions she would, Slaine looks to the woman and draws on her auramancy, trying to find out more about this woman.
Representing Vesper is an interesting line to take in Dogwood sovereign territory. Hopefully that doesn’t go over poorly. It’s a good thing the townsfolk seem to have mostly vacated the area.
Aiden slows a bit as he approaches. He can see the woman that Baldur is talking to. Slaine can see… well Slaine can’t see her. The reason Slaine can’t see her because there’s too much aura in the area. There’s a blinding tangle of silver and black suffocating absolutely everything. The building. The trees. The forms that do indeed turn out to be bodies. That’s unusual. Only living beings should have an aura. Something happened here that hasn’t faded and left enough of a mark to stain the whole area with emotional and magical resonance.
The woman turns to look at Baldur as he speaks, swiveling in the stool. As she does a pair of Great-Dane sized hounds come around from either side of the bar. One is worrying at a bone that probably belonged in someone’s leg not to long ago.
“See?” Her voice is deep for a woman’s and clear as a horn on a crisp morning. Her dark curls wave a bit as she turns and the sun actually gleams off her olive skin. There’s what looks like a bow sitting on the bar next to her.
“Yes I saw. I followed the dead here. We fought. I won.” Just her? Other than the blown out buildings there are no signs of weapons fire at all.
Also no arrows.
“…yes. It’s the clothes. The clothes are what I’m stunned by,” remarks Elpida. But, hey, she should’t really be one to talk about the unique appearances of others. She’s approached closer, now, walking alongside the others where she can and keeping her hands up. Of course, her hands have wicked looking claws tipping them, so it’s obvious she’s a DB, but hey, it’s not like she can help that.
“Sooooo,” she says, “Hi there. You’re a fancy looking fellow,” she tells Baldur. And then she notices the woman. Her eyes go towards her. She’s less fancy.
“Heh! That’s a first. No one ever called me fancy before,” Baldur laughs. And then Slaine’s introductory line has the cyborg giving her and her comrades a long look. If he had eyebrows, one would be arching way high by now. He emits a whistle, turning his head back towards the woman sitting amidst the ruins. “Well, if that don’t just beat all. Tourists from V-town fancying a look way out here. What else you trying to find out, hm? If you’re doing recon, you’re not exactly subtle.”
His optics settle upon the woman again, but not without a glance at the dogs that have made themselves known. If he had a stomach it might’ve turned just then.
“Dead? Out here?” He’s so far only heard rumors about the walking dead, but he’s still not sure what to make of the woman. Looking around again, he gestures loosely with his gun. “…did you have to blow up the tavern?”
“Argh.” Slaine’s voice might carry as she throws her hand up, trying to shield her eyes. “I should know better.” she mutters, tripping over a stone in the road and stumbling. “This place is covered in an aura. Even those bodies over there.”
She can’t make out much more, though she can see the two dogs as the aura shifts around them. It’s going to take a moment for her to close this down and get her sight back.
“Ye followed a dead one here?”
As the spell fades away and her eyes clear, Slaine looks at the woman and sighs “And what name would ye go by, whilst ye are here? I think we had ye’re brother visitin’ Gran’s the other night.” It’s a leap and she really hopes the woman doesn’t take offense.
She does, now that Slaine mentions it, bear a strong resemblance to Lyceus, though Elpida is the only other person who might realize that and if she does… she might start to twitch a little.
“Call me Agorea.” She says and glances at the two missing walls of the tavern framed by the timbers that used to hold it up. “Blow it up? It’s still here, isn’t it?”
She half twists and takes another drink before rising and taking the bow with her. It’s made of some kind of silvery wood and it looks really quite solid. Easily a span of four and a half feet when strung. A single piece too, beautiful recurve with what appear to be moon motifs carved in near the grip. Her leather bracers creak a little.
“Aren’t you an interesting one.” Agorea says to the metal man. “Though I’m trying to decide if you’re as interesting as that one over there.” One long, slender finger points to Elpida and Agorea half smirks as Slaine mentions a possible brother. “Brother? Oh you must be the one he spoke of. One of them. He’s got a thing for redheads my dear, I’d watch out.”
Her eyes flick to Aiden briefly who has approached to within six or seven feet now. “Soldier?”
Aiden nods and she makes an almost scoffing sound. “Figures.” She mutters.
“Not that interesting, I assure you,” says Elpida, casually, to the woman. Agorea. The name worries her a great deal. A VERY GREAT DEAL. Because it sounds a bit…
She lets out a breath, then, and adds, “Well. uh. Nice to meet you, Agorea. These are my friends. We’re out here looking into what’s happened.” And the rest of her words just make that worry increase TONS.
“Well sure. Maybe they’ll just make a nice veranda…” He might not be entirely joking, but his tone’s as flippant as they come. Tapping his gun off his shoulder, Baldur watches the woman as she stands. Even he has to appreciate the craftsmanship of that bow. And her leathers. He likes working with leather. It’s been something to do.
“Agorea, huh? Eh, I’ve had worse things said about me.” His glowing eyes flick towards Elpida briefly before he takes the group in as a whole again. “…so you all know each other? Great. Um. So yeah. I was told to come out here and find out why we’ve got smoke coming out of Brookstone, and I’m pretty sure there’s not going to be a whole lot of happy when the higher-ups find out V-towners were holding a party here.”
Now that Slaine can see again and didn’t end up sprawled on the ground, she looks at Baldur again and frowns at his words. “We don’ know her, no’ really. Jus’ her … family … dropped through Vesper the other day.” Slaine hadn’t really noticed the resemblance, beyond the Aura. It was the bow that made her suspicious. She … might have been talking to Gran about the old stories. “But the Justicars and Armsmen are worried about a threat that’s seein’ souls sucked from peoples bodies. With somethin’ this close to our borders, they wanted a look at it. We drew the short straw. I’m Slaine, by the way.”
“I got a thing for dark, swarthy men …” Slaine mutters, trying to brazen that out. “He won’ mess aroun’ with me, though. I’m bad luck.”
Moving to stand next to Aiden, not quite sure what to make of Agorea’s comments about soldiers, Half Pint watches the Huntress – that bow is nearly as big as the Mystic – “Why were ye following a dead one? I take it ye mean one of the soulless.” This is though, after all, a Goddess – she might have just been bored.
“Oh I’m not from Vesper,” Agorea says with a wave of her free hand. Her hounds come up to sit at her side as she gestures. “It’s a nice place to visit, I suppose, but I wouldn’t want to live there. No you could call me a… ranger, if you like? Or a free spirit. As for the dead, nothing good comes of the dead walking. I decided to put an end to their little adventure.”
It’s worth noting that Agorea hasn’t claimed divinity. But then, neither did Lyceus or Ultor.
“Bad luck?” The woman chuckles almost darkly at Slaine. “Oh my dear you have no idea what the term means yet. Though you will in time, I’m quite sure.”
“So if you came to look around now you’ve seen. The dead are coming from yonder dead city.” She points in the direction of Richmond. That’s news to the Dogwood higher ups, or it’s probably news. They’ve heard rumors but nothing solid. Not yet. Unless it just hasn’t gotten around yet… or the Agents of the Crown are keeping secrets. They do that sometimes.
Baldur gets another look. “You’re trouble aren’t you. I can tell. You’ve got a… feeling about you…” Certainly her dogs are eyeing the man. They’re big suckers too. The smaller of the two comes up to Slaine’s chest sitting down.
“I was told that the people of this country hate monsters. You seem remarkably sanguine over there for having one of Medusa’s ilk standing not four feet from you.” That last bit is said rather off-handedly.
The wheels are turning in Elpida’s head. Bow. Ranger. Hunter. Goddess. HI ARTEMIS.
Elpida’s expression freezes into a smile. A very tight smile.
And then she faints dead away.
He hasn’t forgotten about the one Agorea labeled as a soldier, but Baldur’s not here to start anything. Just keeping an eye on things because they’ve gotten a mite more complicated.
“I’d have to agree with that. Dead should stay dead, and souls in bodies. Until they’re dead, and not having them removed otherwise.” He glances off in the direction she points, even if all he can see is probably a wall, but he thinks he’s got an idea of where she means. Either way, it’s something he’ll file away with the rest of all this bizarre business. Oh, this’ll be a fun thing to report.
His optics flicker, maybe in amusement as he looks back towards the ranger. “Don’t know what you’re talking about,” the cyborg replies, shrugging. He thinks he’s had a dog before and kind of wants to pet those hounds but he’s not sure he likes how they’re eyeing him. Has he ever seen dogs that big?
“Some hate more’n others,” he admits. “And I’ll be the first to admit I’m wary of V-towners, but if you were caught up in the last war against ’em, I’m sure you’d understand too.” His optics sweep across the other three again, pausing as the Gorgon faints. Blink. He raises his hand and gun. “…I didn’t do it.”
Slaine hadn’t said Goddess aloud and she’s guessing at that but she’s met Persephone, saw Agorea’s aura and, despite being impetuous, isn’t silly. “What do ye mean … about bad luck…” the redhead says faintly, all the visions rushing back to her and she pales.
Peering back towards Richmond, Half Pint nods slowly “There’s an army of soulless there. Lots of them. We jus’ aren’t sure what they’re goin’ to do with all of them or what they’re goin’ to do with the souls. Do ye know, Agorea? Or susp—”
El faints and Baldur decries responsibility just as Slaine sighs and looks at Aiden. “I migh’ be trouble, Vargr, but I don’ faint.” she says as bends, looking at the Gorgon. “I ain’ goin’ anywhere near those snakes … but … I could probably pull water from the air an’ dump on it her. Hey, Elpida… wake up.”
Because that’s totally going to help, isn’t it?
Aiden looks down at the fallen gorgon and sighs. “What’s gotten into her?” He mutters.
Agorea just smirks. “Well, I should be on my way. I get the feeling I’ll see some of you again.”
She turns and starts to walk away to the south, toward the river. One of the dogs runs after her. The other trots up, licks Elpida’s face and nibbles on a couple of her snakes before also bounding off after the olive skinned woman.
Needless to say, the snakes do not bite the dogs that lick them for some reason, even if they guardedly eyeball Slaine at her proximity.
It does make her stir, though, and her eyes flutter open.
She then startles and sits up right. “I had the most terrible nightmare about meeting A-,” and then she sees Agorea’s retreating form and just stares.
“..ngggh,” she groans.
Baldur looks after Agorea as she begins to walk away. After a moment, he twirls his gun and slips it back into its holster. Turning his attention back towards the trio, his optics linger upon the snake-haired Gorgon for a good solid minute before he looks at the other two.
“So. Anyone mind explaining what all that was about?” He nods briefly in Agorea’s direction, optics fixing on Slaine. “There really an army of soulless out there in Richmond? How’s anyone gather up an army like that without anyone knowing?”
Slaine skitters back as the hound draws near. With her crouching, the damn thing is taller than her.
Letting Elpida gather herself, the small mystic straightens and looks between the Cyborg and the Psychic. “There is. Been there a few weeks now. An’ it’s in the Coliseum that’s underwater. That’s why. How big is it, Vargr?” Apart from lots or big.
“I don’ know if I can explain that …” she looks where Agorea has gone “… well, not really. There’s an Old One, we call it The Cold and The Darkness, that has its followers gathering souls and buildin’ that army. It attracted the attention of Persephone and she charged Elpida here to … sort it out.”
Aiden and Elpida might need to pad that out a bit. There’s a lot been going on.
“Twenty thousand at least. Maybe thirty or forty.” Which is a lot. Neither Vesper nor Dogwood keeps a proper standing army and forty thousand could match anything either of them could field on short notice. Possibly anything both of them could field on short notice.
Aiden glances back away toward the south. “I’m going to make sure nothing’s wrong at the Jensen farm. Meet you there when you’re done here.” He looks back down at Elpida once, decides she’ll be okay and then nods to Baldur before he’s off at a jog.
Sometimes, things just get to be too much. Especially for someone who’s already a nervous wreck. Elpida is a nervous wreck. She laughs anxiously before saying, “Oh, yeah. That’s all. A big army in Richmond and all sorts of problems and horrible magicians ready to suck out souls and feed them to what is apparently a freaking Elder God that’s been correctly titled by Slaine over there.” She sits up a bit more and then, slowly and unsteadily, pushes herself to her feet. “Aha..ahahahah. Yeah. Uh. Anyway! Hiiii. Hi. Nice to meet you. I’m terrified. I mean, I’m Elpida.”
Those are numbers Baldur can’t even begin to imagine, and the thought of a dead army of such ranks is terrifying. At least they proved killable, if Agorea’s work here had anything to say about it, but forty thousand is…a lot of bodies.
“Never heard of no ‘old ones’ but something called the Cold and Darkness seems appropriate in the context of an army like that.” He shakes his head slowly, still working out the numbers. Did they even have that many fighting in the Hinterlands War? Even then, those were people fighting people. People fighting someone with no soul, that’d be an outright slaughter.
“Terrified sounds about right,” he says to Elpida, even as he looks after Aiden’s retreating form. “Name’s Baldur. So how do that many people go missing to make an army that huge?”
“Old Ones. Old Gods that wield extreme power.” Slaine sighs watching Aiden head off. “The bulk of them were imprisoned … somewhere … a few hundre’ years ago. This one, we won’ say its name, avoided it.” It is an awful lot of bodies and Slaine is worried.
“Nice to meet ye, Baldur and to answer ye’re question, Slavers, mass attacks. They hit a mining outpost out in the mountains no’ so long ago. How many more they’ve hit and how long they’ve been doin’ this, I can’ say. But when it’s smaller numbers over time, it all adds up.”
“We need to be gettin’ back to Vesper to report on this. An’ I guess ye’ve got people ye wan’ to see.”
“Slavers, yeah. Apparently from Atlantis. They’ve spent a lot of time on this and who knows how long they’ve been building. In any case, we’re going to put a stop to it, but it’s not exactly easy to do so while avoiding, you know, war breaking out between the neighbors.” Dogwood. Vesper, you know. Not the easiest of peaces.
“…hnggh,” she mumbles, looking queasy.
The cyborg is silent, soaking it all in. He doesn’t understand much about old gods and what not, although it’s terrifying to think that there are such beings soaking up souls of the living. That just isn’t right. He likes the idea of slavers involved even less, and the thought that this has all been happening for some time? Well, for as much as it makes sense, it’s still disturbing to consider.
“…can’t imagine it’ll be an easy thing to stop. I’m no more looking forward to another war than you are, Snakes, but scars run deep, and sometimes, all it takes is a spark.”
Baldur looks towards Slaine, nodding. “Nothing more I can do here about this mess. I got reports to make too. Hopefully the right things sink in.” He raises his hand, giving a two-fingered salute before he begins to turn.
A smoldering building on the edges of Dogwood's territory give cause for parties from both there and Vesper to investigate.
June 02, 2410