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(PRP) There's Something Wrong in Westerville

The town of Westerville is not an unusual one in the Crownlands, to most who pass through. A sleepy little hamlet with a focus on growing alchemical herbs alongside their more usual crops, a few more healers than normal seem to come out of here. And yet ...

Over the years, it's become clear that travelers go missing near here more often than they should - particularly those in the ages of nine to fourteen, though plenty of other disappearances have been noted. None of the locals seem willing to come forth with any information, and so a request for an investigative team has been sent to Arx by a grieving family to try to find out what is happening and perhaps put a stop to this.

(Content Warning: This PRP is horror-themed and likely going to feature some things that many people find disturbing. Body horror and gore are going to both be strong elements here, both serving a purpose. I do not often hold back, and I want what is discovered to be lingering for the characters who come on this. Expect difficult moral situations.)

Looking for primarily occult, investigative and social types. Six participant maximum, please send Bliss an @mail (not a page, or I'll forget, sorry) if you are interested. Two slots will be available for combat-focused characters but this will be relatively low-risk, low-combat.

Date

Sept. 15, 2018, 6 p.m.

Hosted By

Bliss

GM'd By

Bliss

Participants

Appolonia Hadrian Aleksei Cambria Alessia Alessandro Mirk

Organizations

Location

Outside Arx - Crownlands near Bastion - Crownlands Village

Largesse Level

Small

Comments and Log


It's been a long carriage ride for all of you. Far closer to Bastion than to Arx, Westerville is a sleepy little place, little more than a clearing made larger - surrounded on all sides by the dense woods of the Gray Forest. The houses are made of stone and wood, largely, with little brick to be seen, and smoke curls out of the chimneys of some as the day begins to shift toward evening, dinners being cooked as the world settles down for the night. A few buildings seem to be of note - first, a large manor on one hillside, the architecture grim and foreboding, largely the first line of defense in case anything unexpected should happen here (such as uppity Shav'arvani). Second, there is a large, open-walled building near the bridge across the thin stream that winds through town, a number of wounded men and women lying in beds and a staff of healers working their way through, attending to each of them.



You are here because travellers seem to keep going missing, and no one has been able to find out why, or what's happening. This is your first chance to speak with any locals about the situation.

It is not the usual sort of expedition Alessandro would attend. Well, if we're being honest, he is probably not the sort to go on many expeditions at all, or any, really, since expeditions do not tend to allow one to bring all the comforts of home that one might generally enjoy. However, it seemed like the sort of thing that might require a lawyer at some point or another, possibly. Plus...he's curious. So, you know. Here he is.



He's been quiet most of the journey, and while he hasn't brought //all// the comforts of home, he has brought a notebook and a quill, to document whatever it is that they find. Hopefully something.

As the carriages pull to a stop in front of the town's inn, there are a few curious people who gather around, and one particularly brave teenage boy with russet hair walks right up to the carriage and begins to knock on it a few times. Then after only a second, a few times louder, grinning as he motions others closer. "Hey, everyone! We got guests in town!" he calls out to the group nearby. There's a few of the town's guards close, though, and they roll their eyes and move in, beginning to push people away. "Come on, let them out, let them out, you know better than to go muckin' about with the Peers from Arx, boy," one of the guards tells them, her Crownlands accent easily heard as she nudges others away. "Right, so, what do we got in here?" she wonders as she turns and looks at the group in the carriage. "You all here to help Mistress Maxine, what with the disappearances and whatnot?" she asks, steadying herself with her pike as she studies over the carriage and its occupants.

"At least we didn't win a romantic get-away," Cambria can be overheard saying to Hadrian. "Though I still wish you would have asked another member of the Group to assist you on this matter. Countess Arcelia has some sort of medical knowledge, doesn't she? And a bleeding heart." The Marquessa appears to be brooding as they near the gloomy Westerville, arms folded beneath her breasts, one leg crossed over the other.



She is not dressed per her norm, instead having chosen to forego fine silks for common traveling clothes - a plain blouse and trousers paired with boots. It had little and less to do with fear of being mugged by bandits and much more to do with practicality. Though one might argue not attracting half-starved bandits by flashing your rings about was practical, too.

Alessia Mazetti stands with her arms folded, hair pulled back, watching the distance seemingly deep in thought. Not as well protected as she would be on more hazardous journeys, she wears a blue and gold corslet, bracers, simple leather breeches and knee high boots. The edges of her sheathed glaive are visible underneath a a woolen cloak trimmed with fox fur. Around her wrist is a red cuff set with mirrors which she glances at every so often.



Turning to the sounds, Alessia edges closer to get a better look at the folk. "We're here to lend our aid, certainly." She responds though her voice is marked with trepidation.

Hadrian steps from the carriage with a casual bearing, one arm shoulder his cloak forward in order to conceal the rapier which rests at his side. The other hand though sweeps his cloak away and over his shoulder as he begins to walk. Whether stone paths, grass walkways, or mud he makes his way toward the open-air building with a somber expression worn on his typically animated features. He pauses in his steps and extends a comment back to Cambria as a hand lifts to adjust his attire, "I have medical knowledge too, remember? I'm kind of mostly a doctor?" Hadrian reminds the Mazetti's Marquessa before he adds, "But yes, at least we didn't win an exciting prize this time". Then onward to the teenage boy with the russet hair and plenty of initiative, Hadrian promptly begins to move off toward him despite his having been nudged away.

Mirk steps out of the carriage dressed in rugged traveling leathers, unarmed except for a knife at his belt. They're worn enough to suggest that this is typical for him, rather than a change of pace; he certainly doesn't look the part of a lord, here. There's a satchel or two, hanging from his belt, but the contents have more to do with shamanism than comfort or records. His eyes are on the village as they approach, a stern and all but unreadable expression on his face. "We are," he confirms, at the question from the guard. "How are the villagers faring?"

Slight and dark is the figure of Appolonia Seraceni. Not her usual sort of venture, the scholar has slipped in with this group because a curious mind is a terrible thing to leave trapped in a city when the wide world is waiting outside those walls. Quiet during the carriage journey and just as quiet now as the carriage arrives she shifts about to get a better look at what they have arrived to exactly. She waits patiently to slip from the carriage after the others, smoothing down the dark silk of her skirts as she does. As impractical as she is dressed in a skirt she doesn't seem to pay any mind or care to it in the least bit as she shifts her satchel more comfortably on her shoulder. Those gray eyes immediately start to take in /everything/, from the people to the buildings, leaving very little unapprised.

Alessandro directs a smile Alessia's way should she look over, perhaps meant to be calming -- though whether it is or not remains to be seen. He takes a cue from Appolonia then and starts to look around, his gaze settling on the foreboding manor on the hill for a little bit longer than most things, before he looks away again, moving toward the red-haired teen as well, though he doesn't ask anything more for the moment, waiting for the answer to Mirk's question first.

"That's good, that's good," the woman says, her eyes sliding over each of the arrivees in turn, taking them in with some thought before she says, "Good that we didn't get a bunch of those types with all muscles and no brain. This don't seem to be the kind of thing we can fix just by slashing at it, considering we don't even know what's really going on. Town's mostly fine. People who keep going missing are usually traders and the like who came through here. We haven't had one of our own vanish in... what, maybe four years?" she asks, looking at another guard for confirmation - and getting a nod in return. "It's real weird, what's going on. We can usually find their campsites when we go lookin', and that's it. We tried sending guards out with them but it never made a difference. The ones with our guards never get bugged, so we don't see a thing."

"I have hardly forgotten," Cambria counters. "I refer to my own skillset, or lack thereof." The teenager, then the guards, earn Cambria's attention quickly enough, though she does not pursue Hadrian as he makes his way towards the lad. Nor does she supply an answer to the guards, seeing as they were quite adequately responded to. She does, however, ask, "So your own people victims four years prior, then?" Her lips purse ever so slightly. "Where might we find this mistress Maxine?"

The woman's words cause the glaivedancer's brows to furrow, her eyes study her surroundings once more. She meets Alessandro's gaze, managing a small smile at his attempt at comfort. Nearing her cousin, she nods. "The sooner, the better."

Hadrian nods along a few times while he speaks with the young man quietly. There's a few moments of quiet chuckles from Hadrian, their conversation apparently light and casual. The Marquis-Consort gestures a hand back the route which the carriage had taken to arrive to the point that they've reached as he remarks casually, "The view was quite scenic, yes. One of the few times I've visited the Gray Forest and perhaps the most favorable thus far."

"Maxine? She's gonna be at the healing tents, last I heard she mixed up a new poultice that she's been trying out with some good results," the woman says back to Cambria, nodding at the question asked for clarification. "Four years. Then it stopped and started being about the travelers, once his kid vanished," she says, motioning up toward the mansion as if anyone here knows whose it is. Because it's important to them, so everyone must know it, right? "Anyway, I'll leave you folks be and - William! Stop bugging the lord!" she suddenly snaps at the teenager chatting with Hadrian, shooing him away. He makes a face at her, mumbles some last thing, then is wandering off. "Well. We'll let you all get to your work then. Let us know if you've got any more questions."

"Hm." Mirk furrows his brow in thought at that answer, surveying the guards with a pensive expression. "Predatory, perhaps. Culling the vulnerable and avoiding anyone that would put up a real fight." He glances aside at Hadrian, briefly, blinking at something he says, but he returns his attention to the guards shortly and holds his tongue. "Thank you for your assistance so far," he says to the guard, a touch of warmth to his voice that makes it seem sincere, even if his expression barely changes, and turns to start towards the healing tents.

"A child? Interesting." the Seraceni finally speaks up as she casts a curious eye toward the woman giving the information. Appolonia appraises her just as does everyone else curious and open about it, making little pretense that she isn't cataloging everything away for future recall. Once done those grays flick toward the guard who gave the confirmation to do that same appraisal before off they go again. "And just how often do these disappearances seem to happen? Very curious how those with guards from the village don't get bothered." Her gaze flicks toward the others in the group she is with as questions get asked by them. Though it soon seems they are getting directed toward another she simply quiets back down and goes toward the direction pointed - off to the healing tents.

Alessandro takes out the small notebook and writes something down as the woman answers, his own expression rather sober throughout the exchange, though he does not interrupt it. However, when the woman says that she will leave them to their work, he does speak up, a little after Appolonia. "Forgive me," he says as he looks up from his notes, "but who lives there? Whose child?" He gestures toward the large manor, his head tilting slightly to the side as he waits for the response.

The guard pauses as she hears the questions from Alessandro and Appolonia, turning to answer them both. "People go missing every couple weeks, sometimes. Depends, but that's probably the best guess. As for who lives there? Lord Balin something-or-another. Cousin of the baron, or so he says, but he helps pay for everything and so we don't mind him being whoever he wants to be."

"Huh," Hadrian nods a few times to the young man before he offers him a polite bow, "it was a joy meet you, William. Unfortunate that it couldn't be under more favorable circumstances. You should visit Arx someday, if you would like steady work". There's a wink cast toward the russet-haired teenager and then Hadrian turns away in order to approach the gathering of guards and nobility ranging from Arx. Offers the guards a somber, respectful nod of his head. A glance cast toward Mirk results in a quietly spoken, "You'll be just fine". Then Hadrian's attention shifts aside to Cambria and Alessia both, offers the pair a subdued smile, and then onward back to the guards while he offers a polite bow to the village guards and a softly spoken, "I apologize for commandeering, young William's time. Judging by his knocking at the carriage it only seemed right for me to extend the same friendliness to him. Now... healing tents, Mistress Maxine. Thank you!" Hadrian's smile flashes to life, even for a fleeting moment, before he's moving off again to make way for the aforementioned tents.

"He certainly can afford to be." Alessia comments as she glances up at the mansion. To Hadrian she returns a smile. "I think the boy was glad to almost have made a noble friend." She muses as she follows the group as they head towards the tents.

"Almost? William's going to be my new best friend," Hadrian remarks with a silken smile after he begins to make his way toward the healing tents. As he goes he reaches out in an attempt to casually slip his arms within those of Alessia and Cambria so that the trio may walk together. Hadrian's smile almost never seems to falter, lantern-bright in its charcoal whitened glory.

With the guards gone, there's a while where the group from Arx is completely unsurrounded by any of the locals - they might be getting a few looks, but any conversation kept low is very unlikely to be overheard. The healing 'tents' are that long, wall-less roof of a building seen before, thick pieces of canvas hung to form makeshift stalls - and perhaps giving the name that the locals are using. The smell here is just a step above fetid, with the many lovely scents of ill and wounded humans mixing with the pungent odors of medicinal herbs and the like. There are a number of healers moving between them, none wearing the formal robes of a Mercy or Harlequin of the Faith, but with this town being known for the herbs it produces - it's not really a surprise that it has become a center of healing for the region, as well.

Cambria, hands clasped behind her back, merely inclines her head when the guardswoman answers the next two questions. There is a subtle smile for the mention of Balin and a murmured, "Most generous of the man..." Before she finds herself approached by Hadrian to join her and Alessia.

Alessandro checked perception + investigation at difficulty 30, rolling 22 higher.

Appolonia checked charm + investigation at difficulty 25, rolling 28 higher.

Alessia checked perception + investigation at difficulty 30, rolling 10 lower.

Something said has Cambria's brows climb waaaaaay up high upon her forehead. She offers a quick response to her cousin and husband before peering about, those same brows now narrowed dangerously.

Hadrian checked charm + diplomacy at difficulty 30, rolling 36 higher.

Alessia glares at her family with widened eyes, beginning to study the room, struggling to keep her composure.

Mirk checked charm + manipulation at difficulty 30, rolling 41 higher.

Alessia's gaze shifts to the entrance of the tent, her hand beginning to twitch ever so slightly.

As the group enters the healing tents, it doesn't even seem to be a question between them - each of them splits up, something entirely different having caught the focus of each one of them, it seems.



First off is Alessia, who begins to quickly look through each and every room, trying to get a sense of what is happening here. The Mazetti Glaivedance is quickly ducking in between canvasses and rooms, her eyes frantically searching for anything that might be of interest, only giving a more cursory glance to each and everything that she might find. She gets so caught up in her search that she doesn't notice when she's turning a corner and there's a healer with a pot of boiling water, doesn't notice when she slams into her, knocking it to the side and - thankfully - only soaking a canvas barrier, but causing them both to stumble and crash, pulling down one of the walls, and revealing - a storage area with all three other walls up. Well, that's interesting. But soon enough the rest of the healers are snapping at her, and there's a commotion, and this is quickly forgotten.



Then there's Alessandro. The lawyer is much more careful and focused in his search, walking up to some of the healers, talking to them about their techniques, chatting with each and every one of them. After a while, it does seem like he notices something, some subtle change in his posture, but - well, whether or not he shares, that's an entirely different matter. It doesn't seem to take him very long at all.

Hadrian slips away from Alessia and Cambria with a soft nod of his head. He drifts off to go speak with the villagers, though when he's able to cross paths with Alessandro or Mirk, there's a quiet few words offered to them. If they'll hear them.

Hadrian, Appolonia and Mirk try another tack. Each of them begin to talk among some of the staff here.



First, Appolonia seeks out Mistress Maxine. The conversation is a low and quiet one between the two, the dusky Saraceni seeming to find plenty that she can talk about with this woman. Mirk, on the other hand, is speaking with the healers in his own way. Hadrian is, yes, speaking with the villagers.

Alessandro nods at the reply and murmurs his thanks, before he starts after the rest toward the healing tents. He takes in a deeper breath before he gets //too// close, but once he gets in the tents themselves, he starts to breathe more shallowly. He also gets a little paler as the visuals hit him, to say nothing of the smell. However, he keeps hold of his notebook -- and, more importantly, his lunch -- and starts to look around, speaking to the healers, etc.



There isn't //much// change in him, really, when he notices whatever it is that he notices. He does, though, look up and meet Hadrian's eyes briefly when the man comes to speak quietly with him.

Mistress Maxine seems to be a rather plain looking woman, and is clearly the one who is in charge of these tents. She is a mousy brunette, her shoulders a little hunched, just shy of middle aged, with a focus on her work. When she first notices Appolonia she's annoyed - then curious to the foreigner - then respectful as she sees the wealth the woman carries on her ears and fingers. She gives her a nod, then says, "My lady, welcome to the healing tents of Westerville, what can I do to help you? Are you feeling well?"

For Mirk, the parents and guards seem to be open in talking with him as he asks stories as to what's happened. "Well," one of the more talkative ones says, "It's been going on about as long as any of us can remember, really. First it was just one or two a year, and then it just kept being more. We couldn't ever turn up anything, but no matter what, people kept going missing. Some people think it has to do with Lord Balin, and I think they might be right - it was a couple of years after he moved here that things started really going wrong." A pause, then a shrug. "But you were wondering what people have seen? Well. I mean, there's not much to go on, but I hear tell of dark figures moving through the woods some nights, especially after a big party or festival. They say they're ghosts of the missing, looking for revenge, looking to bring more and more into company because they're lonely. They see how lively things get when we have traders, and they want part of it, and so they drag them in to join us. Well. That's all well and likely, but when someone said that it looked a lot like Lord Balin and Mistress Maxine in there - that's just nuts, isn't it?"

Alessia returns from her search, looking hopeless. Brushing a hand over her arm with a grim expression, she approaches Cambria, leaning in to talk.

Cambria leans in towards Alessia as well, offering a quickly spoken reply.

Once within the tents Appolonia's nose twitches and she glances about but nothing seems to really unsettle her even if the smell is unpleasant and the sights just as bad. Once those gray eyes land on Mistress Maxine she makes that slow, unhurried approach. The look of annoyance is met with that same neutrality that Appolonia seems to treat everything. "Mistress Maxine I presume?" she asks in that soft, careful tone as her dark head cants slightly to the side. A little nod is given to the question about her health. Appolonia does keep her tone somewhat quiet, the conversation contained between her and Maxine as best she can. "Quite, thank you. I'm not one to waste words so I shall get to it. I've come with a small group to investigate the matter of travelers vanishing. Might I have a moment of your time, I know you must be quite busy, but I promise not to waste it. It is my understanding that there was a child who went missing four years ago. Can you tell me anything of that? Of this cousin of the baron as well." She does offer at the very end of her words a faint smile, ghostly pale but true enough, though she is also careful enough to keep an eye on the others as well as she speaks with the woman.

As Mirk talks to them, he's offering them a few kinds words or assurances, and occasionally a hand on their shoulder. It's mostly to keep them at their ease, but he's clearly drawing on his experiences as a shaman here, even if the word 'Spirits' never once cross his lips.

Nodding at her cousin's words, Alessia begins to approach the location of the commotion she had caused earlier, Cambria joining her.

"Mistress Maxine Westland, yes," the woman says, her mezzo-soprano voice about as neutral as they come as she brings her hands behind her back, standing very formally as she studies Appolonia for a moment, nodding along with her words, her facial expression grim as her lips press into a line. "I wasn't sure quite -which- child that went missing four years ago you were referring to, until you mentioned that you were also looking into Lord Balin. Yes. Well, I can answer some questions about him first. He and his wife moved here about fifteen years ago, the manor had been in construction for a while before that and was just finishing as they arrived. She was with child, and Tessa was born about two months after they arrived. Unfortunately, Lady Leena did not survive the birth," she says, matter-of-factly. "Lord Balin did what he could for the girl, but it never really seemed to be enough. It was a couple years after that that people started vanishing. Then the girl fell ill, and came here. She was maybe nine or ten years old at the time, I think?"

Almost as soon as Alessia approaches that spot, the man she had ran into before - thumps right against her again. No boiling water this time, at least, but this does set off another quick argument about how, hey, he's working here, is she here to help anything? If she needs treatment, she needs to get in a cot and stay in the cot! And other such things.



Cambria, meanwhile, is able to go and look in the room while this distraction is going on. Mostly, it seems to be a supply room - but there is a small box, maybe six inches long, and half that in width and height, and completely unmarked. No bandages, no description of what herbs might be in it, not a labeled tincture or anything of the like. Just a box.

Cambria is going to...borrow that box.

She does so successfully.

Ignoring the man as he addresses her, Alessia wanders over to Cambria who hovers over a mysterious box. As her cousin moves to take the box, the glaivedancer looks around to ensure nobody is watching them intently.

"More than just that child went missing?" Appolonia wonders though her expression never changes as she shifts her satchel to a more comfortable spot. "The people in the village who vanished would you say they had anything in common beyond being of the village? Age? Looks? Skills? Anything unusual that may set them apart?" There are nods of course for the other things Maxine says. "And is there any particular spot in the woods they seem to vanish from?"

After murmuring something to Hadrian, Alessandro starts moving toward Appolonia as well as she speaks. He waits for a lull in the conversation, before leaning in to murmur something low to her. His expression is relatively unchanged still -- that is, solemn as the occasion calls for, but not any more so than before.

Cambria, now with her newest possession, glances to Alessia and nods. "I do believe we have explored enough. We should let Lady Appolonia finish her conversation with mistress Maxine." She then peers left and right, nods her satisfaction, and proceeds to make her way towards the men. It will only be once she is out of obvious observation that she will examine the box. As an aside to Alessia, she says, "Let me know if you notice anything strange..." While she is otherwise occupied.

"Among the villagers? Yes," Maxine replies to Appolonia as she gives the woman an odd look. "We lost probably about ... ten or so, before the focus shifted, I'd say. It was a very hard time for us. It has been a very hard time for us," she adds, making some movements with her hands. "They almost always were young. Almost always were sought after by others. At first we just thought it was spurned paramours, but the pattern became too much. And as for where they vanished? About a day's ride away from town, but that's not really any surprise - that's where you'll be making camp your first night after, after all." She cranes her neck a little as she moves to another spot of the room, looking over some documents there. "Nothing unusual about skills. Really, I suspect this is all just some Shav predation. They wait until people are isolated then attack, and just have decent scouts to notice if there are guards with them."

Hadrian moves among the villagers; making small talk, casual inquiries, what's the weather like here come winter?, what the common imports and exports of this lovely place, have you seen anyone recently with their dick tucked between their legs while wearing someone's face as a mask?, fishing any good around these parts?, want some silver?, and other such similar questions. Gradually he makes passes by Allessandro, where they stop briefly to chit-chat about this or that. Then a brief passing of Mirk, a few nods exchanged and casual conversation. Then onward to Appolonia, whom Hadrian holds a brief discussion with before he's waving cheerily and moving on to speak with the next villager about the Lycene craze that is Donkey Knights.

Alessia checked intellect + survival at difficulty 40, rolling 4 lower.

A lull in the conversation has Appolonia leaning to listen and then murmur back to Alessandro and then perhaps just a few seconds later Hadrian, giving an apologetic smile to Maxine as she does. Once all the hush-hush whisper talk is done, expression neutral and smooth as a still pond she turns back to Maxine, nods, and says, "It sounds like a very difficult time indeed for the town. And none of this occurred prior to the death of Lady Leena? No villagers just vanishing in alarming numbers?"

Alessia begins to silently stare at the box in Cambria's hand, sidling closer to get a better look. Something seems to perturb her, she frowns, scrunching her nose. "Those berries..." Leaning in she murmurs something to the marquessa.

"Nothing of the like at all. It's why many people think it's Lady Leena's ghost," Maxine says to Appolonia, her brow cocking up in the air as she looks back and forth between all the whispering happening, her hands staying busy with the parchments in front of her. "Really, we're used to losing people out here. It's probably the Gray Forest Reapers - or is it the Reavers? The ones that just got those fashionable new outfits that they keep telling everyone about? Well, anyway - it's probably just them doing what they do." She shrugs idly. "I did tell the merchants to be careful, but they never really listened to me."

Mirk finishes the last of his conversations, likely the same thing he's heard from the last few people, but he shows no impatience. He rises to his feet, his gaze drawn over to Appolonia and Maxine for a moment, with a hint of a frown on his face, but he hasn't been involved with the healers much. He's been too busy talking to the villagers, collecting their perspective on events. He seems troubled by it, though it can be difficult to tell with his natural impassive sternness.

Appolonia gives a nod to Maxine and then she shifts her gaze over toward Alessandro before it then turns to land on Mirk, feeling his gaze upon her for a moment. Then back to Maxine as the Seraceni says softly, "My apologies for all your town has endured over the years. It is terrible to see good people suffer. Sometimes people just don't know how to listen when they are given good advice." Taking a step back from the woman she nods again, a careful and considerate tilting of her head that has dark hair spilling along her cheek. "But I do thank you for everything you have given me of your time, Mistress Maxine." And then she turns to meander just as slowly and carefully as always toward the others, giving a somewhat curious look to Alessandro and then toward Mirk before she slips out of the tent.

As the canvas closes and everyone begins to make their way out of the rooftop, the sky begins to darken along the horizon, hues of rose, gold, pinks and even brilliant reds filtering in among the trees of the Gray Forest, though the darkness within only seems to grow thicker and more impenetrable by the second. The healers watch as they go - Maxine, as ever, mostly expressionless, and then return to their normal duties, though there are hushed conversations that follow all of them out.

Alessandro makes a few more notes in his notebook as he listens to the conversations around him, mostly Appolonia's at this point, though his eyes do wander a little bit to various of the patients -- or at least, that's what it seems like. When the speaking concludes, he nods to Maxine as well, giving his own quiet thanks to her before he starts out of the tent as well, glancing down at something he's written on one of the pages in his book as he does so.

Hadrian makes his way off after his adventures across Westerville, then onward to the guards he goes to make a friendly suggestion before he moves off to rejoin with Cambria...

Cambria holds a single berry aloft, offering a most smug smile. Too smug, perhaps, but then she is a Lycene noblewoman. What more can be expected? "Off indeed," she says to Alessia. "They are, in fact, poisonous. They can kill someone easily enough. Those who are skilled, however..." She holds the berry closer for Alessia to inspect. "Can prepare it in such a way that whomever consumes it /appears/ to be dead."

Alessia raises a brow at this revelation. "That I did not know." Glancing around the room, she folds her arms. "I wonder how often that would be necessary here."

Toward where Cambria and others are gathered does the Seraceni move, though she continues to remain unhurried as if nothing in this very world could be so important as for her to rush. When she is within range of those discussing what Appolonia assumes is the berry that Cambria is holding aloft she gives it a curious look, catalogs that information for later and then simply waits for everyone to group up as she closes her own distance so that conversation is shared just amongst themselves. "Or why such a thing would be necessary," she adds to Alessia.

Hadrian quietly murmurs with a glance toward Cambria, then the berries, and then back to Cambria, "I'd like some of those, please. I'll take them, then we wait, and then while I'm dead-but-not you..." Hadrian trails off when he begins to walk away to walk the perimeter of the healer's tent, taking note of the occupants of it, "...have a quiet evening with a good book or something else that would make one think you're straight out of Sanctum."

Rejoining his companions for this expedition in time to hear the tail end of the explanation, Mirk raises his eyebrows. "A rather strange thing to keep in a healer's tent," he observes in a neutral tone, studying the berry as if committing the appearance of it to memory. "The villagers do suspect Mistress Maxine of involvement in the disappearances. I thought it was mere misdirected suspicion." He pitches his voice low, to not carry beyond the group at hand, to avoid the locals hearing much about it.

The locals seem to be largely preparing for their evening. The collective efforts of the group to investigate - and particularly the charms and silver of Hadrian - seem to have put them all at ease that this is just another routine investigation.

Once they are a little bit away from those in the tent, Alessandro lets out a little breath, as though he'd been mostly holding it. Well, it did smell quite horrible in there. He glances back at the tents, and then toward the group, particularly as Cambria explains the berries, and as Mirk speaks. He lowers his voice as well, enough so that it doesn't carry beyond the group -- hopefully -- and speaks. "There was a mark on some of the patients. A tree, with a split trunk and bare branches. Like Petrichor's mark, only twisted. It was on the arms of some of those who were younger. And conventionally attractive."

"I'm pretty certain that Maxine has some deeper knowledge of the darker paths of this world," Appolonia murmurs to the group, keeping her tone low. "During our conversation I took note of a great many little tells she was giving off to me, little symbols on her work. There is darkness in this town and she may be a part of that darkness. I am not certain if I'd say she is the head of the problem, though." A sly glance is given back toward the tents as she nods at what the others have said. "Cultists," the word is a soft hiss.

"Not now," Cambria says to Hadrian, waving his suggestion aside. "Remind me later." At Alessandro's words, however, Cambria frowns deeply. "That may be the reason for these being in a healer's tent." She shares a look with those now gathered around. "But we still do not have the ultimate why. I hesitate to suggest this, but I do not believe we should leave these tents unguarded. However...I also think we need to explore the manor and the so-called Lord Balin."

Alessia stops in her footsteps and glares at her companions before her gaze drifts to Hadrian. "It's exactly like you said. The victims that are targeted - the comely kind."

Upon returning to the quiet exchange huddle of the Peers from Arx, Hadrian offers quietly,"No one is tattooing or marking me". He then nods along with Alessandro's information and then quietly shares among the gathering, "Cultis...", he nods toward Appolonia in agreement before he gestures vaguely in some unimportant direction while he continues with the quiet discussion, "I've asked the guards to keep an eye on that boy. William. I'd thought to ask them to maintain a guard for us, to ward off any would-be naughty people, but...", Hadrian's smile graces his features for a fleeting moment, "...I thought they could casually leave their post sometime in the middle of the night, potentially inviting nefarious visitors. Naturally we would be awaiting their arrival, wide awake and ready. Buuuut, that's a risky plan, and not one that I would make without consulting with each of you fine, adorably beautiful people."

Hadrian raises his voice ever so slightly, "My, you are **lovely** and **beautiful**," he declares prominently while staring at Cambria.

"The people I spoke to claim that dark figures stalk the night when things get lively in the village," Mirk mentions, after listening with growing unease. "Feasts and festivals and the like. They think it's the spirits of the dead, hoping to rejoin the the living, but those that have managed a close look at the figures claim that they look like 'Lord' Balin and Mistress Maxine. That would be the likely time for a trap," he dips his head to Hadrian. "If I follow your thoughts. Fortunately, I am too old and too weathered to be of interest, so my opinion is likely irrelevant."

Hadrian offers a sidelong glance to Mirk and a soft smile, before he winks playfully and murmurs from the corner of his mouth, "I told you that you'd be fine."

"I dare say /I/ am the most beautiful," Cambria replies to Hadrian, clearly in some sort of two person beauty pageant that existed only between them. Judges: cultists. She then looks to Mirk, and nods. "I do not disagree with your assessment, Lord Mirk."

Alessia's eyes widen at Hadrian's words, after listening to his briefing for a few moments. "The ends better justify the means, Marquis." She remarks flatly, looking around them.

Those gray eyes dart from one face to the next as the talk of beauty starts up but she adds nothing to it. A moment or two passes before she does finally look back toward the tents. "So now that we know somewhat of the things we are dealing with, how shall we progress?" Appolonia asks them, though her gaze stays on the tents for a moment longer. "I wonder when the next festival is. Hm."

Appolonia's guess is clearly not missed -- and it's not exactly a surprise to Alessandro, because his face becomes, if possible, even more grim. However, though he might have said something else, Hadrian's speaking. Oh, boy, is Hadrian speaking. He looks over to the Marquis, and one eyebrow lofts sharply at the words spoken louder. Then, he lets out an amused snort -- darkly amused, but still. "I appreciate the chance to cast my vote before the decision was made," he remarks, though if his tone was any dryer there, he'd probably have trouble actually getting it to come out of his mouth.

"You are so, so, so, so pretty... also, you're welcome," Hadrian remarks with a glance aside to Alessandro. He sighs dreamily at Lord Alessandro before he huffs out a breath and looks back toward Cambria, "We'll be ready. We've more information to gather, of course." Then Hadrian's bright green eyes flash around to the gathering once again, though he spares a glance back to Alessia and a quiet chuckle is offered up, "As if I would have it any other way, Lady Alessia."

"They mentioned that things become rowdy when traders arrive, as well," Mirk mentions aside to Appolonia, and then glances around the group. "We're not quite traders, but we could probably nudge them into throwing a party, if that was the plan we chose." He raises an eyebrow at Cambria's agreement, a bit surprised, and then chuckled. "I also want to speak to this Lord Balin, if we have the chance."

Quietly Hadrian murmurs, "I can get a party thrown. If they won't, I will."

Hadrian leans aside to quietly murmur toward Cambria with a solemn nod of his head.

"It may be that the parties spoken of are hosted by Balin, though," Cambria counters. "We aught to determine if we can join the festivities before starting some ourselves. Besides, this will give us the opportunity to, ah, pay our respects to the Baron's cousin." She smiles. "Generous man that he is."

Alessia nods at Cambria's suggestion. "Perhaps less conspicuous than throwing one. Although, there's chance the huge polearm sticking up over my shoulder may seem suspicious as it is." She hesitates for a few moments. "I'd place it somewhere, but I'd rather it be on hand. I do not trust that I won't need it."

"It seems we have our course of action then," Appolonia murmurs as she looks back to the others finally. "See if we cannot get this Lord Balin excited enough to throw us a splendid little party that may or may not end up in a kidnapping and murder, or two." Her words sound somewhat teasing but it is hard to tell with that expression she wears that seems faintly serious.

Alessandro just shakes his head, but he doesn't argue the plan, and now that amusement doesn't fade. After all, why should it? He just waves a hand, gesturing vaguely toward the manor, and once the group starts that way, he will move along as well -- after making a few notes in his notebook, of course. Perhaps his will, all things considered. Though one assumes that a lawyer would already have a will. Maybe it's not been updated.

The manor of "Lord" Balin is up near the top of a fairly steep hillside - perhaps the most defensible position in the whole town. With the sun setting fully, the trees are beginning to cast long shadows over the path, the sky darkening and the umbral hidden spaces growing deeper and more impenetrable. The manor itself is a foreboding structure - basalt has been carved into rough-hewn blocks stacked high, lifting to pointed arches above, some of which have stained glass windows, more of which have gargoyles looking down, their mouths open in a silent shriek. The doors to the building are of thick and heavy oak, with a iron straps going across to hold them solid, and heavy, circular knockers hanging off the front. They have been pulled shut for the evening.

"We are Peers, we are allowed to walk around with weapons whether or not it seems logical. It is called being eccentric," Cambria says to Alessia. Then they are off, making their way up and to the manor. Cambria takes note of this and that - such as the basalt, and what seemed defensible or merely fancy when it came to architecture. As they approach the building, Cambria eyes the gargoyles for a moment. "He does not appear to be taking visitors," she says, even as she reaches out her hand to grasp the knocker, looking to the others in a 'mind of I do,' sort of way.

The whole way to the manor, Mirk seems distracted. There's a distant look to his stare, though he turns his head and surveys the village as he passes it, and he barely seems to notice where his own feet are taking him as long as he keeps pace with the others. It's only once he comes to a stop in front of the manor that he refocuses, grimacing at the choice in decor. "Cheerful lad, this Lord Balin," he says, though it lacks the wry tone behind it that it might've otherwise had. "Be my guest," he says to Cambria.

Once the decision has been made, Appolonia simply falls into line with the others as they make their way to that manor. She is quiet and observant the entire way, just taking it all in. Once they arrive at that very much shuttered tight manor she gives the building a better looking over. "Quite," she says to Mirk at his assessment of the lord, or at least his home. Cambria also gets a nod but the Seraceni stays out of the way, back just enough from the door.

Hadrian checked charm + performance at difficulty 15, rolling 21 higher.

Hadrian peers up at the manor during their approach and Mirk's commentary earns a sideward answer from Hadrian, "Nothing a few hugs can't fix". Then as Cambria reaches for the knocker and looks back to the rest of them, Hadrian offers her a solemn and support nod of his head. Then he steps forward to stand at his wife's side. Where only seconds ago he was considerably more somber and subdued... now he's anything but. He's bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, excited to be here, having an opportunity to meet new people. All brilliant smiles and eagerness to meet the door staff of THE Lord Balin of Westerville.

Alessia follows behind the group, keeping her eyes peeled for anything suspicious, as they make their way to the manor. "Well he's getting them. His desires have nothing to do with it." Her tone is sharp but she keeps her volume level. "I think that may perplex him. Which is to our advantage, cousin." She nods at Hadrian, a flicker of a smile on her lips.

With Hadrian now at her side, Cambria gives the knocker within the grimacing gargoyle's mouth a few good taps upon the door of which it guards. She murmurs aside to the former Duke, "That had better be your six-time winning smile."

Alessandro waves a hand again, as though to indicate that Cambria should continue on with the knocking. He doesn't stay //that// far back, but he's definitely not near the front. And while maybe he's not quite as cheery as Hadrian, he still has some of that amusement that hasn't faded yet, and it makes for a more festive expression than the solemnity from before.

As Cambria drops the ring back down and the heavy thuds echo out into the evening air around them, the group of nobility is met with ... silence. Absolutely nothing seems to happen at first, for a long minute. There is no stirring from inside the house, nothing at all that shows any sign that this building is occupied.



But then there is a looooooong creak. And a thump. And a click - and the left side of the door seems to swing open on its own weight, the heavy wood opening into a room lit only by a single torch in the back.

"By the time I'm done, it'll be seven-time," Hadrian murmurs back without the smile breaking.

Alessia inches closer to her cousin as she knocks on the door, studying it warily as it creaks open.

Continuing keeping up the back portion of the party Appolonia watches with interest as Cambria does the honors of knocking, letting the inhabitants of the dark manor know they have guests, wanted or not. When the door creaks open she doesn't move forward nor backward but she does crane her neck somewhat to see if she cannot make anything in the darkness out.

"No door greeter? That's just an opportunity to show our host that we can take the initiative and that we accept his blanket hospitality. Thanks, Gild!" Hadrian's energy seems to surge as his words become more prominently spoken and with a tone that could probably be described as enthusiastic as he gestures toward the doorway and then toward Cambria, "Would you like me to enter first? I'm quite eager to meet Lord Balin. I think I'd like to invite him to join the Blissciples. He may be better suited to the Twilight Court club, though." Already Hadrian's gloved hands rub together, brushing away any stray debris as if in preparation for meeting THE Lord Balin of Westerville. The practically exudes eagerness to meet their host. Or his phantom door staff.

"I'll enter the first." The glaivedancer suggests, stepping through the doorway, without another word.

Cambria reaches out to take Hadrian by the elbow. "Please," she says, somewhat sharply. "Why not let someone have the honors, eh?" She inclines her head back towards the others, in particular, Mirk and Alessia. "That is, as some priest of Gild I think once said, called paying it forward."

Alessia does not seem to die immediately as she enters, though it does take a moment for her eyes to adjust!

His frown deepening as the door opens, Mirk peers into the house suspiciously. At Hadrian's comments, however, he turns to stare at the man. There's no words, but the stare continues well after it should be uncomfortable, before at last he shakes his head and turns to the door once more, prepared to follow - not lead - the others into the manor.

Alessandro may not, again, be quite as enthusiastic as Hadrian -- well, who is? -- but he is not anywhere near as suspicious as Mirk, it seems. He does shoot the latter a look as he steps into the house without complaint, despite the fact that the door just opened of its own accord, and that clearly can't mean anything unpleasant at all, no sir.

As an offer is made but not given a chance to be followed through by the one making the offer and instead Alessia goes inside, Appolonia continues to wait a moment. Is it for shrieking or the sounds of sudden and violent death? Maybe. Either way she continues to stand her ground for a few heartbeats longer letting others file their way in before she follows up behind them.

"Reasonable," Hadrian answers of Cambria's polite suggestion and offers a nod toward Alessia when she takes the first step indoors. He waits for others to enter, though once Mirk begins to step forward so that he may file inside as well, Hadrian offers a quietly spoken word for the Halfshav lord.

Alessandro checked perception + investigation at difficulty 40, rolling 12 higher.

Appolonia checked perception + investigation at difficulty 40, rolling 33 higher.

"Hm," is Mirk's reaction to whatever Hadrian has to say. He whispers a few words in return and then strides into the manor behind the others, a severe frown still on his face, but his manner schooled to slightly less overt discomfort, his eyes scanning the inside of the manor as if searching.

Alessia steps into the dark room, blinking for a few moments to adjust, while spinning around on her heel. "They expected us." She says quietly, almost to herself. Pausing, she looks back to the others. "I can hear something." She lowers her voice, still loud enough for her companions to hear. "I'm not sure what..."

Once inside, it takes a few moments for your eyes to adjust, and the decoration inside isn't really any cheerier than what was outside. The antechamber of the manor seems to open up into a few rooms - and doors don't really seem to be ... a ... thing here? Strange. But from here you can see multiple other chambers - a dining chamber with a long table of oak, set for ten but without any food on it, a stairway going up to the second floor, a pair of hallways, and a study nearby that is full of odd sculptures. The torchlight is kept so that they are spaced just far enough apart that everyone can see, but it's dim.

Appolonia checked perception + occult at difficulty 25, rolling 33 higher.

Alessandro checked perception + investigation at difficulty 35, rolling 5 higher.

Alessia checked perception + survival at difficulty 25, rolling 3 lower.

Mirk checked perception + occult at difficulty 30, rolling 28 higher.

Cambria checked perception + investigation at difficulty 35, rolling 6 higher.

Hadrian checked perception + investigation at difficulty 35, rolling 3 lower.

"I'm here, aren't I?" Mirk says at a more normal tone, signaling the end of his brief conversation with Hadrian. With a nod of grudging respect to the man, he turns and strides ahead to match the pace of the rest of the group, squinting at everything in the dim light.

The first one in, Alessia once again goes wandering off, beginning to examine the area around her - her eyes sweep over the decor of the antechamber, and she notices that there are rather a lot of statues here. Rather a lot of interesting statues that hold her attention. This one seems to be of a knight in a suit of armor - this one is another gargoyle. This one ... surely, there must be something to these. But she can't quite figure out what.



Alessandro, Hadrian and Cambria all make their way into the study, beginning to do a thorough search. It only takes moments for Hadrian and Cambria to start breaking into some lighthearted marital bickering, no matter the situation they are in, and while Hadrian is off looking into a mirror and arguing that, no, he's surely the one in most danger here, Cambria seems to spot a book tucked away in a corner of one shelf that is clearly a keeping of the man's journals, not yet formally submitted to the Archives of Vellichor - while Alessandro finds one labeled 'records'.



Meanwhile, each moving in a different direction, it takes Mirk and Appolonia no time at all to each find something nearly identical - what looks like the three rings of the Pantheon, bisected cleanly in the middle, save that they are cut in ways that might join them together.

When Alessandro steps inside, he starts to look around...but something stops him mid-step, so much so that he nearly stumbles. Not quite, but almost. He looks around, his smile not so much fading as dropping off his face like a stone down a well. However, he shakes it off, and starts into the study, rifling through. He does not look in the mirror, but maybe he spends so much time looking in mirrors on the regular that he likes a break every once in a while. When he finds that journal, though, he takes it out, and opens it, starting to leaf through it. Mostly because he just can't //not// do that.

Once inside she blinks a few times and then stills to allow herself time to adjust to the darkness. Appolonia's head cranes in the darkness as if she is hearing /something/. Alessia's words draw a nod which will probably go unseen by her companions, so she murmurs softly to the group, "Whatever it is going on beneath us, there are at least people below. Dragging something meaty and wet about, which is perhaps what you are making out. I can probably hazard a guess as to /what/ that may be, but I am sure you all would rather I not make such guesses." She doesn't sound disturbed by this at all, nope. Just another trek along the dark roads. But then she is off on that slow, but purposeful meander to look about. When she stumbles across those rings she stops and studies then, head canting this way and that. "Interesting." After a few moments of looking she tugs out a slim leather bound journal from her satchel and a little stick of something, flips open the book and starts to fiddle about with it, sketching the symbol down neatly.

Upon entering the antechamber and onward into the hall, Hadrian's mood dims in gradual steps. As though someone were slowly shading a lantern that had moments ago burned brightly. He nods toward Cambria before he steps away and toward the study, casually making his way into it. A hand rests beneath the obscuring fold of his cloak, while the other works as his manipulator. For only a moment he grows distracted as he opens his mouth wide to check his teeth and relaxing he remarks, likely toward deafened ears, "Listen, if I could wear any of our faces as a mask while I did some profane ritual? It'd be mine. Your face? You don't want to know where I'd wear your face". Hadrian's mouth twitches with the threat of a smile as he begins to search the shelves alongside to Cambria, whom he addresses with a quietly aside, "Truce. We don't want either of our faces being worn or any of our companion's. Less of Alessia's. I don't know what I'd do without #2 in my life."

"Maybe someone got exhausted in the Westerville 1009AR Orgy and needs to be carried out of the fray," Hadrian remarks idly back toward Appolonia's commentary about the activities beneath their feet. Despite his answer, Hadrian's hand does shift a bit beneath his cloak as he mutters aside to Cambria.

Staring at the statues curiously, Alessia seems to be studying what could possibly be amiss. Giving up or perhaps wanting to move on to something she can deduce, she turns away. "That's what it was." She responds to Appolonia's suggestion. "I figured it'd be unsettling, not quite to that extent." Turning, she heads through the hall towards the study where her family are.

"Har har." Alessia comments, though her expression remains grim. "One could only wish it was an orgy."

Pausing in front of the symbol, Mirk reaches out one hand to touch the sign of the Pantheon, his fingers tracing where it has been cut, making out the details with a touch rather than squinting through the dim light. "The Faith of the Pantheon is not quite my specialty," he admits with no trace of shame. He turns his attention to Appolonia, raising his eyebrows, and asks, "Do you recognize the significance of it? Since you have guesses..." He trails off there, expectant.

"I have a journal here, I think," Cambria says to the group at large, choosing to ignore Hadrian's words for the moment. When it is mentioned that it seems as though something is happening below, Cambria makes a quick religious symbol and says, "Uncle, lend me your strength, we may need to smash another floor." She then turns to regard Hadrian, and nods at whatever it is he says. "Is the symbol inverted?" She asks of Mirk, stepping out of the room to peer towards wherever the northern lord may be standing.

"I have another," Alessandro says after Cambria as he lifts up the one he's looking through, but his tone is clearly distracted as he continues to read through whatever is on the current page, and then the next. His frown deepens, about equal parts thoughtful and concerned. Or maybe more the latter than the former, really.

In the distance, something creaks and slams shut suddenly, but it's rather far away - past the dining room, into whatever might be beyond, an odd wind seeming to rush from that area and causing the torches to flicker.

"Could be the corrupted version of the symbol of the Pantheon," Appolonia murmurs to Mirk as she continues her sketch for a moment longer and then she looks back to the symbols and she sighs. "But it really all depends on your point of viewing. Of them." She gestures with that little stick she has been sketching with at the symbols. A glance is given in Cambria's direction at her words and then back at the symbols. "What do the journals say?" she asks but then that sudden creak and slam grab her attention. "We might have company." So helpful.

"That..." Hadrian remarks while looking up at the sudden sound and rush of wind, "...is the universal signal for all is well and you shouldn't prepare arms". The sarcasm practically drips from his words. He casually slips toward the doorless doorway of the study in order to peer out and beyond the chamber, cautiously.

"Broken," Mirk says, shaking his head at Cambria's question. "Split down the middle. I..." He trails off, at the flickering torches, and shoots Hadrian a skeptical look, but doesn't voice his disbelief. "Has anyone seen the servant that opened the door yet?"

Alessia's eyes narrow as the door slaps and her gaze falls on the flickering light. "Yet, if I unsheathe my weapon pre-emptively. I'll look like a fool if the 'baron' steps through the door and greets us with welcoming open arms."

Alessandro reads and reads, and reads some more. Eventually, though, he closes the journal and looks up. "There are hugely more shipments coming into this place than it seems," he says. "If these records are to be believed, caravans' worth of items come into the house, and nothing goes out." Though there doesn't //seem// to be anything that means this should be true -- where is it all stored?

The manor has fallen silent again.

"I cannot say I know of any specific groups that have done that before," Cambria says, concerning the split symbol. "Let me see if there's anyth--" About that time, the sound of the door slamming shut can be heard, and Cambria quickly peers about. "I do not care who foolish someone thinks any of us look. Weapons at the ready." Still, she spares the journal another glance, and hastily flips through it. "Let me see...There might be something here to corroborate that, Alessandro."

Alessia wields an ancient glaive with an iridescite handle.

"Again, you're a member of the Peerage. You're permitted your precautions. For all he knows you were simply preparing a fantastic demonstration of your prowess with it... all else fails? Just tell him I wouldn't stop whining about a loose thread and you were going to shear it for me. I'll take one for the team, gosh," Hadrian remarks with a subdued smile as he cranes his neck so that he may peer out into the dining chamber. Mirk's words though result in a quiet remark, "That isn't good at all. In the slightest. I know of a particularly unseemingly fellow who used to burn huge inverted symbols into the land... breaking it? Different mind altogether, I'd wager. Depraved, no doubt."

Alessia brandishes her glaive at her marquessa's command at the sound. Gripping it tightly, the handle momentarily gold against the torchlight, even as the manor quietens once more.

"Does it indicate what sort of shipments are coming?" Appolonia asks as she turns toward Alessandro's voice while neatly tucking her things back away into her satchel so her hands are left free.

The glaivedancer's cloak loosens and falls to the ground as she wields the weapon.

"What sorts of items?" Mirk adds, peering over at Alessandro's journal, though as weapons are drawn one hand goes to the knife at his belt and remains there. "I wouldn't be surprised," he says to Hadrian, his frown deepening. "But I don't think we're in the realm of not offering offense anymore. After all, some of our companions are reading the man's journals."

Alessandro flips through a few more pages, looking down at the contents, and says, "Everything you can imagine. Furs, jewelry, silks...and a good amount of meat and bone." His face is a little paler again in the firelight, though it's hard to //really// tell. It might just be the candles. He looks down again, peering at the ledgers...and then something else seems to strike him. "There are no future shipments," he says. "And the ones in the past line up with when the people went missing. Exactly."

"If they're not properly logged in black journals? They're public record anyway. Perspective." Hadrian calmly assuages in answer to Mirk, while Hadrian continues to hang his head through the doorway in order to peer a lone eye around the chamber beyond. "I'm just going to say this now: if this is all William playing some sort of joke? We're all going to piss in a bucket. Then we're going to drown him in it". The delivery of that sentiment is made quite casually.

"... meat and bone," Appolonia echoes and then she frowns, brows crinkling a touch as she does. "Interesting. I wonder if they are using the meat and bone for something beyond a good meal." A beat. "Maybe a good meal. Just what sort of good meal. And for what." Not real questions, just statements that seem to get the wheels turning though she does snort at the mention of William.

"Some of this is in cipher," Cambria says, looking puzzled. On occasion, her expression turns...disgusted...and she holds the book as though it is dripping in excrement. Even so, she reads whatever it is she believes to be of interest, sharing tid bits as she goes. "Balin is a real nutter," is her ultimate conclusion. "Now, I am not a theologian, but I am going to take a stab at this: It is possible we are dealing with a cult or cultist who has perverted the precepts of Gild." She peers about, closing the journal. "There are some rituals that require the sacrifice of material goods. What I don't quite understand, though..." Here she taps the journal's cover. "Is this blathering on about beauty. How it connects to the victims." There's another pause, and then, "I could be utterly wrong, though. If we wish to know more, then we must venture below. Or we leave and contact the Inquisition."

"Exactly." Alessia agrees as Hadrian mentions the journals not being submitted to the Great Archive. "If he'll let us leave. He let us in for a reason, coz." She keeps a firm grip on her glaive, clearly anticipating the worst.

"That ship sailed," Mirk says to Hadrian, his tone perhaps a little harsher than intended. "That speaks to me of a ritual, as well," he says with a nod of his head to Cambria and Alessia. "Their rituals have disturbed the spirits here, as well. That makes me feel that there is human sacrifice, though I can't be certain. I can't say that I'm inclined to leave, and risk that such a person continues his work - or worse, escapes to continue it elsewhere." His hand tightens into a white knuckled fist around his knife, though it remains in its sheath.

Alessandro closes the journal firmly, putting it back where he found it. "It does not say what it is used for," he says, looking back to his companions. "Perverting Gild, perverting Petrichor," he murmurs after Cambria, but then trails off as Mirk speaks, The hand that still holds his quill tightens, and he glances to the door, but he doesn't try to leave, either. "I would not be very much use in stopping whatever is happening," he says, "but if we are not allowed to leave, I suppose that does not matter."

"Well, that really makes me regret that 'thanks, Gild' comment earlier," Hadrian answers dryly before he continues, "The beauty thing? Permaybehaps he has something for Jayus, still? Or it's some twisted mind longing for the wife he lost or something? I don't know. Maybe he blames the gods for the loss of his wife. Maybe he's abducting these very pretty people like all of you, my lovely companions, because he likes to slap their faces on slabs of beef and then spoon with them at night. I don't think like some death-crazed mad-man with a brain fever," Hadrian remarks with a huff of a sigh. Then toward Mirk, nothing more than a flat stare and a slow pursing of Hadrian's lips before his attention drifts away and returns to observing beyond the study doorway.

A glance is given to her companions but for the most part Appolonia is back to studying that symbol, listening, and digesting what is being said. "Perhaps. Perhaps all of that or none. Maybe the loss of her was too much to bear and he struck some foul bargain?" Slender shoulders rise and fall. "Or maybe he did something." Another shrug. "Either way, we are here so we may as well find out the answer."

Another gust of wind seems to blow out of the room beyond the dining room, the hallways to the side and above showing no indication of anything, the direction of the torch betraying some heavy draft - somewhere in that way.

"No, you don't," Cambria remarks to Hadrian. "Thankfully so. Your family managed to produce one and that is quite enough." Haughty sniff. As if mass murderers were a thing to joke casually about. "Then we are agreed. To the depths we go," said as she points to Alessia. "Take the lead, Mirk can hold the rear. Or..." Look, things happen, plans can change! "We follow that draught."

"Foul bargain, you say." The glaivedancer turns to Appolonia. "That sounds apt for someone unable to come to terms with some loss. Any demons that strike deals related to beauty?" She asks nobody in particular until her cousin begins to speak. "Are you sure? I'd rather no one unarmed risk it."

"Neither would I," Mirk admits to Alessandro. "This is more to make me feel safer than a serious fight," he says, indicating the knife at his built. He glances in the direction of the mysterious wind, blowing through the house, and swallows. "Onward and forward? You may be the first in line," he offers to Alessia, as if it was a concession.

"Your family produced someone who attacks floors, so..." Hadrian offers in rebuttal as he slips from the doorway and his hand shifts beneath his cloak a little more. He gestures toward Alessia, waving her forward with a smile, "Come forth, Lady Alessia. I'll get a chair". There's no explanation behind that statement, aside from Hadrian stepping away to select a chair to take with him. Preferably one that was sturdy, but light enough for decent swinging.

Alessandro gives a bit of a wry smile to Mirk, before he starts the way of the draught, holding his quill out as though it's a sword. But hey, the end is sharp, right? Maybe it could stab someone. If he's lucky.

Alessandro wields inky midnight skies touched with celestial light handsome quill.

Once Alessia is declared to the 'winner' for the lottery of 'who is going first?', Appolonia waits to fall into line as well, following the rest of them. The chair gets a curious look, but she doesn't comment on it at all.

"-Your- family produced--" She cuts her hand through the air, then shakes her head. "I won't be getting into this with you right now." Cambria instead chooses to fall in alongside Hadrian, following behind Alessia.

Without a second thought, Alessia steps foward to lead the way with both hands on the handle of her glaive, one above, one below. She attempts to keep her footsteps light, reducing the sound of stomping against the floor, and doesn't say another word.

As the group moves through the dining room, it opens into what might normally be something of a receiving chamber. Indeed, there's a chair in the center against the back wall as there really ought to be, but ... there is definitely something wrong here. Most of the room is covered in dust, except for a few streaks that seem to lead to sections of the floor and just vanish. And around the room - there are indents. Circles interlocking with circles, again and again, in a pattern that spreads all along the wall - and strange symbols both above and below them at various points.

"Me. Which is kind of wonderful and overshadows all of the negative... all... of... the.. negative," Hadrian answers despite Cambria's insistence that they would not be getting into this right now. He goes quiet as they step into the receiving chamber however. He doesn't just go quiet, Hadrian goes outright silent. He stops walking, he even seems to be holding his breath. The only movement being his eyes, darting this way and that while he visually searches the room.

Alessia checked wits + occult at difficulty 15, rolling 1 lower.

Mirk checked wits + occult at difficulty 15, rolling 12 higher.

Alessandro checked wits + occult at difficulty 15, rolling 28 higher.

Cambria has rolled a critical success!
Cambria checked wits + riddles at difficulty 15, rolling 27 higher.

Hadrian checked wits + riddles at difficulty 15, rolling 4 higher.

Appolonia checked wits + riddles at difficulty 15, rolling 56 higher.

Symbols, symbols, symbols as far as Appolonia's pale gray eyes can see. She pauses and looks around, takes her time and just soaks it all in. She squints from time to time and mutters softly under her breath to herself. She drops here and there to look at something on the floor, then is back up and striding across the room. She is by no means shy about her searching but when she notes something above that chair she pauses, eyes narrowing. "Curious," she says louder and strides over to it, skirts flaring as she moves stirring up dust in her wake. "Petrichor's Reflection," she says softly as she studies that symbol right above the chair. "Just what are you up to I wonder ..." Turning she says to the others a touch louder. "All of the Pantheon and their Reflections, the symbols here." And she gestures to where she sees them clear as the day is long. "Definitely something twisted going on in this house. Not that we had many doubts as to /that/."

Alessandro moves further into the room as well, looking around himself, his head tipping a little bit as he studies one symbol in particular. His lips pinch together into a thin line, before he turns away, looking to Appolonia as she speaks. His expression is intent, as though he's loathe to miss even a single word of what she says. Anything might come in handy at this point. He nods, though, in apparent agreement with what she's said.

Stopping cold, Mirk leans in and examines the indents. He reaches out to run his fingers along the indentations, focusing on those, his expression distant, as if comparing it to something else. "These aren't random, either," he says, nodding to Appolonia. "The edges match up with the things we found, before. I'm not sure I want to confirm that, but I doubt it'd be off, even by a hair. The question is what purpose slotting them in would achieve..." He trails off, as if something is at the tip of his tongue.

"I definitely remember seeing circles before," Hadrian finally murmurs from between barely parted lips. He doesn't elaborate or speculate further, for the moment Hadrian simply remains silent and observes the circles, while listening to the discussions taking place around him.

Initially, Alessia heads towads the chair against the back wall, unaware of the 'symbols' around her. "Now why would you leave a chair so comfy unattended with guests around?" She muses, a smirk escaping her throat. Appolonia's words, however, capture her attention. "His warped idea of what... the thirteenth represents." Her pause indicative of wanting to avoid saying his name around those it'd make uncomfortable.

"This is a control room," Cambria says for all to hear, though not before she mutters something about...a backpack? "The sounds we heard, seemingly at random - their source is here." She peers about, particularly at those indentations Mirk shows an interest in. "I am uncertain as to just /what/ the controls are, those indents, perhaps. But I am positive the room's purpose is related to that."

Curiosity rules Appolonia's features, those gray eyes intense as she turns about in a slow circle. "Shall we find out?" she wonders but she doesn't make any move to touch or do anything, her fingers flexing and twitching with that desire perhaps but she holds. She finally comes to a stop but her gaze is drawn back to that chair time and time again. "Perhaps the chair is key to something? It is odd how that symbol is alone above it of all things."

"A... control room?" Hadrian looks inquisitively aside to Cambria, confusion etched quite clearly into his sharp features. He then looks back to the dusty room. Appolonia's question earns a glance from the Marquis, then onward to the chair his attention goes. He hefts his own chair up and at the ready, as if he were prepared to throw his chair at the unoccupied chair, meanwhile he comments, "Secret passage, maybe? Or you sit in it and a chute opens up and dumps you into the lower levels? That's what I'd want to do to my guests... murder and mayhem wouldn't be at the bottom though. A corral of puppies, maybe."

Alessandro cuts a glance toward Hadrian at the man's last words, letting out a little snort, before he looks back at the chair, the amusement fading -- mostly -- in favor of trepidation. He doesn't move to sit in it, either, though he does look like a part of him wants to.

"One way to do that," Mirk says to Appolonia. He murmurs a few words under his breath, which those closest to him might understand as a prayer to the spirits, and holds the object he'd found before, with symbols broken, and attempts to line it up with the indentations. If nothing else, to test his idea that the objects and the indents were related.

The half-circular object which Mirk is holding slides into the indentations perfectly - a snug fit. There is just enough lip to pull it out again if needed.

Cambria leans aside to murmur to Hadrian as Mirk tests his theory.

After Mirk tests his theory, Alessia decides to test Hadrian's theory, though with her blade rather than a chair. Lifting her polearm, she taps the metal against the seat lightly at first, then heavier the second time to see what happens. Her lips form a grimace as she prepares for a response - if any.

The seat of the chair seems to depress some under the pressure from Alessia's glaive, something settling in with a low click as she experiments with her weapon.

"I half expected tampering with that to go awry in some fashion," Mirk says, though he seems relieved that it didn't, and he leaves the object in the indentations or now. He steps back, turning to watch Alessia as she continues tampering with the room's symbols.

Hadrian checked composure at difficulty 15, rolling 3 higher.

"Perhaps that's the key?" Hadrian remarks with a nod toward Mirk's work with the disc-like object. Then a nod toward Alessia and her new chair-friend, "And that is the door handle?" He shrugs lightly before he glances aside to Cambria, nodding once in silent confirmation or acknowledgement. A smile twitches to life, but he makes not a sound.

"Excellent," Appolonia murmurs as she watches Mirk then insert that object, moving closer to take a look at what happens or doesn't happen. She is practically thrumming with excitement in this moment. Hadrian's words get her to look toward him, then the chair as Alessia sets about prodding it. "Perhaps. Hm. Wonder what happens if one sits in it."

So far, there doesn't seem to be any further reaction from Mirk's section of the circles in the wall - though it does look like there is a place for Appolonia's to go in beside it, matching it perfectly, should she wish to give that a try.

"As do I," Alessandro murmurs, looking at the chair, the click the weapon elicits making him lean slightly forward. It's not the smartest thing to do, but hey, if they can't get out then they have to try something, right? He doesn't move forward yet, though, instead looking toward Appolonia and the key she has.

"The second one, too, might work," Mirk points out to Appolonia, gesturing to the space beside it and stepping well back.

Loathe! Loathe to give it up! Appolonia sighs as she takes her piece and grumbles a bit as she puts it into the open slot next to Mirk's section. "Probably right," she concedes.

There's a low rumble as the two pieces settle together against one another, fitting together to unite into one shape - but it seems to cease after a moment. Nothing further happening just yet, though those who might be keen to notice it might see a shift in the floor near where those tracks in the dust end

.

Alessia checked perception at difficulty 15, rolling 7 lower.

"See," Cambria says to Hadrian, pointing towards the floor. "Now, who wants to sit in the chair?" She looks candidly about, hands on hips.

Alessandro hesitates, then shrugs, moving forward. "I will," he says. "If I die, just please make sure you make up a story for my wife about how I was very brave, will you?" His tone is wry, and he moves forward, starting toward the chair to sit.

Attention still on the chair, it's not until Cambria points to the floor that Alessia notices anything amiss. Before she can say anything, Alessandro offers to sit on the chair. With a grim look, she nods. "We certainly will, my lord. As soon as we return." She attempts a smile, to show it's all in good humour.

"You look weary, Marquessa. You should have a seat," Hadrian remarks back to Cambria about the chair. He takes a tentative step further into the room. He looks to the trails in the dust which promptly end, then without hesitation Hadrian answers Alessandro, "I can offer you assurances that the tale of your demise will have people considering you for the Hall of Heroes. We just have to hope for discretion from everyone else," Hadrian explains with a glance around the room and those within it. He sniffs quietly, then promptly forces the breath from his nostrils as though he were trying to clear dust from his nasal passages.

Still looking rather vexed at giving up her 'prize' Appolonia at least gives a nod when they see results. "Very nicely done," she comments to Mirk. She glances back toward Alessandro and then Hadrian, a soft chuckle leaving the Seraceni. "It looks like a rather comfortable chair. What could go wrong?"

And as Alessandro settles into the chair, the rumbling begins once more. The cross-section of the wall with the circular pattern seems to disconnect, loosen, and then slowly spins around until the symbols which Mirk and Appolonia have put in rotate to be just above Alessandro's head - under that twisted symbol of Petrichor - and with the middle ring pointing downward, in the tradition of not the Faith of the Pantheon, but of those cultists who worship one of the Reflections. There's a creak, and then two panels in the door suddenly fall open with a thump like what was heard before, a rush of air flowing out -



Warm. Fetid. Rank. Humid.



And with a look into it, two sets of stairs begin to lead down into the depths of the manor, an odd, wet, squishy sound coming from below.



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