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The Beast; [Private: Demetria]
Topic Started: Sun Feb 4, 2018 7:55 pm (270 Views)
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Nadia admired the ingenuity of humans. Rather than leaving the old quarry to be taken over by untamed shrubs and grasses, they diverted part of the river and settled in the terraced slopes of the pit. Tightly arranged rooftops and covered walkways, plus the convoluted stairways and other access routes, protected them from attack by large numbers of cavalry. That alone made Nadia feel a little bit more at ease in the town of Ceithre.

The first indication that something was amiss was the cart that she passed on the way down into town. It was covered, but the smell of the cargo was unmistakable. Pulled by a horse draped in white cloth and a driver wearing a white scarf, too.

"Excuse me." The driver didn't hear her on the approach, so she repeated herself. "The corpses in your--" This time, she wasn't sure if the cart sped up to pass her on its way out of Ceithre or if it simply ignored her.

The bottom of the quarry was flooded with a small lake surrounded on all sides by Rozanaian civilization. The streets had the usual bustle of a small town. Areas where the stone jutted out from the walls of the pit were connected by bridges, intersecting over different levels. Nadia paused to admire how beautiful it all looked.

She took a deep breath before slipping into the first inn she saw. Almost instantly she felt self-conscious as over a dozen pairs of eyes fell on her at once. Nadia could feel their gaze burning into her dust-caked armor, large flatbrim hat, and various armaments. Once the initial novelty of her arrival wore off, most of the patrons at the tables went back to their business. A few eyes still remained on her, no doubt sensing that something was off. She hoped she remembered to tuck her plait into the back of her shirt.

For the first time in two towns, the innkeeper refused service. It actually came as a shock to Nadia, despite herself. "Is it because I'm a mercenary? I can check my weapons in with you."

He shook his head. "This town can't afford to let in more misfortune. You should go elsewhere. Stay away from the women on your way out."

Not a good sign -- except that the proprietor wasn't calling the town guard, nor was he looking at her with anger. Just sadness and exasperation.

Nadia kept thinking about the expression on his face even while she wandered the streets long afterward. She found a group of stray cats under one of the bridges and decided to share her mid-afternoon rations with them. Smiling, she sat and watched them eat the offerings from a short distance away.

A voice from the bridge above startled her, but the cats didn't even lift their heads.

"Sorry about your niece, friend."

Nadia slid her body so she was directly beneath the bridge, heart racing. She tilted her head up.

"Yeah..." another voice said. "My brother hasn't left his house in days. We're all trying to help the family."

"I can't even imagine. It's one thing for your children to disappear... but then to be found in that state is just unforgivable."

"We're working on it."

"Mercenaries? Professional hunters?"

"The Army of Rozanai is sending an investigator."

"Can this investigator also kill the beast, or just figure out what it is?"

Nadia threw some more rations to the cats to encourage them to stay longer -- and, she admitted to herself, to help distract her from the sinking feeling in her gut as the strangers' overheard conversation continued about some kind of beast. Based on how they spoke of it, it sounded like the creature was either close to town or actually prowling within it.

Suddenly, this underpass didn't seem like quite as appealing a place to sleep for the night.

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It was never a face to face greeting. The flap and snap of a raptor's wings heralded a note in her note-basket. She flipped it over and read the orders.

Town of Ceithre reports strange activity related to a beast. Investigate and report back promptly.

Echo was never a dull place, or well explained. Demetria's ear twitched and she put her flatbrim on - the only good part of Debon, she reckoned - and pulled her double-breasted coat over her shoulders. The uniforms had come together, but Echo's had not been finalized, and the Agency considered all departments under its wing to be intelligence gathering.

"Maze, a little hellhole has a monster problem." The golem looked up from a stack of paperwork.

"Oh, good, I can stop writing your reports."

Ceithre was literally a hellhole. Some abandoned quarry with humanity crawling around the rocks and cliffs and edges, an arrangement so precarious it made Demetria's stomach flutter. "This isn't much of a place for a drinker, is it." The cold wind on the Debon plains did not follow them into Ceithre. Demetria undid the top buttons of her coat and handed her scarf over to Maze.

"You the investigator?" Demetria nodded before even seeing her greeter. "I'm Johl, head detective on the guard. I thought I saw your ship go overhead." Demetria turned, nodded, ignored the dip of Johl's eyes and quickly shook his hand.

"A beast problem, I heard. I'm with Echo, the extraplanar organization under the Agency," Johl blanched, "but we don't pick and choose in the field." Demetria smiled before thrusting the conversation into what she wanted. "I'll need to see a scene. Give me what you know while we walk." She produced a notepad. An exchange developed as they walked deeper, with Demetria verifying the more outlandish claims - flight, dream walking - against the more terrestrial such as big claws for climbing up rock.

The scene itself was a brutal one. A young woman ripped to shreds and clearly fed upon. "Teeth must be nearly three inches long with those sorts of wounds." Demetria pointed to a lacerated shoulder. Maze was taking her time with the torso and head. "A big-un. I'm counting maybe twelve teeth on the upper jaw and ten on the lower? Jaw maybe a foot wide?" Demetria rose. "As much as I can tell, you've got a beast that doesn't leave claw marks when it walks. If it is a beast of Chaon, it is probably some sort of cat." Maze rose and stashed a notebook she had been writing in extensively. "We'll be around town to get a lay of the land. I'll stop by the station after."

Demetria led Maze and onto a bridge. There was some tall woman beneath them, but the woman was clearly as much a stranger as them. "I'm giving this one better-than-half odds of being a rogue catlike from deeper in the plains. Unless they were correct about the dream walking." Demetria shivered. "Not something I want to deal with." Demi glanced down at the woman they had somewhat ignored. "What do you think, stranger? This town is buzzing about a monster."
Edited by Demetria, Mon Feb 5, 2018 1:58 am.
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Nadia reminded herself to eat at least some of her rations rather than feeding them to the cats. Once all their share was gone, she hugged her knees and watched them linger in the area for a while. They slowly dispersed, no doubt in search of rats and trash or just a safe place to sleep.

Back against the wall under the bridge, Nadia felt her body catching up with her. She couldn't remember how many miles she'd covered over the past few days. A thought occurred to her that maybe the beast was only attacking people at night. In that case, she could catch a few hours of rest before finding a more secure place to hole up with her shield and arbalest close at hand. The whole idea had very little proof beyond simple practicality, but combined with her fatigue it was compelling.

She was starting to doze off when a pair of voices came closer, talking about the object of her curiosity. Nadia's eyes snapped open, but she kept the large flatbrim hat tilted over her face to keep it covered from any errant rays of sun that weren't blocked by the bridge. The rest of her clothing was a bulky, protective mixture of steel, leather and cloth.

The pair spoke intelligently about the beast, especially one voice that was a bit lower than the other. Before Nadia could come to any conclusions about their identities, a face suddenly peeked down at her under-bridge hiding place. Nadia flinched and clambered backward, not even comprehending the question asked of her.

"Didn't mean to wake you." Demetria knelt down. "Have you heard anything about this monster, stranger? I don't think you should sleep under that bridge till this is all sorted out. Can you afford a night in an inn?"

'Don't go near any of the women,' that familiar rule rang in her head. Nadia found herself on her feet, arbalest slung over one shoulder and picking up the shield in the other, slowly backing away. 'You know what would happen if your presence replaced any of their children with... something else.'

"I-- n-no, ma'am. Nothing about the monster, ma'am--" Nadia clipped the end of her sentence when she almost backed off the edge of the quarry. The realization that she had worked herself into a corner further increased her panic. She felt sweat beading along her hairline, at her palms. "Can't use an inn, ma'am. I'll be okay. I c-can take-- I can take care of myself."

Demetria cocked her head to the side. "You, uh, you sure? I've got a ship I'm going to spend the night in." The woman was acting so suspicious Demetria wondered if she shouldn't hand her over to Johl. "You look like hell, and I'm sure you could feed me some good news about parts of Debon as repayment. I'm Demetria Tsakos, a member of Echo."

"A... ship?" It took a second to dawn on her. For a few seconds her throat closed up with a mixture of fear and intimidation. She opened her mouth, but no words came out. Nadia closed her lips, swallowed, and tried again. "I-- heh-- I wouldn't dream of, ma'am, of taking up limited space in your ship. Really. It's no problem. Even if I'm eaten by the beast, it's not too much of a loss, right?" It was an attempt at a joke, even punctuated by her own nervous laughter. She moved up the side of the bridge so she was on the same level as the two women, but kept her head tilted down in an attempt to obscure as much of her face as possible. "My apologies, ma'am. I'll get out of your way."

"She's a frigate without a crew, I've got plenty of space for you." Demetria chuckled. "Every person is important to me. We can't have citizens or visitors in Rozanai being eaten by beasts. It just isn't civilized. So either I put you up in an inn, in a jail, or in my very own ship."

Nadia looked at the ground, shutting her eyes tight. The inn wasn't an option, and this investigator would be resented by the community if she forced it on them. Jail was not preferable at all -- she'd already spent far too much time in various dungeons and jails, and she didn't want to be parted with her prized possessions again. Nadia started to tremble, but she tried to stand up straighter. The closest thing to eye contact she could manage was staring at the Echo agent's chin, but it tilted her head up enough to make her face fully visible. "This may seem strange to a foreigner, but I'm a curse, ma'am. Kn-knowing that, do you still want to keep me in an airship? The same one you'll be in?"

"I'm about as worried about a curse as I am about Ishraq popping up and critiquing my intelligence work." Demetria shrugged. "I've got running water and a bath."

Nadia's eyes widened. She felt like someone had just dumped a bucket of water on her head. Not worried? About a curse? Her brain couldn't wrap around a response like that. Was this lady stupid? Unlikely. That only left one other option: that the person standing before her was far more powerful than any of the local curses, witchcraft, fell magic, or maybe even the beasts.

She felt like a wayfarer standing in front of a man-eating predator who just happened to not be hungry at the moment. Her trembling got worse.

"Th-thank you," her voice was choked, throat refusing to let her speak properly, "for your hospitality, ma'am. My-- my--" Nadia took a deep breath. "Nadia Airaldi. Is my name." Unable to say anything more than that, she stepped to the side of the road to let the pair pass, planning to follow them from a healthy distance.
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Demetria and Maze passed by. The tall woman followed them like a strange dog, from a safe distance. Demetria turned back to look at her and walked backwards. "You don't need to walk so far back. We don't bite. You'll be with us for a little bit, so might as well talk, right?"

The woman peered at them with fearful eyes from under the brim of her hat, and nodded her assent.

"Miss Airaldi, are you from the Debon plains?"

"Yes.," she croaked. "One of the city-states. Far away from here."

"I'm from Balefire originally, got a bit of a long story of bouncing about." Demetria grinned at Nadia. "My ship is Balefire-made, but we did some overhauls recently to refit her with Rozanai weapons."

"B-Balefire? You?" Nadia's eyes widened, but then clear realization crossed her face. "I see. You were able to fight off an entire city of monsters. The beast must be horrible if they sent you to deal with it."

The ship didn't break the ice, but the nature of Balefire itself did. "Yeah...it wasn't that bad. I was an investigator for Balefire as well, a few people got testy with me but the badge was worth quite a lot. As for the beast, the reason I'm here is because they aren't sure what it is, so to be safe they sent someone from Echo rather than one of the drake control officers."

"Wasn't that bad. I see." Her voice trembled as she forced a brief bout of nervous laughter. "I won't get in your way, ma'am. I'll stay the night and then be on my way. I won't be any trouble."

"No, really, it wasn't that bad. Just...more mafias, gangs and criminal orgs. And well vamps and weres are a bit tougher than the average human, but I had combat golems." Demetria frowned at Nadia's insistence. It was clear to Demetria that the woman was not going to relax anytime soon. The trio finally made their way out of the pit and onto the surface. Demetria's black steel airship loomed over a small guard's shack, like a giant's fallen blade. "You can stay for more than a few days, I'll be in town until this is sorted out or until I'm recalled or replaced.

The tall woman stopped at the top, staring at the airship, body tensed from nearly head to toe. She choked out a noise: a failed attempt at speaking. Then she started to tremble. "Let me know if you need anything," she murmured -- the loudest volume she could muster.

"A bath and a dinner. Care to join me? Food cooked by...a golem who likes her axe too much."

"You are extremely generous."

"I've got a soft part of my heart set aside for loners with troublesome supernatural attaches." Demetria whistled and the Umbra's freight ramp dropped down.
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Nadia was certain, as soon as Demetria expressed a genuinely casual tone about her past life in the hell-on-earth nation of Balefire, that she had signed her own death warrant. This woman was absolutely going to kill her, either now or very near in the future. In Balefire, monsters ruled. Humans lived in poverty, freezing and starving to death while creatures beyond comprehension preyed on their still-living flesh. Babies were ripped out of mothers' arms and humans were sold into slavery with jagged collars around their necks, doomed to be nothing more than blood bags for fanged night creatures covered in scales and rippling muscle.

To think that someone had not only survived that, but thought it was nothing, and indeed was more concerned about the criminal organizations than the hellish living conditions or the swarms of flesh-eating predators? This Demetria Tsakos was a fearsome monster hunter indeed. No wonder she wasn't scared of the curse.

Adding to the pre-existing stress was this airship, which looked like a torture palace made of black steel mined straight from the land of demons. The inside removed the "torture" part. It was unsurprisingly well-kept -- and empty. Expensive-looking. Nadia could almost feel her presence devaluing everything nearby.

She was given her own room, where she placed her modest supplies and took off her armor. Then she carried her arbalest and shield into the washroom where she'd been told the bathtub was. After examining the whole area for water, Nadia caved and meekly asked Demetria for help on how to get it to work. She cleaned up joylessly, thoughts consumed with worries and options.

After briefly getting lost in the airship corridors, Nadia found her way to the dining area. Her white hair hung in wavy clumps to either side of her, rather than the plait it was normally in. She set her shield and arbalest against the table and looked for some way to help.

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