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 the quest — medieval fantasy, open
Lar
 Posted: Jun 23 2016, 07:59 PM
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The little city of Glastonne is built like a body. Glastonne castle is the head, where the lawmakers and viziers and royals reside. Beneath it, the great drawbridge serves as the neck, separating the body of the city. The temples are the nurturing bosom of Glastonne, clustered on the hillside in the shadow of the keep; the merchant districts to the east and west are the two arms, their loving embrace dotted with glass-shops and furniture builders and tailors and cobblers. Beneath are the housing districts, fading from gallant manors down to the lowliest of slums, housing the people that keep industry moving forward. Wrapped around it all is a thick wall, the skin to keep the whole mess contained.

In this metaphor, The Horned Horse Inn is the armpit.

It is a ramshackle building that seems constantly on the verge of falling apart. Perhaps it was once a storefront, glass-windowed and gilded, before long years and ill care made the second story sag over pitifully. The windows have been replaced with half-rotten boards, and the old sign messily painted over. The clientele is equally saggy, rotten, and messy, slumped around the filthy interior like so many potato sacks. The actual potato sacks, though virtually indistinguishable from the patrons, are beginning to mold.

Somewhere in the murk, dressed in a dark traveler's cloak that's pulled up tight around his head, Hillander sits on his hands. There are mud streaks visible on his cheeks even in the guttering light of the inn, but otherwise he seems like the average visitor to the Horned Horse. He's tall and bulky about the shoulders, built well enough for farm work or labor in the mines outside town. There's nothing quick about him, so he's not a thief; he lacks the charisma of a bard, sitting there dumbly with his watery ale growing tepid before him. Even the wench at the counter seems to pity him, telling him to keep his coppers, just for this first drink.

It's just as well, because Hillander can't remember where his coppers got to.

"'Scuse me, uh, d'you..." He trails off, then regroups.

"D'you know where I'd find a quest?"
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Gloriana Tenebrae
 Posted: Jun 25 2016, 12:21 AM
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Ziata lurked in her customary place behind the bar, watching the various comings and goings from under hooded eyes. Like her business she was in an advanced state of disrepair. There were hints of a former grandeur - the studied elegance to her movements, the archness of her expression, the occasional poetic flourish to her speech - but they only served to accentuate her current state: a limping, stoop-shouldered tatterdemalion, living on borrowed time. "A haunted house with her windows broken" as one patron had put it, shortly before he was barred for life.

She watched her newest customer search his pockets for a few moments then airily dismissed his fumbling with a wave of her hand. She lurched forward, poured a flagon of ale then pushed it across the stained, warped counter. First drink free was always her custom.

Very little hard currency circulated in the slums at the best of times and the best of times were long gone. A little kindness, a little forebearance was necessary if one wished to attract customers. A free drink here, an extended tab there. All her patrons were in hock, but debts were not talked of openly, and almost never settled with coin. Favours, information, contraband, were currency here. And if all else failed there was always work to be done around the inn. Wood to cut, floors to scrub, letters to write. It was a poor way to live, truth be told, but times were hard and any kind of living was better than dying.


The stranger's sudden clumsy question threw her. Her eyes flashed from pale violet to dark red, though whether in anger or surprise it was hard to say. Her hands crooked suddenly into fists, her iridescent crystalline claws gouging tracks on the counter. "Quests? Who...how dare you ask..." she collected herself suddenly and straightened up, her eyes fading, her expression unreadable. "I'm sorry. I don't know what you mean." She glanced surreptitiously round the room, trying to ascertain if anyone had heard the stranger talk of forbidden things.
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Lar
 Posted: Jun 25 2016, 12:41 AM
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Hillander stares—gawks, really—and then comes to his senses, pulling his hands out from beneath his thighs and clutching his ale close. For a bar wench, she has a peculiar manner and less flirt than he'd expect, if he were smart enough to expect anything at all. Decent posture, too, when she pulls herself together and puts up the mask of falsehood.

"I'm... sorry?" Hillander says, and then covers the awkward silence with a noisy sip of ale. He takes a moment to think, and then leans in close, voice low. There is a certain self-consciousness in his hands as he tugs his hood tighter around his head, as if to mask his identity.

"I just, well, I've got this problem," he explains, eyes pleading. "And, well, I heard you might know something about something..." He clears his throat and then takes another draught of ale, blinking as it rolls sourly into his stomach.

"I mean if you don't," he picks his words delicately, "I understand, but..." Here he pauses to pat his pockets, then the little pouch at his belt, and finally produces a few coppers from beneath his cloak. These he stacks neatly on the counter, where they nearly topple over. "But helping always pays for itself, doesn't it?"
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Gloriana Tenebrae
 Posted: Jun 25 2016, 12:19 PM
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Ziata frowns as the stranger babbles. There are questions she needs answering, but her first priority is to get him away from prying eyes before he blabs more.

She mouths "shut up" at him, her eyes darting furiously aroud the room, then picks up the little pile of coins, jangling them ostentatiously. "A room?" she says, a little louder than necessary. "Of course. If you'd just come this way..." as she speaks she waggles her eyebrows meaningfully, hoping he'll get the message and stay quiet.

She whistles to Arik, playing dice in the corner and motions for him to mind the bar. The old Kamaran shuffles to his feet and meanders unsteadily across the floor. Ziata grabs the lantern hanging from a nail behind the bar and twists the metal shutters open. A fire imp flickers and dances inside, casting peculiar shadows on the soot-stained walls. She unlatches the small slightly crooked door behind the bar and motions for the stranger to follow her into the corridor beyond.
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Lar
 Posted: Jun 25 2016, 09:16 PM
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At first Hillander looks befuddled. He'd said nothing about a room—in fact, he thinks he made it pretty clear that this was a bribe. To be honest, he isn't sure whether the Horned Horse has rooms, let alone whether there are people desperate enough to actually rent one. Then the gears begin to turn, and something near-audibly clicks inside Hillander's skull.

He smiles stupidly.

"A room sounds great," Hillander says at last, clambering clumsily from his bar stool, ale entirely forgotten. The feet of the stool scratch loudly across the floor, causing a few heads to turn. With big blocky hands he delicately pushes it back into its place nestled against the bar, and then he follows Ziata into the dim of the back hallway. As soon as the door eases shut behind them, he leans in close to the woman, grinning.

"You have no idea how great this is," he remarks. "Thank you."
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Gloriana Tenebrae
 Posted: Jun 26 2016, 08:19 AM
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The corridor is cramped, one wall sagging inward, the other patched and repatched with scraps of wood and clay. Two doors lead off and at the end a rickety staircase gives passage to the upper floors. Once the door closes the smell of the bar: spilled beer, rotten vegetables, sweat, vanishes, replaced by a stranger scent: smoky, sweet, redolent of sandalwood, myrrh and roses. The lantern swinging recklessly sprays the walls with warped and sinister shadows making the two conspirators faces seem ghoulish and inhuman. Ziata stiffens as Hillander leans close, but instead of retreating, she moves forward herself, pressing a finger lightly onto his chest and pushing him back against the wall. When not slouching she is almost as tall as he and she stares him eye to eye unblinking while reaching into her bodice. She fishes out a long necklace, twisted copper links green with age and a strange stone at the end, heavy, black, like basalt or obsidian. With surprising speed she pushes the stone into his open mouth and presses it against his tongue. Before he can retch or spit it out she withdraws and holds it up to the light. The stone is now suffused with striations of deep crimson that glow dully in the darkness. Seemingly satisfied, she lets it drop against her dress.

"So...you wish me no harm. That at least is clear. I thought perhaps you..." she shakes her head, her eyes narrowing, then pokes his chest again, a little harder this time. "Why did you come here? Who sent you? From your talk in the bar I was sure you had come to try and involve me in some damnable sedition, with your talk of quests and such, but now I am not so sure. I think you perhaps have baser motives than that."
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Lar
 Posted: Jun 26 2016, 05:08 PM
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Hillander puts up no struggle when the woman pushes him back against the wall. For all his bulk he could probably put up a fight, but the dumbfounded expression on his face says that it hasn't even occurred to him. He opens his mouth to say something else, and before he knows it her pendant is on his tongue—and then gone just as fast.

He gawps for a moment, studying the stone as if he's never seen magic before, and scrapes the soft salt taste from his tongue with his teeth.

She inundates him with questions then, faster than he can answer them, and Hilliander just looks at her, wide-eyed.

"I'm sorry," he says solemnly after a brief pause, "but what's a sedition?"

Then he takes a deep breath and tries to answer her questions.

"I have this... issue," he begins, "and I need to go on a quest to fix it—I think—so I talked to Old Man Harold because he knows everything, or that's what mama used to say, said he was an old dumb gossip too, but anyway he said 'go to the Horned Horse, you can find anything you need at the Horned Horse' so I did and then you put that rock thing on my tongue and now I'm here."
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Gloriana Tenebrae
 Posted: Jun 27 2016, 05:29 AM
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Ziata relaxes and steps back a little. She still can't be sure of his motives, but even if he is not the bumpkin his words suggest he could not be much danger: the truestone had told her as much.

"I am sorry to have accosted you in such a fashion, but in these times I must be careful. And you should be careful too. Trouble will find you if you are loose-tongued about adventures or questing. Talk to the wrong person and you might disappear. You are not from the city, I wager, or you have been absent some time, for things are different now. There are laws against what you desire. The likes of you and I may not embark on deeds of valour, or quest for riches or fame. You cannot win renown, slay a dragon or save a princess if you are not a Taufiq, a Siridar, or a King. As a commoner you are no more permitted to wrap yourself in glory than you are to wrap yourself in ermine or cloth-of-gold."

She leans back against the opposite wall, feeling suddenly tired and dispirited. "It was once true that you could find whatever you wanted at the Horned Horse, but those days are long gone."

She fiddles absently with her hair, piled elaborately on top of her head and stares sidelong at the strange, sad-looking young man. "Still, since you are here and we are alone there's no reason not to listen to your tale if you wish to tell it."

She turns and limps towards the door on her left and unlocks it with a twitch of her fingers. The room inside is almost bare; two seats, a rickety table and a great oaken wardrobe, black with age. The scent of sandalwood is stronger here, but interlaced with a sharp odour of camphor from the wardrobe. She stands aside and waits to see if Hillander will enter.
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Lar
 Posted: Jun 28 2016, 01:04 PM
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"Oh," Hillander says, but it takes a moment for the weight of her explanation to truly sink in. He's common as can be—common as dirt. As if going questing wasn't enough of a challenge, now it's forbidden to his stupid bloodlines (which is, perhaps, safest) and even his stupid quest has to be a big stupid secret. He sags against the wall a little more heavily and repeats, "Oh."

Then he sees the fire go out of Ziata, and he mumbles an awkward "I'm sorry," and looks down at the floor as if it' suddenly turned into something more interesting than bowed floorboards.

He shuffles morosely into the newly opened room, sniffling at the scent of camphor and sandalwood twining around each other. Hillander slumps into the sturdier of the two chairs, which creaks a warning beneath him, and absently tugs at his hood.

"Well here's the thing," he starts, and then shrugs. "I don't know that I have a story, exactly. I just need to go on a quest to break a curse, that sort of thing. I don't care what kind of quest it is—I mean, I don't want to kill a dragon or anything like that." He clears his throat and looks away from Ziata. "I mean, I don't know if I could. Anyway," his eyes dart around the room and settle, ultimately, on the big wardrobe.

"What's with the, uh, magical wardrobe?"
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Gloriana Tenebrae
 Posted: Jun 28 2016, 03:53 PM
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Ziata waves away his apology and follows him into the room, pulling the door shut behind them. She sits opposite Hillander, carefully arranging her dress to avoid it catching of the cracked and splintered arms.

"As I said, embarking on a quest could put you in grave danger. Apart from risking arrest, the wild world is not a safe place to venture alone, and there are none left here who might accompany you. The heroic troupes and hunting bands are no more, their names tabu, their members scattered to the seven winds." She stares at Hillander, but doesn't see him, her eyes fixed on a distant time and place. Eventually she rouses herself and resumes speaking:

"There are ways to remove a curse in this city that are guaranteed to work, no matter what the geas set upon it. If you are rich, the Speakers of Twilight will shrive you for three handfulls of gold, or if you are willing to sell yourself as a seven-year slave to The Little Sisters of our Lady of the Razor, they will cut it from your soul with their joyful blades." She smiles a little ruefully. "I suspect neither of those are much use to you, but the knowledge I give you freely. If you tell me a little more of your circumstances I might be able to suggest something a little more helpful."

Her words peter out and she shrugs, then breaks out in peals of laughter at the mention of the wardrobe. It was a strangely musical sound in contrast to her scratched and rough manner of speech. Not wishing to insult, she forces herself to stop.

"That? It's not magical. Just old." She stands suddenly and walks over to it. "But you remind me, if we are to do this we might as well go about it the right way."

She flings the doors open. Inside it is mostly empty, with many hooks and hangars unused. A few dresses, old but carefully maintained, hang alongside a long black velvet robe, a pair of fighting claws and a few scraps of lacquered armour. The armour and weapons have settings for precious stones, but they are all empty, the jewels prised out and sold off years ago. On the floor of the wardrobe a few boxes are scattered here and there. Ziata picks up the largest and returns to the table, setting it down then pressing and manipulating the sides and top in a series of complex maneuvers. Eventually the hidden catches click and the side falls open. Inside are a number of small bottles and six glasses. The glasses are all unevenly sized and shaped, each carved from a single piece of fulgurite. Ziata fishes two glasses out and half fills them from one of the bottles with a dark sweet-smelling liquid. She pushes one over to Hillander then takes a sip from her own, shivering as the heat suffuses her body. "So...tell me of this curse. How did you come by it?"
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Lar
 Posted: Jun 28 2016, 10:44 PM
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"Do I look rich?" Hillander asks, a little sharply. "And I'd rather not have myself slaveried or cut or whatever." Then he shrugs apologetically. "I mean, thank you for the suggestions. I just have... other things going on." What, exactly, he chooses not to disclose. There's his family at home, for one, and the farm, and their livelihood, but also the matter of his own personal honor which simply will not permit him to be shrived—whatever that means.

His cheeks color as the woman opposite him breaks into laughter and corrects him about the wardrobe, but he still eyes the damnable thing suspiciously as if he's expecting it to move on its own. Worse, she opens it herself and scrabbles through the junk contained therein. The box she produces is far too complex for Hillander to comprehend, though he does quietly gawp at how easily she un-puzzles the puzzle box.

She produces glasses and what might be alcohol. Hillander isn't entirely sure that it's meant to be drunk.

"I'm not thirsty," he remarks with a watery smile, "But thank you."

Then Hillander shuffles his feet, looking down at the floor.

"Well," he begins. "I'd really rather not say. We'll just say there was a maiden who... wasn't so maidenly." He glances at Ziata's face, hoping that will be enough to satisfy her. Upon further silence, he carries on. "We had.... relations. Only she wasn't who she said she was. Anyway, she stuck me with this stupid curse until I go Questing, like in the olden days." He hems and haws a moment longer, and then at last says:

"It would be nice to get out of farming."
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Gloriana Tenebrae
 Posted: Jul 1 2016, 09:04 PM
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Ziata purses her lips. The rudeness and lack of etiquette the young man displays is aggravating, but her annoyance goes deeper than mere lack of manners. Her formality and the attempted toast had been a guilty indulgence. She had wanted, even for a moment to pretend that the old days were back. She still remembers the days when the tavern was full of raucous laughter and the discordant music of a dozen languages. Since her own curse had forced her to retire, the Inn had become a waystation for all manner of vagabonds, runaways, sinners and saints. She had sent many a roving band into the wilderness, parlaying her knowledge of the world for a share of loot and for the stories they would tell on their return. In smoky backrooms, secret deals were struck, and the exquisite treasures of forgotten kings divided up. In her day she had signed contracts, shared sacred toasts, and sworn oaths in blood with folk of half a hundred nations. Hillander's refusal to play along, to act the part of a hero, makes her embarrassed, caught out as she is in mawkish reminiscence. She downs the rest of her drink, then carefully replaces the glass. Her tone whe she speaks is more brusque than before.

"Not so maidenly? Was she a nymph? A witch? A succubus? Never mind, it doesn't matter. So, a curse of love. Or hate perhaps?" She smiles a little thinly. "Either is not so hard to remove. It's simply a matter of balance. Of paying off debts in kind. You could travel to the groves of Sinadon, it is a long journey but not a very dangerous one. The dryads there are always lonely in winter, bound to their groves. They would free you if you kept them company for a time, picked them flowers, sang to them, braided their hair. Or you could take ship to the floating isle of en-Sera-Shan and help the Queen of the Sunrise search for the bones of her lover, drowned these thousand years. There are even places within the city that suit, tho you would have to be careful. The catacombs and tunnels beneath the old graveyard on Blind King's Hill are full of the unquiet dead. If you were to vanquish them, end their wanderings and let them sleep once again with their loved ones in the sunless country, that act of mercy would break even the mightiest curse."

She shrugs, and stares at the table for a moment, fiddling impatiently with her empty glass. "If none of these strike your fancy, Im sure you can come up with something yourself. Any deed of sufficient valour, done for love rather than money should suffice." She glances at the robes hanging in the still open wardrobe, old and threadbare like herself, then sighs and looks away.

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