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  1. #31
    Anakita Snakecharm

    Anakita was waiting inside when they arrived. "Hello!" she said brightly. Her cheerful tone suggested she was itching for an adventure. "Come on in."

    Noting Iliana and Mikael's surprise that Nairn had just walked right in without knocking, Anakita added casually, "It's alright. I have a ton of traps set up. Anyone who made it this far is someone we want to have here."

    Since from her own perspective she had explained fully, Anakita didn't notice that this seemed to make Iliana and Mikael more uneasy and confused rather than less so. But Mikael shrugged, and they moved further into the house. If they were entrusting their children to this family, ultimately it was a good thing that there were plenty of defenses in place.

    Iliana and Mikael were then introduced to a dizzying array of people, who seemed to be from several different roughly humanoid species. All were described as family members. Which explained the large house - at first Iliana had assumed it was merely a matter of wealth, but now she saw that the Snakecharm-Baruch clan was probably making efficient use of the space.

    The last person introduced was Anakita's husband. He was large by human standards, both tall and thickly built, but that wasn't what drew the most attention. The man was covered with burn scars, and when he spoke, it was with the obviously damaged vocal cords and lungs of someone who had had experienced the internal as well as external effects of some terrible fire. Anakita offered no explanation, and had forgotten an explanation might be warranted - Stefan was just her Stefan, and she was long past any thought of first impressions. Mikael and Iliana didn't ask, though the children regarded Stefan for a long time with wide eyes. Stefan seemed used to this, and took their reaction in stride.

    "If you need any supplies before we leave, we should have what you're looking for," Anakita offered. "Then we should get going, before your guy realizes something is up."
    "Sleep to dream, and we dream to live..." -Great Big Sea

  2. #32
    Julius Costalandrius

    When his rune stone flared to life, Julius assumed it was the barbarian woman he had sent to reclaim his children from the rogue. He hoped she was contacting him to report success; he was tired of failures. It was not her image he saw in the stone's surface, though, but rather that of one of his fellow cultists.

    Julius sighed. "I'm working on it, Vellrius," he said.

    Vellrius shook his head. "You're out of time. The sacrifice was due in five years' time. You have been given... leniency. But the priestess says a sacrifice needs to be made tonight."

    "I don't have the twins back," Julius replied bluntly. It had been convenient, that his ritual had given him the option of twins. He could sacrifice one, and still have the other as a heir. He would keep the son, he had decided - that would ensure his family name was carried on.

    "You have your backup plan," Vellrius pointed out. "That may satisfy her for now, until you can provide what you promised."

    "We can hope so," Julius agreed grimly.

    Lost in thought, he climbed the stairs to his rented chamber where the young woman waited - a very young woman, many years the junior of Julius.

    "Hello, my dear," he said, and kissed her on the cheek, then rested his hand briefly on her rounded, pregnant belly. He hoped the gesture would come off as affectionate rather than what it really was - appraising. "I have a surprise for you. I'm taking you somewhere special this evening."

  3. #33
    Count / Countess Quaxo9 is offline Quaxo9's Avatar
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    Nairn Tuckamore

    She'd helped herself to whatever was in the kitchen, mucking about with the pot on the stove until it was spiced to her tastes and then ate from the bowl with her fingers. The open curiosity of the children was something she admired. If people were so honest as they were when they were children, Tyria would be a much better place. The kids were going to have a great time. Their parents, on the other hand, looked to be a bit shell-shocked. Still, they had made the right decision bringing their beloved children to the safest place in the world.

    "Well, I do have a way to draw him out. He gave me this stone - I could use it to call him - claim I have the children. We should then have our destination."
    Winner of the dubious Vaarsuvius Award for Verbousness!

    I support altruism.

  4. #34
    Anakita Snakecharm

    "Good idea!" Anakita said enthusiastically. She jammed a finger in Nairn's soup bowl and then stuck it in her mouth. "Mm! It's definitely better with the spices you added. Anyway, yeah, you could even let him see the kids. Obviously they're going to be staying here, but once he sees them he'll assume you're finishing the contract. I wonder if we have any biscuits...?"

    She started digging around in the bread box.


    ***


    When Julius was summoned, his initial response was impatience. Who needed him now? He was about to start something very delicate, and couldn't be disturbed...

    Then he realized who it was. Was there hope after all?

    "Just a moment, my dear," Julius said. When his paramour didn't seem to be getting the hint, he said with more irritation, "Leave me alone for a minute! This is important."

    He cleared his throat, then said in his most professional voice, "Yes? Have you found my beloved son and daughter?"

  5. #35
    Count / Countess Quaxo9 is offline Quaxo9's Avatar
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    Nairn Tuckamore

    The word 'biscuit' had brought an eager alertness to the Norn and she waited for some to be produced before palming one for herself. After all, she'd had naught but a buttered roll for supper and she was a mite peckish.

    Anakita's suggestion of allowing Julius to see the children as proof sounded like a solid plan to her, but she checked with Iliana and Mikael by looking at them and simply raising her eyebrows. When they didn't seem to love the idea, they also didn't disagree. Finishing her bowl with a final swallow, she tidied it and herself up at the sink. She crossed back over to the family, producing the rune stone and asking a few basic questions regarding how far Julius would be able to see and if he'd be able to perceive the environment. Satisfied, she moved to a quieter room, trailed by the children.

    "Of course. It was a simple task. Where shall I bring them?" her tone was equally professional. Fortunately what she had to say was completely true or he might have sensed some interference. Flat-out lies were not Nairn's strong suit.

  6. #36
    Julius Costalandrius

    "Oh, thank the gods!" Julius replied. The relief in his voice was genuine - but not for the reason Nairn might imagine. He would be off the hook with his deity soon, now that he could make an appropriate sacrifice. "Meet me back in Lion's Arch, at the inn where we first spoke."

    He cut the connection and seemed to deflate. Thank goodness he hadn't had to do the bloody and distasteful deed he had planned!

    Vellrius was not so convinced. "The priestess demanded your sacrifice immediately," he insisted.

    "My son and daughter will be here in a few hours. What difference will it make?"

    "Do you really want to find out...?" Vellrius queried.

    Julius realized that he did not. And, after all, surely a double sacrifice would earn him double the favor with his cult.

    "Come here, my dear," he called to his young lover. "Just through this door..."

    She followed him, but he could sense her hesitation. When he had promised her a date, she surely hadn't imagined this damp old tunnel. But she followed anyway. That was good.

    Julius had considered trying to cut the unborn baby from her body, but had decided that would be too messy. There were limits. Surely this would do...

    He grabbed her from behind and wrapped an arm around her. She gasped, but then giggled, thinking he was being playfully affectionate. Her laughter turned to a scream as he plunged his knife deep into her belly. From that angle, he had no way to aim, no idea if he'd judged the angle correctly. For good measure, he stabbed her again, and then again. Her screams turned to a helpless gurgle as he let her drop to the ground.

    "Accept... this sacrifice..." Julius wheezed as he dragged her onto the makeshift altar, winded from exertion and excitement.

    There was blood on his hands. On his clothes, and staining his knife. It was disgusting. But his bargain was almost fulfilled.


    ***


    "Just so you know, he's in a sewer tunnel under Lion's Arch," Anakita told Nairn conversationally. "I've been there before, with Forgal. I recognize the stonework. Shall we go surprise him?"

  7. #37
    Count / Countess Quaxo9 is offline Quaxo9's Avatar
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    Nairn Tuckamore

    Anakita's keen eye and sharp memory never failed to impress. Her eyebrow arched at the Ranger, as she replied without a hint of sarcasm, "Of course. I think Julius is the sort who likes surprises."

    The little party soon found themselves skulking through the rank entrails of Lion's Arch. While their soft boots made little noise, there was plenty of sound otherwise. Water rushing through pipes and falling into pools, rats squeaking, the odd karka....and a scream. That didn't quite belong. If she had been able to see anyone else, she might have exchanged a glance, but as it was she simply picked up the pace.

    The tunnel opened abruptly into a low cavern, lit with torches. In its centre, a dais with an altar - and on that altar a bloody heap of a woman. Beside the altar, a stained Julius. Unwilling to take the main prize for herself, Nairn simply leapt toward the nearest batch of cultists and struck out with her staff. As the head of it swung toward them, the wrappings fell away and sparks flew from the blade. The torches weren't the only thing that would burn down here.

  8. #38
    Anakita Snakecharm

    Anakita was annoyed to see that they had arrived too late to prevent the act of violence Julius had apparently come here to perpetrate.

    Iliana ran to the woman on the altar - at first, Anakita assumed it was just the natural response to aid a fellow being, but she realized it was more personal than that when Iliana cried out, "Estella! No!" Iliana knelt by the other woman's side, tore off a piece of her skirt, and pressed it to the injured abdomen.

    Anakita didn't have time to ponder the possible connection between the two... or to assess the injuries to see whether the victim would survive. Anakita hoped so. But there was a lot of blood.

    Instead, she focused on feathering the cultists with arrows.

    Meanwhile, Julius and Mikael stood face to face. "Idiot!" Julius fumed. "We could both have been free. But now you will never..."

    He was interrupted by an arrow straight through the heart, and collapsed to the floor.

    "Oops," Anakita said speculatively, unsure if she had made a mistake or not. "Should I have waited till what we heard what he had to say?"

  9. #39
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    Nairn Tuckamore

    As Anakita put an end to Julius, Nairn changed her staff's arc just enough to avoid killing a cultist outright. He was disarmed and wounded, but alive. She considered this fortunate as he was the only one left standing. Grabbing by what she imagined was the collar under the voluminous folds of fabric, she tossed him in the direction of the dais and held her blade to his neck.

    "You. You will fill us in on what is going on here."

    She tapped his cheek with the flat of the blade to help indicate that she was talking to him. Allowing her gaze to travel now that there were two additional sets of eyes on the cultist, she could take in the scene between Iliana and the woman. The floor was slick with blood, but what drew her attention was that the woman's abdomen appeared...oddly shaped. Pregnant. What kind of a cretin stabbed a pregnant woman in the belly? The man on the floor got another slap from her staff simply because Julius wasn't around to bear the brunt of her growing anger.

  10. #40
    Anakita Snakecharm

    The injured woman - apparently Estella? - was still breathing. That was good. Now that Anakita had a moment to look at the injuries, it was pretty clear that there was no way that this would result in the birth of a live baby. The damage was too extensive. The mother might have a chance at survival, though, if they moved quickly.

    "We need to get her to a healer!" Anakita said. "Right now!"

    In the meantime, she conjured a small spring of healing waters in a circle around Estella, but that wasn't going to be nearly enough. They would need to get her more extensive help.

    The cultist sneered at Nairn. "Julius promised one of his children as a sacrifice. That was the price of having twins. He could only keep one. His death changes nothing. One of his children will still be demanded. And this mess..." He gestured with his chin toward the altar. "This cheap substitute will not suffice. None of us can escape fate."

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