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 [Side-Quest]Here we go again, [Rylan]
Darren Ward
 Posted: Dec 22 2011, 01:21 AM
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SIDE QUEST
A Missing Child

“She won't stop crying. I swear you can hear her at night, wailing away...”

The old man was hunched over on his stool nursing a pint of beer. His eyes were surprisingly bright, like two sapphires stranded in an ancient sea. His wrinkles were oppressive, all consuming. Darren reckoned he was at least a hundred years old. He had to be.

He pulled his own drink closer. “Yeah?”

The old man nodded.

“Hm.” Darren found himself watching the old man, the line of his mouth turned upward a slight smile. “I wonder if she'd part with a few valuables if someone were to say...go find her daughter...” He rubbed his fingers together, letting the phantom sensation of currency run through him.

“She's a rich lass,” the old man said, snorting. “She'd part with the entire farm for a chance to see her daughter again.”

Darren rubbed his chin. “I see.”

“What are you thinking, traveller?”

His smile sharpened a little. Then, polishing off the last of his beer, Darren leaned forward, his forearm now resting against the top of the table. “Tell me, Old Man, where do I find this woman?”

***

Sometime later, when the sun was sitting comfortably near the horizon, Darren found his fellow companion outside the tavern. The air was cold with the promise of a bitter winter and the first flecks of snow were already beginning to dance their way to the muddy ground. The weather casters were predicting one of the harshest winters this year. It would test many, they said. An ominous winter, they called it.

Darren folded his arms across his chest. “Get your things. We have a lead,” he said.

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Rylan Komarcos
 Posted: Dec 22 2011, 01:45 AM
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Rylan rolled his eyes slightly, unimpressed by Ward's words. He'd heard them before. In fact, it had been those very words that had brought them out here in the first place. To collect a bounty on a band of so-called highwaymen. Some rich bureaucrat had insisted that the "thugs" had stolen a very old and expensive book from his carriage, and, thus, placed a bounty of 500 silver on each of their heads.

The former had been the reason why he'd been included. Ward hadn't needed to say so for Ry to figure out that he'd only wanted him along to verify the authenticity of the book. The guy wasn't really the type to share. Ry had to hand it to him though, for recognizing that he could get more for the text by selling it than actually returning it to the cheapskate offering the bounty.

Too bad the thing had turned out to be fake in the end. Worth a few silver maybe, but nothing spectacular like the bureaucrat had claimed. And the highway men? Boys. Only three boys in fact. Barely eighteen. Rylan had caught a glimpse of them fleeing their camp as he and Ward had approached.

That last thought brought a smile to his face.

"A good one I hope."

He picked up his satchel and slung it over his back, then cast an expectant look over at his partner in crime.

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Darren Ward
 Posted: Dec 22 2011, 01:57 AM
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He smiled.

“We'll see.”

Unfolding his arms, he let a hand fall to his belt, hooking his thumb between the leather and his coarse tunic. For a few seconds he stood there, explaining what little he could to Rylan. Missing girl. Potentially rich mother. Something about a reward and a forest. Textbook kidnapping from what he could tell.

And then he was done. Darren wasn't much for extrapolation, so he gave the basic details. What he wanted was for them to get a move on, before the trail ran cold—or worse: someone else found the girl. That was what worried him. Not that the girl might be dead or sold into slavery. Not that there was a distraught mother crying herself hoarse. What worried him was the idea that someone else might collect the reward.

That, or the mother suddenly realized her money wasn't worth a search party.

The thought that he would return home empty-handed bothered him. Darren hadn't travelled for a week only to return with a worthless book and the satisfaction of scaring off boys. Rylan was nice and all, but he wasn't a bag of gold coins.

Running a hand through his hair, he looked at Rylan. “So you in or what?”

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Rylan Komarcos
 Posted: Dec 22 2011, 02:17 AM
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The mage gave a pronounced shrug. "Yeah, sure. Why not?"

He didn't really have use for the money really-- it meant having to hear less of his brother's lectures on wasting the family's gold sure, but he'd heard enough of them to have developed an immunity anyway. Rylan was more interested in hearing the full story. Ward's regurgitations were great for getting the basics but they really left a lot to the imagination. He might have stripped away a seemingly minor detail without knowing. It left a slight possibility for this to turn into a worthwhile venture still. Then there was the fact that a rich client meant books. Maybe the lady had one or two worth his interest. And maybe he could persuade her to part with it in lieu of the promised gold.

Ry was feeling a bit more excited now.

It showed as he sidled over to the nearby hitching post and hurriedly untied his horse from it.

"Lead the way."

He swung himself back up onto the mare's back.

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Darren Ward
 Posted: Dec 22 2011, 02:32 AM
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That was the kind of answer he was looking for.

Daren pulled himself onto his horse, sliding easily onto the mare's back. The beast trotted a few feet forward and then took a few steps back, adjusting to the weight of her rider. Darren ignored the movement. New horses always took time getting used to.

With a quick snap on the reins they were out, bolting down the muddy streets of the city and out into the quaint countryside that spread outwards from Elise.

The manor-house was a large, elegant affair. Built of stone and mortar, it towered over the flat farmland like a stern matron, gazing out into the heart of the forest a few leagues west. Tall fences ran the perimeter of the Lady's lands and there was a sense of organization everywhere. The lawns were well-kept and manicured, while the staff were in crisp, laundered uniforms. It was all very prosperous looking.

They rode to the ornate gates that seemed to be more style than substance. They probably couldn't keep out a determined teenager, much less a potential band of highwaymen. There were guards posted at the gate, their polished breastplates gleaming in the fading sunlight. One lifted a hand to stop them.

“Halt, Riders! What be your business at this Manor?”

Darren looked down at the guard and pursed his lips. Then he looked at Rylan. “Well, Messere?” Rylan was, after all, some sort of nobility, right? He probably dealt with gatekeepers like these all the time.

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Rylan Komarcos
 Posted: Dec 22 2011, 02:59 AM
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Upon first glimpsing the property of their new patron, Rylan couldn't help but to think of home. Not the smaller mansion in Fort Lina he and his brother now resided in, but the palatial estate his mother oversaw back in Shima. His childhood home. The resemblance wasn't that uncanny, but it was enough to stir the memory. This was the reason why he found himself completely puzzled as he realized that there was more than one set of eyes that had settled on him.

Rylan blinked, still stunned by the unexpected attention.

Then it all clicked.

Right, guards. His family had had those too.

The young man shook his head and cleared his features. They hardened a moment later.

"Halt? Does your mistress not require assistance in locating her child? I'd have thought that an urgent matter."

Then, as he'd seen Aaron do countless times before, Rylan simply urged his mount forward.

Before his horse had taken even the third step, the gates began opening, clearing his path to the house beyond. It prompted a smirk from him. The routine never got old.

By the time Ward and himself reached the grooms awaiting them by the doors, Rylan was sure that they, too, knew of his status as their mistress's peer. Servants had a way of getting the word out about such things.

Confirmation only widened his smirk.

The noble pointed at the boy accepting his reins as he dismounted, indicating the way the groom was keeping his eyes down and towards the ground instead of glancing up at him. He then pointed over to similar behavior displayed by the boy accepting Ward's reins.

"Hey, you get to be important for a day."

An upbeat laugh followed.

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Darren Ward
 Posted: Dec 22 2011, 03:13 AM
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The gates swung open.

The guards glanced at him, but if they had any opinions on his swords and his general upkeep, they kept it to themselves.

He urged the horse forward, following closely until they reached the doors of the manor proper. Like the gates, these two were more ornate than practical. Darren figured they must have cost quite a pretty penny, what with the ornate carvings of woodland scenes and beasts spanning the massive panels of wood. The artwork was quite impressive too; the detail was exquisite.

He pushed off his horse and dropped easily to his feet.

Rylan's words were met with a smile of his own. “Hey, shut up.” His smile dropped as he turned to the door, watching it as it opened to reveal a massive hallway.

Inside, the Manor was every bit as nice as Darren expected it to be. Tapestries hung from the walls and rich carpets lined the stone floors. Servants bustled about. It was all very busy and self important. Darren instantly felt alien in this world of order and riches. His faint scowl indicated just how little he appreciated someone else being better off than him. “Nobles,” he muttered under his breath.

They walked for a few minutes until they reached what seemed to be some sort of audience chamber. It was mostly empty save for the continuing presence of tapestries and a massive fireplace. It was there that their future employer stood, her back straight as a rod, and her hands clutching a handkerchief.

She turned just in time to see them.

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Rylan Komarcos
 Posted: Dec 22 2011, 03:33 AM
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His smirk had faded once they entered the house, the furnishings having taken his attention away from the earlier amusement. They captured his attention for a completely different reason though. Whereas Ward was visibly awed by them, Rylan was simply measuring the woman's worth. Being the son of a merchant, he was fairly adept at doing so.

By the time his companion muttered his comment, Ry had determined that she must have been an official or married to one. The various pieces were extravagant, certainly more than what a bureaucrat could afford, but not as sumptuous as some of the knickknacks his mother, a minor noble, indulged in. Even accounting for his father's mercantile wealth, Ward was probably wrong about their host's status. Which was why the smirk returned.

Before Rylan could call him on it, however, their journey ended in a rather solemn-looking waiting room, occupied by an even more solemn-looking woman of about thirty five.

The sight stopped him in his tracks and dried his mouth. Nonetheless, he still managed to eke out the reason for their visit.

"We heard your daughter went missing..."

The mage let his words hang there. He'd already turned to his companion and nodded to indicate that he should proceed with informing the woman. It was Ward who had heard the story after all.

Hopefully, the guy would catch onto the fact that he hadn't used any formal address in speaking to her. It would save them a lot of time on needless etiquette if he realized that he needn't treat her as a noble.

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Darren Ward
 Posted: Dec 22 2011, 04:46 AM
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Her eyes were watery and red, with heavy bags swelling underneath. She wasn't old, but grief had made her ancient to look at. Thirty going on Ninety.

Disgusting.

His lips parted in a slight glower as she sniffed and tried to collect herself. Rylan as usual was leaving the talking up to him—which was always a bad idea. When had he ever managed to make the Talking part easy? It was frustrating. He wasn't the high-society dandy. This wasn't his job.

The woman spoke, her voice thin. “She...yes. I was made aware that you are here to offer assistance?” She sniffed again, a shudder running through her. Darren noted just how sallow and pale her skin looked. She must have stopped eating.

“We can help,” Darren said, voice gruff.

She looked at him. For a second her eyes sharpened; she clearly did not appreciate the tone of his voice. She did not mention it however, when she said, “It's been three days. I have sent my guards to find Annie, but they haven't returned.” Another sniff. There were tears now. “She's so young. My poor child. I can't...”

Darren had just about had enough. “Look,” he said, cutting her off. “We can find her. Just tell us where she went and how much you're willing to pay.”

Watery eyes met his. They hardened again before looking away. The woman wiped at them.

Darren waited.

“I do not even know your names...”

“Does it matter?”

She stiffened. “No. I guess it doesn't. My daughter—Annie—went into the forest. Whether she was taken there, or lured there, I do not know.”

“Lured?”

The woman nodded.

“By what?”

She stiffened some more and her eyes began to water again. When she spoke, her voice was a whisper. “Kappas,” she said as another shudder ran through her.

Darren looked at her for a few seconds, his expression cold, unsympathetic. Then he turned to Rylan, his eyes filled with a question. Kappa? He mouthed. What the fuck was that?

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Rylan Komarcos
 Posted: Dec 22 2011, 05:47 AM
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Rylan had anticipated Ward's gaze even before he felt the man's eyes land on him. He was the encyclopedia after all; he had all the answers.

"It's a turtle-like thing. Lives by the water. Some sources say that they can take human form to entice people into following them back home. Where they drown them."

His tone was flat and the explanation matter-of-fact. Rylan was too busy processing what the new information meant to worry about how he might be coming off. Besides, if the woman hadn't slapped Ward yet, he doubted that she could be offended by his own, more subdued, indifference.

"That's what bothers me though."

He still hadn't bothered to look at Ward properly yet, instead, keeping his focus and scrutiny on the woman before him.

"If the thing can disguise itself, then how do you know it's a kappa?"

She looked offended.

"Furthermore," he added, cutting her off. "If they can't, then your daughter would know to steer clear of a creature like that, making it harder for her to be lured or taken."

Now the woman just looked wounded.

"I... I don't know. The servants they..."

Ry didn't catch the rest of what she said. His mind was still trying to wrap itself around the conundrum. It just didn't make sense. Unless...

"You're not telling us something."

The words weren't quite as brusque as those his partner had issued but there was no mistaking the gravity in his voice.

"Something important." He locked his eyes in on hers. "Something that might help save your daughter."

The woman started bawling. His verbal dagger had struck its mark. Whether it would prove to be productive, however, remained to be seen.

A minute passed, then two. By the time they got to the third, Rylan was ready to press her. She opened up before he could.

"The... the serving girl..." she sniffed, between sobs. "It took her. The month before. A field hand saw it though and I sent out a party to get her back."

It was all beginning to make sense now.

"They found it. In the water with her. Trying to drown her..."

The woman began wailing then, her body wracked with convulsions as she struggled to finish her tale.

"They--" A hard blow into her handkerchief. "They held it off and pulled her out before it could finish."

"Let me guess; your daughter wandered off in the same direction as that other girl?"

"Yes." Her voice was cracking now. "We searched the same creek but it wasn't there."

So much for the lead.

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Darren Ward
 Posted: Dec 24 2011, 03:38 AM
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Oh, a Turtle-thing.

How...frightening.

Only Rylan would catch the almost imperceptible roll of Darren's eyes. Were people that incompetent? This woman had at least a dozen armed men at her disposal—most of who knew this area. How could they not keep tabs on a little girl? It was stupid. Couldn't they just lock her in a room or something? If Kappas were running about—and if they were this dangerous...

But whatever; it didn't matter. There was money to bad had, and Darren wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth. Especially a gift horse this stupid.

Rylan went through his questions, drawing out some information that was useful and useless in equal measure. A maid had been taken. The creek where she'd been dragged to was empty now; no sign of Kappa activity. Darren felt his tongue probe the flesh of his bottom lip. He wasn't much of a thinker—that being Rylan's job—but Darren had the lead he needed.

“Tell us where the creek is.”

The woman blinked and looked at him. “I don't understand. I already told you—”

“That she wasn't there; I know. Just tell me where it is.”

“Its uh, south of estate, where the forest begins. It's not hard to find.”

Darren nodded. Well, that was all the information he needed. Thumbing his nose, he oriented himself and gave the women a cold look. “Have the money ready. We're bringing your daughter back.” With that said, he turned on his heel and made for the door, not bothering to check if Rylan was following.

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Rylan Komarcos
 Posted: Dec 24 2011, 07:47 PM
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Ry did, indeed, follow his friend, but not before taking the time to direct a pronounced shrug at the woman. It was as close to an explanation as she would get concerning his partner's rudeness. After all, what did she expect from a bounty hunter, an invitation to tea? The young man hid his developing smirk, then turned and made his own exit.

He caught up with Ward by the front door, the other man looking as impatient and high-strung as ever waiting for the grooms to retrieve their horses. It posed a stark contrast with the casual ease that Rylan himself showed sauntering up behind the mercenary. There was no doubting that he found his friend's demeanor amusing.

"Kinda hard on the old bat, weren't you?"

The noble didn't care that he was probably within hearing range of the grooms who were now returning with the horses in tow.

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