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The next day begins with a pretty typical thing for Ane: fortune telling.
It’s the last day for the caravan to wring the last few copper bits it can from the local populace, and Ane spends a solid day’s work behind her table with its (still somewhat paint-spattered) brocade cloth. The readings seem to blur together for her — a few minor lordlings on a lark, badgering her for news of their impending fortunes. A gambler or two asking about their next big score. A few shady types with marks on their temples where masks usually hang, probing her for intrigue and forewarnings of betrayals to come. It’s not an outstanding day’s work, by any means, but it’s a thorough and steady one. She nets nine miters, nine scutes; a tidy sum, and the last from a city for some time.
Once it’s over, Ane is exceedingly pleased to pack up her tent and put S’varga behind her. The caravan has money, guards, and enough supplies to get them through the next leg of their journey, so the sooner she puts some potentially very dissatisfied customers of “Doctor Lartimus” behind her, the better.
When Ane steps out of her tent, she sees that everyone’s gathering up for their last meal in the city. There’s not enough time for one last day of carousing, so everyone is faithfully assembling at the foodline and eating by firelight. While Ane is generally unaffected by the darkness of the tunnels, the other members of the troupe all flock to the nearest light source. It lends things a rather warm, conspiratorial atmosphere, with people packed in tighter clusters than usual.
Today, Aedas the strong man is the one doling out food — and massive portions of it. It’s a pity that he’s never had much sense for flavor. On the bright side, he hands out a pretty protein-heavy meal, full of boiled-down plants and fibers known to strengthen the body.
When Ane approaches at the front of the line, he shovels her portion onto a bowl with a smaller bowl, fumbling with the utensils in his massive hands.
“Hey Ane, got the gud stuff for ya!” He chimes, smiling to his eyes.
“Thanks, Aedas!” She replies brightly, as she accepts the bowl. Even if Aedas didn’t err deeper on the side of nutrition rather than flavor, it’s nice to not have to worry about Brair’s peppers. She turns, bowl and spoon in hand, to find a place to sit — the clusters of cravanners seem warm and jovial enough, satisfied with a successful trip, but it might be nice to take advantage of her ability to see in the dark and find a quiet place to relax…
When Ane arrives, Jiselmo the actor is in the midst of retelling his tales of the madcap adventures of King Fweep-Fweep and the joust, in usual form. It seems like the story of a small creature enchanting the caravanners gets a little more embroidery with every retelling; this time, the wagons get decorated a little more brightly, and a cadre of charming caravan-followers carry Jiselmo away from the ersatz tiltyard on their shoulders while cheering.
Nelea the animal tamer shakes her head and mutters, “You really shouldn’t encourage such things, Jiselmo. Someone could have been hurt.”
“Oh, it’s fine! That’s what the pillows are for.”
Korin the straight-man covers his face with his palm, and mutters, “They were still poles being thrust at alosin-velocity, Jiselmo…”
“Well, the ground is soft als– oh, hello Ane!” He breaks, waving at her with his spoon.
Ane takes a seat, though she somewhat regrets it — of course Jiselmo would have plenty to say about being the master of ceremonies to a tiny fweep-king. She gives the group a chagrined smile and a wave of her spoon before setting to eating her dinner.
It doesn’t last much longer. While the conversation continues (and seems unaware of Ane’s role), it soon comes to a swift stop. Looming at the other edge of the group is the klorrian magician, a rather rare figure at these fireside gatherings. He’s always a gloomy picture of a man, with long, thin black hair and a gaunt, disapproving face. All this paired with his ostentatiously-dyed robes and air of importance. The look is only broken up by a pair of floppy lop-ears that stick out of his pocket, each thick with cotton-like tufts. His steps are quiet, but the sound of a smeerp munching a carrot is not.
The moment he steps up, silverware clinks and conversation grinds to a halt. It doesn’t seem deliberate; his severe, stoic presence has a talent for throwing a wrench into any conversation. As Jiselmo puts it, he’s the “doorstopper of chatter, a paper-weight for words, a muzzle on the snout of pleasant company, and a condom on the cock of social grace.”
Despite this colorful description, Jiselmo is the first to speak.
“Ah, hello Vozhik! Come to rejoin our delightful company?”
The klorr glowers, staring down his nose.
“I come to address your idiocy yesterday. Your indiscretions and frippery rub you against forces you’d best not tamper with,” he cautions, as his sharp ears lower gravely.
Jiselmo smirks, waggishly swaying from side-to-side.
“Oh? Afraid I’ll pull one of your smeerps out of my arse and put you out of a job?”
This earns Jiselmo an elbow-jostle to the rib from Korin, who adds, “It’s all right now. No one was hurt.”
The klorr responds with a chilly, fanged smile.
“You don’t even recall that you were influenced? Hah. It’s no surprise, given your lack of mental acuity.”
“It was an accident, Vozhik,” Ane interjects firmly, “Nobody was hurt. Besides, it won’t happen again.”
The klorr shifts his gaze to her, raising an eyebrow.
“Oh? I would hope so. Let us hope this is the only force you house that’s beyond your ken.”
“You mind your words, Vozhik. You are with the caravan, true, but that gives you no license to insult as you please. One more jibe like that, and I’ll have you out of our circle on your ear.”
The magician reels back for a second, chastened. Somehow, even such a mild threat makes him wilt and balk. He quickly regains his stiff posture, and utters a dour “Hmph.” Then, more cautiously, he adds, “Just a warning. We travel in a complicated world with troublesome forces…” His gaze shifts subtly back to Ane. “A fae mood can cause all sorts of problems.”
Then, he promptly turns to leave with a swish of his voluminous cape, which he wears literally all the time. His mysterious exit, however, is ruined by the way he tucks a hand into his shirt pocket to anxiously stroke his smeerp’s ears.
“You pull smeerps out of a hat!” Ane calls out sourly after him, to his swiftly-retreating back. There are some people who she would accept this admonishment from — Dynkala, naturally, and maybe the medicine-seller, Vaidna — but the pick-a-card-any-card guy does not number among them, however tall and glowery he may be.
“Void,” she mutters, turning back to Jiselmo and the others, “Is he always on?”
“Regrettably, yes,” Korin replies sourly. “I don’t know how he walks around with all those smeerps up-him.”
“Oh, it’s important for some of the dark magical super-spooky arts,” Jiselmo adds in, in a suitably, theatrically eerie tone. “He might need to conjure ribbons or saw pretty ladies in an emergency.”
“I worry for the smeerps,” Nelea says quietly. “It must be hard to breathe…”
Ane shakes her head. It isn’t that she doesn’t have her own concerns about the fweep-fweep — far from it — but the last thing she needs is to be scolded like an unruly toddler who left their toys out where someone could trip over them.
“Damn near killed my appetite,” she mutters glumly.
Vila (of the triplets) side-whispers, “You should see his dirty wagon… It’s a real warren in there, not made for a person.”
This earns Vila an immediate elbow-strike from the other two on each side. She utters a small grunt of surprise and a mutter of protest to the oddly silent Wila and Zila.
In the distance, Vozhik heads off toward the edge of the camp. He’s grabbed up a torch, casting his stark features in half-shadow. He wanders out and greets three figures approaching from the city — the caravan master among them.
As Vozhik stops and palavers with Jarrik, the light of his torch falls upon the two newcomers. One is a ruptured silhouette at first, then resolves into a callosian covered in long, lumpy protrusions almost like the back of a Skrajjic rock-lizard. It’s almost uncomfortable to look at, the way his clothes appear to warp to fit his distorted shape. The weight of the crags along his shoulders and back seems to hold him down, forcing his posture to stoop low.
The other is… a collection of birds? A flock of massive, twitching wings? And yet it stands in the vague shape of a man. It’s hard to tell whether there’s a person beneath them.
Jiselmo, rubbernecking all the while, speaks for the rest as attention falls upon this spectacle.
“… What the fuck?”