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(DF) The Wilting Rose

 
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5/12/2019 6:30:32   
NagisaXIkari
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"Memories and possibilities are ever more hideous than realities." ~H.P Lovecraft

Prologue: The Fall

The fall of Espina Rosa dealt a crippling blow to The Rose with the break out of one of their most dangerous captives.

Some within the organization, advocated for executing those captured by The Rose, something that was shot down and those advocating for it reprimanded. Instead a new prison would be called for.

Members stationed in Amityvale, had heard rumours, whispers really of distant towns from travellers who could at best be described as disturbed. Among those whispers was mention of a town that was home to a foreboding asylum. The town of Arkham.

It was too good of an opportunity to not warrant an investigation at the very least and should it prove to be real and defensible enough, the new Espina Rosa.

As not to divert resources from Amityvale and elsewhere, a team was set to be assembled and begin their investigation, consulting with The Rose stationed in the walled town as well as conduct interviews with the townspeople to find out all that they could about the alleged town of Arkham and its asylum.

Chapter I: Assembly

He cursed under his breath at the parchment a scribe had given to him, running a gloved hand through his black hair. He had been assigned the duty of leading the investigation into Doomwood to find the alleged asylum somewhere in the region and looking at the names on the roster, he just knew it wasn't going to be as simple as his briefing made it sound.

Resting beside him was a large hammer with a magnet supposedly of Dwarven origin attached at the hilt which he picked up with minimal effort and slung it over his back, the magnet connecting to the standard issue Rose armour he wore beneath a large, heavy coat many within the organization attributed to his upbringing in Dragesvard. But his most striking feature was the half mask forged from the signature blue metal most Rose equipment was made from covering the left side of his face, a rose where his eye should be. Every now and again when the nights grew cold, the pain would flare up and he'd be brought back to the day when he was an aspiring Dragonslayer wielding a hammer he forged himself and the chilling breath of an ice dragon took half his face.

He looked over the roster once more as he went to the meeting hall. Some of these names were too ridiculous to be real, probably ironic.

Cry. He dreaded the idea of being stuck with some crybaby. Sight. Probably blind. Hands. What are they, a pervert? Kid. Probably some fossil. And lastly Simon, the only one with an actual name. He grimaced at the idea of who or what Simon could be.

The meeting hall was large mostly empty room as though it were initially a gathering hall for Swordhaven's monied class with some wooden chairs in the middle where various people in modified Rose attire and a single person in standard Rose attire, presumably the one who'd be giving the briefing sat.

"Welcome, Captain Roland," the one in standard Rose attire said. "Please, have a seat. We have much to discuss."

Roland took a seat and looked over those that sat before him. The first was a tall male in fairly standard ManaHunter attire, the helmet nowhere to be seen showing his disheveled blonde hair and blue eyes while his attire showed a lack of care with hodgepodge attempts at repairing it.

"Your name?" Roland asked the blonde ManaHunter.

"Cry, sir," he said, sounding like he had to force himself to address his superior officer formally.

He looked at the one beside Cry, a young woman with black and red hair tied into twintails with gold wire frame glasses in standard Energizer attire.

"Sight, sir," she said in a soft almost a whisper voice. She looked directly at him, the glasses magnifying her green eyes, showing she wasn't blind, which came as a relief.

The third member was tall woman with long dark hair, long eye lashes, and hazel eyes in a modified ManaHuntress uniform. The greaves were cut off just above the knee, the shoulder plates removed while the top was cut off at the waist revealing her stomach and even stranger, strapped to her hip was the standard sword used by ManaHunters rather than the daggers.

"Name?" Roland asked, almost exhausted at this point.

"Hands, sir," she said in a husky tone.

Roland resisted the urge to sigh, dreading having to spend any time with this group of what could best be described as delinquents until he turned his sight towards the next one relieved that he seemed normal despite looking like he was barely out of his teen years. The fourth member was a young dark haired male with green eyes in standard ManaHunter attire with no modifications, helmet resting on his lap.

"Kid, I presume?"

"Yes, sir," the one identified as Kid responded, his voice firm and confident.

How'd this one become part of this team of rejects? His voice alone commanded respect in such a way Roland felt like this one should've been leading the operation rather than himself.

And lastly was another woman with blue eyes like sapphires marked either by heavy make-up or dark circles from a lack of sleep and hair as white as the snowfields of Dragsvard cut short in Energizer attire adorned with multiple chains and other trinkets that must make her sound like a rattling keyring when she walks. What stood out most about her was the series of piercings she had, A lip ring attached to an earring via a thin chain and a nose ring attached to an earring on the opposite side via a thin chain, an aesthetic common among the Magisterium.

"And lastly Simon, I presume?" Roland asked, some of his disbelief in the squad presented before him escaping into his voice.

"Yes, sir," the one identified as Simon responded, trying to stifle a yawn.

Roland looked towards the one who arranged this meeting, his eye showing annoyance. They were a bookish looking male in a blue robe adorned with Rose emblems as was standard of magus and other less combative types. His robe being quite plain as opposed to the more unique appearances more renown magi take on suggested he was a novice at best.

"Care to explain how this group was chosen for this mission?"

"Um...yes, sir," the young magus began stammering. "You see, there aren't enough operatives to dispatch on a mission that is based mostly on rumours, so..." he coughs, trying to maintain eye contact with Roland despite his own nervousness. "So, your squad was chosen from reserves as per orders from those above me.

Roland rubbed his temple. No wonder they were 'reserves.' Skimming the roster, all but one of them had multiple infractions and disciplinaries for various forms of misconduct that it was surprising they were still within the ranks of The Rose.

The entry on Kid was interesting in that he did have field experience having been on a mission eight months ago. Easy enough mission of just clearing out a Clawkin nest and apprehending the creatures, but somehow it ended in the deaths of six people with him as the only survivor. Pending investigation, he had been relieved of field duty until this operation.

"Anywho," the magus began. "The purpose of this meeting was to introduce you to the team you'll be leading. Tomorrow morning you all will be leaving for Amityvale via gryphon."

For such a brief meeting, Roland was exhausted. With such a ragtag team, he wondered if the leadership had any faith in this operation succeeding.

"Dismissed," he said.

Chapter II: Departure

Roland and his squad met at the gryphon stables, Kid was the first to arrive even before Roland while Simon was the last, looking like she had just woken up minutes ago.

Simon's tardiness explained her record while Kid arriving before anyone else was unnerving to Roland. It was almost like he was trying too hard to be a model soldier.

"Nice of you all to finally make it," Roland began. "As you all know, in a few moments we will be departing for Amityvale. And should you have read the dossier, none of this will be new to you, but anyway, our first objective is to consult the Rose members stationed in the town and, interview townspeople and gather all information available. Aside from the town of Arkham, we have information on the town of Miskatonic which is where a university is. Assuming it does exist, we will consult the university staff for information on Arkham before continuing. Any questions before we depart?"

When Roland got no response, the group saddled up and the gryphons took flight.

***

The light of the full moon suggested it was mid-afternoon in Darkovia and its Doomwood, the gryphons touching down outside the stables.

"Greetings, sir," a Rose stable worker said, followed by others as they worked to bring in the gryphons and aid their riders in dismounting.

Simon shrunk back from the hand of a stable worker offering to help her dismount instead opting to slide off the side opposite of the stable worker much to their confusion.

With a moment to stretch their legs, they gathered in the town center, Roland looking over the mission's roster. Much to his dismay and shock, Hands and Cry were the only ones to apparently have any aptitude in communicating with people.

"Hands, Cry, you two will interview the townspeople to find out what they know."

"Yes, sir," both said in unison and set off, Hands going towards the tavern while Cry began with people in the streets.

Unsurprisingly, Sight and Simon were listed as being adept in information gathering, leaving him with Kid to talk with the magus stationed in the town.

"Sight, Simon, you two will go to the town hall and go over any records of the surrounding area and looking for any mention of Miskatonic and Arkham."

"Yes sir," the two presumably said in unison, Sight was barely audible.

With Sight and Simon gone, Roland was left with Kid who stood motionless at attention almost statue-esque. Roland found it unnerving to say the least.

"At ease," Roland ordered, the ManaHunter's change in pose not alleviating his unease.

Chapter III: The First Objective

Hands entered the tavern, greeted by the sound of merriment and socializing. The tavern was the most logical place to begin asking questions as people from all walks of life tended to congregate there including people from out of town who were easy to spot as the average townsperson wasn't in regular clothing or Rose attire.

Scanning the room, she saw two men in plate armour, one with a sword on his hip while the other was hunched over in his seat, an axe across his back.

"Mind if I join you two?" she asked, pulling up an empty chair before they could respond.

"Guess not," the adventurer with the sword said, a tinge of annoyance in his voice.

"Before you say anything," the adventurer with the axe began, "We're not the magic using type."

"Oh, I'm not interested in that. Besides, you two look like you don't need magic to get the job done," Hands said flirtatiously.

The adventurer with the sword smirked. "Got that right," he said, his eyes looking Hands up and down. "So what brings you to us instead of those Rose guys at the other tables?"

Hands eyes looked over the adventurer with an axe. He was clearly suspicious of her, but his friend was very much not.

"Those guys are so boring, but you and your friend here if he's up for it look like the type that could satisfy a girl's needs. And do I have some needs that yearn to be satisfied."

The adventurer with the axe was having none of her antics, but his associate was all over it, not even trying to hide his excitement.

"Oh, I got just the thing. How about we-"

"But first," Hands interrupted trying to keep her composure. This was always the best part of conducting any interview. "I need to know everything both of you know about the towns of Miskatonic and Arkham."

This got the interest of the adventurer with the axe while the adventurer with the sword looked like he just got blocked.

"What does The Rose want with either of those places?" the adventurer with the axe asked, his suspicion growing.

"First and foremost, we'd like to know if they even exist. A lot of Doomwood is still uncharted and we'd like to change that."

"And by change, you mean occupy," the adventurer with the axe said.

"Hey now, no need for any squabble. Especially when we're outnumbered here. And then..." the adventurer with the sword trailed off, leering at Hands.

"Of course. So how about a little quid pro quo?"

The adventurer with the sword looked like as if he'd be finished right then and there. It was gross to put it mildly. Local taverns definitely attracted all kinds of people.

"We've never been to either place, but we've heard Miskatonic has something of a spider issue. Apparently lots of adventurer types have been heading there to make a name for themselves. Never heard of no Arkham though."

"Thank you for your assistance and I wish you good luck on your travels," Hands said while standing up and heading for the door.

"Hey, what about-"

"Forget it," the adventurer with the axe said, putting a hand on his companion's shoulder to keep him seated. "It wasn't going to go anywhere anyways."

With the tavern door at her back, Hands shuddered. There were others who could've answered her questions, but that guy looked like he would have no qualms making a scene in the tavern and the last thing she wanted to do was pull steel on some nobody.

***

Cry knew Hands had the right idea of starting with the tavern and perhaps he might try there as well, but to him she seemed like she had ulterior motives and he didn't want to be witness to that and any fallout that came with it. The town's vendors and shops would be adequate.

He began in the weapon shop, as any adventurer passing through would logically want their piece touched up if need be or to purchase a new one if possible and sure enough inside were multiple people who stood out from the inhabitants of Amityvale.

He approached a pair of travellers, a tall one in a hooded cloak with a bow and quiver slung over their shoulder accompanying someone slightly shorter with a hammer hanging off their waist. Upon closer inspection the hooded one had pointed ears barely visible under their hood.

"Excuse me, do you either of you mind if I ask a couple questions?"

The two faced him, the hooded one stepping back slightly while the one with the hammer, clearly human took a step forward, eying Cry suspiciously.

"Look, we don't want any trouble, we're just passing through," the adventurer with the hammer said roughly.

"That's fine," Cry began, trying to keep his voice level. "I just want to ask if either of you know anything about the towns of Miskatonic or Arkham."

"No, never heard of them," the adventurer with the hammer said, the venom still in his voice.

"O-okay, thank you."

Cry turned and walked away, his eyes stinging. There were other adventurer looking types in the shop, now staring at him as he hastily left the shop and ducked into an alley, wiping his eyes with his forearm.

I just want to do the right thing, but people hate me for it.

***

Roland and Kid entered the office of Magus Neron who was in the midst of his research on curing lycanthropy. Upon seeing the two enter, Neron gathered his notes, including a letter from Chaney into a neat stack which he promptly put inside of his desk.

"Greetings, you must be Roland," Neron said warmly.

"Indeed, sir. And this is...Kid. I trust you were given a missive on the mission my team and I are on."

Magus Neron looked over to Kid who stood at attention, his eyes boring through him and beyond. Despite everything he had seen since coming to Amityvale, nothing was as unnerving as this recruit. Even Z's golems displayed more humanity than him.

"Indeed. While we have been working to chart out more of the region, we've had our own problems to deal with, so I'm afraid I can't offer too much information. Patrols still find Doom Weapons once in awhile."

"Understandable, sir. Any information you have is invaluable nonetheless."

Magus Neron opened a drawer in his desk and retrieved a slim folder. Opening it momentarily to confirm its contents, he handed it over to Roland.

Inside were only a few sheets with some brief notes. Miskatonic was somewhere down the west road as stated by multiple adventurers, all of whom have also said they heard that the town had a spider infestation.

There were even fewer mentions of Arkham, not even a general direction of where it was only that those who made mention of it were considered 'unwell.'

Each mention was dated with one mention of Arkham being only a week ago and while it was unlikely, there was a possibility that the adventurer who mentioned it was still in town.

"Are the whereabouts of the one who most recently mentioned Arkham known?"

"I'm afraid not," Neron began. "I did have him administered to the inn, but they somehow escaped in the middle of the night. The townwatch did not open the gates for anyone, so we do have reason to believe they're still in town somewhere, but no leads as to where."

"Is there anything else that you can tell us about this person? What they looked like perhaps?"

Magus Neron put a hand to his chin in thought. He had so much going on, he could scarcely recall what many of the recruits under his leadership looked like.

"That's the thing, they were just so...forgettable. Beyond their mumbling about the town, they really didn't look any different from anyone you may have already seen since entering the town."

"I see. Thank you for your cooperation, sir. We will take our leave."

"Yes. And good luck on your mission."

***

Sight and Simon stood inside the town hall, neither having said a word to the other, Simon yawning occasionally being the only sound to come from either of them beside the rattling of the chains and trinkets that adorned her attire.

A dark haired woman in a red dress approached them, Simon taking a step back as she did.

"May I help you two?" the woman asked.

"We'd like to view the town's records, specifically about anything relating to the surrounding area," Sight said, the woman leaning in to hear.

"I guess I can allow that. Most of those records would've been taken by the Rose garrisoned here, but there might be something left behind still."

"Thank you."

The woman led them to a back room full of boxes on shelves and cabinets, leaving them to their own devices. Without a word, Sight began to peruse the various shelves, some of the labels on the boxes being worn out and faded from time and strangely enough, water damage. Few of the boxes had recent dates and mostly contained information regarding trade with towns in the Surewould region.

While Sight investigated the boxes, Simon looked over the cabinets, most of which were empty and those that weren't contained things similar to what Sight had uncovered as well as incident reports ranging mainly from town hall meetings getting out of hand or notes from other meetings.

Sight would eventually find a box containing information going back to the settlement of the area that is now Amityvale. The pages were yellowed with age, some of the writing illegible while other pages disintegrated in her hands.

On one page that stood out was the mention of a family by the name of Arkham who from what Sight could tell had a dispute with some of the other founders and went out west to found their own settlement.

Simon's own search yielded some similar results. Much like Sight, some pages she found were too old to be legible or even disintegrated by her touch, but it did confirm that after the founding of Amityvale, others had set out to found a new settlement although the writing was too illegible to confirm whether or not it was Miskatonic.

***

Roland and his squad eventually gathered outside of the town hall to give their reports. Hands and Cry had similar reports, Miskatonic was somewhere to the west and had a spider infestation that attracts adventurers hoping to make a name for themselves.

Sight shared her discovery that there was evidence that Arkham exists west of Amityvale, Roland and her squadmates sans Simon having to huddle around her to hear.

After Simon and Roland shared their discoveries, the next step was clear. Searching for the person mumbling about Arkham was a crapshoot leaving the departure out west to Miskatonic the next day.

Chapter IV: Going Out West

The guards opened the west gate allowing them passage into the dark woods of Western Doomwood. Roland led them with Kid and Cry while Sight stood center while Hands and Simon took the back.

As the gates of Amityvale closed behind them and soon faded into the distance, they noticed the woods seemed darker despite being during the early morning hours.

The first sign of the Rose having begun to move out west was the entrance to an old graveyard walled off with bricks, the groans of the dead faintly audible behind the wall.

Carrying on down the road, Sight noticed a black light streak across the sky.

"Captain," she said, pointing towards the beam, her speech unnoticed by Roland.

"Girl, you need to speak up," Hands said. "Captain, there's something in the sky."

Roland looked up, seeing the black light streak across the sky.

"What is that?" It almost looks like it'd come from a lighthouse," Cry remarked.

"A lighthouse? That doesn't make sense, we're nowhere near the coast," Roland said.

"Should we investigate, sir?" Kid asked.

"Make a note of it. Our objective is to get to Miskatonic," Roland began. "Carry on."

They resumed their trek through the woods, the ominous light growing closer and soon the group let out a collective gag as the stench of rotting Drayden Fish assaulted their nostrils.

"By the Avatars!" Hands exclaimed, muffling her face with her arm.

"All right, pick up the pace," Roland ordered.

The smell would eventually fade as the ominous light would soon become less visible.

"When we reach Miskatonic, we'll send a missive to Amityvale, informing them of the strange light. If time permits it, we may even be able to begin a cursory investigation at the university," Roland said, addressing no one in particular.

While their time in Amityvale lessened his doubts about his team to some extent, and the demonstration of situational awareness also helped, he still wasn't completely confident in this group of misfits he was shouldered with, but the real test was yet to come.

"Yes, sir," some of them had said in acknowledgement, possibly as a courtesy.

As the road winded, they caught sight of a section of forest cleared out where a building had begun to be built, presently just a wooden frame, other materials scattered around. Through the frame of the building, they could see another road separated by the dense foliage from the one they were on.

There were no workers on site and no indication that whatever was being built was Rose sanctioned.

"Keep going," Roland ordered.

The woods were strangely quiet, continuing to grow darker as they ventured deeper into them despite the light of the moon indicating, it was still morning. Kid suddenly stopped and reached for his sword, something straight ahead catching his eye.

"What is it, Kid?" Roland asked, looking ahead, not seeing what Kid saw likely because of his reduced vision.

In one swift motion, Kid drew his sword and slashed forward, webs coating his blade as it cut through.

"It's only a spider's web, Kid." Roland said.

Roland was impressed by the keen vision that the recruit demonstrated as Cry who stood beside him as well didn't notice it, but of course neither did he.

"That's not all, sir," Kid replied, slowly turning towards the trees where a large purple spider came crawling out, taking them in with its many eyes.

Large spiders weren't an uncommon sight in Doomwood or Lore in general, but they certainly weren't purple. Not that it mattered as Kid quickly dispatched it.

Withdrawing a rag from his pocket, Kid wiped off his blade before returning it to its sheath.

"We must be close, Captain," Hands said.

They resumed their travels, Roland glancing at Kid. He was quick on the draw and kill, further making him wonder why Kid wasn't a part of a more standard unit if not for the incident that got him benched.

The road curved once more, the woods obstructing the path forward. The road joined with presumably the path they saw on the other side of the structure being built and continuing forward until a town began to come into view, various cliffs behind it in the distance and most notably, the university.

Chapter V: Miskatonic

Their first sight upon entering the town was a group of three people mobbing a large brown spider, a fairly common type found throughout the region and Lore in general.

One person would run the spider through with a pike while another would douse it in pitch from a large bucket they carried, and the third would ignite the body. Some spiders carried their offspring or egg clutches on them, so it made sense to ignite the body especially if there was an infestation as Hands had learned, the townspeople would go to any lengths to try and curb it.

"Hands, Cry," Roland began. "Interview the townspeople and learn what you can about the town and Arkham."

"Yes, sir," the two said in unison, both setting off towards two separate buildings.

"The rest of you, we're going to the university."

"Yes sir," the remaining recruits said.

***

Cry entered a two story building, presumably the town's inn by the looks of the lobby where various adventurers were gathered around, some huddled in corners, others sitting or leaning against walls, a few even seated in chairs.

None of them stood out as being particularly noteworthy clad in robes or armour of various materials, some even looking a lot like his, patchwork pieces as though they had hastily repaired it in the field or even made it themselves.

Behind the counter was a woman who appeared to be in her fifties, an annoyed expression on her face as she glared at the adventurers, some trying to find lodging while others just bummed around the lobby. Her expression didn't change when Cry approached the counter.

"I don't have any available rooms," the woman barked.

Cry was taken slightly aback, but tried to compose himself.

"That won't be necessary, ma'am. I'm with The Rose and I was wondering if you could answer a couple of questions for me."

"The Rose? We've been petitioning them since we got word that they came to Doomwood and you're what they send? You look no different than these loafers calling themselves adventurers. Are we not good enough for you to worry about our plight, is that it?"

"I'm...I'm not from the Amityvale garrison, ma'am. While I...I am interested in knowing about Miskatonic's problem, I'm also here to ask if you know anything about Arkham."

"Why are you stammering like that? Don't tell me you're afraid of an old woman," the woman began. "Of course your priority isn't Miskatonic. Not even the presence of the university managed to entice you lot."

The woman's words stung. Just what was the purpose of The Rose if not to help people? Sure, they couldn't be everywhere at all times, but how long had they been petitioning the Amityvale garrison to make her so immediately scornful?

"You want to know about Arkham? It's further down the road, now unless you're going to say anything about the spider problem, beat it."

"Th...thank you, ma'am. Sorry, ma'am," Cry said hastily leaving the inn.

Cry went around behind the inn, his eyes burning. Why did this always happen? Why'd he always have to react like this to any sort of anger towards him?

Don't cry. If you cry, you lose.

***

Hands entered the town tavern, the sounds of merriment all around her as patrons talked among themselves or yipped and hollered while watching a dancer troupe on the stage, a pianist playing a fast, fun filled tune.

If not for being there on business, she'd have really liked to partake in watching the dancers, it was not something that one would get to see very often if at all in Swordhaven. Of course she'd still watch them, she'd just have to try and not get enamored in the display.

Some of the non-human patrons eyed Hands with suspicion. While this was likely the first contact with The Rose, the town had, it's unlikely they were unheard of.

She approached the counter, put off by a patron crushing a small spider beneath their glass. A sight a large older man with thinning hair wasn't thrilled with either.

"For Avatar's sake, can you not use my glasses to do that?" the man, presumably the keeper of the establishment barked.

"Hey, it's it or me," the one being scolded said, swaying in their seat.

The tavern keeper grumbled under his breath, turning his attention to Hands as she sat down. Much like the non-human patrons, he too looked at her with suspicion.

"What might someone from The Rose be doing here? Finally coming to investigate this spider problem?"

"Yes and no," she began. "We're interested in learning what we can about the town of Arkham first and foremost, but we are also interested in hearing about your problem. There's not much we can do though as I'm not with the Amityvale garrison."

The look on the man's face suggested he wasn't fond of that answer, but he let out an exasperated sigh.

"Further down the road, you'll find Arkham. Really hard to miss with the tower of the asylum sticking out like a sore thumb."

"What can you tell me about the asylum?" Hands asked, leaning forward on the counter.

"Nothing. Only been to Arkham a couple times and it sure wasn't to visit no asylum. Now then, what do you want to know about our problem here?"

"I guess for starters is when did this infestation happen?"

The man scratched his stubble covered chin, pondering his answer. "For as long as I've been alive at least and that's a good almost fifty years. From what I heard, it goes all the way to the town's founding long ago."

"Almost fifty years if not longer of a spider infestation? You'd think at some point, someone would have figured it out by now," Hands said bewildered.

The man shrugged. "Perhaps you're right. It could also be that there are things in this world we're not capable of or meant to solve."

Hands thought about the man's words. Does that apply to Jaania's goal to end magic as well?

"Thank you for your time, sir."

The man gave a slight bow and with another glance at the dancers, Hands left the tavern where she encountered Cry.

"Any luck?" he asked, his voice steady.

"Arkham is further down the road, we'll know it when we see the tower from the asylum. And the spiders have infested the town for anywhere to fifty years if not longer."

Cry was shocked by the revelation that this has been going on for so long.

"How can that even be possible?" he asked. "Wouldn't someone have found a solution by now?"

Hands shrugged and repeated what the man told her. "Anyway, you learn anything?"

"Just that Arkham is down the road. Townspeople aren't big fans of The Rose. Apparently they've been petitioning Amityvale since they got word of their garrison there."

"Figures," Hands began looking around before stepping closer to Cry. "Do you think there's even a point in trying to help these people? What if the tavern keeper is right and this is something no one can solve?"

"We should at least try. Sometimes that's the only thing we can do."

Chapter VI: The University

Roland and the remaining members of his team entered the university, the entrance hall large and dimly lit by lanterns with a strange red glow that looked as though steam was coming off of them.

The light barely illuminated the black marble floor they stood on let alone the rest of the hall, its corners and anything not within their field of vision black like the night sky.

"Strange design choice for a university," Roland said to no one in particular.

Passing from the entrance hall to another hallway straight ahead, it too was lit in the same way, the lanterns glowing blue rather than red where they could see many doors likely lecture halls and offices.

A map would've been nice, but even if there was one posted, they had no way of seeing it.

As they went down the hall, glancing at doors some of which voices could be heard coming from behind, a white light and the thud of something on the floor began to approach, Kid placing a hand on his sword.

"Who goes there?" came an almost thunderous voice.

Roland raised his hand to gesture for his team to stop before taking a few steps closer. "I am Captain Roland of The Rose. I come here with my team seeking an audience with the dean of this university."

The source of the voice came closer showing a tall man almost as wide as the hallway wearing a long grey coat over a black robe carrying a lantern radiating a white light in one hand and a halberd in the other. A peculiar sight in a place of learning for sure.

"Are there only the four of you?" the man asked, eyeing the four with suspicion.

"Two others are outside interviewing the townspeople," Roland said.

"Very well, I shall take you to the dean."

The man led through them the hall into other parts of the university dimly lit by lanterns radiating other colours, passing more people dressed as he was, approaching a great set of doors on the second floor.

Upon knocking on the door, a voice bid them enter.

The dean's office was lined with bookshelves except for the back which featured a large window leading to a balcony, the light of the moon illuminating the office more so than the lamps which didn't feature any peculiar colours.

Sitting behind a desk was an older man in attire that looked like it may have been formal attire at a point in time no one that wasn't his age could recall or was alive to experience who gestured for the group's guide to leave.

The man looked up from what he was doing, pushing a pair of spectacles up the bridge of his nose and looked the four over.

"And what can I do for you?" he asked, his voice hoarse.

Roland stepped forward and gave a slight bow. "I am Captain Roland of The Rose, Swordhaven garrison. My team and I have been sent to Doomwood to search out the town of Arkham and we come to ask you some questions and request your assistance."

"Oh, you've come to request our assistance? Yet when we request your assistance, we don't even get a response. It's not easy sending couriers through Doomwood, you know. We have lost many in our quest to petition for your aid and those that do return come bearing no news," the man asked, venom seeping into his voice.

"I understand your frustration, sir. I hope during our time here that we may petition Amityvale to assist you."

"Your words are nice, but ultimately mean nothing to me," the man began. "My authority is only over this building, you will want to speak to the mayor about petitioning Amityvale. What I can decide is whether or not to allow you access to university resources you may require in your own quest."

"Any assistance you decide to lend would be greatly appreciated, sir. And I will personally speak to mayor about my intent on petitioning Amityvale to assist this town."

"I certainly have nothing to lose allowing you make use of our resources assuming it doesn't hinder the university in anyway of course. Speak with one of the watchers and they will lead you to the library or anywhere else you feel might be useful to you."

"Thank you, sir," Roland said with a slight bow.

Making their leave, Roland did as the dean said and asked one of the universities watchers to lead them to the library which took them into a basement and beyond a large set of double doors which lead to a massive library unlike anything any of them had ever seen before.

"Sight, Simon, find out what you can about the spider infestation and Arkham. Kid and I will rendezvous with Cry and Hands then speak with the mayor."

"Yes, sir," the two said and began scouring the aisles upon aisles of books while Roland and Kid set out back to the main floor and the entrance hall. Going by the moon shining into the dean's office, night was approaching.

Chapter VII: The Library

The library of Miskatonic University was as strange as the halls they traversed as it to was lit by the same lamps, each aisle marked by a different colour illuminating a placard identifying the contents of that aisle's shelves, but not providing enough light for either of them to identify the various books and tomes lining the shelves without straining their eyes.

It was peculiar that a library would be so dark, but they supposed the eyes of the people of Doomwood had adapted to the darkness especially that which persist long after the clouds had parted as was the case for Miskatonic.

Simon squinted and strained her eyes trying to identify the titles of the tomes and books that lined the shelves, running her fingers along the spines of various titles, feeling the smooth, slightly raised text that differentiated it from the rough texture of their spines and covers, but unable to identify their words.

"Can I help you?" a male voice asked, startling Simon.

She could barely see who addressed her in the darkness, his attire looking rather ordinary from what little she could see.

"My associate and I are looking for information on this town and Arkham," she said, slowly backing away from the man.

"You two want the local history section. It is marked by a purple lantern."

"Thank you," she said turning away from the man to seek out the yellow lantern, relieved to be away from the man and to be by herself once more.

***

Sight wandered between the aisles, squinting and straining her eyes to see the words on the placards from behind her glasses. Who thought it was a good idea to make a library so dark and for what reason?

She continued her search until she began to hear footsteps approaching from behind. Turning around she could faintly see the outline of Simon, her facial jewelry and the various trinkets hanging from her robes reflecting in the faint light.

Sight gazed upon Simon's outline which stopped approaching. Sight had noticed when they arrived in Amityvale that Simon had an aversion to physical contact and apparently dislike of being near others possibly explaining why she became an Energizer when joining the Rose.

Sight was strangely interested in Simon from the modifications to her attire to her asocial tendencies to something else she was unsure of. What was their significance? What was the reason for her behaviour? What was the reason for her own interest in Simon?

"Have you learned anything, Simon?" Sight asked, her voice amplified by the dead silence of the library allowing her to be heard for the first time since she could remember.

Her voice carried another thing which she didn't think would be present, but wasn't troubled by. Joy.

"The section marked with a yellow lantern," Simon said in the same tired tone she seemed to always speak in.

Sight let out a relieved sigh as she glanced at the rainbow of aisles that she was prepared to skim until finally finding the correct one and beamed at Simon, the faint light being too weak to illuminate her face.

While their eyes had adjusted to the darkness, it wasn't enough to make the titles of the books and tomes visible to them making their search an exercise in frustration.

As before, Simon felt along the spines of the books and tomes, hoping to be able to decipher a title from the text inscribed in them while Sight squinted and strained trying to read them.

While Simon could feel the difference in texture between the text and the spines of the various tomes and books she touched, the words were much to small for her to trace the letters with her fingers as though they were manufactured in a way that they were intentionally difficult to find if one wasn't born with what she assumed would be the eyes of those who inhabited Doomwood.

Sight took a cue from Simon and began to feel along the spines of the various tomes and books while still squinting to try and decipher their text.

During her search, Sight's hand fell upon Simon's and while Simon recoiled and backed away, Sight felt as though a bolt of lightning had just run through her body.

"S...sorry," Sight said, opening and closing her hand mentally replaying the moment over and over again.

Simon fell silent her body overcome with fear, but berating herself internally.

I have no reason to fear her, but I...it's all their fault.

Chapter VIII: The Mayor

She looked over the town from her office, grimacing at the sight of the Rose members as they left the university to meet up with the two who wandered about the town bothering its citizens.

The people of Miskatonic petitioned the Rose multiple times and now that they were present, they didn't even come to her first.

***

"What have you learned?" Roland asked the two.

"Arkham is further down the road, sir." Cry stated.

"On top of that, the asylum is also quite real. As we near the town, a tower belonging to it should become noticeable." Hands said.

"Anything about the towns spider problem?" Roland asked.

"According to the tavernmaster, the spider infestation has been ongoing for nearly fifty years, but may go as far back as the town's founding."

"And according to Sight and Simon's findings in Amityvale, it's possible Miskatonic was founded not long after Amityvale which means the infestation has been ongoing for longer than anyone living can recall," Roland added.

Roland put a hand to his chin in thought, tapping the masked half of his face with his finger.

With what information they have, it seemed as though a solution was non-existent, but he was honour bound to speak to the mayor and try to petition the Amityvale garrison to assist the town. Even as a token gesture, it was the best he could do.

"All right, let us go speak with the mayor. We will plot our next course of action afterwards."

"Yes, sir," the three said in unison."

It was with their best guess that the building near the rear of the town featuring a large picture window on the second floor was the town hall. To one side was a simple palisade wall with sharpened stakes protruding from the base leading from the building somewhere off in the distance.

On the other side of the building was a group of four people standing between the building and another palisade wall. Two were armed with pikes while the others carried torches. Beside them hanging from the wall was a lantern much like the ones in the university, a faint green light radiating from it. Unseen in the dark were buckets of pitch.

The interior of the building was sparsely furnished with a few chairs on the side walls flanking small tables holding oil lamps adding more light to the room than the lanterns flanking the door that gave off a faint white light. At the end of the room was a desk with another lamp between two staircases.

The room had two windows that flanked the door.

Sitting at the desk was a younger man in fairly plain attire who looked at them with an expression that suggested he expected their arrival.

"Welcome to Miskatonic. How may I assist you?" he asked in a tone that Roland thought was too cheerful.

"We would like to request an audience with the mayor," Roland said approaching the desk, the others following a couple paces behind.

"Certainly. To be honest, we were expecting you a lot sooner."

A chill ran down Roland's spine. If this man was trying to get under their skin, he was on the right track.

"If you'll follow me upstairs," the man said standing up and gesturing to a staircase.

Unlike the front room, the stairwell was not lit in any way while the hall it led to was. The hallway featured multiple doors with each one marked by a lantern of a different colour.

"What's with the lanterns?" Cry asked.

"Thank you for asking. The lanterns burn a particular incense that we theorize and hope keeps the spiders at bay. Each colour is a different incense which we hope to find one that works," the man said, his cheerful tone never faltering.

Cry thought about the brief conversation he had with Hands. He believed the best thing they could do was try which was what the townspeople were doing even though they had no way of knowing whether or not what they were doing was even working.

It was admirable in a way, but with the information available to him made it seem that what they were doing was ultimately futile.

They came to a set of double doors flanked by lanterns that radiated a pale blue light. The young man knocked on the door opening it and leading the four in when prompted to enter.

"Good evening, ma'am. The Rose members have arrived," he said, his tone even more cheerful.

Obscured by a chair behind a desk, a light haired woman stared out the picture window, not looking away to face her visitors.

"You may leave, Charles," the woman said.

The man identified as Charles left the room, closing the door behind him.

"So what brings you to my humble little town? Have you finally decided to answer our petitions?" the woman asked, a hint of growing malice in her voice.

"I'd like to begin by saying we're not from the Amityvale garrison. Our primary objective is to learn what we can about Arkham and its asylum before setting off there to continue our mission. Learning about Miskatonic and doing what we can to aid in your problem is secondary," Roland said matter of factly.

"So what you're telling me is none of you are going to be of any help to myself or this town and its people?" she said scornfully.

"While we're here, I will do anything I can to aid this town. I will even personally petition the Amityvale garrison," Roland said sternly.

"Words without action are meaningless. If you do intend on aiding this town, you will need to provide material results."

"Then let me begin by asking if there's a courier in town and I will follow through on my word."

Roland tried his best to stay level headed. Unlike Cry who was having less success of keeping it together despite the woman's harsh words not being directed towards him, Roland had many years of practice with keeping his composure in the face of harsh scrutiny going back to his younger days as an apprentice blacksmith and later dragonslayer.

"Unfortunately, we do not nor will we as we have lost too many people already in trying to get a message to Amityvale and those that do manage to survive the trip there and back have never gotten a response. But if you're so adamant on this, maybe one of those good for nothing adventurers lingering around the town can be of use to you."

"Thank you, ma'am. You have my word that there will be a Rose presence in Miskatonic in the near future. And with that, we'll take our leave."

With a slight bow, Roland turned away, having never seen the woman's face during the whole discussion and left her office, his squad following behind. Outside the man identified as Charles stood outside the door, a smile too large to be genuine plastered across his face.

"Allow me to show you folks out," he said.

Upon exiting the town hall, they could see the lights in various buildings having gone out, presumably the townspeople having turned in for the night leaving only the strange incense lanterns lit outside their homes.

Aside from themselves, the only others on the street were the town watch, those near the palisade gathered around the burning body of what they could only assume was a spider.

"Let us rendevous with Sight and Simon. We'll need to consider something to do for lodging for the night."

Chapter IX: Resemblance

They rendezvoused with Sight and Simon outside the university neither looking like they had good news to share.

"Report," Roland ordered.

"As you know, the library is incredibly dark and we were unable to find anything," Sight said, disappointment in her voice.

"I should've known," Roland began."Anyway, we need lodging for the night then I need to get a message to Amityvale."

"Sir, if I may," Cry asked, continuing when granted permission. "The innkeeper informed me there are no rooms available."

Roland put a hand to his chin in thought. That complicated matters and there was no way he could expropriate even one room in good faith. And with the views expressed about the Rose, even asking a random townsperson was out of the question.

"I may be able to remedy this problem, Captain," Kid said. "Just allow me to speak to the innkeeper."

It would be a gamble and the unnerving feeling Kid gave him made him doubly nervous, but there was no other option readily available.

***

"Wait here," Kid had said before entering the inn leaving his squadmates and captain outside waiting to speculate what he would be doing inside.

Much like when Cry went to the inn, the lobby was crowded with adventurers most of whom had fallen asleep wherever they sat or in some cases stood.

The innkeeper appeared to have been preparing to turn in for the night herself when she saw Kid.

"Like I told the other one, I don't have any rooms avail...able. You...you look just like..." she trailed off her complexion becoming supernaturally pale.

Kid looked the woman over, trying to estimate her age. It was a long shot that there'd be anyone in this town who may recognize him, but his aim was true.

"My grandfather, most likely," he said in a calm tone that sounded almost sinister.

"There were others after Samuel...?" the woman asked quizzically, fear starting to creep into her voice.

There had been tales of the old families passed around town for as long as anyone can seem to remember. Tales that frightened the children and even some adults without the use of obvious exaggeration.

"You seem much too young to have even seen my great grandfather let alone even know his name," Kid said somewhat impressed.

"We fear the old families as we fear the spiders," the woman said trying to find the steel her voice had carried when dealing with Cry and the adventurers that plague her establishment.

"As you should. Now then, why not direct that fear into something productive? I need at least three rooms and don't tell me you don't have any, I know you only say that to try and drive the adventurers away."

***

They stood in the second floor hallway, three of them clutching a key, the curiosity of what Kid did prodding at their mind.

"Keep in mind, fraternizing within the ranks of the Rose has consequences as I'm sure you are all aware of," Roland said as he entered a room with Kid.

The lobby hadn't been turned into a killing floor which was a relief, but it didn't dispel the feeling of unease he felt around Kid which only grew stronger at the endless possibilities of how the rooms were secured that unfolded in his mind.

Chapter X: Nighttime Conversation

Cry and Hands entered their room, Cry slowly closing the door behind him, his movements suggesting nervousness.

"Relax," Hands began. "I'm not going to jump your bones. You heard the Captain, afterall, no fraternizing."

"You don't seem like the type to obey that particular rule," Cry said sitting on one of the two beds the room had to offer.

"I can't imagine why you believe that, but if you must know, it's quite easy to get people especially men to tell you what you want to hear if you appeal to their more...base desires."

"Do you really believe that?" Cry asked, his nervousness starting to cede.

"I've had no reason not to..." she began to trail off. "I'll let you know something that's not even mentioned in my registry for the Rose, but you keep it to yourself, okay?"

"Um, yeah," Cry said confused.

"I assume you know what a honeypot is, right?"

"You would s-"

"If necessary," Hands interrupted. "It wasn't often it came to that part before killing the target."

"You were an assassin?" Cry asked bewildered.

"Yes. I came from the Shadow of the Wind village and...I'm not sure why. I wanted to do something that didn't involve killing and...I don't think what we're supposed to do is noble let alone possible."

Cry thought long and hard about her words. He too just wanted to do the right thing, but who was it right for?

"I think the best thing we can do is do what's right for us."

***

Sight and Simon's room featured two beds separated by a small table with a lamp, a couple chairs and more tables also featuring lamps and a small room for washing and bathing. All three of the rooms they would occupy all looked identical.

Each of them sat on a bed, Simon's back to Sight who wanted to say something to her, but wasn't sure what or why.

"What do you think of me?" Simon asked, startling Sight.

"What do you mean?" she replied, audibly shaken.

"In the library, you seemed happy to see me and even in the dim light of the lanterns, I could tell you were staring at me. I'd like to know why."

A red tint came over Sight's face, her teeth biting down on her bottom lip to keep a smile from forming that while Simon would not see it, she felt it was necessary.

"I'm...I'm not actually sure. I find you...interesting," Sight began wishing she chose a better word. "I'd like to know more about you, the significance of the jewelry hanging from your attire, your piercings, and..." she trailed off unsure of what to say.

There was something else, but while she could feel it, she just couldn't put it into words.

"You're not...put off by me?"

"No. The opposite in fact," Sight said, her face growing redder and redder.

"But why not? I'm sure you've seen by now I'm not exactly normal. Even in comparison to everyone else on the team. Err...present company excluded."

Sight let out a small laugh, but in the quiet room between the two of them, the others probably could probably hear it as well.

"It's not about 'normalcy,' it's about you. It's you I'm interested in because you are you."

"But why," Simon protested. "You still haven't said why unless..." she trailed off unwilling to finish her thought.

It can't be that. That'd be impossible.

"Maybe...maybe it's love."

***

"That was quite impressive that you were able to secure us lodging despite our circumstances," Roland said. "How did you do it?"

"Thank you, sir. To be honest, I just asked politely," Kid said humbly.

The feeling of unease Roland got from Kid crept upon him like a persistent itch. The amount of distrust and disdain be it subtle or blatant they had received since entering the town had Roland doubting Kid's story.

He dreaded the idea of sleeping in the same room as him, but it was better him than one of the others under his command.

He thought back to the roster he was given back in Swordhaven before the mission began. The information was vague and didn't tell him a great deal of information on any of them beyond what was apparently deemed necessary.

Cry came from some farming community some distance from Oaklore which he had no reason to doubt.

Sight also came from somewhere near Oaklore and thinking about it, he could see a resemblance between her and Loremaster Maya, so it is possible the two have met and Sight styled her hair after the Loremaster.

Hands came from Falconreach and while there was nothing apparent to make him doubt that, he felt like there was something not right about this information.

The information on Kid was strangest yet. The roster said he came from Willowshire which he wasn't even aware if there had been any Rose activity there or in the Deadlands in general. There was no mention of any ties to the Guardians or anything for that matter.

Lastly the entry on Simon said she comes from somewhere on the border of the Maguswoods and the Sandsea which in itself was curious as he recalled no one ever mentioning such a place during the time the Rose went into the Sandsea. But at the end, he had no reason to question her origins. While she came off as strange, she didn't bring with her the sense of unease that Kid did.

He was definitely hiding something.

< Message edited by NagisaXIkari -- 8/30/2019 1:37:29 >
DF  Post #: 1
6/13/2019 6:12:31   
NagisaXIkari
Member

Interlude I: Always Watching

Madness was not something that usually happened instantaneously. Sometimes it would occur in days or weeks, but it often took months or even years to set in and while it waited, it would watch over the town of Arkham from above as those down below slowly began to succumb to the allure of madness as it did for many years and would continue to do for many more to come.

From its vantage point, it could see far off into the distance. It couldn't see in great detail, but it could see Miskatonic to the west and their vain struggle against the spiders unaware of just what was causing the infestation. And further east, it could see the town of Dunwich whose people kept to themselves, isolated and completely ignorant to the world outside their little town.

It was always watching as it did for many years before and will continue to do for many more after.

Chapter XI: The Missive

Roland thought he had awoken long before the other members of his squad, but in the darkness, he could see the outline of Kid sitting on the edge of his bed as if awaiting orders.

"Morning, sir," Kid said.

That uneasy feeling crept up on Roland. Does he even sleep? It was obvious Simon didn't, but what was his deal?

"Morning, Kid," Roland said, trying to steel his voice. "We have work to do, the two of us."

It was a lie, but he had no intention of leaving Kid alone with the others. Not until he knew Kid could be trusted.

"Yes, sir," Kid said standing up, picking his helmet and sword off the floor.

***

The inn lobby was full with the cluttered outlines of various adventurers that slept wherever they could while through the windows, they could see the faint glow of the torches the townwatch carried in their quest of purging the spiders.

The town was dark even by the standards of Doomwood and the seemingly supernatural veil of black that hung over them like the light from the lighthouse they saw on the way into Miskatonic persisted. It would appear it was still much too early to conduct any business, but it would give Roland an opportunity to further question Kid.

"What are we going to do, sir?" Kid asked.

"Still much too early to find a means of getting a message to Amityvale, so until then I was hoping to get to know you better. You appear to be a good soldier, but some things aren't adding up."

"Ask anything you'd like, sir. I have nothing to hide."

"Let's start at the beginning. You're from Willowshire, correct?" Roland asked.

"Yes, sir. Born and raised. The land still bares the scars left behind by the earth dragon."

Due to the lack of Rose presence in the Deadlands, he had no way of knowing if this was true or not. While Kid looked much too young to know anything about the dragon, he could just look young. Not to mention, the attack on Willowshire and the events that followed was a major historical event. Anyone with access to a library could learn this information and thus weave their own story based around it.

"Why would you travel such a distance to join the Rose?" Roland began. "Willowshire Guardians weren't recruiting?"

"The Guardians were unable to protect Willowshire, or the orb they were charged with protecting. The Rose offered a possibility to do what Guardians could not."

A pretty standard story given by a lot of recruits, especially those from places where a Guardian presence still exists and especially those old enough to remember what happened with the orbs and Wargoth.

"One last question, tell me about your first field operation. Pretty standard flush out and apprehend a group of clawkin, correct?"

"Yes, sir. We were some distance from the border of Greensguard and Doomwood. Locals in the area had a problem with clawkin raiding their food stores, so we were tasked to find and apprehend them. It did not go as planned."

"Meaning there were casualties, correct?" Roland asked.

So far what he was being told was consistent with the roster, but there was still some crucial information missing. Clawkins were only a threat to civilians and only the most bumbling of new adventurers. It made no sense for a group the size of the one he was leading to be reduced to one person, a new recruit at that.

"Correct, sir. As you know, I was the only survivor of that operation."

"Can you explain the events of that operation?" Roland asked. "Out of that team, you were the only new member while the others were veteran members. It seems quite odd to me that a group of beasts that are barely a threat to even novice adventurers could wipe out nearly the entire squad."

"Everyone has a bad day, sir. If one person isn't in top form, it can effect the morale and performance of the others."

Kid wasn't wrong about everyone having a bad day. The mask covering half of Roland's face was testament to that. It didn't do anything to lessen the unease Roland felt though and would require a more thorough investigation.

"Thank you, that will be all."

***

Roland's inquiry was useless without whatever information the Rose gathered in their investigation, but until he could make contact with Swordhaven, he had to focus on his objective in Miskatonic.

Roland began at the tavern which even in the early morning was bustling with activity, although most of that activity was from the adventurers. Approaching the counter, he was given a halfhearted greeting by the same man Hands had spoken to who had just admonished someone for crushing a spider with a glass.

"Excuse me, sir," Roland began.

"How many more of you are there?" the tavernmaster asked, voice filled with frustration. "Say your piece and be quick, too early in the morning for this Rose ineptitude."

"I need to send a missive. Is there a courier in town?" Roland asked, trying to keep his own frustration down.

What made him want to spend any more time in this town than the mission outline stated? From inquiring about Arkham, he was on day two of trying to aid the people of Miskatonic with a spider infestation. The information Hands had gotten was more than enough for them to continue, but he was determined to do something to aid the people of Miskatonic.

"No. If you're really desperate, try one of these adventurers sitting around doing nothing. One of them might want to do something to pay their tab."

When Roland walked away, the tavernmaster caught a glance at Kid and quickly turned away, a chill running down his spine. It had to have been his imagination. He heard the stories and seen some old pictures, but there was no way what he saw was actually real. The old families as great and powerful as they were were long gone, but something about that Rose member made the tavernmaster's blood run cold.

***

Gathered around a table were a group of adventurers who looked at Roland and Kid's approach with disinterest.

They had generally shoddy equipment and sending any of them would be tantamount to sending them marching to their deaths in the event they were attacked.

"What do you want?" one adventurer in a barely holding together robe over equally ratty clothing sniped.

"I need a message sent to the Amityvale Rose garrison. Whoever accepts will be paid for accepting the job and delivering the message," Roland said not at all keen on the depths he viewed himself as sinking to.

One adventurer, a rogue-looking type put a hand to their chin in thought. Accepting the job would put some money in their pocket and it's not like they have to risk life and limb to go to Amityvale. They moved their hand and were about to speak when a scythe wielding adventurer in leather and steel riveted armour spoke up.

"I'll deliver your message," they said. "You won't expect me to have to return here for the other half of the payment, do you?"

"No. The message contains instructions for the magus stationed about compensating you. I cannot guarantee he will, but I trust that they will. With that and the inherent risk of the task, do you still accept?"

"Anything to put some money in my pocket and get out. There's nothing out here, but an impossible task and death."

Roland handed over a sealed envelope containing a missive he had written the night before and a handful of coins to the adventurer who immediately set off.

Today would be the day they depart for Arkham, but he would need to decide who to leave to rendezvous with the Amityvale should any arrive. They'd be given two days to wait and assist the people of Miskatonic and if no one from Amityvale arrived, they would then depart for Arkham.

Deciding on who would be the difficult part. With no reason to trust Kid, that left him with four options.

Chapter XII: To Arkham

The night had been awkward for all of them. Despite their short time together, each of them seemed to find someone among their squad mates they were comfortable with enough to confide in or reveal a major part of who they are.

Cry was unsure how to handle the information Hands had told him. He of course kept it to himself as he said he would, not like there really was anyone else to tell anyways, but the revelation he was working alongside a former assassin weighed heavily on his mind.

Hands had the opposite feeling. She felt relieved to have shared that piece of information about herself. That feeling of relief was lessened by the lingering guilt that came with being in the Rose and having just dumped a massive burden on Cry's shoulders.

Sight and Simon had similar conflicts from their exchange during the night. Neither were sure how to handle what had been said and attempted to sleep without another word.

Both were wracked with confusion, but Sight was relieved to an extent that Simon's reaction was only silence rather than something worse.

***

The four met with Roland and Kid outside the inn, the visible half of Roland's face showed something weighed heavily on his mind.

"I contracted an adventurer to deliver the missive. I will need at least two of you to stay here for no longer than two days to meet anyone from the Amityvale garrison, should they arrive. During that time, the two of you are to aid the people of Miskatonic in any capacity. Should anyone from Amityvale arrive, you are to brief them on the current situation and then make your way down the road to Arkham."

"And if no one arrives, sir?" Cry asked.

"Then you make your way to Arkham."

Cry wasn't fond of the order. It was enough they were already distrusted on account of being part of the Rose, but to abandon a town in need made him feel even worse about what he was doing.

Roland took a moment to consider who'd be best to have stay in Miskatonic. Kid was out of the question until he could get more information on that field operation. There was also the question of how he secured lodging for them. Kid saying he just asked politely was incredibly farfetched to Roland.

He considered Hands as while Cry served the same role, Hands had so far always been able to deliver more information, although whether or not that had to do with their abilities or other factors was unknown to him, but with what he knew, it would be best to have Hands for conducting any interviews in Arkham.

Sight and Simon were on par with each other for information gathering, so it made no difference to Roland which one he chose to stay in Miskatonic.

"Cry, Simon, you two will remain in Miskatonic. Remember, no longer than two days and then make your way to Arkham where the rest of us will be. Understood?"

"Yes, sir," the two said in unison.

***

As the two watched the others depart, Cry thought about what it meant that their order to him meant they'd be abandoning Miskatonic to what peril fate had in store for them.

When Simon was certain the others were out of earshot before springing a question on Cry that came as an enormous shock to him.

"What do you know about love?"

***

The road to Arkham grew darker as they got further and further from Miskatonic despite the lack of an overhanging canopy. It was just like the road to Miskatonic, but there was a sinister feeling to it like something was lurking just out of view in the eerie early morning darkness.

Despite or in spite of the darkness, anyone who was keeping their eyes peeled would eventually see the outline of a tower staring off into the distance or maybe staring at them, watching their approach.

***

"That's...that's an odd thing to ask," Cry said, flabbergasted.

"My apologies. Forget I said anything," Simon said, looking away from Cry to hide her embarrassment.

"I can't say I know much if anything at all, but if I had to guess, I'd say it's better than happiness, but also worse than sadness."

Cry thought back many years ago as he recalled a life that seemed so alien to him in the present. He tried to picture the face of the one who whenever he saw it, set his heart aflame and chilled it to the core whenever he didn't see them. He couldn't recall a face or even a name, but he recalled how just seeing them made him feel.

"I see...." Simon said, trailing off as she thought about Cry's words.

She wasn't opposed to what Sight had said, she actually found it welcoming. It was the first time anyone had said something like that to her and it made her feel happy for what seemed like the first time in her life.

"Thank you," she said to Cry's surprise.

***

As the roaded winded and turned, the position of the tower never seemed to change as though something was trying to keep it in view at all times.

It was enough to send a collective chill up the spines of most of them.

This doesn't feel right, Hands thought. We shouldn't be going this place.

It was only by turning her attention the ground below that she could no longer see the tower, but it only made the feeling as though she were being watched intensify until she could no longer bear it and had to look up and see the foreboding tower.

As the tower drew closer and closer, they couldn't help but feel as though something was calling them to it.

Chapter: XIII: The Town Behind the Wall

The tower came into full view as the wall that surrounded the town of Arkham came into view.

The town being surrounded by walls meant fortifying it would be even easier once the Rose could move into Arkham.

Along the walls were a few people carrying crudely forged weapons who eyed the Rose with suspicion as they approached the gate.

"We seek entry," Roland called to the guards standing above the gate.

"State your business," one called out.

"We come to investigate the asylum," Roland said.

The guards talked among themselves for a couple minutes before opening the gate.

"Your funeral," one guard called out.

Roland looked up at the guard with suspicion. Roland didn't detect any threat or suspicion in their voice, but it was still a very peculiar thing to say.

"Be on your guard," Roland said to his squad in a hushed tone.

Sitting atop the hill, they could see the asylum also surrounded by walls looking over the town. The rest of the town was similar to Miskatonic or any other town with a number of buildings, mostly house scattered about, separated by roads and alleys.

The most prominent building was a two story building with a large sign with the word Callahan's painted on it. It seemed like the best place to begin their investigation.

Roland pushed open the door and a wave of music greeted them. To Hands, the tavern was no different than the one in Miskatonic including a troupe of dancers which she tried to keep from being enamoured by.

Roland caught sight of an older one-eyed man behind the bar whose face looked like he had seen his share of battles.

"Find somewhere to sit, I'll conduct the interview," Roland said as he approached the bar.

"Greetings, and well met," the one-eyed man who was presumably Callahan said.

"And to you as well," Roland said.

"What can I do you for?"

"I'm looking for some information. I'm Captain Roland of the Rose, Swordhaven garrison and I've been tasked with investigating the town of Arkham, more specifically, the asylum. We believe it may be useful in our cause."

The man leaned against the counter, his gaze hardening. "I don't know anything about this Rose you work for, nor do I care. I can tell you to abandon your mission and forget about this place, but I know you won't and it's up to the mayor to decide who can and cannot stay. But what I can say is forget all about the asylum. Nothing good has come from there and it continues to haunt this town."

***

Hands watched the dancers with an almost childlike wonder while Sight stared down at the table, her mind still on the night before.

Meanwhile, Kid slowly looked around at the patrons of the tavern, a stoic expression on his face.

By the way the one-eyed man leaned towards Captain Roland, Kid could and would correctly guess he was warning Roland to abandon their mission. A wise choice that Roland isn't likely to take.

***

"I'm afraid I can't do that. Whatever it is that plagues the asylum and this town, we will do everything in our power to get rid of it," Roland said.

The man chuckled. "You would not be the first to say that and you will likely not be the last and all who did were unable to keep their word. Whatever haunts that place is not something that one can expunge just by hitting it enough times. It's..." the main trailed off as he felt a chill creep up his spine. "It is best left well alone until all that remains of this town is dust."

"If you say so. But if you'd excuse me, I should return to my squad."

"One more thing," the one-eyed man began. "It's best if you keep this matter quiet. Folks around these parts don't take kindly to people be they local or otherwise poking around about the asylum."

"Understood," Roland lied.

At the table where his squad had gathered, calling them to attention when noticing all but Kid were lost in their own thoughts. Had Kid been lost in thought like the other two, it would have made him appear almost normal.

"We are going to meet the mayor and find out all we can about the asylum and once Cry and Simon return, we begin our expedition of the asylum. Understood?"

"Yes, sir," the three said in unison.

***

Outside the tavern, Roland and his squad looked over the town. The architecture was similar to that of Miskatonic with many of the houses featuring gambrel roofs that swayed and sagged over attics while those made for commerce or reasons beyond habitation differed slightly mainly they being larger than residential buildings.

The biggest exception being Arkham Asylum that loomed over the rest of the town, it's dark tower casting a shadow even in the darkness that cast a veil over Doomwood since they began their journey to Miskatonic.

Passing through the streets, some of the towns residents seemed to be going out of their way to avoid them, giving them wide berths or crossing the street to avoid them only looking at them to gawk.

It was hard to tell why the townspeople were avoiding them out of either mistrust or even fear.

One thing was certain though, many of the townspeople who went out of their way to avoid the Rose were mumbling mostly without any coherence, but Roland was certain he had heard one legible word.

"It's him."

Chapter XIV:Meetings & Appreciation

Cry and Simon approached the town watch members who stood near town hall. They had at least two days before they could set off to Arkham and figured it would be best to continue to investigate Miskatonic.

"You're still here?" a man holding a torch asked, his tone indicating he was none too pleased with their presence.

"Yes, sir," Cry said, trying to steel his nerves. "We'll be here for the next to days at the most waiting for a response from the Amityvale garrison. Until then, we're continuing our investigation and lending any support we can."

Another man, this one leaning on a pike scoffed. "Is that so? Haven't you been told already, this has been going on for longer than most of us here have been alive.What makes you think you can hope to change what others haven't been able to do over decades?"

"We can at least try. The Rose has resources that may alleviate the problem or maybe even put an end to it."

"Pfft, you really are something, you know that?" the man with the torch said.

"Reminds me of myself when I was younger," the man leaning against a pike said. "Holding on to ideals that maybe I could do something or any of those adventurers that are now just freeloading about could do something."

The man leaning against the pike stood up straight and stretched.

"Hold on to those ideals as long as you can, kid. Eventually it won't be long before they're shattered and you're just as pessimistic as the rest of us."

"Right..." Cry said.

"Where do the spiders come from?" Simon asked.

"There's a series of caves in the hills beyond here. We try to be the first line against them, but it doesn't always work. Some burrow out of the ground in the middle of town, once heard of one burrowing through the floor of someone's house." the man with the torch said.

"Has there been any expeditions into the caves?" Cry asked, feeling more relaxed.

"Over the years, but never too deep. Those who tried to go in deeper never returned. Tried to brick the entrance up, but again they burrow out into the town and some of the bigger spiders eventually knock the wall down. We don't even know if there's only one entrance." the man who had been leaning against a pike said.

"I see. Thank you for your time," Cry said.

"One more thing," the man who has been leaning against a pike said. "It may not seem like it, but we are grateful for the assistance you and yours have pledged. Even if it doesn't amount to much, it's nice to know we're not forgotten in this dark corner of the world."

***

Roland and company came up to a two story building that bore a resemblance to Miskatonic's town hall although was much more lit up. The resemblance persited upon entering in the way the lobby was set up although instead of two sets of stairs leading up, only one led up while the other led down to what they would assume to be a basement.

Behind a desk sat a woman around Roland's age who gazed at them behind a small pair of glasses, squinting at them as they approached.

"How may I help the...fi...four of you?" she asked.

"I am Captain Roland of The Rose, Swordhaven garrison, my team and I are here to investigate the asylum and we come to seek an audience with the mayor of this town."

The woman's eyes widened beyond the lenses of her glasses as a look of horror took over her face.

"With all due respect, I would advise you to not do that. What I would instead do is turn around and return to Swordhaven," the woman said in a panicked tone.

"I appreciate the concern, ma'am, but I am afraid we cannot do that."

The woman closed her eyes and took a deep breath then exhaled. "Very well, if nothing I say will change your views, then that just leaves the mayor."

The woman stood up and gestured for them to follow her down the stairs.

"I will need to ask your party to wait outside the mayor's office if her chooses to speak with you. I'm afraid it's not made to accomodate so many people," the woman said as she led them to the lower floor.

The town hall's lower floor was less illuminated than the main floor, but was not comparable to the lower floor of Miskatonic University which was a welcome sight. Roland thought perhap once Simon and Cry make their way to Arkham, perhaps she and Sight may be able to look through anything that may be useful to their investigation should the mayor permit it.

The lower floor was a wide room sectioned off into multiple smaller rooms with boxes stacked outside a couple of rooms making it appear more like a repurposed storage room rather than where the managing of a town takes place.

The woman stopped them outside a door with the word mayor crudely scrawled on it.

"Please wait for a moment," the woman said before entering the room and closing the door behind her.

***

Cry thought about what the man had told him about how the townspeople appreciated the help the Rose had pledged to them even if only because it meant they weren't forgotten and it made him feel happy.

A show of gratitude made Cry feel as if in some small way they were making a difference.

"Do you believe we can achieve what we pledged to do here?" Simon asked.

"I don't know. Hands asked me a similar question and I'll tell you what I told her. We should at least try. Sometimes it's the only thing we can do."

"You have a very optimistic outlook. It's...charming in a way."

Cry thought back to his hometown and the people there and one person in particular. He still couldn't remember a name or face, just the feeling he got when seeing them and when he didn't. They had said something similar to him and how it made him feel.

"Thank you."

***

The door opened and the woman stepped out, squinting from behind her glasses as she looked them over as if she forgot who she was meaning to address.

"The mayor will see you, but due to current conditions, only one of you may enter."

"I see," Roland said. "Thank you."

As Roland stepped into the mayor's office, closing the door behind him the woman stopped and looked at Kid, squinting and adjusting her glasses.

"You look familiar. Are you from here?" she asked.

"I am not, ma'am," Kid said his voice holding no indication he was lying.

"I apologize, afraid my vision isn't what it used to be."

"No need to apologize, ma'am."

***

The mayor's office was lit mainly by candlelight with a couple lamps showing that it looked more like a storage room like where Sight and Simon conducted their investigation in Amityvale than where someone would run a town. The only furnishings in the room besides the lamps were a desk and a pair of chairs one of which a skittish looking man in disheveled clothing sat in behind the desk.

"I apologize for the mess, we're in the process of moving offices from the top floor. Please, have a seat," the man said gesturing the chair opposite of where he sat.

"Thank you, Mr. Mayor," Roland said as he sat down.

"Anywho, let's get right to it," the man began, mild panic entering his voice. "I cannot allow you and your team to enter Arkham Asylum. We've already lost so many to that accursed place, it wouldn't bode well if we let someone of your...prestige enter and be claimed by it."

Roland was perplexed by the man's words. While he was given the rank of Captain, he did not see himself as anything more than just someone from an obscure town in the far reaches of Dragesvard. It actually took a considerable amount of willpower to not begin laughing.

"I can assure you, sir, not only am I, but my team as well are prepared to face whatever may lurk the halls of the asylum. As are other members of The Rose who may be garrisoned in Arkham should our evaluation of the building yield positive results."

"It's not what's in the asylum, it's the asylum itself," the man began, his voice becoming more and more shrill. "It is cursed down to its very foundation, tainting the land and all who inhabit it. It's not something you can just swing a sword at and it'll go away, it is beyond you, or me, or anyone for that matter."

"We have many magi within The Rose who are more than capable of determining what plagues the halls of the asylum. You have my word."

"I stand by what I said and it's final. I cannot permit you to enter the asylum. I must ask that you leave as soon as possible and forget all about this grand quest of yours and this town."

"Understood," Roland said, standing up.

***

Roland's squad looked towards the door as he stepped out. Looking over them, he found Kid's stoic expression unnerving while the others showed some degree of nervousness or anxiousness.

"The mayor will not permit us to enter Arkham Asylum. Tomorrow we return to Miskatonic and once we know whether or not anyone from Amityvale will be going there, we return to Amityvale and then Swordhaven. Understood?"

"Yes, sir," the three said in unison as they all turned to return to the main floor and leave the town hall.

This won't do at all.

Chapter XV: Persuasion

Roland and his squad entered Callahan's, Roland approaching the counter where the man who was presumably Callahan was wiping down as he prepared to end the night, the liveliness from their earlier time there having dwindled and eventually died down.

"Welcome back, what can I do you for? I must mention though, I don't intend on staying up all night with you or your crew."

"We require lodging for the night. Am I right to believe this tavern is also an inn as well?" Roland asked.

"You'd be correct. Although for four rooms, that'll be quite costly. I trust that won't be an issue?"

"Two rooms that can accommodate two people each will suffice and payment won't be an issue."

"All right then," the man who was presumably Callahan said retrieving a pair of keys from below the counter.

When money and keys exchanged hands, the man who was presumably Callahan leaned forward towards Roland looking just beyond him towards his squad.

"Perhaps it's because I don't see things how I used to, but keep you should keep a close watch on the young looking one. There's something sinister about that one," he said in a hushed tone.

Roland was unsure what to make of the man's words, but he could find himself agreeing with the man who was presumably Callahan. Sinister may be an exaggeration, but he was certainly uneasy about Kid.

"Explain further, if you don't mind."

"Now don't take my words as gospel or even to heart, but he's got a...look to him that spells trouble. If I were you, I would not associate with him anymore than you already have."

Roland put a hand to his face, a finger tapping on his mask. While cryptic, this man seemed to understand Kid more than he did and with what he knew about Kid, he certainly did not have any reason to doubt his words.

"You've given me something to think about when we leave Arkham tomorrow. It's troubling to say the least, but from what I know, there is weight to it. Now then, I won't take up anymore of your time, thank you for allowing us to stay."

"Appreciate the patronage."

***

The rooms were set up in much the same way as the ones in Miskatonic, two beds, a table between them, a couple chairs, but more noticeably, a separate room for bathing which the rooms of Miskatonic lacked perhaps only having one per floor of the inn which was used by the guests.

Hands and Sight shared a room while like in Miskatonic, Roland and Kid shared one.

"Do you like dancing?" Sight asked from the bed she sat on.

"Was I too obvious?"

Hands tried to play it off as cool as she could to hide her embarrassment, but the heat creeping up her cheeks betrayed her.

"I guess you're not called Sight for nothing, huh?"

"Well, no..." she trailed off, a tinge of hurt in her voice.

Roland's speculation about Sight having met Loremaster Maya and even to an extent idolizing her was correct. Folks from around Oaklore sought refuge in the keep during times of crisis and it was during those times that Sight would get to see Maya which made her fears and worries melt away.

Thinking about those times brought a smile to her face, but it soon faded. She wanted to be like Maya, but instead found herself as an operative of the Rose and by her own admission a less than adequate one and wasn't skilled to use magic to become a magi and thus the closest to being like Loremaster Maya as she could.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you," Hands said remorsefully.

"It's okay. It's not your fault a cruel name has haunted me for so long. But please, I want to know more about you. Is it the dancing you like or is it-" she cut herself off realizing what she was about to say.

"The dancers?" Hands finished to Sight's embarrassment. "More from column A, little from column B. For awhile now, I've wanted to be a dancer. It seems almost like a childhood fantasy at this point, but unfortunately, things don't always go as planned. Sometimes the way to at least getting a bed to sleep in and three meals a day means having to abandon those dreams and do things you swore to never do again."

"What do you mean?"

"It's...I'd rather not say. I confided in Cry about that and I'd rather not put more of that burden on another. I'm honestly surprised I even told him, but sometimes you just can't help who or what you tell if it's a heavy enough burden."

"I see," Sight said thinking about the things she considers burdens that she carries.

Her thoughts went to Simon and their exchange in Miskatonic. She knew there were other things that weighed on her heart, but he words to Simon weighed the most, but to her it wasn't enough to make her want to share those thoughts with Hands. Maybe it wasn't such a burden afterall?

***

Roland sat on the edge of his bed facing away from Kid pondering not only what he thought of the recruit, but also what the tavernmaster had said. The mayor's words should've been at the forefront of his mind, but the mystery surrounding Kid was too much.

Something needed to be done, but what? Kid wouldn't give him an honest answer and he wasn't equipped to interrogate him.

He thought of Hands in the next room. She was capable of gathering information and her dossier made it clear with her methods, but would they work on Kid? Only thing that seemed to be on his mind at any given time was the mission or any orders given to him.

He shook his head. It wouldn't be right to involve any of the others in this matter especially when taking the tavernmaster's words into consideration. If kid truly was a threat, it would be best to not put anyone else at risk.

***

It seemed like quite some time before he was certain Roland had fallen asleep. He knew the captain did not trust him, he really made no attempts to hide it. The distrust was unwarranted as far as he was concerned, he did everything as told and it was unfortunate that field operation ended as it did otherwise things may not have had to go this route.

With the lights out, Arkham was quite dark even for the corner of Doomwood where even the moon's light seemed to barely shine and what he was to do next would be a gamble, but he had a feeling it would pay off.

Moving through the town, he could hear murmurs coming from some of the houses, the ramblings of those as they slowly descended the ladder into madness unbeknownst to themselves.

It was when he caught sight of the tower in full view watching over him like a silent protector while passing judgment over the town of Arkham.

The town hall looked as it did before lit up for all to see, but strangely and fortunately enough the door was unlocked. He was either blessed or the old secretary couldn't see to put the key in the lock.

Inside the secretary was absent, but a man he assumed to be who Roland had spoken to was present.

"Oh, I'm sorry, but we're not seeing anyone presently. May I ask you to..." the man trailed off as he took in Kid's appearance.

"I think you'll make an exception."

"No...it...it can't be. You look just like..."

The mayor began to back away, stumbling as he did so until his back hit a wall and he began to shuffle towards the stairs, Kid approaching him with the look of a predator that cornered its prey.

"Jonathon is the name you're looking for. My grandfather. Jonathon Arkham."

"W..why are you here? There shouldn't be anyone left."

The mayor stopped moving as soon as Kid stood directly in front of him, his panicked face visible to himself in the green pools of Kid's eyes.

"I understand you denied Captain Roland and by extension myself entry into Arkham Asylum and that just cannot be."

"You can enter! I can't stop you from entering."

"You certainly can't, but the Captain won't take my word, so you're going to do me and by extension my family a favour. In the morning, I want you to present to the Captain written permission permitting him and his team to enter the asylum. You will find him at Callahan's and not only will you deliver the message, you will apologize and tell him all about how you wracked your mind with guilt over obstructing him mission."

Kid smiled in such a way, the mayor couldn't help, but wonder if the monster that stood before was going to consume him if not his soul right there on the spot.

"Y...yes, sir."

***

True to his word, when Roland and his team exited Callahan's in preparation to return to Miskatonic, they were greeted by the mayor holding a letter he seemed to force onto Roland rather than hand to him.

"What is this?" Roland asked, confused and still tired having slept very little during the night.

"A formal letter granting you and your team permission to enter Arkham Asylum. I deeply apologize for the inconvenience I caused you by making you almost abandon your mission. I was too concerned by my own fears to consider just how much good could be done for this town..."

Roland had tuned the mayor out, lost in his own thoughts as he skimmed the letter. During his uneasy sleep he had noticed Kid sneaking out and then this happens? There was more to Kid than he had thought and this town and the asylum were part of it.

The mayor would have answers, but now was not a good time to be asking questions.

"My team and I greatly appreciate your reconsideration, sir. And I give you my word, we will put an end to what plagues this town and its asylum."

Providing someone doesn't interfere.

< Message edited by NagisaXIkari -- 8/30/2019 9:29:48 >
DF  Post #: 2
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