Thursday, September 22, 2016

Libri Vidicos: Winter Break Scenes

Libri Vidicos remains among my favorite campaigns. Clocking in at six full years, it offered a magical school set in our long-running fantasy world. The characters began as incoming first years and eventually graduated as senior heroes ready to take their place in the world. I used the school year as a structure for the arcs. Arrival, first semester, winter break, second semester, departure, summer break. I'd throw in field trips and school events. A few times I wrote up extensive emails to give flavor to their breaks or to drop in certain plot points. I crafted some nice stuff and it provided as a good hook for players between sessions. But while I dug it, I might have been better served doing a collaborative montage at the table. 

Below is the Winter Break write-up from the Second Year. Valmont, Beletan, and some NPCs went to stay with their fellow student Cerise and her strange Shaddai Elf household. Lucy and Sergei went home to their own families, while Sokka stayed on campus. 

I'm torn about this kind of campaign material. I don't do it as much anymore. While there's some fun and lovely stuff here, it took a lot of solitary time and effort to put together. If I'd applied that energy to creating a cool session covering the same territory at the table, would it have been better? That's the eternal conundrum of the over-prepping GM. 

LEAVING FOR WINTER BREAK
Everyone gathers their things together-- instructed to pack lightly, still many have larger bundles with them-- gifts perhaps or perhaps some of them plan to remain at home. It is unclear. Osric sets the wagons up and splits, organizing students together into apparent deliveries. The fifth years are first; beginning early in the morning and through the day, the number of students thins out. However instructors and house masters remain in copious number. You suspect that they're watching for any mischief that might occur during this time. Perhaps that's standard or perhaps this semester has put them on caution.

You hear the sounds of the second years of House Darsksoul heading out. They run past Saberhagen as he arrives in the First Year's Common Room. He looks around, doing a quick head count. Then he gestures to gather all of you close at hand.

“Now everyone should have their schedules for returning. If you miss a pick up you'll have to wait a day or two before we can come back again. That's also a demerit against you.” He checks out the window and then looks back to all of you. “I'd guess you have about an hour before you leave. Sokka, come see me when that's all done and we'll get things set up for you and the others who are staying. Madame Rosencradle will be seeing to the ladies remaining and we'll meet up with her.”

Dentina makes a face. She's had to do a detention with Rosencradle, an older woman who manages, as many people put it, “the bits and pieces.” She keeps pins, ties, bobbins, tape, lids, string and every other various sundry and notion for the school. Dentina spent a full week cleaning ancient scissors.

Saberhagen stops and tries to assume his most authoritative pose before addressing the group again. “Now, I want to warn you of something. You know that Libri Vidicos is bound by a number of powerful and complex elder enchantments. It helps to maintain some of the secrecy of the school. Those spells are...capricious...or rather they take some time to settle in correctly.”

“That means that you may have some strange encounters when you return. Even those who you chose as persons you could inform may not remember where you went-- or they may and then forget again. They and others may mishear what you say, or you may find yourself saying something different from what you'd intended. This is especially true for those of you going to a place that it not your home-- there's some location elements woven in there I expect. Now don't worry about that too much-- it gets better and by the time summer break rolls around it should be sorted out. I suggest you don't dwell on that too much and try to avoid talking about Libri Vidicos around anyone who isn't in the circle...as it were.” Saberhagen looks to make sure everyone take sin the implications.

“Now...” The Elvish master turns to Cerise, Sergei and Lucy. “This is especially true in families where there is strong magic. The spells are potent and subtle and work their efforts strongest where they might be detected. Don't be surprised by such incidents.”

“In any case, have a good break and make sure to gather anything you realize you'd forgotten this semester. But don't bring too much back or Osric will be irritated and Sternehof will have to spend hours going through your things.”

Sergei makes a point to stop Saberhagen before he leaves and ask if there's anything he can bring him back. The Elf pauses for a moment and seems about to ask, then stops.

“No...nothing that you can bring back.” He says glumly.

Later...
Hefting his knapsack over his shoulder Sergei pushes wide the main doors and walks down the step toward the main entry to await his ride home. Light snowflakes have begun to gently fall reminding him of home. His gaze traces the outline of the Vidicos wall and eventually to the main stair where he sees Julianna Vergaxis sitting awaiting the same carriage. He will walk his way over to her and gently set his bag down awaiting her eye contact. He will smile at her admiring her gently features and long hair. " You were great you know... the other day at the dueling finals. You are very good. I've seen Lucy duel many times she is deceptively adept. To score a hit you've done better than many others."

Vergeaxis looks carefully at Sergei.

“But it is not enough. A test must be passed and not failed. That is the rule of Math. One cannot hope to be Emperor if one fails such tests.” She looks on with more animation than she's shown before. Then she carefully returns to her former quiet demeanor.

“If you'll excuse me, I must to be with my housemates.”

CERISE AND COMPANY PART ONE 
Arrival at the Shaddai lands is a strange affair-- all of you expect an alien landscape, but it is the same rolling meadows you might find in Miremal, Atlantae or elsewhere. Osric kept a wary eye out as he dropped the four off. He looks carefully Valmont, then Leather, then Beletan before finally looking at Cerise.

“You're all sure you wants this place then...” He trails off. “I won't be coming back early for any of ye...” Before any of you can say anything there's a quick whip to the horses and he vanishes with the winds.

[I'm actually going to leave some of the description of NPCs and such here to Sharon should she wish to indulge.]

Once at the estate, Cerise herself is a little surprised by the seriousness of her arrival-- a certain degree of formality she hadn't expected, a laying out of the finest pieces on the table, extra servants brought in, the sounds of a joungleur from the Lesser Pegasi houses practicing out by the pond. Kieran, Cerise's apparently human brother, jostles through and informs Cerise that the family has gone full out for this season, especially once they heard she would would be bringing guests along.

Cerise's parents are tall, handsome Shaddai. Malakiim Antigrym especially stares each of Cerise's guests down-- with Valmont managing to hold his glance the longest. Cerise's mother, Epiphany of the Lilies, on the other hand immediately engages her daughter in conversation and only gives a passing glance to her guests. Both seem incredibly proud of her and make much of discussing her rivalry with Harbinger Whitened-Wave. They nod seriously at the injustice of the second test and encourage her to destroy her rival utterly in all ways and forms. There are various gifts and presents for Cerise, but most proudly her father hands her a box filled with assorted ribbons, buttons and silks seemingly taken from around the continent. He explains that he drew some from across the family line as a first coming of age gift for Cerise-- hence the diversity of pieces.

On the fourth day, Cerise's mother arrives and presents each of Cerise's guests with a new outfit of formal wear modeled on the Shaddai fashions. Valmont's is quite classic, Leather's is simple and straight-lined, and Beletan's is tasseled with hundreds of silk leaves running along the arms and back. They rustle when he walks.

Speaking to Cerise's father proved an experience. A master tradesman, his mind seemed to be occupied with negotiations through the Orb constantly. However a few days in, he saw his daughter and her companions speaking and deliberately cut off distant conversations. His manner was pleasant, towering over Valmont and Beletan, as did most people here. Even Leather had become sensitive to the height issue and found himself stooping a little. As he put it, "I knew they were tall...but all of them are tall." You can tell he's a little worried as to how his Orcish heritage would measure up.

“So I take it you're finding everything to your liking?” Malakiim glanced around at the group and took in their nods. The rustling of Beletan's jacket drew his attention and he looked a little warily at him before continuing on.

“I was hoping we might be able to travel out to Vendimos where they've carved the cliffs...” He broke off. An ornate glass bowl one of the servants had just placed on the buffet had drawn his attention.

“Um...what is that?” He asked now turning his full perceptions to the bowl. It contained a strange dish, like a melted cheese block covered in marmalade and balsamic vinegar.

“Geniose, milord,” answered the servant simply. By now all of them had moved over to stare at the bizarre item.

“And...you eat that?” Lord Antigrym said trying to puzzle the thing out.

“Likely not sir. This is a favorite dish of the Halscu Region...from the Wyvern lands.”

“And...?”

“As you may recall, Lady Glassong's former husband came from there. Your wife thought it would be an excellent and subtle insult to place it on the table.”

At this Lord Antigrym nodded. “Excellent. Well, then, that seems in order.”

That evening the four Darsksoul students watched carefully the mixed expression of dismay and disgust upon Lady Glassong's face as she surveyed the dishes. Epiphany of the Lilies made careful and quiet comments about obtaining dishes carefully suited to her guests' tastes.

Still later that evening Leather pronounced the dish disgusting and explained that it tasted exactly as it appeared, marmalade and all.

SOKKA AND THE YEARTURN
At Libri Vidocos the next day, things grew quiet. A number of the staff and scholars left via Osric's carriage, some heading out the front gates, while still others just simply weren't  anywhere to be found. Saberhagen ushered the various students into House Darsksoul, dividing them out among the floors. Several of the staff also came to settle in here. The first year chaperon turned out to be a very stiff and formal caretaker from House Malbrect. His sniffs and nose turnings up at everything belied his hawk-like gaze. Clearly he intended there be no accusations of impropriety. Thopugh Sokka looked for them, neither Rahella Lancar or her bodyguard were to be seen.

Those who stay can be broken into two broad classes: those who have nowhere good to go and those who really don't want to leave. The former includes a number of glum fellows, including Eagleton Vonard and Axel Riftmaw; however both spent most of their time away from the dormitory. The latter includes a couple handfuls of upper classmen who seem to be devoted to research and practicing. They're barely to be seen-- most of their time seems spent in the library or else working in the labs of the research buildings. There's an unlucky supervisor who has to watch them and you have the impression the headmaster comes down personally to give them each a warning about keeping with they do within reasonable limits. Clearly there have been abuses in the past...

It remained fairly quiet over the days, with most students trying to come up with clever games or puzzles, doodling in notebooks, and round after round of Struthos. The food was-- as had been forewarned-- less than stellar, but what it lacked in quality it made up for in abundance. Crick don-Crickens, the assistant head chef had clearly been tasked to clear out certain portions of the stores. So a meal might be made up over various sausages done in a number of different ways, with all the cabbage one could hope to eat set off to the side.

So it was strange on the night of Yearturn, when all of the students were called down to the Great Hall, to find the tables heavily laden with most excellent fare-- savory main dishes, lovely fruits, heavily glazed desserts. Most the the staff came through to eat at the buffet, but left quickly. Sokka noticed some of the older students who had chosen to stay over the break eyed the doors carefully and left when they'd finished their meal. But some stayed and eventually, filled with delicious food, everyone leaned back in deepest pleasure.

Then the Headmaster called to a few of the staff. They quickly pulled chairs and a few tables over close by one of the great walk-in fireplaces in the hall. Gravast Direlond spoke briefly with his politely vampiric wife and then came down off the stage and sat in a great backed chair positioned centrally by the fire. He called over  the remaining students and gestured for them to sit in the arrayed chairs. The dwarf spoke conversationally, asking each about his or her semester, inquiring by name about their classmates and so on. Smallish cups of a candied brandy heavily mixed with sweetmilk were brought to the students. The taste was delicious. It was then that Sokka noticed how the lights in the Hall had been slowly dimmed, the doors shut, and the rest of the staff gone away. The only light now came from the dwindling fire behind the Grandmaster, illuminating and outlining his great chair. It grew hushed in the room and Sokka felt incomparably small in mammoth space of the stone hall.

Then the grandmaster reached up and carefully took off his tall black hat and set it down on the floor beside him. Strangely his hair remained perfectly cofuuried, apparently cut to manage the hatband well. But it was the first time Sokka, or any of them, had seen him without a hat. A shiver ran through the group.

He spoke slowly now. "Ah, children...students...here we are on the eve of Yearturn. Tomorrow is a day outside the calendar. A strange day...I mean each month governs itself with twenty-eight days, from new moon to full moon to back to new anon. Yet--the darkness holds for one extra day here at the end of the year-- think on that-- else the calendar should grow askew rather rapidly." He nodded sagely at this comment and paused to run his fingers through his raven-black long braided beard.

"So a strange day-- one where spirits come out and find full play, a carnival for the darkest of the fey, a time where rules are turned upside down...a time that requires caution lest something truly terrible be bargained with..." He paused to stare directly into Sokka's eyes (or so it seemed). The darkness around the students grew-- if it were possible-- even more dense. The Grandmaster continued, "Now when I was a lad we took this time very seriously, and this hour even more so. You see it grows close to midnight...and soon we will hear the peeling of the bell. Where I come from this was the time when our fathers and grandfathers and uncles would sit down and tell us stories."

"And now, I am going to tell you some stories..."

Which he then did...a slowly litany of tales, ghost stories, tales of revenge, horror tales dragged from the crypts, each one more terrible than the last, and-- as he carefully assured you they were all the absolute and literal truth-- with each one he found a new detail to fix upon and leaned closer and closer still. And then,

GONG!

He reached the summit of his tale when the clock finally struck and then from the darkness emerged down Ms. Darkbough eyes flashing darkly with a thirst for blood (or so it seemed) and everyone let out great screams and there was running and fleeing as the staff threw open the doors letting in light and everyone ran, ran, ran for their dearest lives...

And found themselves rushing down the steps out the Great Hall and out into the courtyard, a courtyard transformed filled with pure unblemished snow perhaps a foot or two deep. Everyone stopped when they hit the cold and the crispness of it. There had been no snow when they'd entered. Now terror transformed to wonder as they stared upwards at the great cascades of lights that glowed and flickered among the stars. The snow itself reflected the lights, from red to blue to green. Sokka barely noticed when Saberhagen came forward and wrapped a cloak around him. He saw the rest of the staff standing by to distribute cloaks to the other children who likewise merely found themselves staring up at the dance of constellations, the light show of fantastic elements battling across the sky.

"Now, you'll be feeling tired," the Grandmaster said gently as he came up on Sokka's elbow. And it was true, but at the same time the beauty of the moment held him transfixed. "You should wrap yourself up and head back to bed..." Sokka nodded and followed the procession heading back to House Darsksoul. Each student found beside his or her bed a box of treats-- chocolates, cookies, and other triffles, as well as a larger present resting on the pillow. Sokka opened his to find two new pairs of fine shoes: one of lovely suede decorated with thread and the other more like boots and eminently practical for playing Wickets and Imps.

Sokka was overwhelmed, and like the others found himself turning to sleep. But he found none. Each time he closed his eyes monsters from the Grandmaster's stories popped up inside his mind nearly immediately. Sokka was not the first to make his way over to the lamp to turn the light up. He looked over at Riftmaw who had a grave look on his face, and the others as well were sitting up in their beds. None of them said anything, but sat there in silence the rest of the night.

At this point Sokka decided he would never sleep again.

CERISE AND COMPANY PART TWO
Yearturn among the Shaddai was a less important event. However over the years the Aperkitas had conspired to make it more and more entertaining. As a result, though no Shaddai officially celebrated, it had become an unofficial gathering time and a three-day truce. During these days old enmities and hatreds could be put aside...mostly. It remained dangerous to court fate too much, for fear that a host might enact some careful plan to keep his guest beyond the three days and therefore achieve a time of reckoning.

So the young members of House Darsksoul found themselves at a gathering of Shaddai from across the lands, hosted by Lord Antigrym. Cerise had become used to this, her father carefully bartering deals to quell disputes and making arrangements that would be mutually beneficial to both parties...as well as the Chimera. Where the Dragons settled disputes with a finality and the Unicorn could be counted on to call up years of rules and precedents, the Chimera presented a more relaxed attitude which often drew those who wished to have their settlements kept with some secrecy.

But Cerise hadn't seen her family put on quite the show they had this year and felt mildly embarrassed for a moment-- a moment which passed quickly. In fact, the situation had played more into their hands. Through careful consultation of the volumes, they had managed to track down three Shaddai who might have been at Libri Vidicos close to the years that the Explorers Club would have been at its apex...the last years before it vanished.

The first was easiest to eliminate from consideration, Vain Talons Setwright, was a Manticore and hardly likely to be within the circles that the Antigryms traveled in. And one usually did not ask about associating with their kind. They were a blood-thirsty folk-- easy to take a slight, difficult to calm from a grievance, and filled with a strange view of humans. Their slavery and indenture policies, often carried out by the last of the Drow among them, made right-thinking Shaddai give them a clear berth. Still they were useful and could be considered masters of certain kinds of conventional warfare.

The second choice had required careful and delicate work on Cerise's part. Garsemetha was a Basilisk whose name she'd heard once before. Through her brother she'd managed to arrange an invitation to their house to this Basilisk. It required some convoluted lies trying to pass off who exactly had invited them, but her parents seemed more concerned about handling a particularly grumpy member of House Lamia whose youth apparently made him take most comments as subtle insults. Not that they weren't but generally one did not rise to such challenges.

Garsemetha turned out, however, to be a dead end. Loud and boisterous, she tried to make herself the center of attention for each event she attended-- discoursing on swords, swords, and more swords. The well trained Chimera staff eventually managed to prise her from the rest of her group, effectively isolating her from the others and giving Cerise and company a chance. However, when asked indirectly and then directly (after it seemed Garsemetha might not be that good at picking up subtle hints), she claimed to have never heard of Libri Vidicos or anything else related to it. They left just as the Basilisk began to suspect they were playing an elaborate joke on her. Cerise's intuition seemed to confirm Garsemetha's lack of knowledge which was as troubling as anything else.

It was as they discussed the final possible Shaddai that their first break appeared. They'd retired to a quiet drawing room to talk about possibilities. Cerise had been unable find out anything about Obrodorus Rising. The name was barely spoken when suddenly a figure seemed to appear out of nowhere. He was of medium height, just below seven foot, an adjunct of House Dragon, dressed modestly in his family's yellows and reds. Cerise cursed herself inwardly-- it was a long-standing rule to exert extra caution when speaking in a house where Dragon were staying. Inevitably, they would find out. There were elaborate ciphers and code words among her household in case of such a thing. But now they'd attracted the attention of this one.

"Excuse me" he said in the long drawl of his house. "Did you say Obrodorus Rising...I couldn't help but overhear you say that name..." Valmont looked at the door to the room. He was certain it had been shut and locked the moment before.

"Yes we did, we heard of him..." Cerise let that trail off not wanting to give away any more.

"Really?" This seemed to strike him as odd. "I would ask what context you heard it in, but I'm dubious about my chances of obtaining a verifiable answer."

He looked around at the group, seemingly taking in the diversity among them for the first time. "Yes, well then. I should exercise a little, in my case, or a lot, in your case, of caution when speaking of that one. Among certain circles his name is...was...one to call anger and consternation. You see for a brief period, what...perhaps a blink ago, he was regarded as the greatest thief among the Shaddai. But a bold one-- rising from nowhere, pulling off daring burglaries, and then vanishing-- half a blink ago."

Beletan quickly ran that in his head. Cerise had said that a blink was what, five years...but wait, the Dragon counted them as ten years...which meant that this could fit.

"And what became of him?" Cerise asked.

"Ah, that's a real question. Some think he retired, some think a guard managed to kill him and then covered it up in the hopes of finding Rising's treasure. There was rumor that he'd been caught by the Unicorn who have a distinct sense of justice and many reasons to wish Rising more ill than most." He stopped there and looked around at them.

"Still others believe that it came out that Obrodorus Rising was in fact a member of House Dragon and when that news came out, the Cabal Who Sit Watching decided it was time to remove Rising before he could do serious damage to the family's name. That or use him as a pawn. In any case he hasn't been seen in what would be a long time for all of you." His gesture included Cerise in this, but she deliberately ignored it.

The Dragon excused himself and departed. No one spoke for a moment. Then Leather finally broke the silence, "Um, that guy made me feel like I was edible."

LUCY'S GIFT
Lucy watched as her mother set the starter thread on the Silk Spider Loom. The first spider, marked a proud gold, ran down the line. When it reached the bottom of the frame, the signal was passed and dozens more crawled out from the wooden frame and began to spin and weave the sheet. They moved a little sluggishly, having been poisoned just enough so that their threads came out a rich green. Lucy's mother turned back to her again, "Your sister seems upset but I can't for the life of me say why...I was going to ask you about it but..." she trailed off. "Perhaps you should go play with your bolts...and pins...and whatnot..." she smiled at her daughter.

The enchantment was, as Saberhagen warned, somewhat odd in operation. When they'd first returned back Elenore had rushed to her mother's side and then dragged her off to tell her, half sobbing, about her semester at Libri Vidicos. However, since Lucy had not included her mother in the secret of her attended the school, apparently every time Elenore mentioned Lucy, her mother lost track of the story. Lucy decided that something must have upset Elenore deeply and that she'd devote more time to her sister next semester in an effort to make things better.

Her father chatted with her, reservedly at first but then with more animation as Lucy described her developments in the art of spell-casting. "Ah, well that's a relief. I thought you might not move beyond the Third Principatic Maxim..." He watched her cast a few spells and corrected her on some matters of form, pleased to be able to give some direction. He then explained that he'd hinted to people that Lucy had been sent to a boarding school-- perhaps one in Ierendi. Since the awful d'Aubaines had split from d'Ambreville, their names had become mud generally (though some respected their ability) which meant that few people would pry into Lucy's business. As an added bonus other members of her own extended family had apparently sent gifts to Lucy when they found out she would not be attending the great school of magic at Glaantri City.

The best perhaps was Yearturn itself, a day that always brought the family and everyone together. It would be this day that the wards would have to be renewed, the traps cleaned, the bindings reset and the threats clearly delineated on the grounds. Lucy waited as her father divided out the tasks and areas. She hoped she wouldn't be paired with Selezarnau as he constantly munched on herbals to control his skin condition. He spat when he spoke as well making for a fragrant and sticky spray in front of him. To her surprise her father walked over and handed a brass needle and a box.

"These are for you-- you'll need them to handle your section." This year she would have her own! 

Lucy opened the box to find a wand made of a dark black wood, twisted and polished to a sheen. The handle had been carefully carved to settle gently into her hand. The d'Aubaines, like all right-thinkng Aoniaens had lifelike duplicate homonculi so they could take measurements even if one of the family members was away.

"It is the heart wood from a Raventree, killed by lightning. Very rare. They were able to get only three from this one before the tree corpse escaped." Lucy shook the wand gently and tiny black feather blossomed in the air. He father continued, "Now I've had it reinforced in case you should drop it...or fall on it...or something of that sort."

He looked down at his daughter fairly proudly now. "Well you should get to your section. If you're good I'll let you sit in on the chaining of the ancestral transgressors later this evening..."

SERGEI LISTENS
The exertions of Yearturn had finally gotten to Sergei. He managed to extricate himself from the last of the celebrants-- young women of favorable houses who were desperately vying for his attention. The depths of the winter meant that the holiday could not be spent in Ursus easily. He'd done that three times in his life, twice with his parents and once by himself. Once the Lock Snow fell, then everything quieted down and they would tell stories, do crafts and generally try to keep themselves from growing wroth with one another. Sergei had loved it-- sneaking outside, finding the old paths in the ruined portion of the keep, the careful management of food and resources to make sure that no one starved. Holidays in Math were both more open and more regimented. There was a schedule for everything and though it was all entertaining, it was wearing and restrictive at the same time.

On the other hand, holidays in Atlantae like this one, were never the same twice. This year they'd managed to keep their arrival back in the country a secret until the last minute. Still word eventually spread and so began the great series of visitations and invitations from nobility of Atlantae wishing to ingratiate themselves with the head of House Rosznar. Not that Gallina had formally called herself that for some time, having turned the reins over to others, but it was well known she had influence in many areas including-- at times-- the ear of the Emperor. And not that some of the people who arrived weren't true friends-- people Sergei had known for years, some whom he'd gone to school with. But there were enough who had a desperation to them to make it an effort to remain entertaining and civil.

Beyond that there had been the question of his friends. They'd mostly gone off to a school together, though a few had taken apprenticeships. Sergei could tell them nothing of where he'd been and evaded the questions. This didn't seem a surprise to them and that struck him. They'd expected no answers from him. The more he thought about it, the more he realized he'd always been kind of an outsider here. Not that he didn't like them or they, he. But instead he'd always kept himself a little apart from things. Libri Vidicos had been the first time, he thought, that he'd been willing to connect with people beyond his family.

He's made his way to his father's second study, a place he'd always enjoyed for hiding away. As he shut the door, he noticed the seat closest to the fire was occupied. He moved to see who else had escaped from the party. An older gentleman, perhaps his father's age, hair gone half grey and an Atlantaen by his skin tone. He had seen the man before but it took him a few minutes to place him, as he had never actually spoken to him.

"Lord Cromnor..." Sergei said somewhat hesitantly. The man had been smoking his pipe and staring deeply into the fire. He didn't start, but instead turned and looked at Sergei appraisingly and then smiled.

"Ah, Gallina's son, Sergei. Please come and sit and join me." He gestured to the chair next to him. "I've stolen a pot of hot chocolate from the sideboard. Perhaps you'll want a cup as well."

Manners had taught him not to refuse such a gift. He took the cup in his hands and waited, as the older man seemed to have something he wanted to say.

"Ah, you truly have taken up your father's grace and looks. I can see by your hands you have been practicing more heavily with your sword as well. But not, I think, with the Archers? That's well-- I dare say you'll do better learning outside of Atlantae, and bringing those ideas back to us. You'll do well."

"Thank you, Lord Cromnor..."

"No, no...call me Delcat." He stopped. "You know, my own son would have been about your age."

Sergei thought for a moment trying to place this-- what had mother told him about Cromnor. Somehow he was related to the late Basho...tied into that complex geneology of the former and present Imperial line. Wait, that was it-- he'd married Basho's sister, Lady Cynowae, but he'd never heard her spoken of in full-- just mentioned in passing.

"I'm sorry...I didn't know him."

Delcat looked up-- startled a little realizing how he'd drifted off. "No, no-- I'm sorry. The Yearturn always gets me thinking. And a bad thing. It is best to finish one's business and get things cleared out before the new year begins. I'm grateful for your mother's invitation, but I'm less festive than one might wish."

The door opened and Sergei saw a man look in. Sergei leapt to his feet. "Master Harkvrag..."

The grand Ursan hunter of undead strode into the room. "Lord Sergei...come here and let me have a look at you." Sergei walked forward eagerly. Where a women would simply hold you by the shoulders and beam down a smile upon you, Master Harkvrag meant what he said. He took Sergei by the shoulders and turned him around checking the line of his clothing, his hands, his boots.

"You look good-- well cared for and perhaps a little more carefully attired? You have been in the company of ladies, no? But I can see by your hands that you have been practicing..." He laughed a little.

"That's what I said..." came Delcat's voice from the chair. Harkvrag looked past Sergei and saw the other man. "Lord Cromnor...Delcat..." he moved forward, keeping Sergei with him.

"It is good to see you, Despatir. To have confirmation that you still live is always a blessing." Cromnor sat himself up straighter.

Harkvrag smiled as he looked down upon him, then he turned to Sergei. "Sergei, I will be here for a few days, and I have a few books in my bags for you. We can talk in the morning, but for now I would wish to have words with Lord Cromnor..." He glanced at the door. Sergei took the hint and bowed carefully to both of them. He then turned and headed for the door, at the same time carefully wrapping the shadows around him-- he concentrated with all his might not to call down heavenly cherubs to cast the spell and managed to affect it subtlely. Outside he stopped try to hear their conversation.

Harkvrag had seated himself in the chair Sergei had just vacated. "Delcat...I am sorry, but there is still no word of her..." He broke off.

Cromnor paused before speaking. "I had not expected any. You and the others have been too good to keep this in your attentions for so long. I am an old man now and must let this go..."

"No older than I," Harkvrag countered. "But you stay in your house--now come and ride with me, or with Sheridan, or even Julian...though only the last case if you want to drink more wine than you can handle."

The two men laughed and suddenly Sergei realized someone was standing behind him. His mother was watching him patiently. She shook her head.

"Listening at keyholes is an unbecoming trait-- especially if anyone coming along here can see you at it. I raised you better than that." She swatted him gently on the cheek. "Next time, use a sound spell, or invisibility or something if you really wish to eavesdrop. Now, you need to do one more pass through the guests before I let you escape for the evening..."