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East Terrenian Commerce

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The city of Ashville was abuzz this evening.? Tonight marked the begining of the annual trade summit.? Master negoiaters from all of Terrenus' major towns were representing their local economies in the biggest forum held each year.? Casper wanted lower taxes on naval trade, Hell's Gate was demanding better protection for the food caravans that came it's way, Last Chance was badgering about the list of contraband items (again!), and the town of Tia was going unnoticed.?

But that was how Jean liked it.? Yet again, for the twentith year running, the merchants of Tia had elected their lord, Viscount Jean deCorbin, to be their voice at this conference.? And every year that Jean had gone, he'd found that by keeping his head high but his voice low, nearly ever condition that his people had wanted, passed.? Tia had become very important in the east-west trade in the last few decades, and it's merchants didn't want that to stop.? Neither did Jean, because if his merchants were unhappy, then the workers that had to purchase their livings from the merchants became unhappy, and with the workers unhappy, less got done, again making the merchants unhappy because of the lack of goods, and on and on the cycle went.? So Jean made sure his merchants were happy.?

This meeting was a tradition of sorts because of the happier times upon the Terrenians.? Their current king seemed more like a shadow upon the throne than a real person.? Few people aside from his trusted advisors, confidants; and key law enforcement personel knew his face by sight.? Because of this and other reasons, for the most part, laws are created and enforced by the common people.? This convention of the economically minded was just one of such meetings every year to discuss the laws made and enforced by the common people.?

Jean was waiting near the meeting hall, usually devoted to the Clayworker's Guild, for his good friend, whom had sent him a message a short while back informing deCorbin of the happenings just a few short leagues outside of Ashville.? It seems this friend was just wrapping up some events in the Dark Forest, on the eastern side of the Black Range, and would be able to meet Jean in Ashville that night.?

As the Viscount waited for his friend, he mused to himself, "Ah, these wonderful people, so unaware of their own power, and their own weakness.? They control their lives with such care, and then, without warning, lose all that they've gained.? Look at me speaking down about materialism!? What have I done in the last hundred years any different from the rest of them?? Besides living on, of course...Pah!? I amuse myself with my wandering ideas."? And so thought on Jean, for many hours before his good friend arrived to cast away these thoughts.?

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Two, small, lanterns gently hung from a wooden sign with the words Goodly Inn emblazoned across its surface in letters tinted pink and green; the color scheme warm and inviting. The light shed by those orbs of light, though enough to catch the eye of a weary passerby, was hardly enough to stretch through the murky depths of darkness that crept upon all the buildings; it seemed almost as if the light was shifting through much, struggling to let itself shine.

It was from the depths of the ubiquitous sable shroud that he would come. The world seemed to stand still for a moment; all the fervor and vehemence put into actions came to a sudden halt while this man, insouciant, shuffled through the cobblestone streets. All features were obscured, bringing a distinctive atmosphere of mystery to fall about him and settle down upon his shoulders much like a resolute mantle would. Soon, the carved oaken door of the tavern would give way to a gentle push, and there he stood, resplendent in the glory of being bathed in candlelight.

Robes graced his anatomy once more, sweeping across the ground slightly; the edges effectively obfuscated his feet, so that when the robed man walked forth, it gave the semblance of preternatural grace, that he glided across the ground rather than taking the stumbling, individual, steps accredited to the gait of man. A mask, alabaster in its shining hue, adorned his countenance; holes for the eyes were non-existent, bringing to mind just how this man might be able to see, and bringing a chill to the bones of some when he moved without hindrance.

All eyes flitted his way for an instance, most of those eyes lingered, and some of them found it nearly impossible to look away; an angelic aura washed over the establishment, its very presence pouring every inch of the infrastructure and shaking the core of some patrons of a more?questionable nature. Strong fingers gripped the right shoulder of Jean deCorbin, hopefully garnering his attention. ?I?m sorry that I?m late?I ran into a bit of trouble in the Dark Forest, you know how it gets at this time of night.? The voice had a cold, metallic, edge gilding the warm manor by which he spoke. ?Shall we take a seat then? I?m sure you?ve a lot of interesting information to divulge.?

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Deep night had passed on Ashville, and a mere hour remained before the trade summit began.? Jean had been sitting at this booth in the Goodly Inn for hours.? By now, the waitress was angry that the man taking up such a good spot hadn't ordered anything in the last who can remember how long, but kept taking sips from from his own waterskin.? The large fire behind the grate was casting everything in a deep orange hue, and deCorbin's own crimson coat was begining to look like it was on fire now.?

When a hand slumped down on the vampire lord's shoulder, Jean smiled, his teeth and fangs fully extended for effect.? The burning shimmers coming from his mouth would have frightened any normal person in the tavern, had they been looking, but this smile was intended and recieved by a party of one.? "Yes, you are late, aren't you?? And not only that, you're loud.? I heard you walking down the street by the chandler four buildings down; the robe, you know.? Perhaps you should start wearing pants again?? Much quieter, mon ami.? I've never been to the For?t Sombre, so I wouldn't know what it is like at anytime of the day.? Honestly, though, what could be there that could cause you to nearly miss this?"? Stopping for a short moment, Jean reached down and pulled another draught from his skin.? "Sang de la vache, of course.? Combined with one of my little enchantments, I can keep a skin full of it drinkable for nearly a month.? Perhaps you'd like something a little more...wholesome...for your tastebuds, eh?? A bottle of Villa Hospith 1429 over here!"

Turning back to his masked friend, Jean leaned in, and with a very serious look upon his face, began talking business.? "I have word from my retainers that Last Chance is getting fed up.? They want Vakar taken off the contraband lists.? The fools want to sell the Hunter's Steel to all the major cities, openly.? I believe that they are going to try something here, at this meeting, to try and get it done.? Unfortunatly, because of the nature of this meeting, the King can't do anything, and neither can his senschal.? So, I've asked for your help.? I know that the Church can get involved in this matter because of the nature of Vakar, it violates the fourth edict.? So I need your help for this.? Between you and I, there is no way a measure can be passed allowing Vakar to be sold openly.? Caspar and Palgard will vote with me, unless they've elected a fool to serve this year.? If we can get the Welander's, Blaug, and Ignatz with us, then Last Chance will have no choice but to wait."

deCorbin leaned back as the bottle of wine arrived, and was all smiles again as he poured his friend a drink.? "And after this dreadful convention, you should return with me to Tia.? I wanted to talk to you about the local priest and his work."

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?Pants are far too constricting, and should you ever chance to wear a robe, I?m sure that you will agree.? A rather long inhale was taken, as if Odin had been holding his breath for a while, and it was released slowly, to savor this movement where his mortality was realized; too many often attributed the title of Hero, or even God to those of extraordinary character or physicality?Odin was one of the very few glad to be human, through and through. ?A very interesting assembly. Imagine, if you will, a woman born of fire with a temper to match, another femme whose draconic heritage was glaring for all to see, and a man whose scent was of the divine. To top it all off, an Unnatural strode the woods, and had I not an appointment with you, I would have most certainly disposed of him.?

?I?m sorry Jean, you know that I only drink wine during sacrament, and even then, it is hardly more than half of a mouthful, at very most.? A chair was slid, the scratching of its legs against the wooden floor drawing the attention of only one or two of the current patrons, and even then, only for a moment at best; their focus had been drawn back to their friends or harassing the locals.? His elbows came to press against the table, and chin rested, almost childishly, in his palms as the blank eyes of the ivory mask stared directly towards Jean; it was a chilling experience for any onlookers?the static imparity was harrowing.

His facial expressions were completely null and vapid, perhaps because his countenance was covered by an unyielding semblance of a visage. Either way, despite how startling the news may have been, the face remained completely unchanged. The voice that issued forth, however, was of a disturbing severity. ?Had I known of the austerity of this matter, I would have taken the measure of bringing a handful of priests with me. Now only I stand as a representative of the church.?

The waitress serving them didn?t quite seem to register in Odin?s mind, and the news about a local priest was put on the back-burner for the time being, there were much more daunting tasks to handle at the moment. A fleeting glance was given to the room at large, before the alabaster guise turned to face Jean once again. ?I?m sure you?re aware of the sway that the Church holds over the majority. I?m confident I can have Ignatz side with us, and Blaurg is a likely candidate. Tell me, how feasible would you say it is that Last Chance will pursue issue this non-violently??

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"Sorry about the wine then.? I'll hold onto that for another time then, I think I know someone who could be given it.? Anyways, about your adventures this night and prior...perhaps during a lull later we can talk.? And I do recall another Unnatural that you were predisposed to, well, dispose; and look at where he is now!"? Somehow, despite the heavy mask, Jean knew that Odin was smiling about that one.? And how couldn't he?? Nearly everytime one of them mentioned an Unnatural, the Church's policies, or even death in general, Jean would bring this up.? Jean was suprised that by now, Odin hadn't realized this and just started avoiding the topic or answering it right up.?

The door opened, and Jean paused as he looked over to see another patron enter:? A laborer fresh from the warehouse.? Not always the smartest of folk, but they can be bought.? Jean lowered his voice just a bit, making sure that the newcomer couldn't hear.? "With Last Chance, you can never tell about violence or not.? I know they brought their usual thugs and hoodlums as 'bodyguards'.? However, I think that they are being kept in check so far because their ringleader, the merchant representative Freeholder, doesn't want the professional fighters from the other delegates to get involved.? If those warriors could be dealt with, then yes, I do think that Last Chance will get violent."

Now Jean leaned back, a frown of concentration on his face.? Still deep in thought, he began to mumble to himself.? "Maybe. . . the meeting. . . could do it. . . locks are good enough. . . might be able to pull it off. . ."? Then, while taking another drink from his skin, deCorbin's eyebrows came up, a look of mighty realization upon his face.?

Fevrently, Jean began to whisper again, "Odin, I know how they could do it.? Last Chance and Freeholder might just get violent if we vote down the contraband list, and I know how their thugs could do it.? We have to go now and check out the guildhall to make sure they aren't going to do this."? Standing up quickly, Jean turned away from the table and began to walk out of the tavern.

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Indeed, beneath the statuesque guise that Odin had placed to cover his own countenance, he was smiling. ?I noticed that you stopped the stroll down memory lane a bit early. I recall a certain Unnatural as well?one that had proven that his cause was righteous and was willing to drop anything that he could survive without. It?s that spark of hope that lay down my sword Jean.? There was a reason why Odin had yet to bring this topic to cessation?every time that he was reminded of how far Jean had come, the ember of hope he held for all creatures, Unnaturals or not, was gently stoked.

He was sure to lean in slightly, speak softly, and curb his words to the table, so that even Jean?s adroit sense of hearing would have some trouble picking up on his words. ?There?s a reason that this town is called Last Chance for a reason. I?m surprised that violence and bloodshed is not the first item on this particularly representative?s agenda.? Odin took the brief hiatus between their dialogue to take another glance around; at this juncture, one might wonder as to how Odin was capable of perceiving anything at all ? the grooves that were meant for his eyes were filled in?he was incapable of truly registering any vision at all, yet seemed fully able to perceive.

Head snapped Jean?s way, as the fire with which he spoke immediately ripped Odin?s attention and focused it solely on what he had to say. Of course, he had no idea what kind of plan was brewing inside of Jean?s head, but that?s usually the way it was; Odin held the wisdom to allow his words to hold an odd sort of impetus, undeniable by any faction that would dare listen?but Jean held within him the power of raw, unadulterated, reasoning ? separate, they were something to be envied, together? They were something to be feared.

He slid in step behind his advisor, and then situated himself alongside him. ?So?do you plan on letting me know what?s going on, or are you going to keep it as some sort of surprise??

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The wooden door was well braced with iron straps, but the speed and strength with which Jean slammed into it sent it spinning away, the wood splintering and the iron bending, screws flying.? Only vaguely did Jean recognize that Odin had followed him, and that no one from inside the tavern was running out and saying anthing to them...

"You do know though, Haze, that although the city is violent, many of the people there aren't.? I figure it out to be as such:? Brigands and highwaymen are essentially lazy.? They don't want to work for their comforts, so they steal.? A lot of city thieves are the same way, but nowhere near as much as brigands and their lot.? But a good majority of the people in Last Chance are working for their comforts and treasures, so, by that virtue, they can't be all that lazy, and, by my reasoning, aren't brigands, and, since brigands are the violent type, the people of Last Chance aren't violent.? It's hard to explain, really."? Jean spoke at nearly the same rapid pace he had set out with his walking.? It was okay if Odin didn't understand, quite a bit was slurred and such, but it shouldn't come out wheezy and with puffs and pants in between.? Jean didn't have to breathe after all.

Night was still early, and a good half hour was before Jean and Odin till the conference started, as they pounded their way down the streets.? Still, time was important to Jean, since he'd have only a few minutes to explore and come to a decision.? Even with the pace the viscount set, the guildhall was a good fifteen minutes walk away; Ashville is a large city.? "I'm hoping that when we get to the guildhall, which is our destination, obviously, I find out that I'm wrong.? However, I'm looking to see if Freeholder has brought any of those thugs and ruffians with him, and where they are.? Then I want to look at all the doors and see if any of them are tampered with."

Jean ducked down a side street, hoping to aviod the market square up ahead, which would most definately be open and crowded at this time.? Unfortunately for him, this street had a crowd of young toughs picking on a skinny, poor fool who had offended them.? The only way through would be to push through.? "Excuse me one moment, my liege."

Jean began pumping his potent vitae, and soon his speed picked up, as well as his strength.? He grabbed the two nearest young pups and threw them in opposite directions.? They both crashed into the walls and slumped down.? This noise caught the attention of a few of the others, and, smartly, they drew back, away from the vampires wrath that stood before them.? But the other four who hadn't heard him yet, poor fools, where still harassing their victim.? They paid for that when Jean came in and decked the first one with a right and knocked the wind out of another with a kick to the gut.? The other two, seeing their friends down or running, began to realize what they were up against.?

Luck was on the roughs side, however.? Jean, even with the adrenaline pumping, knew that he had to go, and quick.? He stopped the vitae flow, and then contined on, almost jogging away.? Without looking to see what Odin had done in that space of time, he began to speak again, calling over his shoulder, "So this Freeholder, if I'm right, would figure, that if he were to force is way onto the rest of us, would try to stick us all together and then hold the city hostage.? The easiest way would be to lock all the professional warriors in the guildhall, with the representatives, and then use the cities thugs to harass the populace.? So, we are going to go check this first, and then, if it doesn't pan out, we will just continue as if nothing happened."

They had to run now; time was getting much to short for Jean's taste.? He turned another corner, and thankfully, he found it clear.? Now he broke out into a blood-infused run.? "Hurry up, time is running out!"

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As he did what was necessary to match pace with the expeditious gait that Jean set, Odin made sure that he paid the necessary attention ? listening was, after all, a cordiality very easily suffered. ?You?ve a very interesting outlook on mankind?and its frighteningly accurate, if I may say so myself. It must be the all the time you?ve had to ponder in this world, right? Endless years upon endless years of just incessant contemplation on the race that you came from but have exalted with your curse. Mystical vexation is quite the curiously conflicting thing; I had always heard that one must take the bad with the good, but never imagined that it worked in the opposite way as well.?

It would become apparent that something close to philosophy is a subject that Odin spent a bit of his time on in current solitary sessions at the church. His faith of what was to come after life was affirmed in Gaia, his profession set in stone as well and it wasn?t as time consuming as one may think?so all he was left with imperial affairs, of which Jean took the brunt of, and pondering the why?s instead of the how?s.

His body kept pace with his comrade while his mind seemed to grow out of focus as it whittled away and completely irrelevant and unimportant things; his focused returned intensely as he would take note of an impending scuffle. While Jean was busy forging a path through a small contingent of poorly misguided children, of which Odin would make a mental note to rectify when he seated himself as the King once more, two stealthy operatives of the same group thought it ideal to sneak up on the robed man. When they leapt forward, daggers glinting in the stars argent light, they found purchase on?nothing. The two men were gone.

Upon the request of his Advisor, Odin picked up the pace. A hand closed around Jean?s shoulder with digits that would bring the durability of steel rods to question. A slight whining sound resonated within the pathways that ran between buildings of the city, and the only thing that could mark their existence anywhere except for directly in front of the guildhall door would be a trail of multi-colored bubbles which popped away soon enough. ?A little trick I?ve been working on.? The only explanation given for the feat. ?Should you go first, or shall I??

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The sudden grip that Odin laid upon Jean was as visceral as the sudden grasp back to reality that overtook him.? For that fleeting instant between the transportation, the vampire realized just how stupid he had been acting.? Far too much time had been spent thinking about events that were so unlikely to happen, that such precious time was wasted.? Still standing in a daze from his sudden revalation, Jean didn't realize exactly what his liege had said.? Then, with a shake of his head, he turned to face Odin, ceasing the flow of blood that was burning away for an effort no longer in use.

"Never, ever, ever, tell me how you do that.? That was the most unpleasant and uncomfortable I have ever experienced in my entire life and unlife, and I shall tell you a grand secret now: six centuries of persecution, hate, predijuce, and unfortunately very good hunters has given me almost every oppurtunity to be uncomfortable.? Jamais encore."? Jean knew of Odin's parlor tricks, and knew that eventually, he too, would want to learn it, because, as was oft the way of Odin, it was dead useful.? Now, however, it was a hinderance, because it did not allow Jean to come and think slowly, as wont was his way.

"Please, do lead the way.? However, I must inform thy that my mind has changed.? I feel as though I have done more thinking on possiblities that most likely do not exist, and thusly, I have concluded that we should put them from our mind, and continue on to the convention.? You know that Nth is also going to be a matter of great discussion, as well as legal slavery, especially from the people at Hell's Gate.? Did you know that there seems to be a race of lizardmen out in the deep desert there?? It seems that some of the more bold citizens of Hell's Gate are capturing them and claiming that, because they are not citizens of Terrenus, they can legally make slaves of them, and then use them to mine Nth out of the canyons."

Jean began to straighten himself out, pulling lightly on the tails of his vest.? With a final tug and dust off, he turned and began to walk into the guildhall.

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Beneath the perlite screen, a smile stretched across Odin?s countenance?sadly, it could not be shared with the world, and the closest thing to the smile that Odin could express was a slightly forced chuckle, merely to inform Jean that he had found what he said amusing enough. As Jean spoke, warning Odin to be wary and speculative of the information he had already been presented with, he was well on his way to opening the door. ?You know my stance on Nth. It?s much too dangerous a metal to export on the whim of a town. Enough people get their hands on something like Nth, and you can expect a lot more skirmishes and battles to break out?what?s worse, they?ll have the means to cause that much more damage.?

His hand would come from within the confines of his robes and gently press against the wood-grain exterior of the door which led into the guildhall and, inevitably, into the meeting taking place. Jean?s words had stopped him, and Odin?s voice grew all the more deadly. ?Slavery?is not a topic I will waver on. All creatures, regardless of race or background, all deserve the right to do with their life as they see fit, as long as it isn?t caustic in its nature. To try and take the freedom of others?especially to propagate such selfish needs as mining?? Head would turn slowly, canted to one side, as the blank indentations that represented his eyes bore deep into Jean?s oculars. ?Unacceptable?

Once his little monologue had been concluded, Odin leaned forward and pressed against the door slightly. ?And you know what this means, right? About the possibility that you were wrong?? The door opened farther and lead into a great hall; immediately, the din of arguing businessmen, politicians, and representatives blasted out through the doorframe and covered them as a blanket of uproarious noise. With this sea of racket upon them, Odin?s voice was audible barely even to Jean. ?It means I haven?t a clue what I?m doing.? And he was the first to lead the way in.

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"I knew you'd say something like that.? Which is why I want you to let me handle the situation when it comes to vote, because I've a plan that Hell's Gate won't be able to argue over without it seeming like they are only in it for the money and free labor.? I've already gotten the ground work for it out."? Jean was smiling, his eyes staring right back at the framed versions that Odin was sporting with this mask of his.? The sound of the hall's occupants seemed to die down the further they walked in, and Jean could only assume it was because of the acustics of the rooms.?

Within moments, the two of them had entered the main hall, filled with bustle and color and noise.? The vibrant colors of the silks from Caspar's shipping magnates was not too much of a contrast to the overly bright and equally opulent Freeholder, who, as expected, was shouting left and right about how Last Chance was being repressed.? Jean's smile grew larger.? The Master of Cermonies had noticed the vampiric lord and his 'aide', and called for silence.? Normally a quiet man, the Master of Cermonies was Ashville's very own Bursar of the Council, Sir Chadwick Vallen proved he was indeed very capable for his job as the shouts that burst forth from his lips were very loud indeed.? Again, that smile, carefully shown as to hide the pronounced canines, grew larger.?

In a quick aside to 'his aide', Jean stated simply, "After what I do here, there will be no doubt about how well Hell's Gate is going to do in this next year.? Oh, politics, how well you are spoken in the arachic Latin..."

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He walked alongside his companion; as they strode side by side, the difference in height became apparent between the two, with Odin in the lead by two or so inches, and then it would immediately shrink away as Odin?s gait allowed and he allowed Jean to continue plowing forward. When, finally, they had arrived and presented themselves for all the members of this political party to see, Odin was quick to allow Jean to take the reins.

He was not the kind of man to pay explicit attention to the proceedings, at least for the time being, and allowed his mind to wander. Beneath the shroud of his robes, Odin?s body relaxed greatly, shoulders rolling forth and back hunching slightly as he assumed a much more at ease stature. Beneath the guard of his face, his eyes unfocused and the tension that held his face taut melted away. Within the confines of his mind did his conscious stay, and only there was it present; the forest of his mind was lush and beautiful.

Fingers curled inward, pressing against the flesh of his palm as they drew into fists and he merely stood there, statuesque. All that were present knew who this man was, the Saint of Gaia and leader of the Church. Beyond that, they knew the kind of power he held, just how much sway a single one of his words retained. His mind was not upon them, but his senses were alert ? when he was needed, his consciousness would rise once more.

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((OOC:? only because I've been putting this off for a way too long of a time, I present, the continuation of ETC.? But this is mostly so I could go on and write other, much more interesting stories.))

The meeting proceeded much as had been expected; slow, with little progress during these first few hours.? Threats and innuendos, attempted bargains and snide comments on the potency of rivals.? Only twice had anything of real importance been said, and that's only because Jean and Odin hadn't spoken a word since they arrived.?

Hell's Gate.? The devious place was trying to use slave labor.? Long ago Odin had abolished the degenerative practice, but here they were, clinging to a practice generations old and on death's door.? A new metal had been found far out in the Dead Peaks, called Nth.? Very rare, this metal was seen in veins only inside caverns and caves already carved out and housed by a breed that called themselves 'Assathi'.? Though smart and obviously strong, the Assathi were also docile and did nothing when Gaters came and mined their homes, often capturing the snake-men.? It was this new metal that had driven the dying practice of slavery back out into the open, because few Gater's could travel to and fro from the mines daily.? So the Assathi were used.? They were forced to destroy their own homes for the greed of the men of Hell's Gate.? Nth also was very dangerous once pulled from the sandstone shelf.? Nth, in it's natural state, is magically unstable and causes gravimetric explosions when exposed.? Put more simply, un-tempered Nth was a black hole just waiting to happen.? When tempered and smelted with iron or other highly magnetic metals, Nth worked to reverse the field, creating an anti-gravity effect.? Tempering the Nth also seemed to remove the instabilities in the metal, and in fact, seemed to make it actually absorb magicall effects.? The sheer potency of this metal was astounding.

However, Hell's Gate was experiencing a crisis.? This was the seventh year of drought out in the desert, and a food shortage was nearly on hand.? The representative from the parched city had given a kind of ultamatium/offer to the assembled:? "Send us food, get Nth."? Jean knew of this going in, and now it was time for him to play hardball.? Giving Odin a quick poke in the general area of his ribs, deCorbin rose.?

Sir Vallen noticed this in a instant, and called loudly to the again murmuring mass, "THE CHAIR RECOGNIZES VISCOUNT JEAN DECORBIN, REPRESENTING THE CITY OF TIA!"? Silence descend.? Taking a quick look at Odin to make sure he was watching this, Jean began his address.

"My humble associates, I have heard this evening a matter of great distress, yet little has been offered upon it as to a solution.? As my memory serves me from my last visit to this very same gathering, this matter was harked upon then as well, and yet, in folly from us all, nothing was done to remedy this.? Well, I propose to take action to cease this arrogance and disillusion all gathered here, myself included.? Representative Sha'a'ni from the dignified city of Hell's Gate has mentioned tonight that once more, the people of this township are in danger of a most pestilent and horrific death, a long, slow, and painful death.? The death of starvation.? Once more drought has replaced draught in this desert oasis.? Since my humble lands have not had this fear upon them for many years thanks to bountiful harvests and cultivation of long lasting foodstuffs, we have experienced enough overabundance to donate a fortune in food to the people of Hell's Gate and her surrounding communities.? I would even go so far as to take it upon my personal expense to fund the caravans that would be required to move this gift over the rough, and bandit filled terrain.? Are there any here who would show the compassion that our bishops of the Church of Gaia and our dear King would succor and expect from such a gathering of great people?"

Jean could not but smile as he sat down again amongst the steady rise in volume as more and more voices volunteered support for the respected Viscount's plans.? In a subtle whisper to his lord, he spoke these nearly giggling words, "And now I can arrange for a group of adventurers' to be my personal investigators once they are done 'escorting' the caravans to the city.? Once they are there, I can determine just how much this slavery goes without anyone from Hell's Gate noticing."

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Boredom. Never had he known a word could be so tangible as to when he seated himself amongst political intellectuals and felt all but forced to listen to them; this was not merely on the stake of being genteel, though to say that courtesy had no weight on his mind would be a lie?but, for the most part, it was merely because he feared that if he allowed himself to become a recluse to the world and retreat within his mind, he might miss an important detail that would damn him for the rest of the year, if not the rest of his life.

However, despite the warning he had given himself, Odin felt he knew enough about Nth, the matters of Hell Gates, and the citizens actions enough that he could divert his attention, at least for a minute or two; if this was not the cause, he had full confidence that Jean could bring him up to speed in a matter of seconds, and provide him with enough verbal ammunition that he would seem as quick-witted as the best of them.

Very slight oscillations, undoubtedly unnoticeable to every other man in this room besides Odin himself, penetrated the inner sanctum of the guildhall and spread their message across Odin?s feet; he shifted in his seat slightly, sluing his feet along the ground in an attempt to ensure that the entirety of the message was delivered ? the only man to come to mind who used this method of communication was not one to use lightly, though he was known as a bit of prankster at heart.

The minute tapping of his heel was a far grander action than the others would think.

Ty; she?s a dragonkin that I met in the Dark Forest. I know her well enough to know she?s not an enemy, so fear no enmity from her. But, remember that no one knows me as King, merely as a Priest, so refer to me only as such. I?m in a rather important meeting right now, so I?ll have to implore that you do not seek to commune with me once again.

His attention was invariably wrenched back to the task at hand as Jean was given the floor to speak. Beneath the mold of his mask, eyes glued themselves to the form of his trusted Advisor, and ears listened attentively. It made his heart sink slightly to hear of the pains of his people, to know that he was doing such a poor job as King that he could not stave off troubles such as pestilence and hunger. He was trying, far more than most would suspect a shadowed King to do, but the few successes that he had in making his kingdom flourish seemed so far and few between that the accomplishment didn?t even seem to make a dent in the troubles of Terrenus.

Yet, a smile would stretch across his face, albeit unseen, to the answer which Jean provided to the problem; without this man, the Kingdom would surely fall into shambles. Diplomacy, through and through, was what one could say flowed through deCorbin?s veins ? every time he heard the man speak, Odin was merely tempered in his decision for bestowing such a powerful title upon the man and more so for sparing him the fate that befell most Unnaturals.

?Ingenious.? He would whisper back. ?Though I suspect you knew this already.? A slight lilt in his voice warned of his playful meaning. ?This is all fine and well Jean, but how long must we wait before we can free those poor people from the chains of ignorance??

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Again, keeping it down to a whisper so that the others who were even still clambering over each other to show support for his plan could not hear, Jean spoke.? "Alas, my lord, such ignorance shall remain in your kingdom so long as man and kin exist.? It is the deeply inbred nature of humaniods to keep some lower than the rest to maintain a balance of power, both physically and mentally.? And education, despite your best efforts of royal mandates, cannot be spared when hands are need to till the fields, pick the mines, carry goods, and other tasks that children do.? In fact, I should be more worried about the rich and powerful that run these city-states forgetting their learned ethics and doing something so base as slavery.? Those are the ones to blame, truly, for while you toil for everyman, they reap the rewards you garner for all."? Smiles.? It seemed that Jean had plenty of those this night.? I've already lost count of how many times I've smiled tonight.? When was the last time I did that?? It must have been nigh anon thirty years ago...

"Something still bothers you though, even against my best efforts at succor.? Ah... perhaps my words a moment ago are the source of your discomfort?? I know how much you strive to ease the living of all your vassals, and to hear of near starvation would be disconcerting to you, would it not?? Fear not, I have been looking towards this matter for years.? Hell's Gate does not know the true amount of debt they owe to the farmers of of South Moonwood.? They hail me as their liege, and have been so kind as to take my advice and sell their crops as far as Langley Keep, which does supply Hell's Gate.? This has been so for nearly a decade.? Even the best know to be prepared.? So your kingdom does flourish."? Jean quieted himself for a moment, taking in the view of the dozens of others here, their rush to appease the man that would do business with their children's children now subsiding.? Other's were taking action again, trying to promote their cities, their philosophies, their goods.? Now was a moment to relax and discuss things with his lord.

Turning his head ever so slightly, so? that deCorbin could keep an eye out on both the meeting at hand and Odin's reactions.? Speaking of which...

"Milord...why are you tapping your toes?? I know that boredom must have set in by now, but I've never seen you fidget.? So why now?"

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