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Venus Sprite

Small Town Mysteries

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Torie woke when the sun slanted through the mill's translucent windows and into her eyes. She yawned and stretched, listening to the grinding of the wooden mechanics of the water mill, along with the blip, bloop of the water as it entered and left the water wheel. Just by listening she could tell things were operating smoothly. For a moment she considered remaining in the pile of warm hay, but a growl from her stomach revealed she had other ideas.

She stretched lazily, reaching forward with two paws bigger than dinner plates, flexing her claws in front of her, then looked up at the afternoon sun. She wasn't completely lazy, she told herself, as she had to be up before dawn to have all the bread baking, but once all the customers had been and the mill had been tended to, there wasn't really much else to do.

Except eat, she supposed.

With a huff and a sigh, Torie pushed herself to her feet, waddling over to the mill wheel to inspect it visually and scoop out the ground-down flour. For a moment she sat on her haunches to dust her paws off, then went into the bakery to check on the furnaces and the bread baking for the afternoon customers. Voices floated up from the front counter, and so Torie peeked around to find Wendy sitting and chatting with her old friend, Gertrude.

"Hello, Torie," Gertrude said, leaning sideways and peering over the top of her reading glasses.

"Hello Gertrude," Torie said back, waving a paw still covered in white flour. She spoke slowly in her deep, rumbling throat so the elder could understand. "Do you need some bread?"

"Oh no dear. I'm just here to natter on." She smiled at Wendy. "Are you taking good care of her?"

"No she is NOT," Wendy said. "She's very bossy. Tells me to take my poppy milk every morning. As if I need that rubbish," Wendy stood and started walking towards the back of the shop as Gertrude scoffed.

"But you do need it. Without it you couldn't get out of bed."

"Fah!"

"You're doing a great job, Torie," Gertrude said, fixing her gaze on the giant tigress. "Ignore her whining and let me know if I need to come by and knock some sense into her. Cheerio!"

"Goodbye," Torie said as the bell on the door rang. She glanced sideways as Wendy lay her hand on the brickwork of the oven.

"This one's too cold," the old baker said indignantly, then bent over with one wrinkled hand on the small of her back to open the metal gate and add more firewood.

"I'll do it," Torie said, grabbing a log with her teeth and bringing it over. She placed it down close as she could then shoved it inside, aware of Wendy's hand on her flank.

"You've been stealing cake," Wendy said, giving Torie a shove where her stomach was soft - which was everywhere between her well-padded elbow and knee. "You should watch out, or you'll meet an early end like my Ronald did."

Torie pulled her head back and closed the gate to the fire.

"It's not cake," she said. "And I won't, promise! I'm a druid, and my body magic prevents-"

"You're almost too big for the shop. Look at you. I don't want you knocking over bread stalls every time you try to fill them."

Torie huffed. "That was one time-"

"Haven't you got somewhere to be? Young women can't be stuck inside all day, even if they look like big cats." Wendy started hobbling back to the bedroom, hand on the shelves of bread to keep them steady. "Be back before dusk."

Well. At least there was something they agreed on - neither of them wanted her here, and Torie wouldn't pass up on an opportunity to get out for a while. Being on the Eastern foothills of the Shienvar Mountains meant that the sun rose early and set early too, so she had better not lose time. The little bell rung on the door as she pushed it open and she felt the curve of her belly push against the doorframe on both sides. Soon, she would need to leave to return to her homeland to learn the next form. Either that or stop eating so much.

There was only one cobblestone road in Gotserd, and to her left she could hear music coming from the public house - she could go and sing for the farmers again, she supposed - they enjoyed it probably because it was so terrible. But she could also smell the sound of delicious meat coming from the butcher's place.

A smile played on her feline features, and she followed the the urgings of her stomach.

"Hello, Mister Dantes," she said cheerily as she squeezed in the door again. "Is Valkyr back from the hunt yet?"

Edited by Venus Sprite

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"Oh, well hello there, Torie! Aren't you a pleasant sight?" The elder Dantes was correct on two counts. Torie was always a welcome guest around the Dantes house, with her pleasant demeanor, and her talents for cooking and hard work. She also happened to be their very best customer. Who else in their little town of Gotserd would be a finer connoisseur of fresh meats than a full-sized adult tiger? Though they knew her to truly be a druid, they had come to adore the tiger that often came around for their goods and to visit with their son.

"I'm afraid Valkyr hasn't returned just yet this day. I'm not terribly sure what game he was after today. He had mentioned a herd of some sort moving through the mountains, and he wanted to snag a head or two for the shop." Terren said as his soft frown gently turned to a hopeful smile. "We still have some of the fowl he brought in yesterday, or I may happen to have some fish. Some of the local boys had a bit of luck and let me buy some of their extra catch." A shuffle of tools and pans came from the backroom followed by a brief howl.

"Terren, come back here. Quit talking to yourself and come give us a hand, love!" 

"Gladiola, I'm not talking to myself. Torie has come to see if Valkyr's returned yet." 

"Oh well my dear!" She beckoned as she quickly left the backroom. "You should have said something, I'd have come out sooner." Gladiola smiled as she came to stand beside her husband. "How is that dear, Wendy? I haven't seen her all week. I.." Mrs. Dantes cut herself short. "Mercy, I haven't gotten the shopping done. We can manage with the root vegetables in the larder, but stars I need bread! I'll catch you later, sweetheart!" With that, Gladiola darted from behind the counter and back toward the bakery. She had half a mind for stew once Valkyr returned, but stew needed a side of crusty bread. Mrs. Dantes wouldn't have it any other way.

Terren laughed heartily as his wife made a beeline for the bakery by way of the front door. "Well she'll be gone a little while by the time she gets to gabbing. I'm afraid I'm the only one left until my son gets home. You're welcome to keep me company, or I can send Valkyr to find ya' when he gets home." He smiled and moved to ready some more meat to store. 

It was just about that time that a horse could faintly be heard out back behind their place. It was quite likely that Valkyr and Ambrose had indeed returned from the hunt!

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"No sooner were you born than you wanted everyone to know that you were special, didn't you, El?  Watching the common folk clear the road when you drew near, all deferential bows and curtsies as they witnessed your procession.  You'd cut to the front of a line, and everyone in the queue would feel honored.  When others spoke of you, only genteel words would cross their lips, most of which you'd find a challenge to pronounce, educated as you are.  But this most certainly isn't what you asked for, is it?  This, this circumstance is in every way inferior to what you had in mind!  You shed an air of malaise; the handful of people acquainted with you duck into their houses when they catch sight of you and everyone else peers at you with morbid curiosity until you've gone.  You're not patient zero, El, nor are you an unstoppered bottle from which miasmatic fumes spill.  Their flesh won't melt from their bones if they look upon you nor will their bodies turn to stone.  Still, they bolt the doors and shutter the windows as though you are the cause of what woe betides them.  Truly this is a thankless job, one that has made either a villain or a spectacle of you as far as these townies are concerned.  I'd go as far as to say that given the choice between this uncivil treatment and an eternity in the company of sheep, I'd take the sheep; at least they have reason for their fear and the good sense not to shun those who would come to their defense.  Would they rather I tack the letter to the alehouse door and leave them to their grief?"

Proceeding down the lane at something resembling an ambling gait, two donkeys follow a shepherd attended by two immaculately groomed Border Collies with a third, scruffy Border Collie lagging behind.  While the shepherd errant allows the donkeys some slack, she holds their leads firmly in her left hand in lieu of trusting them to obediently follow her.  The donkey to the shepherd's right, a beast weighed down with roughly twice the number of saddlebags as its comrade, proves that this precaution is warranted, periodically turning her head aside and glancing behind as if searching for someone.  Whenever this occurs, El clicks her tongue and gently tugs the donkey's lead to remind it of the task at hand.  The third Border Collie appears to sense that something is amiss as well, expressing through body language what he has yet to convey by other means as he tails his bipedal pack member.

As El's caution is informed more by prudence than by paranoia, so too is her appraisal of the inhospitable if not outright inauspicious manner of the villagers.  Of course, it is not her that they flee from but what she portends.  The bearer of bad news is often as unwelcome as the news itself, and this is no exception.  Thrice in as many months has she been tasked with relaying reports of a shepherd's mysterious departure.  The first occasion was unexceptional; a new hire had collected his personal effects after a month in the business and had vanished into the ether to, ostensibly, pursue other career options.  She took the second by surprise; like a professional burglar, she gained entry to the village, completed her mission, and exfiltrated before anyone realized what was happening.  Third time's the charm.  The gossips saw to it that every living soul in this village and the next village over were aware of her grim role.  This time, before El had even entered the town proper, the world was abuzz with whispers that another shepherd was lost.

At last, El's menagerie halted before a wooden door at the outskirts of town.  The few incorrigible gossips who hovered in her vicinity, buzzards of a different shape come to glut themselves on the memory of a man El swears is dead, scattered as El released the donkeys' leads so she might "favor" the shepherd's axe she clutched in her right hand.  To these scavengers, she was an unknown variable; the very real threat implied by the shaft of her shepherd's axe striking the palm of her left hand coupled with her rough attire and cocky body language encouraging them to move along while they can safely claim that their various limbs are fully functional.  Factoring in El's height (6' even), her steely blue eyes, short, blonde hair, tan skin-tone, and her androgynous features, the rubberneckers have little choice but to acquiesce to El's demand for privacy.  Her mannish clothing, a simple, white, waist-length cloth tunic, grass-stained cloth trousers, a leather belt with a modest copper buckle, a homemade straw hat suspended from her neck by a thin cord, and unadorned turnshoes, and warrior-esque gear, a canteen attached to a shoulder strap, a well-maintained shepherd's axe, a sling with a cloth pouch of ammo hanging from her belt, a large, fixed-blade utility knife in a leather sheath, a coinpurse, and a couple of pouches containing gods know what, urge them to scurry off with as much celerity as they can muster.

When at last El is alone, she raps on the solid, wooden door before her.  A child no older than nine years of age answers the door, greeting her with a peppy, "Hi, mister!"  At this, Elaine visibly deflates, sending the lad to play with the third Border Collie (whose tail whips back and forth the instant he spots the child) before he further complicates matters.  In the next minute, the hapless widow appears with a baby on her hip.  Reassured by the laughter of her son, she finds herself completely off-guard when Elaine hands her a purse of coin and a letter penned in a shaky hand.  Immediately, the woman begins to weep, prompting Elaine to do her best to finish the transaction before her emotions get the better of her as well.  In this effort, Elaine fails miserably.  Elaine takes the widow by the hand, guides her out of the view of her son, and implores her to stay strong for his sake and the sake of her baby.  A hour or so later, she manages to disentangle herself from the grieving widow and make her way back to the center of town whereupon she slumps against a wall with her two Border Collies and her donkey at her side and tilts the brim of her hat such that it conceals her quivering lips and puffy eyes.

Children.  He had to have children.  A baby no less...  Without their father's wages, they - no, their mother is capable of providing for them and they barely would have known their father anyway.  Children so young cannot miss what they cannot remember, though they can mourn what could have been, and she had done as much as she could to relieve their financial distress.  El never spent her wages on anything that important anyway.  Perhaps they could reimburse her if ever they were flush with cash.

"Damn it all.  Someone will pay for this."

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Torie stepped sideways to allow Mrs Dantes to pass, having opened her mouth a few times to answer before the flustered lady left the shop. Her mouth watered when she saw a parade of animals passing outside - donkeys and dogs, both of which looked delicious! Turning to Mr Dantes, she said:

"Pheasant is lovely! But I'd prefer to keep the cost down," she said. Currently she could put away a hundred pounds of food in one sitting. More if she was feeling particularly bored, or depressed, or unappreciated, or stressed even. Food was a comfort to her, which was why she was five times the weight she should be, with a stripey white belly that nearly sat on the floor even when she stood and two ears nearly lost in the rolls of fat about her neck. Being a druid was a good excuse, because their magic required extra stores of fat... but, she had to admit, probably not this much. "I'll take my usual for the moment, and then see what Valkyr brings home."

Her usual, of course, consisted of the cheaper off-cuts and the organs normal humans threw to their pigs. Having the stomach of a lion had its advantages - everything from an animal could be digested, and she supplemented it with boiled vegetables, particularly potato from the green grocers next door - the only portion she deigned to cook. It was impossible to fund a diet like hers with pheasants and prime cuts. So, offal it was.

6 hours ago, carrionjackal said:

It was just about that time that a horse could faintly be heard out back behind their place. It was quite likely that Valkyr and Ambrose had indeed returned from the hunt!

Torie's mostly-hidden ears perked up at the sound of horses out the back, and she said, "Oh, could that be him now? I'll be right back, Mr Dantes. Do you mind if I pass through your shop?"

She was, of course, already passing through the shop. Seeing this much stripey blubber move tended to be rather hypnotic, but not when she brushed up against the walls and frames of Mr Dante's shop. His doorways were narrower than at the bakery, and the last one she had to squeeze through with a little more care, feeling like a cork in a bottle. But at last she popped out the back where Valkyr and Ambrose had arrived.

"Hello, Valkyr!" she said cheerily, rearing to wave one paw, mouth watering to see what may have been brought home that she could eat. "It's good to see you. How did your hunt go??" She didn't know what she was more interested in - the human meat or his catch.

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Jenny stood in the field of flowers, quietly humming a soothing tune as she plucked the flowers from their soily homes. She had been collecting them in order to dye some of the new clothing she had stitched yesterday. As her time as the tailor of the town went on, she came to realize that life was quite boring without a spark of color to lighten the mood. While she would have liked to venture into the forest for more exotic dyes, the thought of getting lost in its thickly woven branches sat coldly in her stomach. It was then that her eyes caught sight of the edge of the forest, the place where all light was drowned out by the darkness.

“I’m so good,” she mumbled to herself, quickly standing up to return to the village.

Upon entering her home, Jenny immediately got to work on prepping more of the clothing to be dyed. Her workshop consisted of four metal pots that were constantly filled with boiling water. She carefully set a finely stitched blouse into the water and proceeded to dump her supply of tulips in.

“Father! I have a shirt being dyed in my workshop! Can you give it a stir every half an hour to make sure it’s dying properly? I have to go deliver some clothes,” she yelled, hoping her dad would hear her from the kitchen. Before leaving her home, she glanced in the mirror and was pleased to see that her appearance hadn’t faltered while she scavenged for the flowers. Because she was the tailor, it seemed that Jenny always wore the best clothing at all times. Today she wore a bright red short dress that complimented her petite figure. A few extra tulips were placed in her long blonde hair so she wouldn’t forget what type of flowers she had picked that day. Having an agenda was important!

Jenny practically skipped through the village as she went along, delivering the clothing that she had stitched or repaired. While she was almost eighteen years old, it appeared that Jenny never really seemed to grow up. A smile was always plastered on her face. As she made her way through the village, her eyes fell upon a figure that sat slumped against a wall. Despite having their face covered with a straw hat that prevented Jenny from making any immediate  judgements, the posture of the person allowed Jenny to only assume that something was troubling them.

“Hey! You should smile! It’s a lot easier!” She said, leaning down to glance at the persons face. Her prejudice had been right! The person was completely distressed, which was completely unacceptable.

“Here, take this! It’s a freshly picked tulip that I think would look amaaaaazing with your hair,” Jenny ordered, plucking a tulip from her hair. She placed it at the person’s feet and let out a small giggle,”I have to be on my way now, but you shouldn’t be so sad. Life’s wayyyyy too short for that,” she suggested. Jenny gave the person one last smile and joyfully skipped away, her mind set on delivering the rest of the clothing

“Yoohoo! Mister Dantes? I have the rest of Mrs. Dantes' clothing. I dyed it this beautiful sky blue color that I think would compliment her eyes perfectly,” she announced, placing the shirt on the front table. “Oh, you wouldn’t happen to have seen Torie, by any chance? I have Wendy’s ripped pants fixed right up, but I couldn’t find her, so I figured giving them to Torie would be the next best thing,” Jenny called out, praying that she hadn’t been talking to herself this whole time.

Edited by Ayumi

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Stepping into the outskirts of this slightly-bigger-than-a-village townstead at the foot of a mountain range, a small elf would immediately feel that this place seemed... Different. Maybe it was the bright sunshiny day, but she could have sworn that this place had felt a lot warmer than most other places that she had visited. Still, she stuck in the shadows of buildings and got a good scope of things around her. At the flower field, she just had to stop and gape at the richly colored dying flowers that caused her white, shaggy hair to stand out like a sore thumb. She pushed herself to her senses quickly though, it had been a good long time since she ate. If she knew about the wilderness, she would live there forever, but she could barely manage to travel from town to town. Fate never let her stay in a place for too long, but she always had hope that things would be different. 

Trotting down the round, young Marian paused to watch a almost suspiciously cheerful Jenny running about delivering stunningly dyed clothes that made Marian's eyes glimmer slightly. Her favorite one was definitely blue, and it made her glance down at her blue woolen sweater with threads of glimmering pasel woven in. It was very dirty and worn now, and much too hot for this weather. The small girl in the over sized trench coat generally seemed out of place in this town, but she was used to the looks and ignored them as best as she could. The parade of animals tromping past her didn't seem to bug her much, except the dogs; she thought that each dog was special and lovely. As one of the collies caught sight of a young girl and went immediately over to greet her, the sullen scrap of a thing couldn't help but feel a line of envy. She wanted a dog. Some dogs bit and snarled at her, but they were only raised by bad people, and if she had a dog it would be a good dog that loved every one, but mostly her.

Her mood, was brightening at the fantasy, and then she saw the large, burly feline creature that was calling out and waving at some thing. The little elf pressed against the shadow of the building further to sit back and watch the scene, slightly burrowing in her coat and trying not to grab too much attention. It was good to gather as much information as one could, she had learned that she can sell that. She had not yet realized that this town was a lot different than any of those other towns that she had been to. There wasn't even as many rats... As far as she could tell.

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Mr. Dantes simply smiled and shook his head playfully as he watched the round tigress make her way through their shop and back out to the rear of their place. He briefly thought he heard the faint sounds of struggle as Torie worked to free herself of the rear doorway. Regardless, Terren disregarded the sound and busied himself with his work. If Valkyr had indeed returned as it sounded, he would be very busy the rest of the day.  He needed to finish the trimming he had started before Torie's arrival, otherwise he would be very short on work space. The middle aged man set to it, and paid little mind to the 'children' the rest of the day.

Out behind their place, Valkyr attempted to steady his horse as the sudden shock of a large predator appearing startled Ambrose. The horse reared slightly, unable to move freely as he was still hitched to the cart they took on their outings. There was no other way Valkyr and Ambrose would have been able to return with their large haul of game otherwise. Valkyr quickly identified the source of shock, even before the sound of a familiar voice caught his ear. "Whoa, Ambrose. Steady, steady ol' boy." Valkyr commanded, his legs holding tight around the horse's midsection. Steadily, Ambrose did settle and he too recognized the familiar visitor quickly enough. Ambrose even attempted to move closer to said guest.

"Why if it isn't everyone's favorite, lovable feline!" Valkyr called from upon horse back. He quickly slid down and walked over to Torie. Hands moved up to lower the hood that he had been wearing, revealing his hair, snow white and of some length. His brown eyes were bright and cheerful in the afternoon sun. "It's good to see you, Torie. The hunt was surprisingly good! How are you this day, and how is the shop?"

Valkyr moved closer to the tiger and ruffled the fur atop the tiger's brow before he moved back toward his mount and his gear. "It was a successful hunt, indeed. It should be sufficient for a few days, perhaps longer if we can supplement from one of the shepherds or even farmer. The pack I was tracking were some of the large mountain reindeer. I also happened upon a moose." He quickly made short work of the strapped and belts keeping Ambrose secured to the cart, so that he might wander free. Also, so that Valkyr might get the game indoors for cleaning and preparing. He had a very sure feeling that some of the meat would be leaving the shop within the hour. Some of the villagers had a healthy appetite.

He kept rambling on about his adventure as he stowed his gear and moved the carcasses inside. Periodically, he would stop and throw Torie a look over his shoulder, frequently his smile was so bright it showed through in his eyes too.

Back inside, Terren heard the happy voice of the tailor inquiring about his wife. "Why Jenny, it seems I'm the popular one today. First Torie, and now you. Who's coming by the shop next?" Terren let loose a hearty chuckle, amused by his joke. "You can leave Mrs. Dantes' things just over there, but please let me know what our bill is! She always loves the things you make for her. You have a gift, Jenny. Thank you."

Terren was about to get back to cutting the meats when he realized he had only partially replied. "And you just missed Torie! She's out back with Valkyr."

Edited by carrionjackal
Sorry Ayumi!

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Torie barely heard a word Valkyr was saying once he lowered his hood, and she caught a glimpse of those smiling eyes and shock of white hair. "Whoa. Careful, Snowy! Some of us have sensitive eyes you know," she said playfully, but leaned into his hand when he scratched the top of her head. "The shop is fine. Ms Wendy kicked me out... again. We'll have some fruit loaf ready for this evening if you'd like to pop around?"

Then with a grunt she reared up, placing two paws on the side of the cart to look at the game Valkyr had brought home. It was the smell that hit her sensitive nose first, and she swallowed saliva before it started dribbling out the corners of her mouth.

"You know, my dad would absolutely love you. Hunting is all he ever talks about... hmm. I don't suppose one of these reindeer could just go missing, could it?" she said, and stepped down, rubbing against his leg (well, his torso, given his height), trying not to push him over like she'd done last time. "I'll bake extra cakes for you?" She gave him her most appealing smile, all whiskers and teeth.

Just then she thought she heard Jenny's voice from inside the shop. A small part of her cringed at the interruption but a larger part was happy to hear her voice. The tailor was always bright and cheerful, and excellent company. Torie was also thinking about changing the colour of her coat again, so she had a lot to discuss.

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"..."

"El, is it not a loon who capers and grins and otherwise makes merry as a waking nightmare encroaches?  A smile does not repel death and misfortune, and a spate of disappearances, even of persons of such a humble station, ought to be investigated.  Sad that what ought to be so rarely is.  Perhaps this village has yet to be ensnared by the shadows and despair that we have come to know so well, but mark my words, it will not escape unscathed.  This very day, I sense vile energy in the air.  My own breath chills my throat as I close my eyes and feel its hands grope at my flesh.  It comes for them, El; their blithe lifestyle will not survive the night.  And how many this time?  Ten?  Twelve?  Could the reaper be convinced to walk among the crop for a harvest so bountiful?"

Throughout Elaine's life, unfounded faith and optimistic negligence were inadequate substitutes for an efficacious solution to a given problem.  No shepherd would sit on his or her arse and hope against hope that a stray lamb would return to the flock of its own volition and under its own power.  It is incumbent on shepherds and their hounds to properly care for mobs of dumb animals; to stand idle as the flock falls apart is to welcome starvation.  Elaine provides for herself by tackling challenges head-on as they crop up.  Seemingly frustrated by the inaction of the townsfolk and the cowardice of her team, Elaine continues to mutter to herself and remains slumped against the wall with a yellow tulip lying at her feet.

This was no mundane threat.  Wolves and goblins Elaine had encountered before, but never had occult forces held sway over her.  A wicked presence surges past her, abrading her nerves as a violent trembling creeps from the base of her spine to the nape of her neck.  No one else detects it, but Elaine... Elaine always felt more than most.  No, that's not it at all.  It's... there's... there's an almost tangible power in it, and this power is enticing.  The darker half of El's personality cannot help but covet it.  This is the reason El was called to serve.

"In my dreams, I see it still.  A whisper of power to drown out a prayer.  For every life I take, three made mine, yet I cannot surrender my humanity."

How long has it spoken, and how long has she listened?  At first, at first she deprived herself of sleep so it could not contact her, but the body can only take so much.  Then, she tried to reason it away and focus on other matters.  In time, the dreams comforted her, and she recalled more and more when she woke.  It was reassuring, in a way, for she knew it would not or could not take her.  Nothing so powerful would win by diplomacy what it could take by force.  Shadows had overwhelmed her mind's natural defenses and chipped away at her morality and reservations.  How long has it spoken, and how long does she have before she obeys?  It would be so easy to give in.  Blood.  Do as it commands.  Bodies.  No more would they suffer.  Blood dribbles from cuts in Elaine's palms where her fingernails have pierced her skin.  One of Elaine's Border Collies, noticing that she is staring vacantly into the empty space ahead of her, bounds up to her side and licks her face.  El instantly snaps out of her trance, spitting repeatedly as she pushes the dog away.  She wipes the slobber from her face, not at all aware of the thin streaks of blood that her fingertips leave behind.

"No, no, such thoughts are counterproductive, El.  There is naught left for me but to rendezvous with my fellows and learn the outcome of our summit.  Only then can I comply with the strictures wisdom and sound judgement impose, for I, put bluntly, sorely lack both qualities.  As agreed, we will remove ourselves from this cursed land.  Of that, I am confident.  I need to go away somewhere, and I need a strong drink."

Elaine rights herself and steps over to her donkey's meager saddlebags.  She reaches in and produces a small glass bottle which she wastes no time in uncorking and taking a swig from.  That's the ticket, alright.  Best medicine for anything but a toothache, but El has never had to worry about one of those.  Forsaking mental anguish and internal conflict for hard liquor, the elf starts to drink herself silly in the middle of town.  Intoxication does keep the worst of El's demons in check, but it empowers a few of her lesser vices such as her predilection for violence and her standoffish attitude.

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“Oh, Mr. Dantes, don’t worry about a bill! Your family is always so kind of me, I was just experimenting with new dye and found a pretty color for your wife. This one’s on the roof! Or is it house?” Jenny called out, muttering only the last part to herself. She folded the shirt up and set in on the table before making her way to the back where Torie and Valkyr were located. Jenny had close relationships with both Valkyr and Torie. If they ever needed something stitched up or wanted to try out a new color, Jenny was the person the went to. She hadn't minded it, though, as creating new pieces of clothing was her passion. Anytime they visited her shop, she was delighted to have them. 

“Torie! Valkyr! It’s so good to see you guys,” Jenny called out, approaching the two. If Jenny hadn’t a clue where Torie was, she could always count on finding her close to Valkyr. The two had a bond that Jenny couldn’t quite find the intentions of. The way the two looked at each other and spoke to each other made Jenny smile. It was a friendship that Jenny had always dreamed of.

“Summer is so great, dontcha think? The flowers are blossoming beautifully down in the flower fields. I think I even saw a marigold, and that orange color is to die for! In both ways, might I add,” Jenny stated, letting out a small laugh at her joke. In the winter when the flowers withered and died, Jenny had been forced to rely on the bark of trees to get a satisfactory color for her cloth. Even then, the brown color reminded Jenny much more of a cow manure brown than a soft, delicate pine cone brown.

From the back of Mr. Dantes home, there was a small gap in between the homes that allowed Jenny to just barely see the town square. It was then that her eyes caught sight of the person she had attempted to comfort earlier. They clutched something in their hands, and it took Jenny a moment to realize that it was some type of glass bottle. While she didn’t want to jump to any severe conclusions, she could only assume that the bottle wasn’t harboring cool, refreshing water.

“Valkyr, Torie, I think there’s something wrong with that person over there,” Jenny finally said, tilting her head to get a better look at the scene, "when I passed them on my way here, they seemed completely distraught. Now look at them, it looks like they’re drinking alcohol, does it not? I really think we should go help them. I’ve never seen them around town before and I’d hate to see them make a fool of themselves...in a public setting!” Jenny suggested, turning back to look at the duo. She felt horrible for ruining a moment between the two, but seeing people in distress was something that made Jenny’s stomach churn. Jenny couldn’t sit idle and watch this person commit such unbecoming actions.

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In the shadows, Marian adjusted herself to every every movement while keeping as discreet as she possibly could, gently following when needed and listening to every thing. The small elf had concluded that they giant talking feline was just a fat stripped house cat mixed with a human. Struggling remembering the correct word for it she labeled Torie as a Ki-mer-a. That was probably correct. With the hunter man with the horse, it seemed as if the two were married. That man must really like cats. Marian's focus faded to imagine what their babies would look like, all cat-headed abominations with normal baby bodies and paws.. Would they be furry or not furry...?  Bleh.

Focus was brought back with the bubbly girl who went in to greet the two. So she was the one in charge of the flowers. It might have been a good idea to have asked for a job... Although.. Marian probably would not be very wanted, because of Jenny's reaction to the drunk elf across the way. If that was making a fool of themselves, she could only imagine what a weak, pathetic whelp asking for a job would come across as. The elf just seemed like a drunk man, with very nice dogs. Very nice.  

Slowly, her head turned downwards as she twiddled with her fingers a little, making faint creaking noises from inside the leather as she slowly stopped listening and thought of what she could do next. Her thin legs let her down gently to sit in the rocky dust along the walls of the shop in the shade. It was hard to focus when she was this hungry anyways, and these people didn't have any useful  information to sell... Unless there was some one who wanted to buy a human house cat...

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While Elaine devotes her attention to the beverage in her hands, one of her Border Collies, a young black and white female, trots up to Marian carrying a medium-sized stick in her mouth.  When she nears the concealed elf, she drops the stick on the ground between them and assumes the play bow posture, her tail wagging all the while.  The hound looks up at Marian, urging the poverty-stricken wanderer to pick up the stick and play fetch for awhile.  There will be time for espionage later, she seems to imply; now is the time for fun.

Elaine notes the Border Collie's behavior but does not appear to find it out of the ordinary.  If Elaine spots Marian, she is relatively unconcerned by the small elf's presence as she looks away not long after.  It would be safe to assume that Elaine is not bothered by children playing with her sheepdogs.  It is also likely that she is far too disconcerted by her current predicament to notice Marian's apparent need in the event that she did see her.  Either way, although the hound is blanketed in shadow just like Marian, she is divulging Marian's position.  She means no harm by it, of course, but the dog's intent does not change the ultimate effect of its energetic movements.  Sure, Marian could shoo the dog away, but would she do such a thing when so little is to be gained by it and no great leap of logic is required to deduce that the dog's mistress is a fellow traveler and a fellow elf?

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Valkyr laughed jovially as he worked to untie the larger wild game from the cart. It had been secured so that it was not shift the load while on their return trip. Right now it kept a rather curious tigress from making off with his hunt.

"I somehow doubt that we hunt the same way. Like you have those giants claws, and sharp teeth, which help you to be such a talented baker!" He grinned a goofy grin as he continued. 

He strung up a deer, and then two before somehow wrangling the moose as well. It seemed as if the cart was empty at that point. Valkyr was about to comment when Jenny sprung upon them next.

"Well good day to you, Jenny! It has been a lovely summer, indeed. There's plants, flowers, and wildlife aplenty. I wouldn't mind a nice summer rain, just to keep it all going. But it has been kind to us." Valkyr smiled, he would offer a hand, or a welcome hug to Jenny but he was rather rank with the smell of the wild, and the game he had just hung. "How are you in any case? I've know been gone a day or two, but feels like a week!"

Valkyr waited and looked over to Torie, then listened as Jenny mention the odd behaving elf in town. He knew the description, it was one of the shepherds but none of the few he spoke with on occasion. From time to time, he helped them by taking out predatory animals that were stalking their herds. "Quite right as you are, I don't know that we are really the best to intrude in their personal business. I'm a trained killer, so to speak, and she's a tiger who bakes. Is that the group you want talking to a potential... " Valkyr briefly mimed being drunk before the group before settling down, some concern still apparent on his features.

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Torie frowned when Valkyr ignored her blatant request, but released her frustration with a sigh. It was a ludicrous request. She was effectively asking Valkyr to give up a large chunk of his income for bread and cakes, as if that was all the boy ate. Still, she couldn’t help be disappointed. A deer would taste much better than offal. That’s for sure!

Her small ears perked up from her pudgy neck when Jenny mentioned flowers. In reply she said:

“Oh? What colour should I dye my fur this season, d’you think? I’m thinking something that would make me a better hunter.” She glanced at Valkyr with a wry smile. “Green, maybe? Or blue! Which one lasts longer?”

At the mention of the person getting drunk, and and Valkyr’s insistence it wasn’t his place to interfere, Torie slapped his shoulder playfully – perhaps a little harder than she intended.

“You need to spend more time in your father’s store! The only person who hears more sob stories from drunks and wretches than us is the barber. Come on, killer-for-hire. Let’s go see if we can cheer her up.”

With that Torie trotted around the side of the butcher’s and into the street, though slowed to a more graceful waddle when her enormous belly started bouncing around like a sack of water. There were certain strides that did not agree with this body. Namely, anything above a leisurely stroll.

As she approached the donkeys started honking in alarm, but she tapped into the Well and drew forth some magic to show that she meant them no harm, and they settled, though still looked a little rattled. With a huff she plopped down in the dust beside the morose shepherd and smiled. Torie’s keen nose didn’t fail to notice the blood, and her eyes widened in surprise, though she checked her speech.

“Hello,” Torie said, “I’ve met you in my shop before, right? I’m Torie, the baker.” She paused for a moment, glancing down at the glass flask. “You know there’s a publican just up the road, right? That’s where most people go to drink. But I’m guessing you don’t want the regulars’ company. But if you didn’t want to be noticed at all you would have stepped out of town to drink. So please, don’t bottle your problems and empty your bottle alone. What’s wrong?”

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