[center “I am going to pull them from their pedestal and I will watch them burn.”]
Wistina, a small but prosperous country located on the southern peninsula of Esteroak. Being one of the few neutrally aligned ports in the area they keep good standing with their neighbors. All in all they seem to be in a golden age. The only real complaints are those of a naïve and frivolous king, but with many well-trusted advisors at his side no one pays him much mind. That is, not until he died. Leaving behind his wife and a young son, there is much debate on what will be done and things are not looking good got the widow and her child.
It seemed Florence had yet another name now… she wondered if all these aliases would catch up with her eventually, though she doubted it. She made a mental note to try and keep to one or the other from here on out, just in case. Being caught in a lie was something they needed to avoid if they were looking to gain the trust of those around them. Still, it didn’t much matter at the moment, because it seemed they were relocating. Green eyes looking to Penny’s parents, she saw a glimmer of hesitance, but not enough to say anything from either of them. It left her with a bad taste in her mouth, however there were no cautious feelings coming from the girl herself.
Truth be told, Penny was sort of glad to be away from her father. His hovering meant she had to play nice lest she end up in trouble, without him around there wasn’t as much incentive to be cooperative. And so what little obliging visage she had melted away as she took a seat. On one hand, if she just told them what they wanted she could probably go back inside faster, but no. That was much too easy and being an obstinate teenager meant there would they could not have that.
Visibly grimacing at his selected term of endearment, Penny looked the elf up and down. What was he, like fifty years old? She didn’t know; she was too young to have a real good grasp on these sorts of things. Either way all that sucking up wasn’t working on her quite so well as it was her father. [+indigo “Fix things? He’s out there dead somewhere. You think you can fix that?”] Her leg bounced, a way to let off some of her anger and discomfort with this situation, not to mention try and distract herself from crying in front of these strangers. It was a feat she didn’t quite think she could pull off if she actually started talking about Colton. She pushed her beau from her mind, as she looked straight back to Nico’s bright violet eyes. [+indigo “Besides, I don’t see how me telling you about him is going to help you figure out what killed him?”] Saying that aloud broke a voice a bit, but she managed to keep her face straight.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Purse back at his side, and a good bit lighter, the elf thanked the matron of the establishment and turned back to his female companions. The elder of the two suppressed a scowl at his antics though the hard glare she gave him showed he would feel her wroth later. A wry smile toyed at the corners of his lips, threatening to uncover his smug self-indulgent belief that only he could have brought about this outcome and not the inflated price he had paid for a chunk of meat. He subdued this desire to flaunt, a notable thing for such a petty and vain man.
Instead, he stepped across to one of the shelving units stacked high with an assortment of generic wares. Thread and patches for clothing repairs sat beside smalls jars of marmalade's and jams, whilst the shelf below was lined with beef jerky, pickled cabbage and a ball of yarn. Both confusing and amusing to the one-time merchant with the bright eyes who toyed with a jar of preserve in silent contemplation.
Thankfully the portly grocer’s heavy step came before the stifling silence could go on for too long and the three guests congregated towards one another looking like a mismatch family of races and looks. With that same sweet if insipid smile on his face, one no doubt Florence was taking care to remember for the future, Nicolai bowed his head in solemn greeting to the young girl. No sooner had her name been given than the elf was speaking.
[+royalblue “My heartfelt condolences Penny, my name is Nico,”] a name he hoped would not catch on with his companions,[+royalblue “and these are Flora and Juliet.”] Where that name had come from, he wasn’t sure, but he felt it better to give a false name for his dark-haired partner lest she take umbrage at him handing out real identities. Her ire against him was great but he didn’t want to let it grow further.
With the formalities disposed of he could see the girl was not in a particularly strong emotional state. She was quiet, timid, a look more of annoyance that she was disturbed from her mourning than to be curious why these strangers would want to speak to her. Bright eyes looked back to her father, hovering not far away pretending to look busy between glances over to the group, and with a soft smile the elf spoke again.
[+royalblue “Come now, today is far too lovely a day to stay cooped up indoors, and I believe this room is starting to get a little bit crowded with us all in here.”] A nod of his head towards his purchase and Flora quickly swept it up as a delicate hand came to rest on the shoulder of the girl with red-ringed eyes.
[+royalblue “Let us step outside, not far, and we can talk a little.”] He was soft speaking with her, the hand on her light though turning her and guiding her towards the door. Her father seemed torn between having his daughter remain in the home, not wishing to upset her too much, and thinking that this older gentleman might be a good match for her now that she was newly single. The thought of what untold wealth he must have, of what unspoken riches he had if he could pay for a small bit of meat with gold?
In the end he made no move to stop the man as he opened the door, allowed the harem of women to head out, and offered a brief and all too knowing smile back to the girl’s parents as he closed the door behind him. They moved only to one side of her father’s stall to some crates that had been left out. Nodding for her to take a seat he then took one himself and let out a deep sigh.
[+royalblue “I’m sorry to bring you from your mourning bed little dove, but we are here to help deal with what has happened and bring peace to the town."] Nicolai had a good manner about him in these times. From talking with Florence to dealing with Elizabeth and coaxing cooperation out of Töka, he had dealt with many upset women in his lifetime.[+royalblue "In order to do that, I was hoping that you could be beyond helpful and tell us about your partner. The better we understand him, the better we can fix things, bring some closure to all this chaos.”]
The man’s story was a bore, though Florence stood politely through it. She had sat through much worse, but she was still grateful when Nicolai cut in to stop him. The elf finally managed to find a way to sidestep to the topic of conversation they had actually come for. However, she felt there was a great dissonance between his words and his actions. His hands moved casually with the knife, and almost delicately as he tied off his soon to be purchase, but he spoke of much grimmer things. And he did so as if they were meant for his amusement, calling this a mere mystery when it was more akin to a terror on this town. Had the green-eyed woman not known him and what he was up to, she would have thought him blasphemously audacious. Still, judging by the look on the grocer’s face as he weighed the deal in his mind, he did not appear overtly perturbed. In fact, he seemed amused himself, though more so with the idea of making such a profit. Nicolai had read him well, and in such a sort time. It was impressive, even if she did not want to admit it.
Eyes moving from the vibrant-eyed elf to the women accompanying him, the merchant’s gaze lingered only slightly on Flora. He reasoned with himself that traveling with a young girl, albeit one that did not seem to be any kin of his, made the stranger more trustworthy. Especially in the case that he was making to try and speak to his own daughter, and so between that, the promise of gold, and the sliver of hope that someone solving this ‘mystery’ might breathe some life back into this town, his deliberation did not last long. [+green “I do think she could use some social interaction.”] That was the truth. His daughter had basically holed herself away in her room since the incident. It was high time for her to start at least trying to get moving again, because moping around wasn’t helping. And this was the perfect excuse to bypass his wife who was giving him a look from the other side of the room. Promptly ignoring that, he politely told Nicolai that she would take his payment while he went to call on their child. The woman sighed at the other side of the room, but did not protest. It seemed she wasn’t entirely above the bribe either, even if she wanted to look it.
The transaction with the middle-aged woman went by pleasantly enough. Rumors about the strangers and their want to help out with the monster problem were already circulating, so she was not totally skeptical of these people’s intentions in wanting to see her daughter, though perhaps a touch more so than her husband. It felt weird that they would just wander into town with a selfless drive to help, but she wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth. Not if there was a chance they might bring her daughter some closure to whatever happened.
After the transaction came to an end, there was a lull. The owner had disappeared up some stairs behind the main counter and it wasn’t turning out to be a quick pop up and back down. It was near ten minutes later when he reemerged with a young woman in tow. She looked somewhere in the realm of age between Flora and Töka. She was dressed sloppily, as though she had been rushed to put something more than just her chemise on before coming out. But most notably her eyes were swollen. Clearly she was not completely through the weeping phase of her mourning, and try as she might to let her brown hair fall into her face to cover it up, it was fairly obvious.
[+green “This is my daughter, Penny.”] He turned back to her, voice a little more delicate and less chipper. Even if he was practically forcing her to do this, at least he was making some attempt to be considerate. [+green “Penny, these are the people who wanted to speak with you.”]
The girl nodded, but looked less than enthralled to be up and about. Her caramel eyes found Nicolai front and center and looked him up and down. She was expecting someone with a bigger presence when her father mentioned these people were possibly here to help with their problem. Not some rando elf, a lady, and a girl younger than her. Her hopes were not high.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Oh, how her sweet words struck so deeply. She had seen his taunt, his desire to see her cheeks flush with embarrassment that he might act in such a way in public; with Flora there no less. It was a means of dealing with his distress from the morning, the fear of bears quite evident and the woman his best means of releasing that tension he felt. Perhaps he had gone a touch too far however, as he conceded with a small bow of his head that she had returned his jest quite skilfully. Indeed he was forced with a wry smile to turn back to the grocer, to listen with feigned interest on the story behind where the meat came from, how he met the butcher, the way they haggled for price and surely the life story of each individual pig would come if Nicolai had not interjected in one of the man’s pauses.
[+royalblue “Ah yes, I agree, the stock in these parts seems quite fresh and healthy, but I am surprised to hear that.”] It stopped the man in his tracks, looking on Nicolai with confusion as to why he would be surprised, not openly taking offence at being interjected upon it seemed.[+royalblue “You see, when we were coming into town, it was awfully quiet. No-one out tending the fields, no-one heading off to the next village or coming here to sell wares, nothing much of a typical town going on.”] He spoke in a surprised but not alarmed tone to the man.
As he spoke, he would turn back to the cutting board and knife, pushing the blade aside as he withdrew a piece of paper from a nearby shelf and began to wrap the food. Folding the edges, he severed a length of twine from a spool hanging close by and took up the man’s hand to press his finger to save the paper unfolding whilst he tied it off.
[+royalblue “But, I did see a man by the main road. He’d lost a cow in the night, terrible thing, stomach cut open, innards everywhere. Some mention of a [i ‘beast’] he told me. And, he said it took a boy not long ago too.”] He spoke as if recalling some far-off children’s story, not recanting on a young life potentially being lost. With the twine tied off securely the mans finger slipped free and Nicolai patted the top of the package lightly, happy with his work.
[+royalblue “I was told the boy knew your daughter, talk of them being friends or acquaintances,”] it was deliberately left out that they were potential lovers,[+royalblue “and the story has me just outright intrigued. A mystery this far out from the capital? Oh yes please!”] He turned to face the man with a grin, one hand on his hip, the other atop the package of meat.[+royalblue “Would you kindly call for your daughter so I can speak with her?”] He allowed a few seconds to pass, to study the mans expression, before his hand slipped free of his hip and he held it up as some means of appeasement.[+royalblue “Of course, your payment, I’m thinking such a fine piece of Wistinian meat, must be what… five, six [b gold] pieces?”] It was far and away an over payment, but the sparkling coins of sun kissed yellow were soon brought out and dropped without question into the man’s open hand. To Nicolai, it was a bribe, to the man? Who knew, perhaps he just thought the elf a very generous visitor.
The man was rather impressed with the elf’s pointed knowledge. This ragtag trio looked to be a group of travelers, and ones he had doubted were from around here, but maybe not. That or the man amongst them was just particularly knowledgeable. His compliments did well in buttering him up as well. Though not as much as the elated face he made as he clearly enjoyed the product. Enough so that he thought to share and called the stern looking woman over.
Florence had thought after the discussion on the way over she would be virtually excluded from conversation once they got in here, but it seemed she was being called in. Nicolai was over there making some fuss about food, which was probably the one thing she would not blame him for. Despite her distaste for this country and most things in it, she could not deny the food was excellent. However, as she got closer and he turned to look at her and make his comment, she saw what he was really after. And that was to tease her… again. He was growing incredibly bold and she was not much sure she cared for it. Not that she could do anything about it right now. As green eyes glanced back at the merchant behind him, she could tell chances were low that he had caught on to the former general’s little joke. Any extreme reaction from her would only lead to him thinking about it enough to get it. And that was the last thing she wanted. So, other than her face reddening, which she could not control, Florence did her best to remain level headed and not give Nicolai a sharp smack in the shoulder or any harsh words as she closed the distance between them. It was more difficult than it sounded, but she managed just to take the slice of meat and pop it into her mouth without glaring a hole though him. Admittedly, it was good, but not enough to save him from a retort of her own, though she knew it was not half as scathing as she wished it would be. [+mediumseagreen “Delicious… I think you are right. That is the best I have ever had. It will probably be better than anything I get from here on out too.”] From there, as to not give him a whole lot of room to retaliate, Florence looked to the grocer. [+mediumseagreen “This is quality. I commend you, sir.”] He seemed to take the compliment well, as he went on to talk about how he had a favorable and reliable connection in one of the butchers who handled the pigs. She trusted he would go on about that for sometime if not stopped.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The huff of animosity was all Nicolai needed, his smile at the grocer only growing as he joined in with chuckling to the man’s laughter. A good bit of gentlemanly banter was always welcome, not something he could have with a goblin and two virgins. He didn’t hesitate to follow the man’s direction, walking inside with him and offering a bow of his head in greeting to his wife, a beaming smile on his face as he looked about the premises.
[+royalblue “Ah, the smell of well smoked meat.”] He kept up the joyful tune as he neared the array of hanging meats and pre-prepped goods. As Florence had noticed, he saw the stocks were sparse but the variety was plentiful. Given the lack of vendors in this place this must have served as a-one-stop-shop.
[+royalblue “Oh, tell me, is that real Helvardian pork?”] The man seemed impressed by his ability to tell the difference, pulling out the more expensive cut of meat to the front cutting board.[+royalblue “It is so hard to find good Wistinian stock these days, far too many places are selling those cheap Delfin imports.”] He clicked his tongue, a more polite form than spitting on the floor of the man’s business.[+royalblue “Good to see a true Wistinian holding proud to local delicacies though. May I?”] He paused only a moment to gesture at a paring knife, dropping the copper pieces from his hand into the mans to pay for some sample, and receiving a happy nod in return.
Quickly he snatched up the blade, twirling it around his fingers as he brought the meat over and in two precise cuts he had two slivers of the tough but delicious meat. He took the first piece and bit off a chunk, letting out a soft sigh and a groan of delight at its flavour. It was a sound Florence would not be accustomed to. It was two parts acting, one part truth - he did enjoy smoked meats and especially with Wistinian rubs on them. Though, as he chewed, a wicked thought came to mind.
[+royalblue “Sweetheart, come over here,"] he reversed the knife and stuck it point down in the board, taking up the space slice as he beckoned over Florence,[+royalblue "here, you have to try this. It is just the best Wistinian meat you've ever had before. So juicy, so firm, trust me... you'll love it."] His voice sounded so innocent and excited to share a taste of exquisite food with his partner, though with his back to the owner she would see the smug grin on his face as he offered up the cut of meat, winking tauntingly at her.
Florence was rather happy with herself, finding her teasing entertaining, however when those purple eyes came back to her she knew perhaps she should have held off for just a touch longer. At least until the two of them were on their own. Because now she was forced to face that this would be a public battle, and one she would lose quickly as he feigned bashfulness at a crime she never committed. Nicolai had never been bashful a day she’d known him, but there was no way for anyone around them to know that... except for Flora, but she seemed to be getting as big a kick out of it as the man her boyfriend was hamming it up to. So, there was little for Florence to do without looking defensive and the woman was left with arms crossed as she huffed to herself about how ridiculous this was.
[+green “If that’s the case, then you are a lucky man.”] The grocer spoke through his rumbling laughter as the elf approached him. His eyes settling firmly on his fellow man and the coins he was flashing. [+green “If it is meats you are after then it will be right this way.”] He gestured to the shop behind him. While there was a decent assortment of goods set outside for the convenience of his customers, anything worth much was kept inside away from the elements and the pilfering hands of children. A missing apple here or there he could abide by, but a whole jerked ham hock was another story entirely.
Holding the door for all his shop guests, the grocer beckoned the three of them in. He made a quick introduction for his wife who was organizing a display before leading Nicolai over to the place they kept cured meats and other such things. Florence stayed back for the time being, opting to look around some. The shop was not jam packed with product, but that was not a bad thing. It showed an understanding of the towns needs and demands. Belast was not a large place, and while it had a fair number of villagers, there was not enough that they would need to fill this shop till bursting. Whether that was due to business sense and frugality or a desire not to create waste, it was unclear. It very well may have been a combination of the two.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Florence's mild chastising of how Nicolai had handled the situation was softened further by her touch, and he offered a demure smile in return. Spending so many years seeking her approval and concurrently trying to hide this desire left him a bumbling mess of words in front of her at times. Two decades later and he was still relieved when she let him 'off the hook', so to speak.
Moving on out the tavern, door help for the ladies of course, Nicolai kept his head at a swivel as they made their way toward the market and the grocers stall. Whilst his fears of a bear may have been partially assuaged by his partners investigation, his own privately held concerns made him wary of the townsfolk. Atop that, he worried someone may recognise himself or Florence. They were greatly changed in their appearances, Nicolai more physically though Florence looked even more the huntress than the Queen with each day, something he quietly appreciated.
So on guard was he that only when the grocer was beckoning them forward and subsequently when Florence gave him a nudge did he know they were there. She may have teased, but she should have known that Nicolai could play that game very well, and he looked back at her to see that coy smile on her lips. His hand fell back to his backside as he looked at her.
[+royalblue “Now now love, not in front of the girl.”] He said a little bashful and soft though loud enough the other two could hear. Turning back to the vendor he shook his head with a small smile.[+royalblue “A right horny woman the missus is. Never satisfied.”] He commented with a grin and saw the man glance around him to her with a gruff laugh.
[+royalblue “Hows the smoked meat? Do you have any venison or ham?”] He fished out several coins from his jacket's pocket, offering up a few copper so that he might taste a few samples. The question was both to draw the man’s attention back on himself, as well as build some kind of rapport. It wouldn't help them to just walk up and demand to speak to his daughter so they could ask her about the missing boyfriend. He had a plan here. Somewhat.
Florence was not sure what she was expecting when she came to Nicolai, perhaps just a chance to vent about her son for a moment so she could move on... not that she had made it appear so when was asking him to recant occasions that she had mishandled. Thankfully, he did not do that much, but he did dig himself a hole in another way. The elf was being much more bureaucratic with her than usual, meaning he was looking for a way to dance around the question until he could word it sweetly enough to advantage himself. Her eyes narrowed on him as he spiraled and eventually bailed. The violet-eyed man made attempt to change the topic, even pulling in Flora who seemed to be find the whole thing humorous. Really, it was funny. Seeing a grown man so desperate not to upset his girlfriend that he would pull a child in for help... or was that just sad? Maybe a bit of both, but that reflected more on Florence than the others. Either way, it was enough to make the woman a little less critical and a little more introspective, at least enough so to notice she was throwing a bit of a tantrum. [+mediumseagreen “Fine...”] She placed her hand softly on the one he held her arm with. [+mediumseagreen “I will let you off the hook this time, but only because you are not the one who started it.”] There was a bit of humor in her voice as she so graciously allowed this to slide, which was exactly the attitude he and her son were probably talking about.
The situation blew over without incident after that and the trio was able to make their way through the small town to the market district. Or what was really a small collection of stores and workshops, either way it was where people went to spend their money in this place. And with it being so relatively small, it was an easy task to find the grocer. A stout, almost portly, man could be found outside, beckoning those who passed into his shop. With little to no competition it was a bit strange to see someone put in all that effort, but it did not seem overly suspicious. He was probably just overzealous. When their small group came closer, he treated them no differently. [+green “What do we have here? Some new faces! Welcome to town.] His tone seemed genuine, as much as one could tell with his booming voice. [+green “If you are in need of any supplies, make sure to stop on by to have a look at what we have!”]
It was not particularly needed, but Florence nudged Nicolai forward. [+mediumseagreen “Get talking, Mr. Master-Merchant.”] She teased lightly, but it was not chiding. Her words were meant to be taken playful, though it was intentionally ill-timed. A bit of revenge for him being so round-about before. Not that being blunt would have landed him anywhere better. Truly, there was no winning.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai hadn’t seen Florence’s disapproval of his wording. He felt he had been rather humble and kind with what he had said, offering a good reason for each of those he proposed went to the field. Marko seemed unfazed as usual, and whilst Ool looked displeased but, then again, when wasn’t he? Perhaps he was just eager to get this over with and get Cam out of the town. Having gotten to know the little green man he found he could tolerate small groups but much more than what they had, and he was eager to get away, or at the very least towards the periphery of the group.
It seemed Augustine agreed with him too, as no further complaints or suggestions arose and the youth made minute changes to what was proposed. Flora had been left out of Nicolai's initial choice as he was not too sure where her knowledge of Wistinian sat. She had been doing well but often he was working away from her, thus he wasn't in the know, and therefore inclined his head in deferment to the boy. Perhaps she would be useful with another young girl, though it seemed somewhat simple to Nicolai. Thankfully he remained silent and rose to follow Flora toward the door, pausing as their third member was called back.
For a time the duo watched amused, seeing the mother and son bickering was quite cathartic for them. Though he knew the boy was much sweeter, perhaps gentler than his mother, the Elven man could quite understand that Flora at times would wish she could flick or hit her beau. However seeing the look of frustration on Florence's face as she stormed across to them he only groaned. The young girl looked at him curious.
[+royalblue “She is quite… quite angry. I have seen her look at me that way before. A number of times.”] He tried to pre-warn the girl as his partner returned and he offered a raised brow in curiosity. It was enough to get her to talk and when she stated the reason for her ire, he suppressed the desire to quickly point out several moments when she had been rather blunt, concise, or outright 'indelicate' before. And that was just with himself.
Instead he placed a hand to her upper arm, offering a comforting touch as he did his best to lead her away.
[+royalblue “Ignore the boy dear, all boys think their mothers as indelicate or brash and such. Often they are just being protective and caring, young boys just fail to understand that.”] That could not be said of his own mother, but that was rather obvious.[+royalblue “Perhaps he means that, being a Queen as you are,”] perhaps he was trying to flatter her but regardless of abdications she was still Queen of Wistina,[+royalblue “you learned to have a certain level of… assuredness, of effrontery in what you say, how you speak. Flora and I are less ingrained in the ways of royalty and therefore we are able to speak with the common folk on a more even keel.”] He was certainly digging himself into Augustines hole and he licked his dry lips in a brief pause.[+royalblue “How about we go just go speak to this girl? The quicker we're done, the quicker we are to solving this mystery. Flora, keep an eye out for the market!“] He did his best to change their topic of conversation, drawing in the younger girl to help him though she looked particularly amused to see the bright eyed man putting his foot in the proverbial shit.
As much progress as had been made between the two of them, Florence was still not entirely welcoming when that sly elf of hers slipped his way into her room. He held his ground relatively well this time around though, and she could tell by the look in his eyes that there would be little use in trying to drive him off with an argument. And it was not as though she did not want to spend the time with him, more that she thought it moderately important to try and set a good example for the younger couple that was with them. At least when they were away from home... so much for that.
At the table Nicolai managed to find some subtlety, which was a lot for him, she was sure. Still, even with that mindset, Florence did not want to completely brush him off. As little as she showed it, she did find some of his clinginess endearing. So, when he reached out to touch her arm for the short moment, she smiled at him. It was warm and lacked the usual reprimand her looks had. But it was brief, just as his hand’s stay on her arm was. Then it was off to business. No one seemed to want to speak up despite being given a little bit of freedom to decide on something themselves. Nicolai took the reins shortly after the bout of silence, but he did so in a way that left Florence having to make a conscious effort not to roll her eyes at him. The elf sure could talk. In a merchant’s world that was half the battle, so she was beginning to understand why he was this way a little better, but surely, he had dug himself enough holes this way that he knew better. Florence settled for lightly shaking her head. No one seemed to notice the silent gesture.
Augustine was glad to hear anyone speak up, even if it was rather inflated and instigative. It also brought questions to his mind. [+coral “When were you a-, “] but for once he cut himself off. It was not really a conversation that needed to happen right this second. Shaking his head, he tried to get back to the actual topic at hand. [+coral “That’s not a terrible idea, since it doesn’t seem that anyone else has any strong preferences... though maybe we could send one talker back to the fields for more than just numbers. There will probably have to be some dialog with the farmers there as well.”] Not that he didn’t think they could handle it, but it would probably go smoother with one of the others to take over that bit. [+coral “Not Flora though...”] he had a contemplative look on his face. [+coral “I think she has the best chance of getting anything out of the grocer’s daughter.”] Not because he didn’t believe they could, but it might be easier with someone closer in age... and who was a little more delicate. [+coral “I’ll go with them, I already established contact, so it will probably be better.”] In actuality, he thought it might be better for him to go to the grocer but separating Nicolai and his mother was going to look intentionally hostile or mistrustful, and he really did not want to deal with the backlash from that. This would be fine. [+coral “Anyone else have input?”] It did not appear so, so this seemed to be the way of things. The group broke to leave shortly after that.
Before anyone made it too far, Florence was pulled to the side by Augustine for a short chat. One that ended with her flicking him in the ear and walking back to her small trio a little but grumpier than she had left. Of course, her Elfin counterpart took interest in this, so she explained before he had to go though the effort of pestering it out of her. [+mediumseagreen “He felt the need to express his worry that I might be too ‘indelicate.’”] She used air quotes for emphasis here, telling that it was Augustine’s wording and not her own. [+mediumseagreen “And that it might be best that I let you and Flora talk to her, at least in the beginning so that we can gage how well she is handling mourning.”] There was a mild irritation laced in her words. [+mediumseagreen “When have I have been indelicate?”] The green-eyed woman could have probably thought of more than a few times on her own if she was not already annoyed at her son. The list was a mile long. Florence did not thrive in informal communication, though she liked to think she did alright with strangers. There were more boundaries there and it made it easier for her. At the very least, she would not tell this girl to get over it because there were more fish in the sea like she probably would have done to Nicolai some months ago.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai was a little forward when they reached the tavern, leaving Augustine to finish with payment and taking the liberty of marching into the room Florence took for herself. There was a brief time where they looked at one another, as if she were about to kick him out and demand he find his own room, but she relented and with a roll of her dazzling emerald eyes to convey his annoyance at being over ruled like that he set his belongings down. It was a small battle but given her statement of love a few days before he was better placed to take more liberty and push firmly against her more resilient nature.
She was sure to give him no more ‘wins’ for that morning as she ignored his childish mannerisms and gesturing and swept past and out the room. If he was to keep her on side, then he would need to do so in a less aggressive manner. She had done much for him and his rational fear of bears, perhaps he could be a little kinder?
Downstairs once more he took a chair from another table, pulling it across to their meeting area and alongside Florence. He placed a hand to her forearm for a second or two, before it fell back to his lap, one of those almost forgettable moments of togetherness between a couple not overly keen on full public displays of affection. Even Nicolai was not one for such blatant shows of adoration, but perhaps in time he could make Florence a little more so.
Listening to what Augustine had to say he was curious to see if the others may chime in with their thoughts, but Ool seemed unfazed, Töka was oddly staring across at Marko, and the dark skinned boy and Flora both looked to Augustine as if he would come up with the solution.
[+royalblue “Well,”] he leaned forward to lean on the table,[+royalblue “I think it is simple enough to send our less… chatty, characters off to the fields to look around.”] He glanced aside to the green skinned goblin, fiery eyed woman and dark-skinned axeman. None seemed happy with his description.[+royalblue “What? A goblin who argues for arguments sake, a fighter who lets her fists do the talking, and a boy who would not dare say boo to a ghost. Am I missing anything?”] Again, a little more harsh than perhaps he should have been, but it was a good and short description.
[+red “And why are you so damn special?”] Töka bit back at him as she narrowed her eyes on him.
[+royalblue “Me? A one-time master merchant who talked his way into being the King’s General? Not to mention I raised and maintained a rebellion in Malidek, remember? I think I am rather more suited to diplomacy than you.”] Ah, Nicolai, ever one to get his back against the wall and over play how good he was with words. A certain woman sat to his left would be the best placed to refute him, but he prayed she would not think to do so – to make him look a fool now would reflect badly on her too, right? They were a together, a team and so on.
[+red “What about Flora, and Florence, and Boy-Wonder over there?”] As ever Töka was doing her level best to be antagonistic, perhaps wondering how her life had gone from farmers daughter, to respected fighter, back to farm hand. She had only likely come with them because there was a chance of a fight. To her question though, Nicolai shrugged.
[+royalblue “I would be inclined to send Flora with you, give you additional numbers and whatnot, but you are all free to make your own decisions; I was simply giving my opinion as Augustine asked. I'll go with you if it keeps you happy.”] He shrugged his shoulders, sitting back in his seat and lifting his hands to rest atop his head. If the young boy decided it was best for Nicolai to stay with the team in the field, to keep Töka from harming anyone or Ool from arguing with everyone, then so be it. This was not a place for him to quibble.
When the elf road up, Augustine was half expecting to be chewed out for some grievous oversight on his part. That was usually how it was, but not this time. He merely came to show his skepticism for the story they heard about the missing person. It was not so different from his own thoughts. He nodded along with the older man’s words. [+coral “I do find it odd... it seems a little too stupid.”] The boy was not in the habit of assuming everyone around him was incredibly intelligent, he was a touch haughty in that regard, but his condescension was not so intense as to make him think everyone else an idiot. So, this was a bit much for him to believe, especially considering it was hearsay for the time being. [+coral “If Belast is anything like Preth then I can see why someone might choose to leave, but I want to talk to his supposed girlfriend before I make any assumptions.”] There was any number of things that could be going on here. Augustine may have been doing his best to be a man of action, especially since he had spent the last week or so thinking over how this whole trip was going to go, but even still he wanted to show some level of caution instead just taking these people’s word for truth without any critical thinking.
That seemed to be all the conversation held for the time being. The violet-eyed man seemed content to know that Augustine was not going to go along with whatever he was told and they were able to move forward and find someplace to stay. Ideally they would be done with things in Belast quickly, but there was no telling for certain so it was best to have someplace to stay just in case. Not that he would let it drag out forever. They still needed to be back to Helga in time to help out back at the estate.
After spending some time unloading their things in their respective rooms and having a moment to relax in the warmth of the indoors after a few days’ journey, everyone met downstairs in a common area to continue discussion. [+coral “Alright, everything is all set so we don’t need to continue to haul everything around. And judging by the fact that there are actually other people here now, this town is waking up. We should be able to talk to people now and actually see more than ten feet out..."] Those were the previous road blocks they were facing. [+coral "Anyone have any preferences for where they want to go. As of right now we need a group to go back to the fields to have a better look around, and another to visit the grocer.”] He didn’t want to force the divide, everyone would be more productive if they had at least a little bit of a say in what happened next. Augustine was also willing to listen to any suggestion of other things that should be done in addition to those two they had picked out from their short time here already.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Feeling more relieved to have his partner back in view and safe, he brought himself closer, so they weren’t shouting their thoughts over a fence.
[+royalblue “I don’t think Ool would allow that to happen. Besides, if it worked, you’d have to be grateful to a wolf – and I don’t think you are capable of that.”] He commented as he gave a softer smile to her. He knew this was just her way of distracting him, to push the thought of bears and the like further from his mind so that he might be calm and relaxed, but he didn’t want it to be at her expense. Whilst he still had no understanding for her intense hatred of wolves, he wouldn’t push her on it and tease her mercilessly for it. Thankfully Augustine was coming back over and instructed them all to head into town. It was right to get settled if this was going to take a few days.
On the way, Augustine lay out what he had learned and what he had planned with regards to this journey. It was good to see him being so proactive. So used to a boy that deliberated for too long or wanted far more information than could be given, Nicolai was surprised by the sudden shift in personality. It was like a new person was taking control and leading them towards the town. Having been the de-facto leader of their group both leaving and returning to Wistina, he felt odd that someone else was in charge, someone else had taken on the mantle of responsibility. Though he was clever about it; sharing in the brief look at Töka and sharing the silent remark that she perhaps be left out of any talks with this grocer’s daughter.
Still, he had one large gripe about the story of the missing man, and he rode a little forward to speak in a softer tone with the young blonde.
[+royalblue “Do you think a man would seek to meet his partner, in the middle of the night, when an unknown beast is about?”] It was plausible perhaps, though not exactly smart.[+royalblue “I care for your mother as you do for Flora, but neither of us would put them at risk of harm just to spend a little time with them.”] He had a theory on this, one that was a little outlandish and wild and so for now he kept it to himself. Perhaps with more information he might share it later.
For now, Nicolai would instead remain as a secondary member of their group, letting all decisions fall to the bright-eyed boy, from picking the inn when they reached town to paying for several rooms – though of course this came from Nicolai’s pocket. It was a formality that they needed his horded wealth to get by in the world. Without access to the Kingdom’s treasury, they would be relying on whatever the elf had managed to stash away in his years as a merchant before becoming Germaine’s General. It was not an insignificant amount, but rest assured every coin spent was being tallied up. It gave Nicolai added incentive to see Augustine take back his throne, as if he needed any more reason to help.
By the time she received a response from Nicolai, Florence had come back close enough to speak at what was almost a normal volume level. His mind was going in much the same direction as hers. [+mediumseagreen “I am not convinced it is just one… Wolves are most likely, I think.”] Her reasoning was similar to his, but there were still a few things that did not fit in her mind and that bothered her. However, given their options for what could conceivably be in this area, or could wander its way this far south, that was about it. So needless to say, the green-eyed woman was not happy about it. [+mediumseagreen “Maybe we can just throw Cam at them and hope whatever charm you all seem to think she has will wile the other wolves. They might just domesticate themselves after that.”] Florence was, of course, being cynical, but she was half tempted to try.
Trying to ignore what was going on behind him, Augustine continued to talk with the men across the fence. Taking a page from the elf’s book, he was not going to go in with theories on what took out that cow. He wanted to be absolutely certain before they tried to lure it out or whatever it was they planned to do. And so, the boy ended up asking a few more questions about the missing person. He wanted to know where he disappeared from, as it was unlikely he was just sitting out in the field in the middle of the night. There might be some more clues wherever he was intercepted… if that is what really happened. Part if him also thought it could be that this guy just wanted to skip town. Belast was not exactly all that exciting and there was a lot of promise in the bigger cities right now.
All he got in answer to his questions were rumors. It seemed none of these people were close with Kenneth, as his name was. Augustine still thanked them, since rumors were better than nothing, and mentioned that they might check back in later. That left them back with the problem of the strung about cow behind them and the blond was rather glad not to have to be dealing with that, though it probably would have been good of him to offer. Oh well.
Once their group was a little way away, headed farther into town, Augustine spoke up with what he had learned. [+coral “So, it seems most of the attacks have taken place there. They’ve been losing animals more and more frequently and bigger and bigger ones. At first it was some sheep and chickens, then hogs and now that is the second cow they have lost. We should probably go back later to have a look around when we don’t have to fight the fog.”] It looked like his mom was not having much luck out in all that grass either, but they would have to try. [+coral “There is also a missing person. Rumor had it he went out to meet his girlfriend in the middle of the night and never showed up at their meeting spot.”] He wanted to know just where that was. [+coral “She is the daughter of the grocer, we should probably see if she has any more details…”] That was going to be touchier. Augustine still needed to think on who they should send over for that. He was not convinced they should go as a group and overwhelm this girl, but he was damn sure it wasn’t going to be Töka who handled it. [+coral “Until then, it is still pretty early. I’d like to get settled at an inn and then we can divide and conquer from there.”] How they divided could be sorted later as well.
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