The adventurers were whisked away to the Count’s manor in Northlight. The mansion of the Count of Northlight laid on a large estate in the northwestern section of the noble quarter. The well cobbled roads carried Avaniel, Jozan, and Kaspar’s carriage past the relatively crowded buildings of the normal aristocracy into a more open area. The estate was surrounded about its tall, hedged and gated perimeter by various social structures. It was as if a blot of vegetation had bloomed from the very stone of the town. The estate seemed so expansive as to allow only the tops of the high peaked roofs and an auxiliary tower to appear over the generously blossoming rose hedges. The deep green of the plants made vision into the compound from outside the gate impossible to the casual observer.
The carriage pulled to the exterior guardhouse and presented papers to verify passage. The well armed guards inspected them and nodded. They gave signal to the gatehouse to open the plot of land for entrance, and the ivory, green, red, and pink transport pulled through. The interior of the complex was a staggering field of green grass. Bushes and trees sat nicely trimmed and shaped into various creatures and objects. Ahead on the main road, the three spied a fountain of glowing, pale stone. Statues of classical muses, poets, and philosophers adorned the centerpiece of the sprawling, spouting monument. The carriage was to follow a gleaming, white road lined by elegantly posed statues which bisected into a circular path to the front of the manor, around the fountain. The approach gave full view to the mansion of the Count.
The building was rectangle of design, with both shallow, triangular overhangs and tall, sharply acute rooftops. The bright red walls of the building were littered with three neat rows of windows lined in white. The floors of the building were noted by streaks of forest green that encircled the structure’s perimeter. Accents of pink scattered about the architecture, and a variety of small tapestries hung over the topmost windows. The designs on these were all related to art and writing: quill and paper, easel and brush, and horn and note among others. The first floor itself seemed considerably larger given the height of the glass panes, and the companions figured the majority of the festivities might be found there.
As the carriage pulled to rest, partygoers began spilling out into the vast outdoor areas, pursuing each other in revelry. A few sat upon the lip of the fountain discussing matters. The guests all wore bright, tight fitting clothes, many with rather odd color schemes that seemed nonetheless appropriate for this gathering.
The dress wearing heroes ascended the steps to the front of the manor. A quartet of guards stood at the ready, and as they moved towards the door, one of them moved to push the portal open. Entering the tall, intricately carved doors at the front of the manor, the drake slayers beheld a tall, vaulted room. A semicircle stairway brought two paths up to a second, wider stairwell that lead to the second floor of the mansion. The floors were of deeply contrasted marble. Above, a collection of tiny glass sculptures hung suspended above the main hall. The angelic figures projected light from hands, eyes, or weapon, though the light source was not entirely evident. An enormous central chandelier was shaped into sprawling rose bush. Various luminous gems composed both leaves and flowers of the creation, and silvery material traced the path of branches in the thicket. Large archways led off the the right and left to separate rooms. To the left, a dining area; to the right was a hall filled with portraits in view.
In the middle of the semicircle, below the landing, a group of six people posed in motionless poses, covered in a white paint. They easily could be mistaken as statues, if not for the changing of their poses every few moments and the rippling of straining muscles holding the isometric poses. A number of the partygoers laughed as others joined in a game of the performers art. Others stood about the area enjoying the playing musicians and singers.
Rushing down the stairs from the landing, Herald Chris approached the newcomers and, after blowing a comically buzzing horn, announced their arrival. “Esteemed guests of Count Wells I present to the the recent heroes of Faldrin, and champions during the recent raids upon Ailead’s hospitality, noble, and republic districts: Jozan of the Grove of Lamatus, Avaniel Cerellion of Ailead, and Kaspar Ottokar of Woristrom.” Chris waited for a small contingent of applause to sound before once again blowing the odd horn, which drew assorted odd laughter as the guests mimicked woman and men.
“But tonight is a time naught of gloom but entertainment and merriment.” The announcement came from an individual upon the top of the staircase. A mask of a jester adorned the man’s face, and his clothes colored a mix of greens and ivory. About the attire, slight ringing could be heard as rose shaped bells rang lightly in the perfumed air. The man trekked down the steps to the first landing, a cape of myriad colors following closely to him. He continued his speech in rhyme.
“By name this night we find a detriment.
And so I ask the adventures of the new
Whose names have now surely paid them due.
To take upon monikers most befit
of the clothes in which they sit.
What say you, champions of Ailead,
How shall we address thee when we feed?”
Noting the man’s taste for clever wordplay, the three men thought for a moment before Jozan answered first, “Why, the name shall I hold is Lady Tanda Merryweather.”
Picking up on the trend as well, Kaspar tried to add a melodic ring to accompanying his companion’s name. “Only if I many be Lady Priscilla of the Feather.”
The poorly costumed Avaniel completed the exchange with his response of, "You may address me as Vanya, Alexandra.
“And so the names of maidens fair.
Shall be known to witness here and there.
Enjoy extravagent encounters at ease.
And to my guests,
your stories shall surely please.
A toast then,” the masked man said as he raised his glass towards the art above.
“To the new friends.
May heroism never end
The tyrant’s will twist and bend
And the powers always send
Those with power to tend.”
The gathered people raised glasses and toasted away, continuing their previous activities soon after. The herald remarked to the trio that the man was Count Harlan Wells. She claimed he wanted to participate more fully in the festivities himself, but his servants convinced him it would be somewhat necessary for guests to be able to tell the host apart.
The adventurers left their gifts with the herald to give to the count. They asked about the festivities of the night, and they were told an art exhibition and a theatrical performance were planned for later in the night. When asked where they could Augustin Gonzalo, the herald was more secretive.
“Truly, one of the delights of the masquerade is the mystique and mystery. Little fun would be had if one did not have to hunt their friends at such a gathering,” Herald Chris jested.
The three looked about the guests, and Jozan and Avaniel both caught sight of the old veteran and his student from Ailead, Alexander Scipio. The military men introduced themselves as Alexandra and Altresca, and they were currently speaking with Gregor Baranzar, or Draforga for this gathering. The merchant and architect said he expected his “zoo” to be near completion within a year.
The druid and hunter asked of Ailead, and Augustin told them the situation had become tense. Continued fighting with the unknown aquatic foes near Ailead had led the Republic of Ailead to seek aid from the west. A military envoy from Port Casmin was expected within the month to help quash the uprising with force or diplomatic measures, though many doubted bloodshed was avoidable. Patrols had increased underneath the city, in the sewer system. Bands of dark folk were still routinely showing up during these incursions.
Jozan mentioned the dark folk attack on the Steelsnout, and both Alexander and Augustin seemed confused that the creatures would have access to such seafaring ships. To their knowledge, the creatures had limited shipbuilding skills. Jozan continued to tell them of the explosives they found on the vessel as well, but he stopped short of mentioning the sinking of the ship and the emergence of the Barbaroi. Alexander in particular seemed distraught with these developments. Avaniel and Jozan asked if either of the men could decipher a message they had gotten earlier from the creatures, but neither man knew the tongue of the creatures.
Baranzar asked about the adventurer’s story about the drake of Faldrin. After briefly speaking about it, Jozan mentioned the creature seemed supernaturally powerful. Kaspar commented on the possiblity of a silver weakness in the creature. Augustin and Baranzar were intrigued at the notion of an immortal beast. Avaniel commented he had wished they could have captured the beast for Baranzar, but the old dwarf seemed less inclined to accept the creature. He claimed to have gotten the idea after a particularly dangerous run in with a large green bear. After praying for his life from Dom, he claimed to have had a vision. He viewed a hawk from on high which descended to the ground and demanded he cease his butchery of animals. Baranzar agreed, and the bear departed. He was loathe to stop his passion of the hunt, but an idea came to the dwarf. He wished others to see the wonders of the world, and thus conscripted trappers to bring rare creatures to him for citizens to view.
Moving to a different subject, Avaniel asked Augustin if he knew any information about the peace summit to be held in Urima. Augustin figured it would probably include Czar Kainus al’Raohtuck Kadacov, King Nerod Eldenberry, a representative from the war capital in Sinohi, and perhaps a pair of individuals from the Urima High Council. He also hinted at the strong possibility of the summit turning volatile given the numerous alliance treaties and hotheadedness of the leaders.
The men all excused themselves, and Kaspar wandered off to handle his own amusement. Jozan was prepared to do the same until he heard someone mention the name Bu-Jinwen from the art gallery. Jozan could scarce believe his ears, and hurriedly dragged Avaniel with him to investigate. Avaniel heard mention of the name as well, and point out a group of six that were talking to the person. As the went to investigate, the pair spied the Count placing a piece of paper behind a picture of a white flower meadow. Avaniel moved to investigate the note, but he was spotted by a guard and told not to disturb the painting. Both men were puzzled by the painting, and Jozan was only able to tell the flowers were either quite unique or the figment of the artist’s imagination.
Moving back to the group of six, the men spotted “Bu-jinwen” clad in a form fitting samue. The long coat crossed over at the front and was sashed with an obi. A brilliant cascade of blue lotus patterns were placed sporadically about the garment. The person wore a curved blade and pen at the hip. To its opposing side was a small, ceramic ball which rang lightly when the subject turns.
A mask covered the lower half of the face and featured a grimacing, caricaturesque mouth with a long, thin mustache. The eyes of the guest were keen, and pointed ears showed the elven heritage of the guest. Long hair is wrapped around the forehead and coiled about itself to produce a headband of the silken black stuff. Despite the mask, it was clear this was not the Bu-jinwen the pair knew.
The pair walked in on a discussion. Iberum was still in the midst of an undead outbreak. The appearance of the creatures was becoming a regularity as of late, yet none of the fiends had attacked the populace. The curiosity further compounded on the thoughts of officials when attacks by paladins and clerics was met with non-aggression. Some residents claimed the same dead continued to rise, but no evidence or precedent of this had been seen.
The men began a subtle bombardment of questions upon the person, a woman. She responded that she was from Sinohi, and here as a guest of the Count. She told the men she had a son of the name Bu-jinwen, and was somewhat confused and interested when Jozan mentioned they had travelled with someone of that name. They agreed to speak at a later time, and Jozan and Avaniel began to leave as the woman asked for tales of Moorhaven Manor.
The men turned just in time to see a person headed towards the meadow painting. The woman seemed out of place, as though she didn’t fully understand the masquerade theme. The prominent cheekbones lead the eyes to hair she had cut messy and short, but a structured messy. A prominent hairpin was shaped as a curved, silver dagger.
The skirt she wore was quite feminine, tiered, dark blue, and silver threaded. The blouse, however, was a type of yellowing bone white. A thin scarf of light blue wrapped about the neck of the girl. It was as if she took the theme to mean “messy as a man” or unkempt as a woman.
The men watched the women take the note from its concealed location. A guard moved to inform her of the “no touching” policy, but the women threw her arms up and began to back away. The guard conceded the point, and the girl walked away followed by Avaniel and Jozan. She paused for a time to watch the living statues at work. Jozan and Avaniel overheard other guests suggesting the Count was a former spy of King Nerod, and he was involved in the assassination of many political rivals and foreign military leaders. They gossiped that Wells was granted his nobility and the family name of the previous Count of Northlight by the king for his service. The former count died under mysterious circumstances, and many still wonder if Harlan Wells is truly his son. All records of the Count were reported lost in a fire which damaged much of the estate and an adjoining records building near the old estate. The old estate has since been turned into a mausoleum that some of the guests assumed had many hidden secrets.
The woman was on the move again, this time to the dining area. She joined in on a conversation between Augustin, Alexander, and Chetris Agallis. The out of costume man was an apparent aide to the Farseer of Urima. The unnamed woman praised the young Scipio as the first in line for conscription if a war should break out. The young man had already wrote a pair of essays being studied at the Palcanod, Escagaea, and Castagion military academies. Alexander spoke of his visits to the establishments were he was often poised new solutions to old battles he knew nothing about. Augustin mentioned the solutions were period specific, and were often as good or better than the original plans of attack. Chetris mentioned he had caught ear that this has earned Alexander both admiration from the new guard of military leaders and scorn from the traditionalist old guard.
The embarrassed young man frantically looked about for a break in the praise he was receiving. Seeing Jozan and Avaniel, he moved to them and talked to the pair, cutting them off momentarily from following the girl as she went off towards a smoking room. When the pair caught up, she was missing. Jozan rushed off down the halls of the mansion to find traces of her, and a short search of a pair of side rooms from Avaniel garnered no information. The hunter then returned to the main hall. There, he observed the Count placing another message in the hand of one of the living statue performers. When Wells left, Avaniel went and pocketed the document.
Meanwhile, Jozan ran down the halls of the manor in chase of the young woman from before. He rounded the corner leading back to the art gallery and tried some doors, which were locked. As he continued down the hall, a door opened ahead. From within, a guard escorted a collection of men towing artist instruments to the gallery. The guard went to Jozan and reminded him that the count wanted his guests to stay at the mansion front until their presence at the theater was requested later in the night. Jozan conceded the point and went with the artists. In the gallery, the artists began sculpting. Jozan overheard rumors of a certain guest. Parlow Menfu was rumored to be involved in many research projects regarding the origins of different intelligent species. The guests circulated that he had been seen at the orphanages in Orsini, Basoy, and Saint Sophia. The combination of the two rumors had put people in the manor at ill ease, but they were assured by the matrons and patrons of the childcare facilities that his studies were minor. The benefits to the community were major monetarily.
Seeing a familiar face, Jozan wandered over to a man that looked ill equipped for this party. He was a large man in both height and weight, and what was visible of his face was the stern, utterly taciturn expression of Anatoly Olnarov. He wore a brown and black silk burqa. Though lovely in its own way, the dress suited neither the mass of the Peroshi, nor the clothing style of Northlight. If this seems to bother the man, it was unseen through the translucent veil. Jozan quickly spoke with him about Sosimo Primo Santos. The Peroshi said he had not heard from the man, as his business with him was unneeded given the exemption he was able to acquire for his shipping concerns.
Jozan watched as a tall man with long, curled blonde hair acted as a model for the artists. The man, Duke Florant Asparago Durigo, wore a billowing skirt and half sleeve blouse of light pink hue. A small, brimmed fedora encircled by a red ribbon upon the noble’s head, and a red mask covered his face. The mask was accentuated by a pursed pair of white lips and small, dangling earrings bored through the ears of the piece. Jozan could not have guessed the impact of this person’s appearance at the count’s manor. He left to the main hall and met with Avaniel. There, the two looked at the letter before and were shocked by the contents.
I dare say you might be quick to the dash.
To spy on your host and think him an ass.
To feel I am blind to your prying and poking.
You must think I am quite a joke king.
But fear not you, supposed heroes of late.
If you have questions of me, ask at the theater quite late.
Somewhat humiliated, the pair resigned themselves to the dining hall. After sharing the note with a soon laughing Kaspar, the pair awaited the start of the theater activities. Kaspar revealled little new information, other than the supposed fencing expertise of the herald, whose name was Kirstiana normally. They did not have to wait long. After a time of eating and light discussion, the trio’s attention was brought to the main hall. There, the herald began listing off seating arrangements for the guests. The three drake slayers found themselves in seemingly good company since they were assigned to a private box with the Count himself.
The men were escorted up into the private booth, and beheld the private theater Count Wells had built is his manor for his actors. The booth was home to The Count and his herald, the Duke Durigo, Akiko Nivaye, and Parlow Menfu. After some short banter, the Count and Parlow began to play some sort of strategy board game while the play continued. Menfu seemed to have a keen interest in the adventurers, and Jozan soon discovered that he knew of Jericho to some extent. His line of studies had lead him to cross paths with Jozan’s former mentor. Parlow also seemed to have had a run in with “another Cerellion” at one point, but talk shifted towards Parlow’s background.
He mentioned he was an orphan out of Pa Goi in Sinohi. Early in his life, he stowed away on a ship to Urima, and his interpersonal talents led him to work as a diplomatic aide there. He spent much of his time as a negotiator with Daramis, and was later naturalized to Daramis in his adult life after meeting his late wife, Julia, who died 2 years later. The group reflected on how far they had come as well. A person need not have a noble birth, or even family, to be a person of great influence on Fonoros. During the conversation, Jozan noted the Count pocketing a message he had picked up from one of the game pieces on the board.
The play continued, a simple story about the shades of gray in wartime. As the play’s singers began to reach the heights of a particular piece, Harlan Wells poised a frightening question to the Duke of Faro. The jester masked man asked the Duke where he had met the adventurer’s from Ailead before. A rush of nervousness washed over Jozan and Avaniel as they recalled the forged document Roger had made for them to break through the trade embargo. The Duke, as expected, answered he had never seen the men before. In a desperate attempt, Avaniel haphazardly tried to change the subject, only to be rebutted with some anger by Florant. Avaniel admitted to never having known what the Duke looked like. He thought he could make it seem as though the man they received the writ from was mistaken for the Duke. The phrasing used made the Duke only more suspicious though. The Count waved the issue off for the moment, suggesting those gathered enjoy the play and each other’s company for now. The sound of boots could be heard climbing the stairs to the both. The Count’s guards no doubt.
In a more somber discussion, the companions told Akiko that they had been travelling with her son. They told her he disappeared during their travels, and they had yet to see him since. The Count realized and explained the impact of the curse near Easthaven Island. All who used magic near the island vanished, not to be seen again. While worry was visible on Nivaye’s face, she seemed somewhat less concerned. Her son had left once before mysteriously; she could only hope for his return again. The Count questioned why the adventurers travelled near Easthaven to begin with, drawing more fearful feelings in Avaniel, Kaspar, and Jozan. As a few moments passed with no answer from Jozan and Avaniel, Ottokar blurtted out that they had merely been checking the condition of the pirate ports so they could report back to Primo Santos. He mentioned the recent pirate attacks on the noble vessels to bolster the lie, and the Count seemed caught off guard by the explanation and mannerisms of the courier. The matter was dropped, and the play continued.
At the play’s completion, the guests applauded. The booth praised the Count’s patronage of the arts, and settled in to talk once more about the mysterious writ of Duke Florant Asparago Durigo. Jozan and Avaniel once more struggled to find words, and the anger of the Duke continued to heighten. Augustin and Alexander seemed to want to help the travelers, but they saw no way to do so without incriminating themselves in the matter of the forgery. All eyes lay on the pair, and the duo was certain the arrival of the Count’s guards would be swift if their answer was not sufficient.