Reckoning Eve, 6104 RTR (21 Nov 2001) On Reckoning Eve, things get weird in Sylvania.
(Alptraum) (Nordika) (Sylvania)
Blackshire Village
Blackshire Village is really more a town in size, straddled across a river, though most of it lies on the same side as a road that meanders alongside the river. The cottages are spaced fairly far apart, surrounded by a much larger consumed by fields, before the surrounding wooded hills take up the rest of the domain of Blackshire. In the central square is an aged fountain, recently refurbished, sporting a statue of a noble-looking Khatta carved from black marble. Lanterns on poles line the central cobblestone road as it passes through town, and on a hilltop just outside town can be seen Blackshire Station, next to railroad tracks leading westward toward Justininople, and eastward toward Chronotopia.

It is only an hour or so before sundown, on Reckoning Day, a holiday sanctioned by the Temple that seems to draw very diverse means of celebration across Sinai. In some lands, it is a day of forgiveness and jubilant celebration. In others, it is a time for somber remembrance of the past. Many myths and legends have been tied to this holiday – as it seems that so many great adventures happen on holidays in stories told in Rephidim Standard – and most of those stories to be told in Sylvania are rather morbid in nature.

Nonetheless, today, it is a day of merriment, and the gypsies have been quick to capitalize on the desire of the local village folk to take a break from the dull work of harvest for one night at the least. Many of the wagons have temporarily left the gypsy encampment outside town to roll down the central cobbled street, and set up shop, as it were. (Madame Xanadu, for instance, has been seeing plenty of business giving ominous fortunes for the curious.)

"… and then, the young Chevalier turned back in his saddle to admire the curly-haired poodle he had rescued," Dimitris says in dark tones to the circle of children gathered around on the steps around him, "but to his dismay and utter horror … there was not a beautiful maiden, but instead a shriveled old corpse, adorned in the tattered remains of noble finery!"

The children squeal in alarm at this punch line, though the elder Reisender's ghost tales always have enough foreshadowing in them that only the truly young would not guess at what was coming ahead of time.

"… You see, the Chevalier should have known better," comes a low gravely voice from behind the children. "After all, much danger awaits the unwary who travel the roads of Sylvania." Behind the children, a shadowy figure approaches, black leather wings wrapped around his form. Only his silver eyes and white hair is visible as he walks slowly and steadily toward the children, eyes narrowing. At the last moment his wings whip back and away, then settle back behind the Eeee. His expression rapidly shifts to one more pleasant and Alptraum grins, saying, "Not all which appears evil is, and not all that appears safe is. Isn't that right, father?"

Alptraum's entrance is rewarded by several squeals from high-strung children, taken totally off guard by having the tale finished from an unseen (and spooky-looking) stranger coming up behind them. Several kittens and colts scamper off, while the others just squeal and whinny delighted alarm and make jeers at their less-brave fleeing fellows.

Dimitris laughs loudly. "Quite right! Children, meet Alptraum, my beloved son. He will be performing for you shortly … and, if I am not mistaken, no doubt his mother has sent him to remind me of my own part in this performance, mmm?" He looks up at the sky, as if only now realizing that the sun is not so far from the horizon.

"Arvalie," Alptraum replies and kneels down to place himself at the children's height. He smiles to the remaining youngsters, saying, "Hello there. See, I may look scary, but I'm not." After a moment to let the children get a bit used to his appearance, he looks back to his father. "She's always concerned that we'll forget or get distracted," Traum says, still grinning. "Of course, she does seem to have good reason … this time." He stands and glances toward the fortune teller, then asks, "So, shall we head back and find her before she sends someone after both of us?"

With a grunt, and an audible settling of bones, Dimitris reluctantly gets to his feet. "Thank you, thank you, children, for your hospitality. Now then, I must get ready for the performance. You can't miss it – Just look up, and you'll see us!" He winks. "And be sure to save a piece of that sweet-spud pie for me, won't you, little Miriam?"

A little golden filly giggle-whinnies. "Yes, Master Dimitris!" she says, and then, along with the other children, scampers off to play once it's clear that the story-telling time is over.

"You have such a way with children," Alptraum comments as he watches the kids run off. He shifts his weight to one foot, looking uncomfortable and asks, "Are you sure you're up to the show tonight?"

Dimitris frowns. "To tell the truth, not at all. My joints are acting up early this year. It's Reckoning Day … so you'll have to forgive me if I don't join in all of the loops and twirls." He cracks a lopsided grin.

The ebon Eeee returns the grin and nods slightly. "Well, I can certainly forgive that," Alptraum replies good-naturedly, "more so than Daia would forgive me, or you for that matter, if you were injured trying something you weren't up to." The Eeee starts walking back toward the outskirts of town where the Reisender wagon waits. After a bit of silence, Alptraum speaks up. "Father? May I ask you something?"

"Yes, my son?" Dimitris responds. Once upon a time, they would have been flying rather than walking, but it is telling that Dimitris feels the need to walk to most places. (He has no end of excuses, one of them being that villagers are not so keen on having fliers going about over their heads on casual business.)

"What do you make of Madame Xanadu?" Traum asks. "I … " He pauses a moment, then resumes, "I was roped into visiting her by Hexen. She seems rather odd and gave me an even odder reading. Do you think she's just making things up, or does it perhaps have meaning?" He looks over to the aging Eeee. "She got me thinking about my past again. She made it sound like something horrible must've happened and that somehow I'll have to face it."

Dimitris frowns. "Pay no heed to Madame Xanadu. She is but a crazy old Korv, and it is silly to put your faith in cards and dice to determine your future. If you have any doubts about this, then have your fortune told twice in a row, and I am sure you will not get the same result, even if your 'destiny' is unchanged."

"Arvalie, you are probably correct," Alptraum admits. "I can't help and wonder sometimes. You and Daia are my family, and I wouldn't trade that for anything in the world. But, I would like to know where I'm from and what happened," the Eeee continues, shrugging slightly. "Every town we go through, I wonder if somehow, I came from there." He shakes his head, his white mane of hair blowing about, and grins. "Bah, enough of that. We've got a show to put on!"

"So we do, my son. So we do," Dimitris says, and from the look on his face … Alptraum is struck with the odd feeling that if he had not cut off his conversation so readily, Dimitris might have had something more to say on the matter. Or perhaps it's just that old crow's dire fortune slipping ominous undertones into everything now, giving everything new shadows that were not there before.

Catching the look, Alptraum quickly adds, "But if you do ever remember anything about back then, I'd love to hear it."

Any reply Dimitris might have made is cut off as they approach the gypsy camp, by a sharp female feline cry, the sound of something hard impacting on something soft, followed by a distinctive "Oof!" from Hexen – and followed thereafter by the black fox rushing into sight, fleeing a pan flung from the Radovah wagon.

Try as he might, Alptraum can't help laughing as he sees Hexen fleeing. "You know, Hexen has such a way with girls. Usually, they want him to go a-way," he says, grinning wryly.

"Didn't fare so well, eh, Hexen?" Traum calls out. "Please tell me you didn't try your usual pick up lines!"

Hexen catches the sound of Alptraum's laugh, and adjusts the course of his flight to head toward the two bats, casting the younger Reisender an accusing glare. "Argh! I should have never listened to you, Traum! Nineve overheard me!"

"You've earned her favor, young Hexen!" Dimitris says with a grin. "See? She is bestowing you with gifts. Quick! Pick up those pots before she decides you don't want them, and fetches them back."

Alptraum simply shrugs and grins. "Hey, you could have asked her to go talk in private you know," he retorts, then grins at his father. "Father's right, you know. If she didn't like you, you'd be in the pot, not have it thrown at you!"

"It was in private," Hexen protests. "But nothing is private with Nineve! I swear, her ears are more keen than yours!"

Dimitris raises an eyebrow. "Hmm. Courting one of the young Radovah girls, now, Hexen? Taking after your father, I see."

"I doubt she'd have heard if you went to another wagon, but anyway. So, what did Katka say, huh?" Traum asks, then comments, "We are all ears, after all."

"She didn't say a thing!" Hexen wails. "She'll never speak to me again! You've ruined me, Traum!" He rubs his head, and, despite his life being in a shambles by his own report, and a determined attempt to squash the inclination, he nonetheless cracks a smirk. "She did blush, though."

"Aha! A sure sign," Traum declares, waggling his eyebrows. "She likes you. Now, all you have to do is convince Nineve. Perhaps a bribe." The Eeee fails to keep a straight face and starts laughing again. "You know, I think you've said I've ruined your life at least once a month for as long as I've known you. All I ever do, is get you to do what you want to in the first place."

"And thus my life is ruined, again and again! Ah! I should listen to dear Mother, and not be mixed up with the likes of you, Traum. Trouble, and no end to it!" Hexen mock-accuses Alptraum. "Why, my life would be nice, orderly and properly boring if only I'd listen to Mother."

"Oh, of course. Safe, upright, and boOOOOooring," Alptraum retorts. "Look, I'll go talk with Katka for you if you'd like… "

"DIMITRIS!" comes a cry from the Reisender wagon, cutting off Alptraum's response. "Stop dawdling, and come help me!"

Alptraum looks toward the wagon. "Ut-oh," he mutters.

Dimitris sighs. "I think we are short on time. Hexen, my boy," he says, patting the fox on the shoulder, "until Reckoning Day is over with, I fear you're on your own. But never fear – just ask Nineve her forgiveness after sundown, hmm?" He winks.

"She'd never forgive me for that!" the fox jokes.

"Ah, but she better! It is Reckoning Day, after all," Traum adds. "Looks like we're being summoned. We do have a show to do, after all. I'll try to catch up with you afterward. You can bring Katka," he says and winks, then starts toward the wagon.

In the dying red light of the day before Reckoning, three Eeee soar over the town of Blackshire, pulling behind them streamers flying from brightly colored costumes and held in outstretched hands. Dimitris can barely keep formation, and thus the bulk of the show depends upon the much more energetic aerobatic stunts of mother and son.

Dimitris flies in a straight line, forming a moving column of Eeee, his streamers acting as a guideline for the others to follow. Alptraum and his mother dart from side to side, passing dangerously close to one another as their streamers trail behind them gracefully. At the end of each pass, Traum makes the most of it, looping up slightly and pulling in his wings. Gravity aids in shifting the Eeee's flight path and he swoops back the other way, his white mane of hair flying freely. His ears swivel about, taking careful note of where his father and mother are, flying more by sound than by sight.

As Alptraum's ears train themselves carefully, he picks up some of the shouts of the villagers from below. It's not unusual, as many of them, caught up in the celebration, are inclined to shout and holler, but he picks up a less festive cry: "Stop! Thief!"

The Eeee launches himself upward through the air gracefully and motions to his mother to do the same across the way. As he climbs, his ears swivel downward and he looks around rapidly, trying to locate the shouter.

It's hard to make out exactly who might be the origin of the shout … but as he looks downward, he notices a flash of gold shooting across a field – one of the spotted, silent, golden-furred people, dressed in blousy attire, sprinting all-out away from the village, toward the woods. To Alptraum's knowledge, the Savanite village is not in that direction, nor any other civilized place or part of the festivities.

Alptraum calls out to his mother to continue the show; that he's going to find out what's up and he won't take too much time. The Eeee then folds in his wings and dives, angling his body toward the sprinting creature and gaining speed. His wings slowly reopen, and he starts to level out as he pursues the supposed thief.

A bandanna comes loose about the cheetah girl's head in her flight,letting a flowing mass of tightly wound black curls spill free. She twists her head back to look over her shoulder for pursuers … and then glances upward to catch sight of Alptraum. She is not dressed quite like these villagers – Rather, she looks rather like someone trying to dress up like a gypsy. Alptraum is quite certain, however, that there are no Savanites in their gypsy train.

The Eeee's eyes narrow. While at times, yes, the gypsies have stolen from the villagers, they do not take kindly to having unjust accusations leveled at them – especially not at this time of year. His ears focus in on the fleeing cheetah and he continues pursuit. "Av Akai! {Translation: Come here!}" he shouts loudly.

Whether or not she understands the exhortation, the cheetah does not seem inclined to obey Alptraum's admonition. She darts underneath a low-hanging branch, with impressive speed such that Alptraum would have trouble overtaking her, except in a power-dive (and, of course, he wouldn't get a second attempt). But then, he has heard that Savanites are sprinters, and that they cannot hold up such an impressive speed for very long. But then, it is unknown to him just how long "very long" is.

The Eeee curses inwardly. The tribe cannot have this accusation leveled at them. Not now. Instead of taking a risky power dive, he starts to slowly climb back up so that he can use a long dive in the future to gain massive speed should it come to that. He hopes "not very long" is indeed that and that he won't have to take such a risky dive. His ears track the cheetah, trying to follow her by sound now.

As the cheetah cuts into the outskirts of the forest, picking her way with what suggests a familiarity with the local terrain, the bat's view of her is becoming more intermittent. The trees here, although their leaves have turned to shades of gold and red and are starting to fall, nonetheless cover the forest floor with a canopy of branches and what leaves remain, providing much cover from airborne eyes – and likely even more once the cheetah makes it into the deeper forest.

The Eeee growls softly, lips pulling back to reveal his fangs. He starts to use some of the height he's gained to dive and accelerate again. He keeps his ears trained ahead and trying to track the sound of the cheetah. Okay, this is just like hunting … except you're not going to feed, Alptraum thinks to himself.

His ears do not fail him. Alptraum can cleanly pick out the sound of the running cheetah, and though she may be speechless, she still has to breathe, and that fact betrays her position and velocity all the more. There's a break in the trees, an opening – and a daring Eeee might take this opportunity to dive in for the "kill", as it were.

Alptraum's eyes narrow and he actually smiles wickedly. "You're mine," he mutters and takes a sharp dive for the clearing, tucking his wings back and angling them slightly.

A dark shadow shoots through the opening in the trees, swooping down upon the fleeing golden-furred girl, and she has but an instant to look back over her shoulder and let out a sharp bark of alarm before she is bowled over by her winged pursuer, her flight (and his, incidentally) abruptly cut off by the collision, as they both fall to the ground, crashing into the dry, cracking twigs of the bushes, and a pile of rust-colored leaves.

In a tangle of bodies, black and gold, the two struggle to get to their feet, and Alptraum quickly learns that this girl fights dirty, as she knees him, and struggles to her feet. He manages to wobble up to his own feet as well, albeit in some lingering discomfort from her maneuver … but hardly has time to recover before she unexpectedly turns about and knocks him down with her own weight. She clamps a hand down over his mouth, looking toward the sounds of approaching villagers hunting through the woods, lacking the keen hearing (and aerial vantage point) of a bat to be able to pinpoint them easily.

Poor Alptraum finds himself pinned to the ground, his prey a moment ago now having a hand clamped over his mouth, and her other hand holding onto a tender spot on his wing – not a spot that can seriously cause harm, but she obviously knows enough about Eeee physiology to know where to really really hurt.

Alptraum's silver eyes narrow and he glares at the Savanite. His glare occasionally shifts to a wince as pain throbs through his body every so often. Slowly, his own hand unsteadily comes up and he presses his claw tips slightly into her side, enough to be noticeable.

The girl's face contorts as she feels the sharpness of his claws. She almost gently grasps the tender spot on his wing a little more tightly – just enough to be noticeable. Meanwhile, the shouts of some local farmers can be heard as they attempt to follow the cheetah girl's trail – and miss the mark by a wide margin.

The Eeee winces again and breathes slowly, easing his claws back. Understanding that getting caught could be really bad for her (as Alptraum would have just tried to recover what she took), he doesn't make any other sounds. He just remains beneath her, glaring and waiting.

The cheetah sits, rock-still, until the voices have died away. No doubt, they will eventually be doubling back, but given how fast she can run, perhaps she supposes that if Alptraum betrays her, she can still get a good lead on them. In any case, she releases her grip over his mouth, though her other hand is still very present on his wing.

"Give me what you have taken and I won't alert them to you," Alptraum says, snarling slightly. His other hand moves up quickly and tries to take a good grip of her clothing. "My tribe cannot afford to be accused of theft at this time of year," he says grimly.

The cheetah gives him a simmering glare, matching gaze with his. And then … she reaches into her blousy tunic, and pulls out a drawstring pouch with a severed cord. It bulges with the distinctive shape of many coins.

Meanwhile, the shadows grow longer. The sun is setting.

Alptraum's free hand comes up, palm open. "By all rights I should make sure they catch you for endangering my people," the Eeee says quietly, "but I will not. I would like to know why you tried to implicate us, but I doubt you'd be able to tell me."

The cheetah sets the pouch in Alptraum's palm, and then flickers her now free hand in a short flurry of finger-gestures. Not a one of them makes any sense to the Eeee.

Alptraum's hand closes around the pouch. "Thought not," he says. "I don't understand your language." His grip tightens around the pouch and he slowly releases her clothing. "Now, are we going to sit here and glare, or are you going to let me up?" he asks.

The cheetah smirks … then dips her head, giving the bat a peck on the nose … and in a flash, she's off him, darting off into the trees.

The Eeee sits up slowly and wobbly, watching her dart off into the trees. "Name's Alptraum," he mutters as she leaves and is most likely out of range to hear, then adds, "You've got five minutes, then I'm calling for help." The Eeee gets to his feet and very carefully stretches his wings, hoping nothing was damaged.

There are a few leaves to shake free, and he has an annoying patch of cockleburs that will have to be picked off of his trousers, but he's done amazingly well for having performed an airborne tackle-dive. If Dimitris had seen it, he would have no doubt chastised Alptraum publicly, then bragged on him to all his friends privately.

He walks around the clearing slowly to work off any stiffness from the rather inglorious landing. "Wonder if I'll see that person again," he mutters. "Doubtful. I wonder who she was." True to his word, the Eeee continues to wait, trying to roughly gauge when five minutes has passed.

Whether or not five minutes exactly has passed, it gets progressively more dark (though this is not so much a problem for someone who can "see" by hearing), and the noises of the angry villagers grow close, as a party of them doubles back. If he doesn't call out again, they may well be upon him regardless any moment now.

Alptraum walks over to a nearby tree and slumps down against it. Moments later, he lets out a loud and high pitched call that surely any Eeee in the vicinity would hear, followed shortly by a lower pitched one that the rest would probably hear.

A high-pitched cry echoes a moment thereafter, from the air – but it's not the sound of Alptraum's mother or father. There's some other Eeee airborne. No one told him there were any others in the village.

For some reason, the sound of another Eeee, and one he does not know, bothers Alptraum. He gets back to his feet, recovered from the tussle. His wings flick out and around his form, hoping the darkness will obscure him somewhat. His ears swivel, trying to locate which direction the other Eeee is.

The sound comes from somewhere high above, coming from the same directionas the bulk of the villagers – though more swiftly.

Curiosity gets the better of Alptraum. If there's another Eeee like me, maybe… Alptraum calls out again, this time only in a pitch Eeee can really hear.

Wings flutter overhead, and a few branches rustle as a dark winged form alights upon the ground – a male Eeee dressed in the fashion of the local villagers, but in some sort of uniform, with a compact crossbow of possible Chronotopian origin slung at his belt. His fur is dark … and his eyes … his eyes glow red, and there are no fire lights here to explain this away as a chance reflection.

Alptraum's wings pull in tighter and his eyes narrow. His ears flick forward and lock on the strange Eeee that just arrived. Alptraum swallows and steps forward. "Are you from the village?" he asks. "If you're looking for the thief, she's gone. Dropped what she stole, though. I need to return it," he then adds. Still, something bothers Alptraum and his muscles tense up in case he needs to make a rapid escape.

The tall bat nods, and he extends a hand toward Alptraum. "Good evening," he says in Sylvanian. "Which way did she run?" he asks. "I am Sheriff Darken, entrusted by Count Kurai with the protection of Blackshire Village."

Alptraum extends his hand in greeting, then offers the pouch to the Eeee. "Not sure," he replies. "I dive-caught her. Unfortunately, my landing was far from graceful. Was dazed, so she took off somewhere that way," he says and waves his arm in a wide arc in the direction away from the village. "When I recovered, I found she dropped this pouch. I'm guessing this is what she took, really." He shifts his weight uncomfortably and folds his wings back and out of the way. "I hope you don't take this as an insult, but, I've never seen another Eeee like you," Alptraum admits.

The strange Eeee grins, revealing very pronounced canines. "It is not an insult at all. Good work, young man." However, no sooner do the words leave his mouth, than he examines the pouch, opening it up. "Hmm."

Just then, several of the farmers and other townspeople burst into the semi-clearing, torches and farm implements held aloft. There is another flutter of wings, and a black-feathered form joins the group. "Sheriff!" caws the Korv. He looks to Alptraum, and the edges of his beak turn to a frown. "'Twasn't him," he caws.

Alptraum noticeably relaxes. He smiles back and rubs his neck. "Well, it did kind of kill our show, but I didn't want my tribe to be accused of theft." He then turns and looks at the others and says, "Of course it wasn't me. I was performing."

The sheriff points off in the direction Alptraum did earlier. "That way. Fan out. She can't run forever."

"But, Sheriff," the Korv caws, "it's after dark … on Reckoning Eve."

"Avralie," Alptraum adds, "I was about to head back. It's dangerous to be out here at night." He then looks at the Sheriff. "And may I talk to you a bit, sir? In private."

The sheriff grimaces. "She no doubt is counting on superstition to cover her escape," he growls. "Fine. Those of you without the stomach to continue, head back to town. But I am obliged to find the Duchess's pendant. That is no mere trinket, but an heirloom of the Kurai Dynasty!"

The Korv frowns. "… and word has it, it's magic, too. Good ridd – " He clamps his beak shut, however, at a sharp glance from the sheriff.

Alptraum covers his eyes and sighs. "I can help with hunting if need be," he admits. "I can track by sound. What makes you think she took some sort of pendant?"

The sheriff says, "She was dancing in the street, and approached Duchess Eve. She snatched it from the Duchess so quickly that she did not even notice it was gone, until the dancer ran away." He looks to Alptraum. "I am assuming that you will say she is not one of yours, am I correct?"

"No, she is not. There are no Savanites in my tribe," Alptraum replies. "I told you as much earlier when you first landed. I do not want my tribe blamed for the actions of an outsider."

The sheriff nods. "Then, in the interest of saving the good name of your tribe, you'll accompany Farmer Poe back to the village. You will be searched to make certain you haven't the pendant on your person."

The ebon Eeee shrugs. "I have nothing to hide," he replies, "though, I do want to speak with you later. Please."

"Your wish will be granted, young man. But first, I have a thief to catch." And with that, the sheriff snaps out his wings and takes flight. Several of the farmers – generally those more impressive-looking, such as well-muscled Khattas and Rhians – go after him, but a number are obviously reluctant, and mill about uncertainly.

The Korv sighs. "Come with me, please, young master, back to town."

"Well, shall we head back, then?" Alptraum asks. "I think we'll be safe if we hurry." He does glance towards the woods, hopeful that the Savanite is smart and gets rid of the pendant.

"Very well," caws Farmer Poe, and then in a moment, the bat and crow are airborne, winging their way back toward the town. On the way, Alptraum can see torch and lantern lights bobbing about amongst the trees, and his keen ears pick up the sounds of the frustrated searchers, calling out to each other to coordinate their efforts to search the woods, or out of general anger.

The Eeee flies along confidently with the farmer. I have nothing to hide, since I did not steal the pendant, nor did anyone of my tribe. Let them search me.

As they wing over the forest, Alptraum is struck by a curious sensation rippling down his spine … the sort of chill usually felt when listening to a ghost story, or the sort of thing that Dimitris might describe as claiming that someone stepped on his grave.

"Poe, something's wrong," the Eeee calls out. "Be alert." Alptraum starts rapidly scanning the area.

"Of course there's something wrong," the Korv caws back, faintly annoyed.

As Alptraum scans the area, for a moment he thinks he spies a lone lantern light down below, but when he actually looks in that direction, there's nothing there.

"No. I mean the feeling in the winds. It's shifted," Alptraum replies bluntly. "There are lights appearing and disappearing below. I don't like this."

The farmer grunts. "Let's just focus on reaching Blackshire Village." He flaps his wings again, then spreads them to soar.

For some reason, Alptraum is struck by a sensation in his hand, a memory of holding that bag of coins. Certainly, money is a nice thing to have, but the recollection coming back to him suddenly seems artificial somehow, unwarranted.

Alptraum, on the other hand, continues to scan the forest below. He even dips down slightly to get a better look and for his ears to have a better chance to hear things. "Focus too much on your goal and things get you along the way," the Eeee calls up. "Have you never hunted?" He then blinks and flexes his hand, confused.

Alptraum is struck by a sense of deja vu. He sees a glimmer of a lantern light … then looks, and it isn't there. And the clearing he notices … looks very much like one he saw a moment ago. And, for that matter … the town doesn't seem any closer.

"Not much, I'm afraid," Farmer Poe caws, his volume trailing off a little. "I'm not a herbivore, but I'm more inclined toward grain myself."

"Poe, that clearing down there," Traum asks, "isn't that the one we left a bit ago?"

"Huh wha?" Poe caws, his wings fluttering unsteadily, and faltering for a moment. "What do you mean?" Something sounds wrong about the crow's voice – as if he were just about to doze off before Alptraum said something.

The Eeee flies upward again and alongside the Korv. "Below us. That's the same clearing, I'm sure of it. And just a minute ago, I felt like I was holding that bag the thief dropped. It's like we're … looping or something. I don't understand. I think we'd better land and walk," he says.

"That's impossible," Poe caws. "I have the bag. Sheriff Darken gave it to me to take back to the town."

"I know it's impossible," Traum says, irritated, "but I still felt it. Something is wrong here."

The Korv shakes his head. "It must be a headwind … blowing us back," he caws. "Fine, youngster, we'll land. But no tricks!" He brings in his wings to swoop down toward the ground. As it is, it seems that the clearing he's heading for looks like that very same spot near where he saw the lantern light – if it was a lantern light.

Alptraum duly follows along. "Of course no tricks," he replies, even more irritated, "I told you, I'm innocent. We're innocent." As they descend, he remains roughly alongside the Korv.

The Korv snurks. "Sorry. Call it wishful thinking. If you were a trickster, telling you 'no tricks!' would be as effective as telling a bogeybeast, 'no eating Korvs!'" He flutters to a landing in the middle of the clearing. As it is, it seems they've landed right in the middle of a small graveyard.

Traum lands softly onto the ground and his wings flick back tight. "Look, would it make you feel better if you searched me now, hmm?" Alptraum asks, then looks around. "Okay, so it's not the exact same clearing, that's good. Let'sjust walk quickly, okay?"

The Korv looks around. "This … this is all wrong. We … we don't have a graveyard."

"I told you something was wrong," Traum replies bluntly. He heads over to a nearby tombstone and tries to read it.

It has no name on it. No writing. No date. It's just a blank stone, devoid of any inscription, or even any form of holy symbol.

"Unmarked," the Eeee comments to the Korv as he heads over to check another. "Did you have any graveyards in the past, perhaps?"

"Used to, until – Oh, Dagh! This burns it!" The Korv cries. "To wing again! Next thing you know – " As he tries to take flight, however, all he can manage is to hop up and down in an almost comical fashion. "What in the blithering blazing blizzard is this?" he curse-caws loudly.

The Eeee's attention snaps to the Korv. "Until what?" he asks grimly. "And why can't you take off?"

"You try to fly! Ah! Belay that! If you go flying off without me, why I'll … " He lets that thought trail off, as he clambers up onto the top of a monument, leaping off of it in a vain attempt to get airborne, and instead just flutters to the ground, landing roughly. "Oof! *KAW*!"

Alptraum takes one last look around, then takes a short jog and spreads his wings. With a leap and a burst of flapping, he attempts to get airborne.

A chill breeze blows across the graveyard. It's not really out of place for this time of year, but it just feels like one of those kinds of "chill breezes", the kind that are creepy premonitions of even more strangeness, felt in one's spine as much as on one's skin. Not that Alptraum has much experience with this, but it seems he's getting a crash course in it – especially since despite his attempt to get airborne … he's not getting anywhere further than the Korv.

"What is darkness is going on here?" Alptraum demands, then swears under his breath. He looks directly at the Korv and asks, "What is going on here? What is with the chill? Why can't we fly?"

"I cannot fly, either," comes a female voice from behind Alptraum. The Korv spins about, as if he thought the voice came from behind him.

The Eeee looks toward the voice. "Who are you?" he calls out.

To match his looking, Alptraum slowly turns, looking for who, or what just spoke.

As he turns about, he doesn't find the source of the voice … until he turns back to look at the center of the graveyard, which he can be pretty certain he was looking at clearly enough earlier. Farmer Poe comes about at the same time. There, standing in the center, is an Eeee woman in a tattered dress blowing in the breeze. However, after a moment of adjusting to the poor light afforded by what little of the Procession peeks between gaps in the clouds, he can tell that it is not only the dress that is tattered, but rather that the leathery skin of her wings is tattered and shredded as well. Her eyes glow faintly red, the same way that the sheriff's did.

Alptraum's curiosity gets the better of him. Slowly and carefully, the approaches the Eeee woman. "Who are you?" he asks again, quietly, his eyes looking over the strange figure. "What happened to your wings?"

"Nachtbrise," the woman responds, and this causes the Korv to suck in a gasp in response. His wings shudder violently, and Alptraum can see a couple of feathers fall loose from his plumage in fear.

The woman possesses an eerie, cold beauty, like a well-prepared corpse … well-prepared, that is, save for the wings and the state of her raiment. "I was left behind," she says.

Alptraum casts a glance to the Korv and shrugs. "I've never heard of you," Alptraum admits. "My name is Alptraum bar Reisender. You were left behind? Where? When?"

"We must leave!" Farmer Poe caws. "By foot if need be!"

Alptraum raises a hand. "Hold a moment, Poe. Please."

Paying no heed to the cry of the crow, the woman says, "Here. All alone. The others were moved. But only I remain."

"Makes two of us, in a way," Alptraum replies, then looks to the Korv. "Why must we leave? What do you know?" he demands.

Farmer Poe caws, "She's … dead!"

"But, she has not threatened us," Traum points out. "Let's hear her out first, okay?"

"Why were the others moved?" Traum asks the Eeee. "Why were you left behind?"

"When the young Count battled the Necromancer, this place was destroyed," the woman says. "The townspeople took what they could, and built a monument to replace all those destroyed in the battle. And atop the old hill, cleared away, the Duchess built her building, for her machines. But I was left behind. The Necromancer called to me, like to all the others, but I was kept away in a strong vault. And here I am still. Here I am still… " She starts walking forward, looking somewhere past Alptraum.

Alptraum steps aside and looks in the direction the Eeee seems to be looking. He glances back toward the Korv, beginning to wonder if they should run. "Aren't you at least curious?" Traum asks Poe.

"I'm curious how we're going to come out of this alive!" Poe scrawks. "I'm not a monster-slayer like Lord Kurai!"

"Not everything that looks dangerous is a monster," Traum says, trying to calm the Korv. "I'm not," he mutters softly.

The woman calmly continues walking forward, past Alptraum. As she draws close, he feels a strange feeling pass through him … and she stops and turns, looking at him … and then her red eyes look downward, toward his nape.

Alptraum steps back suddenly and bares his fangs. "Don't get any odd ideas," Alptraum says, sounding braver than he feels. He shudders, suddenly wondering if that's sort of how the animals he hunts sees him.

She doesn't visibly react to his movement. Rather, her eyes stay locked on the spot just below his neck. It wouldn't seem exactly an ideal place to bite.

Alptraum reaches up to his neck and places his hand over the pendant he's worn for as long as he can remember. Slowly, he eases the old pendant from beneath his shirt and into view. "Is this what interests you?" he asks, "I've had it for as long as I can remember."

As he removes the pendant, the woman looks at it a moment longer, whispering some sibilant word under her breath that Alptraum can't quite place … though it somehow seems familiar to him. Something he may have heard … in a song … perhaps a word in some other language. But then, before he has long to mull over this, she turns again, walking toward the edge of the clearing, toward a mausoleum.

Alptraum blinks. "W-wait, please!" he pleads. "What did you just say?" He follows the Eeee, and asks repeatedly that she tell him what she just said – what it meant.

However, the apparition fades away, vanishing as she passes into the sealed doorway of the mausoleum … and with a blast of cold wind and a flurry of shed leaves, the graveyard gives way to a yard just outside the Blackshire Station, alongside Duchess Eve's rails. Alptraum is standing amongst a tangle of bushes and undergrowth beyond the proper edge of the graveyard … and he can just barely make out, where the apparition vanished, the ruined remains of the mausoleum that seemed intact but a moment ago.

Alptraum looks back for Poe. He completely forgot about him. "Poe?" he calls out.

Poe caws out, fluttering over the station building. "Where in the world did this come – Aha! There you are, boy!" He alights upon the ground again, and waddles the rest of the way over toward the bat. "I can fly again!"

"I … I don't know," Traum says, "Can you bear with me a moment? I want to examine that old tomb. I… " He swallows and looks pleadingly at Poe for a moment, then makes his way over to the ruins.

The mausoleum is shattered, as if the side facing the station were hit by some great explosion, and the ground here is littered with rubble, choked with tangling vegetation. One needn't use the door to find one's way into this small ruined mausoleum, though the door is open. Inside are several open vaults – all of them open, save for one, mostly buried in dirt and debris.

Alptraum makes his way over to the single, unopened, vault. He tries to clear the door, hopeful to find a name. His heart pounds in his chest, loud enough that he hears it. Then, the song echoes in his mind, a splinter of memory.

Somehow, the song seems … appropriate here, though for reasons he cannot grasp, and rummaging around in a broken mausoleum somehow doesn't seem as odd to him as it really ought to be, something in the back of his mind is telling him. In any case, after some effort, he manages to uncover an inscription: Nachtbrise Darken.

Just as he makes this discovery, however, he hears a loud shriek from the direction of the station. This prompts a startled caw from Farmer Poe, as he clearly hears it as well.

The name burned into his memory, Alptraum scrambles to his feet and dashes outside. "What was that?" he asks Poe, "What happened?" The Eeee looks around, then at the station, ears training on it.

"I don't know! I – AWK!" Poe turns about, and gawks as he sees a larger-than-life Korv perched atop the roof of the station.

Alptraum's eyes go wide. "W-what is that?" he stammers.

This Korv looks tattered and ragged, a flying corpse of a bird, adorned in a garish uniform with a Chronotopian cut, a patch over one eye, and a saber in one wing-claw. It caws something in a foreign language that Alptraum can't decipher. Chronotopian, perhaps?

The Eeee looks over at Poe and asks, "Translate?"

"I – I don't speak much – ah … I think … treasure. He said something about treasure!" the Korv caws.

With a flutter of tattered wings, the Korv airshipman leaps from the roof and swoops down to the ground, glaring at the farmer and the gypsy with an unholy glow in the one eye socket not covered by a patch. This time, it's a sort of yellowish-green, rather than the red that seems to be popular with sheriffs and apparitions this night.

Alptraum starts backing up. "I think a retreat would be a good idea, Poe. This is getting too creepy," Alptraum says, "At least the other ghost wasn't armed."

"I agree!" Poe caws, and he immediately takes flight. "Make for the town!" he cries out, as he clears the trees.

Alptraum doesn't even reply. He leaps and takes off in a flurry of leather wings, flapping like mad toward the town.

The zombie Korv takes to the air as well, hot on the tail of Farmer Poe – seemingly less interested in Alptraum. Poe, glancing back, quickly registers this, and lets out another *KAW!* of alarm. Unfortunately, there are no conveniently local clusters of torch or lantern lights in the woods to zero in on. In fact, it seems that the crow and bat have been considerably displaced from their original position. The station was definitely not on the route that would have taken them back to town originally.

The Eeee curses and dives himself in between the Poe and the other Korv. You're crazy, Alptraum! What are you doing? It's not after you! Alptraum thinks to himself and shakes his head. Still, he tries to remain between the pursuer and Poe.

Deftly moving through the air is something that comes very easily for Alptraum – more so than for either of the Korvs – and in short order, he cuts off Poe's pursuer. The undead Korv lets out an unearthly hiss, and breaks away, losing some ground as he alters his course to cut around Alptraum.

Alptraum's eyes narrow and he darts to the side, trying to always keep himself between the two. "Fly, don't look back," Alptraum calls ahead to Poe, "I can keep him occupied. You get to safety!"

"AWK!" crows the farmer. "And who's going to get you to safety, boy?" Nonetheless, he doesn't deviate from his initial plan of flying toward the town. Meanwhile, Alptraum is most certainly not making friends with the undead Korv, as he hisses repeatedly at each pass, making futile thrusts with his saber (not very effective when clutched in a wing-claw in flight) but not even coming close.

"Bah, I can out-fly him," the Eeee responds confidently, perhaps more so than he actually feels. The Eeee snarls and now turns his full attention to the undead. He darts rapidly to the right, then arcs back and tries to make a class-slashing pass behind the undead creature, aiming for its wings.

Despite all his artful flying, when he makes a slash at the undead Korv, the bird turns and fixes him with its hollow gaze … and then lets out an unearthly crow that causes Alptraum's ears to ache with pain. The surprise "attack" throws him off balance, and he ends up colliding with the flying corpse. There is what seems like an explosion of feathers and foulness … and then Alptraum realizes that he's crashing into the branches of a tree. Goodness, but he didn't realize he was flying that low … and then … he's lying on his back, looking at the sky.

He's hurting … all … over. It's not clear how much was from running into an unclean creature of the night … or a bunch of trees … or the ground afterward.

Alptraum coughs, finding himself landing ungracefully yet again. He groans softly and lies there, not wanting to move and hoping the pain will pass. "You've lost it," he mutters to himself. "What were you thinking?"

A few feathers flutter down from above. One of them lands on Alptraum's chest … and then, with a crackling noise, crumbles to dust.

Around him, Alptraum can hear shouts and caws, and he can make out the approach of torch light.

"Dust to dust," Alptraum mutters wryly and lays there. He makes an attempt to at least move his wings, hoping nothing broke in the crash. He hears the shouts, but at this point just finds he's too sore to really care.


GMed by Greywolf

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Today is 15 days before Candlemass, Year 29 of the Reign of Archelaus the First (6128)