Reckoning Day, 6104 RTR (27 Nov 2001) Alptraum pays a visit to Autumn-Storm.
(Alptraum) (Nordika) (Sylvania)

The late morning ride through the dark forest to Blackshire Keep is creepy, even in the daylight. It would have been so much more convenient to fly, but Alptraum needs an interpreter, and the most readily available interpreter to be found at the moment is Madame Garou, proprietor of the Blackshire Inn. She's a wolf-like Jupani – rare in Sylvania, particularly since they're often mistaken for Titanians in Chronotopia to the east, and the Gallees to the south are mixed about whether to consider them noble or mongrel (and quite often lean toward the latter).

According to what Alptraum picks up along the way, Blackshire Keep – as the castle is called – was actually submerged beneath a swamp for a time, due to an old curse that had befallen the county, such that only the tallest spire remained above the murk. Through some series of adventures, the young Count Feli Kurai and his sister, Duchess Eve Kurai (and the explanation for how she got that title is somewhat complex) managed to vanquish a number of monsters plaguing the area, lift a curse, and over the following years, the castle has miraculously risen back out of the mire, to once again stand whole to defend the village of Blackshire.

The castle is strangely built, unlike any Alptraum has seen before. It has an outer defensive wall, but the interior building sports architectural influences that are hard to place, as its central structure is a large dome with glassy panels, housing an interior garden that surrounds the Great Hall. The tall spire rises from the center of this dome, and a long wing juts out to one side from the base. The carriage bearing Alptraum and Madame Garou crosses over a long wooden bridge/platform over the sludge that still remains of the swamp. At last, they are inside, but Alptraum isn't given the grand tour – rather, he's fairly promptly taken down a flight of stone stairs into a dank-smelling dungeon, sounding of drips somewhere distant, and cold enough to make him shiver, even if winter hasn't come just yet.

The physician has already proclaimed that his healing ministrations are a success and therefore Autumn-Storm has already been moved to the dungeon. It has not yet been decided exactly how long she will spend there for her transgression. Duchess Eve Kurai had come for the holiday, but she is to be leaving once Reckoning Day is over with, to return to her business with the railroad – and if the Duchess does not decide before she leaves, then perhaps Autumn-Storm will just have to wait until she gets back.

"The doctor has said that she may receive visitors," Sheriff Darken says in Sylvanian, as he goes through a heavy set of keys to find the one that will fit the lock on the cell door, "but not for long." The looks exchanged between Alptraum and the sheriff suggest that they are no warmer terms than earlier that day, but for now, Alptraum is quiet, only nodding in acknowledgement.

The tumblers click, and the door creaks loudly as it swings open. Inside is a cramped cell, with a stone slab for a bed, and a mattress of cord-bound straw. The cell's lone occupant is Autumn-Storm, of course – a golden-furred feline with a spattering of black spots, and distinctive tear-marks running down from her eyes along the edges of her muzzle. She props herself up on her bed, where she is curled up underneath a pile of patched blankets, and looks at Alptraum with amber-brown eyes peering out from wavy locks of jet black.

"You haf a visitor," Sheriff Darken says, switching to his heavily accented version of Rephidim Standard in order to address the cheetah. And then, without further ado, he closes the door, and Alptraum can hear it click ominously behind him.

Madame Garou shivers at the chill of the chamber, and goes to sit down on the unoccupied stone slab opposite Autumn-Storm's, setting the lantern she carries on the stone and then drawing her shawl more tightly about her. She nods curtly to Autumn-Storm, something in Garou's expression suggesting that Autumn-Storm hasn't made the best of impressions upon her, either. Of course, it could just be imagination – The only light is what little ambient light filters in from the torch sconces out in the main corridor, plus the amber glow of the lantern that Madame Garou brought in. Alptraum may be able to navigate his way about in the dark just fine without eyes, but exceptional hearing and "sonar" is not sufficient to carefully measure cues such as body language.

Catching the hint from Sheriff Darken, Alptraum uses the trade language of Rephidim to address the cheetah. "Sheriff Darken is not going to allow me much time," he starts off, his own voice sounding awkward as it breaks the silence of the dingy cell, "but I need to know: do you remember anything that happened? About that night? When you were under the fallen roof?"

Autumn-Storm shivers and draws the blankets more closely over herself. She no longer wears the blousy attire that could have been imagined as a gypsy's garb. Instead, she wears an ill-fitting jerkin that looks as if it could have been made from a burlap sack (and may very well have been). As she moves her fingers about to slowly make signs, Madame Garou watches, and then, after long pauses, translates aloud in Sylvanian with noticeable breaks: "A stranger – a sorcerer, I am sure – had bid me to bring him the crystal pendant of the Duchess. I had acquired it - I have confessed all that now – and brought it to him at the appointed place and time. When he presented me with payment, I was distracted by the amount of coinage he was offering – and he used that opportunity to stab me with his dagger." Madame Garou continues to watch while the cheetah signs; it is evident that spoken language can go much faster than the slow and deliberate signs that the cheetah is forming with her fingers in the poor lighting.

"I was left for dead," Madame Garou translates. "He rode away on his Drokar, and I crawled away from the road. And then you were there. I begged you for help. And then … I awoke in the inn, after you had taken me there."

Alptraum nods, contemplating. If Madame Garou has faithfully translated Autumn-Storm's signs, then perhaps Autumn-Storm has no idea that she saw an apparition, but simply assumes that Alptraum arrived, and he rescued her. "What can you tell me of your attacker? The 'sorcerer'?"

"'Herr Fremder'," Madame Garou translates, and it proves to take a relatively long time for Autumn-Storm to sign out a name like that. Perhaps the cheetah has to spell out proper names somehow? "But I knew it was not his real name. He was a graying black Khatta, from Chronotopia perhaps, old, with a beard. I would know him if I saw him, but I do not know what to tell you other than that. He fled down the old imperial road, but I do not know where he was going."

Alptraum nods solemnly. "Tell me one thing more, though: If I were to go after this man, would you be willing to join me?" At this, Madame Garou gives Alptraum a surprised look, but Alptraum continues, "If I were to gain permission that you would be released to my custody, I could use your help. I cannot identify this man, but he has taken something, and he left you for dead. Together, we might catch him. You pledged me your life, and … this might be a less drastic settlement for saving you."

Autumn-Storm's eyes register surprise at Alptraum's words – perhaps at the offer to get her out of this cell, or perhaps it registers to her that Alptraum shouldn't have been able to understand her pledge of her life if he would save her. In any case, Madame Garou translates her signs, "I will do whatever you think is appropriate. I am sorry for what I have done, and even if they let me out of this dungeon, I can never show my face in Kurai Town again."

But at that moment, any further conversation is broken off, when Sheriff Darken opens the cell door again. "You will have to come by some other time to continue your visit," Sheriff Darken says. "Reckoning Day is not over with yet, and I have work to do – I cannot stay here and monitor your visit."

Madame Garou seems quite eager to leave the cell, though Alptraum might not be so enthusiastic at having it broken so quickly – before he has a chance to ask any more questions. Nonetheless, there's hardly any point in asking any last minute questions – especially with his translator heading out the door. He nods to Autumn-Storm, and as the lantern is taken out of the cell, the last thing he can see is a glimmer of her amber-brown eyes blinking at him in the darkness. At a throat-clearing from Sheriff Darken, he makes his way out of the cell.

"Madame Garou," he says, "I think I might benefit from lessons in hand sign."

"We'll talk about it on the ride back to town," Madame Garou promises. "Teaching is no easy thing, but perhaps we can come to an arrangement."

The carriage ride back from Blackshire Keep is not a terribly long one, but still long enough that the silence of the ride could do with being broken up by conversation.

"Just how bad has Autumn-Storm been to the villagers?" asks Alptraum.

Madame Garou turns back from where she was looking out of the window of the carriage. "Hmm? How bad she is? Well, there are worse, but she's simply unaccustomed to civilization, I suppose. Or perhaps accustomed to it in all the wrong ways. She's a wild thing, captured as a slave shortly before all that freeing of slaves that went on in those lands where they used to keep slaves." The way she says this, it sounds like she might have trouble naming the particular country, and is probably going on a second- or third-hand version of the story at this count. "So she's only been having to live out of the wilderness for, oh, maybe the past four years or so. I suppose in the wild, they simply take what they want, rather than working for it. In any case, you can't keep too close of an eye on her. But this time she's just gone too far. We've spoiled her, obviously, by letting her get away with petty theft."

Alptraum nods. "So, do you think I'm foolish in offering her a chance to help?" he asks. "I have to say from experience, living in the wild is difficult. So is not being trusted in general. I admit I do feel sorry for her in a way. Perhaps it's clouding my vision."

"Foolish?" Madame Garou repeats. "It is not my place to make such a judgement. Perhaps if she is forced to be on the road, away from civilization, and away from whatever paradise of the jungles lets one get away with simply taking whatever one needs to survive, she will learn that she has been taking all this for granted. That, and you'd probably be doing the sheriff a favor, so that he hasn't a charge to be looking after. We so rarely have real trouble with rules-breakers – usually just a farmer who gets drunk and causes some trouble, and needs a day in the stocks to rethink his behavior. But don't let her pretty little eyes fool you. If you are the sort who assumes that if a girl is pretty and sad, she can't possibly be wicked … then she'll rob you blind, the first chance she gets."

Alptraum nods again, then shrugs. "If she attempted to violate her pledge, I would take her down – permanently, if need be," he replies.

Madame Garou only nods quietly at this at first … and then changes to an earlier topic: "So, you are a musician as well as a performer, I gather. I think I heard some music coming from your room last night, and I can always use some help around the inn."

As Alptraum doesn't seem to be about to claim otherwise, Madame Garou continues, "I've never known Eeee to be quite the type to keep up with the labors of the harvest, so if you are looking for itinerant work, I could use some help at the Blackshire Inn. Travelers are more inclined to stop at the nearest end rather than camping out in the woods as the weather gets colder – and occasionally there may even be some wealthy ones inclined to tip the musician. Plus, there's the matter of your wanting to learn Savanite Sign… "


GMed by Greywolf

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