Midsummer 5, 6107 RTR (Aug 18, 2006) Morgan arrives early to Qing's cabin, bringing a contract for his service as an assistant to the mage.
(Morgan) (Qing) (Stonebarrow) (Sylvania) (The Return of Valicross)

The sun's rays have barely started struggling through the endless gloom of the overcast sky when Morgan arrives at Qing's cabin. Dressed in somewhat more durable clothes – a frock dress over a blouse – and with a lacy apron under his arm, he looks set to do some serious work today. Perhaps, even as a maid. Rapping the back of his knuckles against the door, the Kadie calls quietly, "Mage Qing? It's Morgan Nightshade."

The door creaks open again at Morgan's call, but this time seemingly of its own volition. The serpentine tenant is in the center of the room, murmuring to himself as some strange, indistinct swirls in the air busily gather sand from a rapidly-deconstructing spell circle on the floor. The streams of sand are deposited neatly in a bottle held in one of Qing's lower hands. A pair of bluish wisps cruise a few inches off the rim of the mage's broad bowl hat.

Morgan leans back at the sight, brows raised. "I'm sorry, Mage Qing, if I had known you were … " he wiggles his fingers at the spirits, " … I'd have waited." The Kadie watches the swirls dance about the floor with some interest, tail twitching.

"I am nearly finished," murmurs Qing. A few more moments pass, and the last of the sand is lifted away, the circle gone. He sweeps a hand in a downward motion across his chest, a dismissive gesture that causes the blurry swirls to evaporate, gone without trace. The mage moves back to his table, where most of his bundles have been emptied, and he begins pouring the sand into the chambered skull on the table. "You interrupted nothing, I was simply finishing my morning rituals. I appreciate punctuality. You have brought the contract as requested?"

"I have, although I left some of the details unwritten, as I'm uncertain of your customs in these matters," Morgan replies. He lets himself in, notes the clean floor, then shrugs slightly. "Well, it never hurts to have an apron," he remarks, "especially a cute one- … Oh, well, you don't want to hear me ramble." He reaches into the bundled apron, then pulls out a roll of parchment. "You'll note I can read and write both in the Rephidim style and in Sylvanian. I chose Rephidimite – I hope that's acceptable." The Kadie then passes the parchment to Qing.

Qing takes the document, pressing it to the table with his lower arms while the middle pair set up a candle to light. "That will suffice." He lets his spectacles ride down his nose, reading the contract quietly. A blunt-clawed fingertip taps a passage here and there. "Mm. It is vague. Am I to assume you are assisting in any capacity you have? Some would consider some things, such as working with cadavers or hazardous chemicals, to be objectionable. There is also no compensation specified."

Morgan nods, as if he expected questions. "The duties you require of me weren't detailed when I departed. You seemed to have had a long trip, and I didn't want to keep you. I figured we could sort it all out in the morning." He frowns down at the contract, concentrating. "Let me see … Cadavers? Well, that will be a new one … I'll need the black apron … Mmm, hazardous materials, you say? How … hazardous?"

"Some acids, preserving fluids, some powders you should not swallow or inhale. You will not be expected to do anything with them, but I will make you aware of what you should avoid touching." The witchdoctor holds up a jar with a label on it bearing a cobra's head by way of example, then sets it down again. "I don't anticipate as much work with the dead here as my assistants dealt with in the Empire. I suppose we'll just add a clause here stating that if you find something objectionable you are within your right to refuse." One of Qing's free hands takes the liberty of penning that in with a quill it found. "That leaves your fee."

"Oh, I find watching a mage at work reward enough. You're clearly quite skilled, if all of what I saw on arrival was any indication. Would you mind instructing me as you go about your duties?" Morgan smiles a little. "Now, I don't pretend to understand what you may be doing, but an education can be a wonderful thing. If that's unacceptable, I'll accept any fee you feel is reasonable."

This gives the mage pause, the quill stopping in mid-character. "… Instruction?" Qing looks up from the contract, eyeing Morgan with an unreadable look. "Hm. That is an unusual request from someone who hasn't been tested by Caroban. What is it that you wish to learn about, Nightshade? History and lore? Magical theory? Practical application? Are you simply curious about spirits? Do you have any experience?"

"Oh, well, a simple country person such as myself wouldn't know about all that. Whatever you'd like to teach, Mage Qing. Perhaps as we get to know each other, I'll have a better idea of what to ask?" Morgan smiles again, nodding and clasping his hands together. "I don't mean to be a bother. This," he gestures to the room, " … is all very curious to me, and we don't get legions of mages in our small town, after all."

The pale serpent seems to mull this over, tilting his head. He doesn't immediately answer, but his quill begins scratching again, and at length it stops, spidery handwriting ending with a small spat of ink. "Private tutelage from a master mage is a rare and valuable thing, Nightshade. I say this without conceit, that is the way of things." He slides the parchment a short distance down the table, beckoning the Kadie closer. "An inquisitive nature and desire to learn are equally rare and valuable. I've seldom given words as a wage. As recompense for your services, you may consult me as a tutor, but what and when I choose to explain to you is at my discretion, and is not to interfere with my work. Should you find it unsatisfactory, or should I find the arrangement a burden, either of us may terminate this contract at any time, to be renegotiated if desired."

Morgan smiles and nods more, and when Qing finishes, he says, "Splendid. That will work out just fine – for both of us, I hope." He bends over to examine the contract, which tends to reveal he doesn't fill that dress very well, and hmms. "Yes, this is all very acceptable. I'll try to not burden you, and I'm sure you'll understand if I cannot be present due to the needs of the community. The community, of course, must come first."

"That is a reality I will cope with, for the sake of qualified help." Satisfied, the Rokuga melts a bit of wax over the candle flame and lets a fat droplet land at the bottom of the parchment. The quill hand scribes an elaborate-looking sigil next to the droplet, and another presses his signet ring to the wax, leaving an impression. "Make your mark."

"Hmm." Morgan accepts the pen from Qing, then signs his name in a flourishing script that has more than its fair share of loops – one part even resembles a heart. "There we are. When I make a mark, I do like it to have both style and quality."

Qing doesn't comment on the nature of the signature, though a brow ridge does rise slightly. Instead, he sets aside the contract to let the wax cool, and says, "Done and done. Our first task will be to meet with Miss Weaver on Caroban's business. Do you know of her?"

"Weaver? Ah, Olivia Weaver? Yes, I know her." Morgan folds his arms around his white apron, glancing towards the door. "She has her own residence in town. I'll be happy to show you there, as well as act as tour guide along the way, if you like," he offers.

The mage nods, reaching to his chin to make sure the ties to his hat are secure, another arm looping through the strap to a satchel. "We may proceed at once. Perhaps you will tell me more what it is you are curious about as we go, Nightshade. We may see to a morning meal as well. The… rabbits… that you brought were palatable enough a supper."

Morgan nods, bowing slightly. "Very well. We'll head for the tavern, then. The rabbits, yes, they're kept nearby, for other meals that require them." Morgan steps back, then quirks his tail towards the door. "Forgive me for saying so, Mage Qing, but I dare say your orders will be the fastest in the house."

Qing glides to the door, which thins the chemical smell in the air as it lets a draft of fresh air in. "As it should be," he says pouring himself out.

Following along, Morgan closes the door behind himself after Qing has completely exited. The serpentine people, after all, take rather a bit more time to pass through an exit. "While you lock up, let me tell you about the swamp. As you may expect, the swamp is a treasure of herbal supplies, if you know where to look. It's also home to our otter population, for the most part. They are a … colorful … group, as a rule; full of life and mischief." Morgan bows slightly again, and adds, "If you don't mind me saying so, you may be best served by avoiding them, Mage Qing."

Lock he does, and securely at that, first and foremost with a key. Then he sticks a small piece of paper with a number of odd characters on it, one recognizable as the symbol on his mantle, to the door just above the knob and crossing over the jamb, 'sealing' it. "They sound like exactly who I wish to avoid," mutters the snake. "Do your people sell the herbs they collect in town?"

"To an extent," Morgan replies. "Those that are needful for our crafts, but not so common that their users can readily find them. Some of the otters collect herbs, to sell. Others, like myself, find their own supplies." The man gestures to the walkway with a hand, indicating that he will follow the mage, but that he should proceed that way. "Oh, and there's Dr. Pike. She's what you would call a … technologist?" The Kadie raises a brow, looking to the reptile questioningly.

The witchdoctor settles into a rhythmic back and forth sway-slither along the way Morgan indicates, setting a brisk pace. "A technologist. From Chronotopia, perhaps?"

There isn't much activity this early in the morning. Ducky will have already collected the night soil to bring to the tannery, while Parsley and her squad of milkmaids are still making their morning deliveries. Parsley herself is placing a bottle of fresh milk outside the door to the largest of the rental cabins.

Morgan purses his lips, then shakes his head. "Rephidim, I believe." A brief pause, and Morgan nods to himself, continuing. "Yes, you may wish to meet Dr. Pike, if you're going to be staying a while. She has access to the kinds of chemicals you may find useful. In fact, she may be the only one in town who can supply you. She's an educated woman, as well, one of the highest in the village, with a fine library – or so I've heard." The trek through the swampy backlot can be described in two words: gloomy and wet. The deck squishes slightly under the weight of the two, and the croaking, hissing, and clicking of all manner of wildlife whisper like phantoms from the faint mists.

Strangely, or perhaps not so strangely, the murk and damp seem to suit Qing. At least he seems more or less comfortable, enough to take in his surroundings with as thoughtful an expression as his normally inscrutable face will hold. His scutes drag over the soaked deck, a soft, regular 'rustle' of scales. "Quite possibly exactly who I should see. I must admit, I find it queer to come to a place such as this to ply a trade in machines, but then I suppose Chronotopia is not so very far away."

"I think Dr. Pike appreciates the privacy and quiet a small town can offer. Rephidim is a busy city, or so I've been lead to believe," the Kadie offers. As they walk, Morgan glances into the mists casually, always keeping an eye out even as he talks. "Dr. Pike lives in Dontgointhe Castle. Quirky name, I know – the prior owner was quite mad. Quite mad, indeed."

Qing follows Morgan's gaze. "Does she still see visitors?"

Morgan nods slowly. "Yes, although she may be deep in her experiments. It may be best to arrange for an appointment, so you don't call upon her at a bad time," he answers.

The pallid serpent returns Morgan's nod. "If she is willing to share her library for whatever cost, perhaps we will both have an opportunity for some research."

"Oh? I've never had a chance to peruse Dr. Pike's library … " Morgan's tail twitches in anticipation. "But, let's not get ahead of ourselves." His tail continues to twitch, despite his insistence. "Now, we have a number of suppliers, crafters, and more specialized folk, should you need that. You may be interested to know that Olivia Weaver is, in fact, a Weaver. Her wares are quite fine – much better than these clothes I fashioned for myself. She may be suitable to repair the minor rips and tears of living life."

Qing does that curious multi-layered shrug of his. "I'm not sure that I will need much else. I do my own suturing, when the need arises. I will, however, keep that in mind. For now, my primary interest in her is her report. I did learn some things about this Valicross from Madame Natasha. Were you in town during the incident?"

Morgan eyes Qing for a moment after he shrugs, finding the movement as curious as it is unusual. "I was," the Kadie answers. "He was a wicked man. Our own Amelia Blacktail dispatched him, herself. Amelia is in charge of some of our town defenses, and she's very dear to me."

"Did you witness the battle, or see Valicross yourself?" asks the mage.

"I saw his remains." Morgan frowns, ears flicking as the memory clearly drags his mood down. "He sought what so many men like him seem to want: our subservience, our corpses, Amelia as a slave. He carried a staff of skulls and bone, and he was an elderly Skreek man of unsurprisingly unpleasant manner – or so I learned." Morgan claps his hands together, rubbing them back and forth as if to dust away the unpleasant memory. "I sealed him in the ancient coffin, that he might not rise up to revenge himself upon us."

The mage glances over at his assistant, a ruby eye appraising the Kadie again, as often seems Qing's wont. "It is your duty to attend to such things? Perhaps we are more alike than I first surmised."

"So it would seem," Morgan agrees, distractedly. For a moment, the Kadie's expression changes as he stares off into the mists. His expression hardens, his eyes narrow, and he looks altogether stronger than his feminine actions suggest. The expression fades quickly once he seems to realize he's being watched, and he turns to give Qing a delicate smile. "Unpleasant memories," the Kadie explains. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to lose myself. Please excuse me, Mage Qing."

Qing lifts a hand dismissively as his answer. "I am certain I will be getting more reports in due time." His gaze lingers a few moments, then turns to the path ahead again. He opens his mouth once or twice, looking as though he's about to ask another question, but stops himself each time, simply contenting himself to continue slithering along.

The silence persists for several minutes, the Kadie simply walking along with a slightly frown on his face. Then, suddenly, "We'll be back in town, too. Please forgive any … less than cordial greetings or responses. You may well be the first of your kind to visit this town in a generation – or more. We are naturally suspicious of oddities, if you can forgive me for saying so. Sylvania does like to produce its fair share of oddities." He shakes his head. "Sadly, many are quite dangerous. Suspicion is a survival trait."

"I have grown accustomed to such reactions," hisses the mage, with an indifferent flick of his tongue. "So long as there is no risk of assault on my person or disruption of my work, I am content to more or less ignore the inconsequential paranoia of peasants."

"About interruptions: some of our younger members have rather active imaginations. You're new to them, so you may attract their attention. If they bother you, speak to me or any adult in town, and we'll see that they don't bother you further. And, please forgive them. Their hearts are usually in the right place, if not their brains," Morgan warns. Up ahead, the town seems to materialize out of the mist. The rear of the tavern is closest, and Morgan heads that way. "Oh, and there are sites of interest within hiking distance of this town. Several are ruins – including the local stone barrow the town is named after – and I've heard tale tell hat they are remnants of the Necromancer Wars. I'm not sure I believe it, but there you are."

Qing drops his gaze down to the planks of the deck, his eyes becoming distant, his body weaving around weeds poking through the cracks. "Have no fear of that, Nightshade. Few children want to have anything to do with me, perhaps as it should be. My rebukes are not for them. Once, I was… I… " He trails off, then shakes his head. "Remnants of necromantic conflict, you say? I will most certainly visit these ruins, when time permits."

Morgan's gaze slides until he's looking right at the mage. Frowning, the Kadie asks in a low, kind voice, "You were once … ? Is, something amiss, Mage Qing?" Perhaps feeling need for an explanation for butting in, Morgan adds, "I often speak to the townsfolk about their problems."

"It isss nothing," Qing whispers, his hiss quiet but firm, a hint of his Imperial accent creeping into the words. There is a pause. "You have many duties, Nightshade. How is your town governed?"

Morgan frowns at Qing a while longer, then turns his attention to the town as if it were suddenly interesting. A brief, amused, chuckle escapes him at the mage's inquiry. "I suppose that would depend on who you asked," he answers. "Let me clarify: we have a mayor, and he is ostensibly our governor. We also have a town council, composed of various influential members. Lastly, we have a 'lord'." The Kadie infuses the word lord with such sarcasm that it ought to fall from his mouth and sink in to the mud, and he rolls his eyes to boot. "A Gallisian, and his family. Thankfully, they are more tolerable than the armies to the south, but they still pretend at a station they do not deserve. We humor them, for at least the young lord has some positive ideas." The Kadie wrinkles his muzzle and advises, "Oh yes: avoid the family, unless you enjoy seeing how far beneath their nose they can try and place you."

Qing flicks his tongue, the bridge of his nose creasing just slightly. "Peh. I have had much experience with the fat-backed nobles of Rephidim. I shall have as little as possible to do with nobles here." His face smooths again. "You said earlier you are being groomed as a leader. You are to eventually hold a position on the council?"

"Yes, we are valued among the people of this town for our healing ability, wisdom, and other services. My mother is on the town council, and I will replace her when I am ready. We Nightshades have always had a council position – just as the Chalks and Blacktails do," the Kadie explains. After a brief pause, Morgan inquires, "It sounds as if you have traveled a great deal, Mage Qing? I've never actually been very far from this town – certainly not beyond Sylvania. And, oh," Morgan stops, gesturing to one of the back doors of the tavern. "Here we are."

The Rokuga lifts a hand to the door latch. "I have been a great many places in my studies and assignments," agrees Qing. "Usually on business, but sometimes for my own purposes. Experiencing many things is a vital part of learning, young Nightshade. To never move is to become stagnant. But for now, we break fast."

Morgan smiles at that. "You are a wise man, Mage Qing. I fear I've cheated you in our bargain." The Kadie doesn't move to open the door – perhaps he's used to others opening it for him.

Qing simply nods, whether in agreement or simply acknowledging his assistant's words. With that, he swings the door open and lets himself in, standing in the doorway for a few moments to get his bearings and scan the tavern for a likely table.


GMed by Brenna

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