It's a day after the journey into the Necromancer's lair. After that nightmare, getting home and falling into her bed was like paradise. But as with all things, paradise had to end. Olivia had to get up early and spend the morning shift at the Weaver's shop. But, that's done now too and she's heading over to check on the nefarious rat, otherwise known as her boyfriend Djivan. It's a quiet walk through the woods, but Olivia can't help and feel some air of doom hanging over her for some reason. Of course, whenever she looks around she sure can't find any source of doom.
"I think all of that work in Valicross' hideout has made me jumpy," the Skeek mutters to herself as she walks. However, she does keep scanning the treetops and any nearby bushes for signs of trouble. Just in case.
Olivia walks along for a few more minutes. That feeling keeps following her and yet she still hasn't seen the source. Well, until the light shifts and she can see a shadow slide over the top of her, then slowly spread out wide. Shadowy arms stretch out as whatever it is … is right behind the Skeek and just about to pounce!
Olivia grabs a stick off the ground and whirls around to face her stalker, ready to poke the intruder's eye out if she has to! "Who's there and why are you following me?" she growls.
And Olivia comes face to face with … a wickedly grinning Eee, complete with her haunting red eyes and heavily died body. She stops in mid-stalk, arms raised. "Awww, figures de clouds voul' move an give me away!" Liliana complains as her wings fold down and her arms draw back to her sides. "I vas dis close t' getting ya, too."
Olivia drops her stick back on the ground and crosses her arms, pretending to act extremely put out by being nearly tackled by an Eee. "C'mon Lili, what have I said about trying to sneak-attack-snog me?" she sniffs, giving her best approximation of Natasha's Evil Eye routine.
Liliana pffts and waves her hands dismissively. "Vou're jus' playin' hard t' get," she insists. "I know vou don' really mean it vhen you keep tellin' me no!"
Olivia throws her own hands up in the air and goes back to her walking, hoping that Liliana will fall into step beside her. "How many times do I have to tell you that I don't go in for that sort of thing?" she says, exasperated. "Dye the fur on my arms, fine. Try to teach me to dance, also fine. But NO snogging!"
Liliana falls into steep with the Skeek. "An I keep telling ya vou missin' out. I lots of fun!" the Eeee insists, "Even ze Buffy t'ink so." Her tone suggests she's probably teasing more than anything. "An I lots better snogger dan Djivan. I shoul' know, I used t' snog him, vou know!"
Olivia glances at the Eee in amusement as she walks. "So you keep telling me," she says. "Thanks for teaching him, by the way. It sure makes things a lot more fun for me!" Then she changes the subject and asks, "Any particular reason you decided to scare the living daylights out of me today?"
"Because it be de National Scare-a-Skeek Day, didn't vou know?" Liliana quips, grinning. "Vhy, I migh' lose my Eeee license iffin I don' scare at least one Skeek today. An wit'out me license, I just be a rat wit' wings!"
Olivia knows that the bat is teasing her, but she decides to act as if she were somewhat serious. Pretending to think on this for a minute, she says, "Then you should go over to the Weavers' and scare my aunt a few good times. Of course, you might lose your hearing for a couple of hours after she yells at you… "
"Nah, vour aunt dun have as nice a butt t' look at," Liliana retorts with a grin. The Eee reaches over and pulls the Skeek into a quick hug, then resumes walking. "So, vere vou goin' today?"
Olivia readjusts her flowered hat that the Eee knocked askew with her sudden hug, but smiles up at her friend. "I was just going into camp to see Djivan. We haven't had a chance to really spend any time together since Master Qing arrived in town to follow up on our report about the necromancer."
"Ahh. Ves, it be a bit hectic since dat t'ing arrived," Liliana says with a nod. "Lotsa weirdos been arriving lately, seems like. Even Djivan has got some visitors in de past few days. Dunno what about, though. Can't spy, he knows me tricks on doin' dat and throws fish at me. He no fun."
Olivia grins at the sudden mental image of Djivan pelting the Eee with fish, then tries to cover her smile with one hand. "I see," she says, trying hard not to laugh. "Are you sure he's not just having some friends over to gamble? I know he likes to invite some of the Oggtons in from time to time to lose some of his money to."
"Nope! No otters. More Skreeks. No sure who dey are. Mebbe he tell vou. He von' tell me," Liliana says with a shrug as the campsite comes into view. It's fairly quiet with just a few gypsies wandering about and tending to mundane things like laundry.
Olivia mulls this information over. "Other Skreeks, huh? That does sound interesting. Well, all I can do is try!" she says, heading into the gypsy's camp and starting for Djivan's wagon.
"Vell, I be seein' ya later!" Liliana says as Olivia heads off for Djivan's wagon. It doesn't stop her from getting a good swat in on Olivia's backside, though! The Eee then darts off in the opposite direction, giggling.
Olivia heys! and glares at her friend for a moment before striding up to the door of the Skreek's wagon and rapping loudly. "Hello, anyone at home?" she calls out.
"I already said 'no'!" comes a shout from Djivan from the inside. Then there's this pause, followed by the comment, "Vait. Now, unless dere vas a horrible acciden', dat no be a guy talkin… " The door opens a crack and Djivan's eye appears briefly. "Oh! It be vou!" he says and swings the door open. "Sorry 'bout dat."
"That's all right!" Olivia says, coming forward to give the Skreek a hug. Then she pulls back from him and asks, "So… who's been bugging you to do something that you don't want to do?"
Djivan hugs the Skeek in return. "Oh, uh, heh," he says, looking decidedly uncomfortable suddenly. "Jus' some obnoxious visitors. Not'ing fer vou to vorry about!"
Olivia takes a moment to walk inside the wagon and shut the door before speaking again. "Are you sure?" she asks with some concern. "Liliana told me that some 'weirdos' have been visiting you lately… and that you've been throwing fish at her."
"An who says Liliana ins' a veirdo herself?" Djivan remarks as he peers out one of the windows, then pulls the curtains over them. "She shouldn' spy!"
Olivia watches this unusual display of paranoia from the Skreek and quirks an eyebrow at him. "Why don't you just tell me what's going on? Obviously something has got you all riled up."
"It be nothin'. Not vour problem, anyvay," Djivan insists. He walks over to his bed and sits down heavily, grumbling, "Family stuff."
Now this information comes as a surprise to the Skeek. Slowly, she walks over and sits down beside Djivan on his bed. "Um, I'm kinda embarrassed to admit this, but I didn't think that any of your real family were still around," she says, the insides of her ears turning pinker than usual.
"Oh, dey aren't. No around de gypsy tribe, anyway. Jus' me an my mom vere part of de gypsy tribe an she died a vhile ago," Djivan comments, then shrugs. "And de others kin go righ' back from vhere dey come from, too. Pfeh. Like I will do any favors for dem!"
"So what do they want you to do?" Olivia asks, wondering if Djivan will actually break down and tell her.
"Eh, it no important, don' vorry about it," Djivan says and waves his hand dismissively. The Skreek turns to Olivia and grins, saying, "So, I vas beginning t' vonder if vou vere going to ever come by again."
Olivia sighs inwardly. Well, so much for that. I might be able to find out by other means, however… Then she leans her head on the Skreek's shoulder and says, "Sorry that I haven't been around much lately. Since I'm the 'town representative' when it comes to dealing with all of Valicross' loose ends, I've been on all this official business. It seems to be almost over, though!"
"I forgive vou … dis time!" Djivan declares ruffles up the back of Olivia's head. "It gave me time t'plan out just vhat t' do with vou. Heh heh. Up for a leetle adventure?"
Olivia hmms. "As long as this adventure of yours has nothing to do with vats of chemicals that could combine and explode all over the place, sure! What did you have in mind?"
Djivan grins widely. "Vell! Vou haf to find out jus' vhere our next date vill be. Vou see, I left some clues all over that lead to it," he explains. "Dere only be exploding chemicals iffin vou expect me to cook."
Olivia laughs and raises her hands in a pleading sort of way. "Oh no, there's no way I'm asking you to cook again! I still remember the time you tried to make tea… and it came out as soup." Then she gives the Skreek a considering look. "So this will be sort of like a scavenger hunt?"
"De soup didn' taste so good, but it really cleaned de gunk out from between me toes," Djivan retorts with a grin. "And ves, vou coul' t'ink of it dat vay. I be seeing how vou seem t' like t' figure stuff out."
Olivia grimaces. "Okay, I really did NOT need to know about your toes… But the 'hunt-the-date' part sounds like fun! Where do I start?"
Djivan reaches over to one of the socks stuck to the wall and pulls out a slip of paper. He offers it to Olivia. "Y'start by getting socked, hehehehe. G'wan, read it."
Olivia grooooans and takes the paper gingerly between two fingers. Then she opens it and reads the contents.
The note reads: Ze first clue is hidden in a fallen tree near de place vour town is named after.
Olivia looks back up at Djivan. "So what will you be doing while I track down all the clues? Following me around and making silly comments?"
"Nope! Dealin' wit some stuff here. Vou be on vour own on dis," Djivan says with a grin. "An since vhen do I make silly comments?"
Olivia puts the note into a pocket and pulls the Skreek into a quick kiss. "Since the entire time I've known you, my dear," she says with a smile of her own.
Djivan sticks out his tongue. "Next vou be sayin' dat crazy Kadie, Gunther, is in love wit vou!" he retorts. It's right about then there's someone pounding on his door. "We know you're in there!" comes a loud voice.
Olivia turns and looks at the door, then turns back to stare at Djivan. "You were saying something about Gunther?" she asks archly. Then she yells at the door, "Go away, already! The gypsies are not a horde, haven't you learned that by now?!"
"Who said they were a horde?" comes the reply. Whomever that is, it doesn't seem to be Gunther. At least not after that comment. Djivan sighs and rubs his nose. "Go out de back," he tells the Skeek. "Looks like I gots to tell dem no again. Bloody irritants dey are."
Olivia gets up from the bed but looks at the Skreek with concern. "Are you sure I can't help you with this?" she asks, edging towards the back door of the wagon.
"Nah, I kin deal wit dese twits. Don' vorry about it!" Djivan says with a grin. He then turns and marches towards his front door. "I Already tol' you," he yells loudly, "No! Y'kin tell me worthless father t' go eat his tail, too! I kin believe he has de guts to even t'ink of asking me dat!"
Olivia nods and slips out the back, closing the door behind her. Before she sneaks off, however, she looks carefully around the edge of the wagon to see if she can at least catch a glimpse of the other Skreeks who are bothering Djivan.
Unpleasant and rather, er, ratty, looking brutes in tattered leather armor are in front of Djivan's wagon. The one in front grunts, "It is your duty!" From inside, Olivia can hear Djivan yell, "Duty m'butt! I owe nothin' t' that jerk! He's de one who threw us out, thank you! S' go stick yer noses up de butt of some Rughrat an leave me alone!"
While the armored toughs are busy shouting through the door at Djivan, Olivia slips away, first darting behind one wagon, then another and another, until she is clear of the camp and back on the road towards town. She shakes her head as she now starts towards the Stone Barrow, thinking, All right, at least I know more about this situation than I did before. Who must his father be to hire thugs in armor to do his dirty work, anyway?
Olivia gathers her wits together long enough to realize that she will need a boat to get over to the Barrow, and the only people who rent boats to the explorers that come into town are the Oggtons. So she retraces her steps and heads over to their boat-rental stall.
Just across the bridge from the gypsy camp is a small pier stretching out into the swamp. A dilapidated shack anchors it on the shore, and a few flat-bottomed swamp boats are moored there as well. A sign above the loose door of the shack reads 'Oggton Bote Rentils'. A lone figure is sitting at the end of the pier, apparently whittling a piece of wood with a stone knife.
Olivia steps onto the pier and looks over at the otter who is sitting there, trying to see if she knows who it is. "Hello!" she calls out cheerfully. "I'd like to rent a boat from you today for a quick trip out to the Barrow. Or perhaps just near it, we'll see!"
The whittling otter bends over backwards to look at Olivia upside-down. "Well hellooooo, Olivia," Emmett Oggton croons. "Now why would the richest girl in town need to go see the Barrow?"
Olivia grins and bends her own head sideways to wave at Emmett. "Hiya, Emmett. I need to get near the Barrow to fulfill part of a quest!"
The rest of the otter's body twists around until he's facing the Skeek properly. "Well now, a quest! But gettin' to the Barrow means you need Silas to take you, on account… on account of him being Silas. I guess I could go fetch him for you… if you want to make me an offer for the service?" His whiskers twitch in amusement as he says the last part.
Olivia puts her hands on her hips and says pertly, "Well now, that depends on what you want, doesn't it? I'd just advise you to not make any requests that I can't or won't grant you. So be careful!"
Emmett taps the end of his knife against his cheek and makes a show of thinking really hard. "Let's see," he muses. "How about you let me borrow your fancy land-boat for a night?"
Olivia nods. "I think that sounds fair… just as long as you clean up any messes you make in there and replace anything you break. Do we have a deal?"
Emmett spits onto his paw and holds it out to Olivia, saying, "Deal!"
Olivia winces just a little but eventually she spits into her own hand and clasps Emmett's. "Good!"
"Wait right here," the Akwavi says, then strides the dozen or so feet to the shack and bangs on the door. "Silas! Wake up, you've got a fare!" He then ducks around to the other side of the shack to avoid being hit by anything Silas might try throwing at him.
There's no answer for a moment… but one of the boats that appeared to be randomly drifting off angles back toward the dock. It looks empty. No, wait… there's a few fish wiggling in it, and a crawdad trying to climb the side. The thing being thrown (in this case a bass deemed too small to keep just yet) arcs out of the water at Emmett, trailing droplets, and a sleek black head breaks the surface. "I been awake, dangit! An' I do more work drunk than you do sober! Why, I… " The Akwavi pauses, and lifts himself out of the water a bit by holding onto the side of his boat. "Oh, well hey there, 'Livia!"
"Oh, I didn't hear you get up," Emmett says, holding on to the wriggling fish that hit him on the head. "And thanks for lunch!"
Olivia waves to the second otter and calls, "Hello, Silas! I'm your fare. I need to go out near the Barrow I'm on something of a quest, given to me by that Skreek you and your cousins keep winning things from at card games."
Silas hauls himself into the boat, shiny pelt shedding water, and begins poling it toward the dock. "You don't say! Well, sounds mighty important. Y'came to the right place, I wouldn't trust Emmett with that further'n I could throw 'im." He makes room in the craft by kicking the flopping fish to the stern, and ignores the crawdad when it pinches his foot and clings on. "The Barrow, was it?"
Olivia nods as she approaches the place where the boat will touch the dock. "I have to find the right fallen tree near the Barrow that's where my next clue is hidden." With that, she takes out the slip of paper Djivan had given her and holds it up. "It'll probably be on another piece of paper like this one."
Silas leans forward, beady eyes squinting and long whiskers prickling forward curiously. "Huh. Well, ain't noplace in the swamp the Catfish can't go." The boat glides up to the dock, and the otter plants his foot on the platform to hold the craft steady. The crawdad clinging to his toe lets go and drops into the water, scooting away, but Silas doesn't seem to notice. "Step aboard, an' we'll find yer doodad, lickety-split. Emmett, here's the keepers, pick 'em up an' choose one y'like to fry up for us."
Emmett actually fetches a woven basket and starts piling the fish into it without complaint. "I'll cook up the big one you hit me with," he tells Silas.
Once all of the fish are safely out of the boat, Olivia climbs aboard carefully and settles herself on one of the cleaner plank seats. "Thanks, Silas. If you spot a likely tree before I do, just let me know!"
"Well, there's plenny a trees, 'Liv," says Silas. He pushes off from the dock with his foot, and gives the other Oggton a wave before poling the little boat into deeper water. "D'ja have any more t'that clue, there?"
Olivia shakes her head and opens the paper so she can read the clue to Silas. "All it says is, 'The first clue is hidden in a fallen tree near the place your town is named after.' I don't know if that helps you at all, but there it is."
The need for an experienced guide becomes apparent on the journey to the Barrow, as odd yet powerful currents need to avoided (and the wrecked boats caught against trees and roots show why). But eventually the structure becomes visible: a giant, dome-shaped island. The sides are clearly too steep to be natural, although some of the more tenacious swamp flora has managed to overgrow most of it. There is a small wooden dock at what is believed to be the entrance, and lots of debris from excavation attempts forms a narrow shore around half of the island.
There's certainly no shortage of fallen trees near the barrow. In fact, many trees have been felled to make makeshift 'islands' near the edges of the barrow where the failed entry attempts have been made. It could quite possibly take a long time to find any sort of clue in this mess!
Olivia runs an eye over all of the trees in the area and sighs. "I see Djivan didn't make this easy for me," she says wryly. Then she starts looking more closely at the trees to see if there is any indication that one of them has been tampered with in the very recent past.
The tangle of debris and old, rotting wood has made the boat pole useless some time ago, and when Silas isn't using an oar to paddle along, he's focused on poking the little craft's way around logjams and roots with the butt of his harpoon. "No, ma'am, I reckon he din'."
Unfortunately the large coating of swamp muck on most of the wood make it near impossible to tell if anything has been tampered with in a long time. The only thing that does come to mind is that Djivan would have had to hidden it at least in a place he could easily get to, afterall.
Silas takes the boat in a slow circle around the Barrow, rising his head a bit to watch for a likely landing point. It's not easy for him to think in those terms, since he tends to just slip around in the water, but search he does.
To Silas' trained (and currently sober) eye, there is a small location on the banks of the dome where the muck seems to have been pushed a bit recently; the sheen is just slightly off. Nearby are the remains of several trees; all bent and broken. Possibly good hiding places.
The otter's normally smooth forehead furrows up as he hunts around, and he directs the boat toward the spot it looks like he might be able to 'beach' the boat. "Reckon this's as good a place as any, 'Liv. You sure your boy is hidin' a clue an' not a needle out in this haystack?"
Olivia, happy that one of them has found a likely place out here in this tangle of trees, turns and grins at the Akwavi. "If it is something like that then I'm going to needle him for the rest of his life about it!"
Once the boat has landed, Olivia spots something familiar. One of Djivan's socks. It's been 'nailed' to one of the broken trees. It's probably better to not look to closely at what it was nailed with, though. Sticking out of the top is another scrap of paper.
Olivia turns to Silas and says, "You'd better let me get this. I think it's a good idea to have as few people touching Djivan's socks as possible!" Then she edges over to the trunk of the tree and puts a foot out of the boat, testing its stability.
It's stable enough; it's only a bit squishy. In short order Olivia is in possession of the note. The poor sock, however, is left abandoned. For the best, really. It smells worse than the swamp and that's saying something.
Back in the boat, Olivia unfolds this new slip of paper and reads the clue that is written on it out loud to Silas, just in case he's interested.
No stranger to fishy smells, Silas keeps a respectful distance. Once his fare is aboard again, he pushes off and sets the boat drifting once more, but doesn't paddle just yet, hunkering forward to listen curiously.
"An' apprpriate place for de next clue coul' haf been de loom … but quite frankly I no dat brave! So, vou vill find de next clue at de site of de epic battle with de zombies, vere I was felled by de mighty brainpan of doom," Olivia reads aloud. Yes, he does write exactly how he speaks. Why? Who knows? It's Djivan.
Listening to Djivan's accent come from Olivia's voice makes the Akwavi snicker a little. Still, he listens carefully, though he doesn't seem to quite know what to make of the clue. "Must've been something I missed while I was out fishin'."
Olivia laughs after she reads the clue, then tucks that paper away in her pocket with the first one. "Well, now I have to go traipsing through the woods again. The place where we fought off those zombies in on the way to my parents' house. They appeared when that necromancer invaded Stonebarrow," she explains to the otter.
"There she is!" comes a shout from a ways off in the swamp. Paddling furiously toward them on an old log is … none other than the two thugs Olivia saw earlier at Djivan's wagon! "You sure?" the one in the back asks. "Yes! How can you mistake that hat? Now paddle! We need to get her so we can blackmail him into complying! You two … stay right there or, or, else!"
Olivia hangs over the edge of the boat in the direction of the two Skreeks, her eyes wide. "Curse it! It's these two idiots again… " Then she swings around to Silas and says, "Well, you told me there's nowhere in the swamp the Catfish can't go so howzabout we get the hell out of here?"
Silas frowns, and digs his boat pole into the bank to shove off, giving the boat some momentum. "Sho' nuff, 'Liv," he says… then offers her the pole! "Other rule is, ain't nothin' floats in my swamp without my say-so!" With that, the otter's sleek black form oozes over the rail. Through the ripples on the water, a black torpedo can be seen heading toward the floating log.