The Frog and Peach Tavern
Taking up the lower floor of the inn, this tavern represents the main gathering place for the community. While the ceiling is high enough to accommodate taller folk, just about everything else in the tavern section of the Frog and Peach is scaled to the comfort of those of shorter stature. The sole exceptions are two tables against the back wall, one long and one short, which are standard sized. The stairs to the upper level are behind the wall, opening out next to the bar counter that separates the tavern from the kitchen.
The Rokuga streaming across the tavern doesn't even look at the coins he rattles across the bar, nor does he wait for a 'good day' from Apella. He straightens his hat with thumb and forefinger, and pushes his way out the tavern door, and though it might not seem in Qing's nature to slam it, it might simply be because he's still passing through it by the time it's out of arm's reach. He simply leaves it for his assistant to close.
And close the door Morgan does, giving Apella a sheepish wave before he steps outside. Once out, Morgan offers, "Olivia's home isn't far from here, if you still wish to meet her, Mage Qing."
"Good morning, Morgan!" Parsley Chalk says, carrying her basket of empty milk bottles to be refilled. "Where's your hat? And who is your… friend?"
Outside, Qing takes a breath, his face hard but at least calm, if icy. "That's what I'm here for. If we… " The mage stops short as Parsley approaches, and he simply goes quiet.
Morgan's tail suddenly twitches when Parsley catches him off guard with her greeting. He clears his throat, looking down to arrange his skirts, answering, "I left my hat at home." Looking up at the Lapi the Kadie adds in a louder voice, "This is Mage Qing, of Caroban. He is here to inspect the necromancer's remains."
"So, he's not part of a horde, then?" comes an inquiry from atop the tavern's roof. Peering over the edge is a young Kadie around twelve years old.
"Oh, is this part of that bounty thing I heard mentioned?" the Lapi maid asks, whiskers twitching. She smiles and gives a little bow to Qing. "And… do you drink milk, Mage Qin… uh oh," she says, as she hears that voice…
At the introduction, the mage nods, if not exactly politely then at least acknowledging the Chalk. "Yes, it is. And I do not."
"Yes, he- … " Morgan's tail twitches again, and he looks up towards the source of the voice. "Ah, that would be Gunther Kettenrad. I believe I mentioned him previously, Mage Qing." Morgan glances at the Jingai, brow raised slightly. "One of the more 'active' children?"
"Oh, well… please-just-ask-for-me-if-you-need-anything," Parsley quickly rattles off, then hikes up her skirt and vacates the area in a direction away from Gunther.
"There has been a distinct lack of hordes lately," Gunther notes from the rooftop. "They've got to be hiding somewhere around here. You sure he's not part of a horde?"
Qing glances over his shoulder at the voice. "Oh?" He swivels in place, his coils gathering under him in a spiral that supports his weight. "No, Gunther, I am not. I am part of a guild."
"What kind of a guild?" the Kadie asks and eyes the snake warily.
"He is, at that. An important and powerful guild, and he is here on official business," Morgan explains. "A mages' guild."
The serpent dips his head toward the older Kadie. "It is as he says. I am of Caroban, and the Nagai Empire."
"Going to turn him into a frog, then, Morgan?" Gunther asks.
Qing raises an eyeridge. "That does seem to be a popular notion… "
"Don't be silly, Gunther," Morgan replies in a put upon voice, sighing afterwards.
The Kadie suddenly looks aghast. "Caroban, ack! He's as bad as that necromancer that attacked! No way am I letting him zap me. The necromancer zapped me, but he just caught me by surprise. Not this time!" he says quickly and suddenly disappears on the rooftop.
The Rokuga turns his head to follow the Kadie until he disappears, surprised at the youngster's speed. He pauses a moment or two, not quite sure what to make of this, and asides to Morgan, "… Your people are fleet of foot."
Morgan watches Gunther escape with a strained expression, shaking his head slightly. "Well, then." The young man rubs the bridge of his nose. "I hope he doesn't decide to cause trouble. Gunther can get some bizarre ideas, and his territorial instinct is strong. He is also quite fast, undoubtedly because he needs to flee constantly."
"Mm. Is it true what he said? Did Valicross attack him?" The mage gives the rooftop another look, then drops his gaze level again, slithering along again.
"I think so, although with Gunther you can never quite tell. Valicross may very well have tripped over him," answers the Kadie. He glances around, as if looking for more townsfolk to ward off, and then begins walking. "Most likely yes. He doesn't often lie; he's merely active of imagination."
Qing rubs his chin with a knuckle. "He seems to have a reputation. What sorts of things has he gotten into?"
"You might be better served by asking what he has not been in to." Pausing, Morgan gestures the mage to follow. "Olivia's residence is this way. You may wish to hurry I'm worried he's off planning something. He's one of the Kettenrads, you see. I'd hate for him to level one of his devices against you."
"She's not at home, you know," comes Gunther's voice from somewhere on the rooftop, He's not visible, though. "She left early in the morning."
The town is starting to wake up. The bakery is usually the first to open shop, and the smells of fresh baking have already managed to infiltrate the morning swamp fog. Other shops are starting to open up, and sound of hammers begins to echo from the Cartwright's buildings.
Qing follows along, but tilts his head slightly to glance questioningly at the Kadie as he does so. He looks about to speak when he hears that voice again, and stops, lifting his head up. After a second or two pause, he hisses, "… I'm not here to hurt anyone, Gunther. I'm here to investigate the remains of the necromancer that attacked your town of Stonebarrow. Whatever he may have said, he was not of our order."
"Well, there you have it," Morgan says as he glances off towards the roofs. In a lower voice, Morgan explains to Qing, "As I said, Gunther is high of imagination. And, regrettably, low of common sense. He's an excellent scout for his age, though, and he may well be right about Olivia." In his regular speaking voice, the older Kadie asks, "If she isn't home, is there anything else you'd like to see to in the mean time?"
"He never claimed to be of any order that I remember," comes the reply. "What I do remember is how it felt when he tried to suck out my soul or something. Olivia was there that time. The other time you were there, Morgan. Don't you remember his animated corpse decoy and that necklace he wore? The necklace that blew me across the room when I touched it? I'd rather not have a repeat of either feeling."
Qing's head turns this way and that, unable to pinpoint where the sound is coming from. "You shan't from me, Gunther. Caroban exists to prevent the misuse of magic. We hunt those like Valicross. Your town did a great service in defeating him."
"And what will you do, Gunther? Do you think I'd let him harm you? Do you intent to harass every mage that comes to town? You do realize we summoned him," Morgan calls out. He gives Qing an apologetic look, frowning. "I'm sorry about this. I regret that is was likely inevitable, as I said earlier."
Gunther's head peaks over the peak of a rooftop just down from the one he was previously on. "Well, he could have you under some sort of brain mushing spell," the Kadie points out to Morgan. "Like how you get when Liliana is around you… "
"And aside from those little blobs floating around his head, did he offer any sort of proof about who he is?" comes another familiar voice from behind Morgan that of Amelia Blacktail. "I guess I was right to follow Gunther… "
Qing looks up, but doesn't move much otherwise. "It's something I am accustomed to, Nightshade." He lets his gaze down again to turn and appraise the new person approaching. "And you are?"
"Liliana's charms aren't magical in the literal sense, Gunther," insists the older Kadie with a bit of laughter in his voice. Turning, Morgan frowns at Amelia in a 'don't encourage him' sort of way. "You, too? He does have a Guild ring, and I've seen his supplies. Plus, I've seen his magic, and I'm with him."
"That Madame Natasha has magic, and she's not from a guild," Gunther points out from the rooftop. "So, that doesn't prove anything."
"Lance-Corporal Amelia Blacktail, Stonebarrow Militia," the female Kadie replies. She isn't in any sort of uniform, but the big iron-bladed halberd she carries doesn't look like standard tree-farmer issue. "Oh, he's got a ring, and does magic? I bet he's mentioned Olivia too. Never mind that the necromancer knew her, and could have minions about trying to revive him or something… "
"Few people carry engraved, jeweled, rings of gold. Kalila acknowledged him as a Guild mage. He knows of Olivia's request for Guild presence … " Morgan glances between the two other Stonebarrow residents, then simply shrugs. "Very well. Mage Qing, would you humor these two by proving your identity? Also," Morgan looks between the two again, "Gunther, Amelia, prove your identities as well."
"Already have. You identified me and you're this town's representative," Gunther points out. "Unless you're now saying you're not really Morgan Nightshade… "
"Isn't she? You may be surprised, young man." The mage simply folds all but two of his hands behind his back and looks appraisingly at this new Kadie. "Witchdoctor Zhu Ye Qing, Imperial Mortician and senior instructor of spirit, Caroban." He lifts his remaining hand up, removing his guild ring to proffer it to Amelia. "As I understand you are equivalent of the local constabulary, I will tolerate your inquiries and present my travel papers and Imperial credentials at your request."
"Thank you," Amelia says, relaxing a bit. "And can you tell me the nature of those things floating with you?"
"They are spells I prepared this morning. Their energies are stored for use when needed." murmurs the witchdoctor. "One a guardian spirit, the other is a spell to restrain spirit entities."
"So, my word counts, does it? And I am the town's representative? Then, my opinion on Mage Qing's identity ought to count, I should think." Morgan turns to the mage and nods to him. "I'm sorry; this town has been in the height of suspicion since the attack, and we've had several other issues as well to content with. We're on edge. Offering this proof will go a ways to help them relax around you."
Amelia frowns as the spells are identified. "Morgan, do you have anything to counter those spells if you need to?" she asks, looking into Morgan's eyes. It's something of a trick question would a witch ever admit to not being prepared to deal with something?
"I suppose I could punch him in the gut," Morgan replies, expression neutral.
"It counts when identifying people you've known all their lives," Gunther points out; now on another rooftop. "People you just meet can be suspect." With Amelia around, it appears Gunther is feeling at least a bit braver. A few bounds, and the Kadie makes his way down to the street below. "And he's not the only attack we had recently. Aren't you forgetting Miranda?"
Qing shakes his head slightly. "As I said, we are not unaccustomed to this. I have worked with the Rephidim Temple extensively, their layers of bureaucracy are many and extensive."
"We needn't burden Mage Qing with the town's problems," Morgan insists, looking between Amelia and Gunther. "He is an important man, and quite expensive to hire, I'd imagine."
"That was before this… man? … arrived," Amy tells Gunther.
The mage sets his head back slightly, taking in this new information. "There was another incident?"
"Anyway, that's been taken care of, Gunther," Amy notes to the younger Kadie, muttering, "Mostly," under her breath.
"True, but he looks like something that could dig and would prefer the underground," Gunther points out to Amelia.
"It's settled, Gunther," Morgan insists, echoing Amelia's sentiment.
"If this Mage had been to the hot springs, it'd be obvious," Amy argues, pinching her nostrils shut. "I'm not too keen on having held spirits dragged around town though. Something could set it off."
Gunther sniffs, then nods. "Okay, I smell your point," the Kadie concedes. "He should visit the springs, though. Wow. And I thought Djivan's socks could curl the whiskers."
"The spirit is not yet created, it is the energies of the spell that I hold. I don't expect laymen to understand that distinction, but suffice it to say that the guardian is my own creation, and no threat to your or your town." He lowers himself down, dropping his head to the boy's level. It bends him nearly double, but his flexible serpentine spine seems more than up to the task. "You seem a sharp minded young man, Gunther. It is true that I spend much of my time underground. But I'm sure you can deduce how unsuited I am for digging."
"Come to think of it, you might enjoy the hot springs. I hadn't considered recreation, Mage Qing, you seem a man of business but I can show you them if you're interested," Morgan remarks.
Gunther cranes his head, peering at Qing with curiosity. "No claws," the Kadie notes, "Not him. You know, I bet we could build you some claws… "
Qing holds his hands out, letting Gunther examine the thin and dexterous digits. "I would have no use for them, Gunther. The craft of magic demands precision and patience, much like that of any other artisan. Magic is a powerful tool, but it is not a blunt instrument."
Amelia gives Morgan an odd look, and asks, "Are you feeling okay, Morgan?"
"I'm a little irritated, truth be told." Morgan frowns at the two townsfolk, putting a hand on his hip. "With the weather like this, I'm tempted to get my hat."
The female Kadie looks up at the sky, then at Morgan, even more confused than before. "What's the weather got to do with it?"
"You sound like my mother," Gunther notes and actually does examine the offered fingers. "Not about magic, but about the machinery we maintain. Patience, care, and precision, she likes to say. That and 'don't get yourself killed'."
Qing nods soberly. "It is what we tell many apprentices. I have no knowledge of machinery, but I would imagine the same applies, for when people are careless, the results can be catastrophic. Patience, care, precision. And don't get yourself killed." He straightens back up, his ring back in place again. "No, I've not seen these hot springs, but I doubt I have time for such frivolity. I can see that things happen at a certain pace around here." He begins studying Amelia again, over the tops of his smoked glasses.
"Actually, would you entertain Mage Qing a moment, Gunther? I need to speak with Amelia about town matters." Morgan reaches over and takes Amelia's arm, tugging her towards the side of a building and out of sight. "We'll just be a moment."
"Don't do anything I'll regret later, Gunther," Amy advises as she's tugged along.
"My oldest brother got himself killed a long time ago. He drowned," Gunther notes quietly. "And that necromancer nearly killed my other brother, Zahnrad. Well, indirectly. He somehow manipulated someone into attacking him. We've gotten a little more defensive after that. Sorry for bothering you."
Qing piles himself in a low heap of coils, resting his his head only slightly higher than the Kadie boy's. "Were I in your place, I would have been the same, young man. You can't be blamed for being suspicious… caution is part of care, in much the same way as thoroughness is part of precision, is it not so?" He shakes his head. "I've seen what these things can do… magic and machine, really. They have many on Rephidim, those and their grand airships."
"I wasn't much good against that necromancer," Gunther says, then shakes his head slowly. "First time he just raised his hand and it felt like I was being ripped apart from the inside out. Everything just went black. No warning, no chance. I don't want to ever be caught like that again." His tail then flicks a bit and changes topics, "Airships? My brother Zahnrad likes airships. He keeps trying to build one that's different from all current designs. They usually just collapse. He keeps trying, though."
Qing murmurs, "It is true, a spirit mage can wield that kind of power. But while that power is justly feared, it is feared for the wrong reasons. Tell me, boy, could you make a machine that could harm someone? A rifle, perhaps? Could you make it in a split second? So it is with magic. It must be prepared, harnessed. A mage caught off his guard is as a worm out of the ground. Now you know." He nods as the boy changes topic. "There are indeed a great many. It is people like your brother that make newer, faster ones, and they do so by making mistakes first."
"Actually, I can build weapons. The militia used them against the zombies. But … okay, I think I understand your point," Gunther notes. The Kadie scratches the back of his ear, then has to ask, "Are their mistakes as interesting as my brother's? The otters make bets on how it will fail each time. Of course, some of them have been funny, like the one that just spun, got stuck, and threw him into the swamp. He looked like a bog monster."
Qing tilts his head back, ruminating. "There are many opportunities for mistakes. Perhaps of a different nature. I have seen many different kinds of mages in Caroban. For our own Sphere, an apprentice once tried to craft a spirit that would move books from place to place in the library. Unfortunately, he misprinted the spell he intended to use and managed to get part of an imp spell into it. For the next three days, books would randomly fly off the shelves, or the card catalog would fountain cards into the air for no reason, until we were able to finally find it."
Gunther looks like he's ready to explode with laughter. "That's almost as bad as the water balloon traps all over our territory," he manages to get out. "Wow, what I could do with self-moving traps. Hmm… "
Once they're out of earshot, Amy whispers to Morgan, "Okay, what's going on? You're acting weird and worrying me. You aren't under a spell or anything, are you?"
"No," Morgan breathes, glancing back the way he came. "Mage Qing is a representative of the College. I didn't expect they would send an actual mage, let alone someone of his strength. He's obviously powerful, and Caroban more so. Do you know what would happen if he took offense to what we do here? If he saw Axel, or Buffy, or looked into Natasha? If he looked into Lily?" Morgan's hands strain, and he reaches to take Amelia's hand and clap it tightly. "I am trying to control what he sees and hears. I am trying to determine his motivations, but, spirits alive, I think this town is trying to kill me."
"I don't get it," Amelia says. "Do you mean you're trying to pretend you aren't a witch? But everyone knows you are! Besides, if he hints that he's going to act against us, we'll just cut his head off."
"Oh? And you think they'll just abandon one of their masters, forget he was here? We can't keep him long, or kill him. Not until I know more about him," Morgan insists. "And yes, I'm avoiding telling him I'm a witch. I was too reckless last time what if she had caught on? but I don't mean to be, this time. I'll guide him, I'll plumb his mind, and I'll see if he's trustworthy. You don't need magic for that."
"They didn't send anyone after Natasha," Amelia points out. "But what do you want me to do? Should I have a guard follow you around? Tell people… uh… I don't know what to tell people, Morgan. At least wear your boy clothes if you aren't going to wear your hat."
"Lily has been … " Morgan actually blushes, looking the other way now. "Yes, well, I agree with the 'boy clothes.' Anyway." Morgan licks his lips, narrows his brow, and seems to turn his thoughts inward as he says, "Try and keep anyone that might tell Mage Qing too much away from him, until we're sure of him. He may be here for more reasons than he lets on, and he is very powerful. It's a bit puzzling. There's too many magical powers gathering here not to be careful … " He shakes his head. "As for Natasha, she is a Collegia rogue, and Mage Qing may endanger her, as well. A conflict between those two would provide us no winners."
"Natasha and her people are under our town's protection," Amelia notes. "Find out what this Qing needs to know in order to verify whatever he needs to for the bounty claim. Let me know that, and I'll see to it he doesn't dig for anything else without setting off an alarm."
"But if the Collegia is anything like Natasha says, this guy may be out of favor with them anyway," Amy adds, glances back toward Qing and Gunther. "They don't send their best and brightest spirit mages to the most dangerous place for spirit mages to be without a reason."
"Very well. All he truly needs is to speak with Olivia, review the corpse, and to provide the money. He's certainly allowed to travel about town and provide our businesses some coin, but I'd prefer he remain away from Liliana, Natasha, Kalila's mother, Axel, my mother, and Buffy. I worry how much he could take back to Caroban. But … , " Morgan glances back the way he came again, frowning a little more, "I don't think he'd let the children be hurt. I think we can distract him very well with children, and perhaps we should. If our town is ruined, so too would their lives be. He may not risk it."
"Err, if he's surrounded by children all the time, then he has instant hostages available too," Amelia says. "Be careful about that. He seems to get on with Gunther, maybe you should encour… what am I saying?"
"Distract him with Erik," the armed Kadie advises the witch.
"He lost his daughter," Morgan tells Amelia soberly. "I had been prodding him, trying to see what sort of man he was behind that mask, and I struck a nerve. His expression changed immensely." Morgan pushes his hair back over his ears, shaking his head. "I actually feel bad about that. It's clear it hurts him so. Good idea about Erik, though. I could use both of them occupied, so long as they don't try to drag Caroban here."
"I'll let you handle him, Morgan, until you tell me he's an actual threat," Amelia says. "But try not to confuse people too much? We're used to you being two different people depending on how you dress, remember."
"I'm sorry about that. I got the idea in my head, and suddenly I was off on it. I guess I show I'm a Kadie now and then, too." Morgan lifts Amelia's hand up and kisses her knuckles. "I'm sorry to snap at you. We need to work together." Patting Amelia's hand, Morgan adds, "And, I think I like Mage Qing. It's weird, but I guess I've never met a male magic user before. And, like I said, I feel bad about his daughter. If he turns out not to be a threat, I'll have to apologize for that. If he is a threat, well … " Morgan inhales, looking back towards the corner he walked around. After exhaling, he says, "We'll have to strike fast, with a sure plan." He doesn't sound happy at the prospect, not a bit.
"Well, he is just a Mage," Amelia says. "They aren't expected to be as tough as witches. If we need to send him a 'we can take care of ourselves' message, and a dead necromancer isn't enough, I can probably arrange for something."
"Fair enough. A rabbit stuffed with herbs would work, as well. He swallows them whole." Morgan nods towards the corner. "Letís return, and hope Gunther hasn't upset him too much."
The Rokuga shakes his head, memories of the collegia coming back to him. "Many of the apprentices were your age, Gunther. I think they had a fair idea of what to do with such things. The water apprentices liked to play a joke where they'd balance a blob of water, just by itself, at the top of a doorway. When someone opened the door, it'd fall and drench them. Apprentices we caught doing that would spend the next day scrubbing the floor without use of magic, but we had to admit, it was safer than using a bucket."
"My brother and I use buckets usually. Sometimes we used balloons if someone came through town and traded for them," Gunther says, then has to pause for a second. "Though, my brother is five years my elder, so I'm not sure what this says about him if it was more common for people my age," he admits.
Qing wags a finger. "It says he should know better. Those buckets have weight to them, they can hurt. I suppose I should be glad the earth mages never tried the same trick. They just had a tendancy to turn themselves green."
"He has other distractions now, though. He's either working on some secret plans or off on some adventure with Amelia. He hasn't had much 'time' for me lately," Gunther grumbles. "The only people who turn themselves green around here are the Weavers. Olivia seems to have turned her clothes all sorts of strange colors."
The serpent tilts his head. "You make weaponry for the local militia, and yet he won't let you assist him?"
"Ahem," Amy clears her throat as Gunther starts talking about 'adventures with Amelia' as she and Morgan return. "Are you feeling neglected, Gunther?"
Qing straightens up again as the other two approach, lifting himself out of his coils to stand at his 'normal' height.
"He's quite good at it, too," Morgan adds as he walks up with Amelia. "I'm sorry for the delay, Mage Qing. Town matters are often involved and uninteresting, but they must be seen to."
The snake shifts his jaw slightly, but merely murmurs, "As per our agreement."
"He's possessive about his workshop and parts," Gunther answers with a small shrug, "Especially after the otters stole his gear door." The Kadie turns as Amelia returns and says to her quite bluntly, "Yes, you stole my brother."
Qing's clawed fingertip taps the end of his nose. "Perhaps it's time to come up with a project, Gunther. One he might be willing to come to your workshop for."
Morgan chuckles when Gunther accuses Amelia of stealing his brother. "You'll understand when you're older, Gunther. Perhaps quite soon, if those otter girls keep about you," he remarks.
Amy frowns a bit. "But don't you like hanging out with me at all?" she asks Gunther.
"They're just trying to steal my disguises," Gunther informs Morgan. He then asks Amelia, "When have we? You're always off with him, or on duty. But … speaking of disguises, I should go get one and track down Olivia. She went into that Madame Natasha's wagon earlier and I intend to find out why… "
At this, Qing's blunt snout lifts up. "Is that where Weaver went? Good. Nightshade, we will proceed that way."
"Madame Natasha, ah? Well, we have a destination, then," says the older Kadie. "We can head that way whenever you're ready, Mage Qing. I hope this brief pause hasn't caused you undue difficulties."
"It was nice meeting you," Gunther tells Qing, and the tone of his voice sounds like he doesn't often get to say that.
Amelia seems lost in her own thoughts, and just says, "If you run into any trouble, let me know," to both Qing and Morgan.
Qing stoops for a moment to nod at the boy, his expression as serious as ever. "And you, Gunther. Perhaps we will speak again." He straightens and gathers his mantle around his shoulders. "I do not like to waste time, Nightshade, but perhaps it was fortuitous. I am given to understand the Lance-Corporal here slew Valicross herself, and her presence will be helpful during the inquest."
"Of course, Amelia," Morgan tells the female Kadie. "And if you need me to sew anything, just leave it with my mother. And-" he pauses to nod to Qing," … you may as well join us. You did slay the necromancer, after all."
"Oh, right," Amelia says, focusing on things again. "What about Gunther?"
"That would be up to Mage Qing," Morgan replies, looking to the mage for confirmation.
The mage nods thoughtfully. "Anyone with pertinent information would be helpful."
"Gunther was part of it all," Amelia confirms.
"Uh, what about me? I didn't do much," Gunther admits. "Other than get hurt a lot. I'll just go ahead and try to find Olivia."
"Then we'll all go together," Morgan says, clapping his hands together. "A merry band we'll make." He glances at Gunther, brow raised. "You? Turning down something like this? Hmm."
Qing hisses, "Very well, then. Perhaps I can actually begin working soon." He gestures aside with one long, thin arm. "Lead on."