It's dark. Not a smothering kind… Anisa exists at the center of a blackness that seems to stretch away infinitely. Her white fur is bright here, almost blinding when she looks at it.
The Lapi doe blinks slowly as she Awakens? Comes too? She isn't sure. When did she get here, and where is "here", exactly? Squinting at the gleam of her fur, the rabbit places a paw to shield her eyes, and tries to take a better look around.
There's nothing to see except for her own self… but there is something to hear. A voice… strange and yet familiar. Unintelligible, yet perfectly understandable. Many voices in many languages, but one that speaks and makes itself understood. "Link established." Points of light break the inky expanse… cyan and green winking into existence, rhombus shapes dotting the horizon.
"Link?" Anisa looks out to the rhomboid shapes, perking her ears forward to try and hear the intelligible voice a bit clearer. "He-hello? Who's there? What's your name?"
The shapes seem to be some distance away, and oddly there doesn't seem to be any apparent way to get over to them… nothing to push off of, nothing to walk on. "Resonate," says the voice. Points of light appear in the 'sky', and lengthen into spears as they streak down from above… and converge on something in amidst the rhombus field. There's a brief pause, and then several clear ringing tones at different pitches, easily picked out by Anisa's superior hearing. With each tone, one of the long shafts of light shivers and falls away into the dark 'below'.
Anisa winces at some of the higher pitches, but forces her ears to stay forward and keep listening. A heavy feeling of deja-vu washes over her, as this scene seems awfully familiar. "Resonance? What… what was the other? Dissonance?" The memories start to come back to her.
Fortunately, there is no dissonance here, and the familiar feeling seems to indicate that's a good thing. The last of the glowing shards falls away. "Resonance achieved. Directive?" Before Anisa can reply to the question, another voice does, deep but clear, singular unlike the swarm of other voices speaking. "Activate," it says. It seems to come from a bright white figure amidst the rhombus field. The chorus responds, "Node active with partial function. Element focuses offline."
This second voice visibly surprises the Lapi, her ears shooting upwards in alarm. Vaguely, she begins to remember her last trip here wherever 'here' is but she most definitely remembers being alone. "Hey! Who's there? Hello?!" Straining in the direction of the other figure, she tries to make her way towards it, although she isn't quite so certain on how to accomplish this feat.
With nothing to push off of, it feels clumsy, but for whatever reason, it does seem like Anisa makes progress closer to the collection of cyan and green shapes, and the white figure among them. It's painfully slow, but at least it's progress. She gets close enough to begin to make out some details of the white figure, which turns toward her. She can make out a Cervani face, a tall rack of antlers glowing above it like forks of lightning. "Dissonance." he says in that deep voice of his, and suddenly Anisa is falling, falling, falling…
Anisa lets out a scream, clutching at air as she begins her plummet downwards. Almost instinctively, she begins to grasp at her chest, feeling for something but she knows not what. That deja-vu feeling intensifies at the sight of the Cervani, but the matters at paw prevent her from trying to remember why.
She can almost feel the sharp corners that should be pressing into her palm, but the missing piece leaves a sinking feeling almost as sharp as the plummet into nothingness. The blackness explodes into red… kind of like light shining through eyelids. The oppressive silence breaks under the sounds of city life echoing in the streets.
Continuing her scream, the rabbit woman snaps her eyes open, her paws still clutching at her chest with a crazy fervor.
Snowshoe's Rephidim Anisa's Room Dawn
It takes a moment for the Lapi's eyes to adjust to the light seeping through the shutters, and something clatters off them, falling to the street with a rattle on cobblestones. She finds herself on the floor of her room, tangled in blankets, her cheek pressed to the wood. The comforting familiarity of her room, her knick-knacks, the sight of her longbow leaning in the corner with its quiver and the skedat shell on her wall, whip neatly coiled over a peg, replaces the disquieting familiarity she felt in her dream.
Blinking several times as her vision clears, Anisa stays put briefly, her heart beating a mile a minute. Once she's certain that she's safe, the rabbit begins to untangle herself from her bedsheets, wincing at the soreness resulting from her strange position. Once free, she rubs her aching face, feeling the familiar 'bed-fur' patterns from a long night's sleep. With a yawn, she swivels her ears to the window, unsure if she really heard something, or if it was just another part of her crazy dream. "Dagh, what was that all about… "
If she didn't hear it before, she hears it now. Clack! (Pause) Clackity.
Scratching an ear, the doe makes her way to the shutters, smoothing out her wrinkled nightgown as she goes. She lifts the window from its sill, and opens the shutters, sticking only her head out to preserve her modesty.
It's still a bit chilly, the sun not even over the horizon yet, though enough morning has passed that it's light enough to see the person below making that racket. Standing amidst some scattered pebbles, a diminutive Skeek in a cobalt blue duster smiles up at Anisa. "It's about time, sugar. I thought I'd have to wait until they opened for breakfast."
Anisa just stares at the mouse, wondering if her still groggy eyes are playing tricks on her. She rubs them with the back of her paw, then takes a look again. Indeed, the Skeek remains. "Wanda? Holy First Ones, is that you?"
"Sure isn't Dagh, I'm too cold for that." The Skeek begins making her way around to the front of Snowshoe's, saying as she goes, "Are you going to hurry up and tell your brother what you were screaming about? I haven't had breakfast yet."
"Brother?" Anisa asks herself, momentarily stuck to the spot in thought. She soon snaps out of it, and runs to her closet, pulling out a long flannel robe that she quickly throws on. After tying the sash, the rabbit bolts from her room and down the stairs, the joyous smile on her face and slight skip to her gait making her look more like a child than someone in her mid-twenties (of course, being just a hair under five feet tall doesn't help matters any either.)
The white hare passes right by a surprised-looking Benjamin, who was coming down the hall. "'Nisa, are you alright? I heard-" Down in the barroom below, Wanda and her odd little smile can be seen through the thick glass windows by the front door, waiting expectantly.
The doe pays little heed to her younger sibling, save to dodge him on her way to the tavern entrance. Quickly reaching it, she pulls the large lacquered deadbolt free of its lock, and swings the heavy tavern door wide open. "Wanda! Leapin' Eeps, what are you doing here?" The young rabbit's joy is almost overwhelming.
Wanda steps through, and she gives her friend a grin of genuine warmth, a bit more expressive than she's usually wont to show. The Skeek reaches out to clasp Anisa by the arms. "It's great to see you, sugar," she says. Anisa can see a few years haven't changed the mouse very much, the same bright and alert eyes, the same penchant for blue. "It's a long story. I came early so we'd have time to go over it. It's not all good news, I'm afraid."
Anisa clasps Wanda's arms as offered and then quickly pulls the mouse in for a near bear-hug. "You look incredible! I can't believe- wait… we? Not all good news? Huh?" The rabbit loosens the hug, and clasps the Skeek by the arms again. "Wanda, what are you talking about?"
"Ooof!" gasps Wanda, laughing her breath out and not being able to get it back. She wiggles in Anisa's hug, managing to reach behind the Lapi's back and pat her fondly. Fortunately, she's not turning as blue as her coat yet, and she manages to get enough wind back to say, "Star and Anchor, sweetie! What've they been feeding you here? You've got a grip like a python Naga!"
"Oh," Anisa folds her ears back sheepishly, "I've just been… working out a lot. I'll fill you in on that later. Have a seat on the couch! I'll go make some tea in the back and get the fire going." The Lapi walks over to the door and starts to close it. "Brrr, sure is cold this morning."
Wanda catches her breath. "Whew! Well, seeing you warmed me right up. As for 'we', I meant you and me. And as for the news, well… " The Skeek pauses, glancing around the empty tavern for a moment. "We think the Cinders are on the move again."
The Lapi bolts the door shut, freezing in place at Wanda's words. She slowly swivels an ear to the mouse, followed by the other, and soon turns to join them both. "The Cinders? You… you mean that crazy group back in Half-Valley?" Anisa's dream suddenly springs back into her mind, and she paces over to the couch. "I thought they were finished," she says while taking a seat next to the Skeek.
The Skeek shrugs helplessly. "We still don't know the full details. That much money and power doesn't just vanish, we knew that, but we thought with the head cut off, they were done. And they were, at least for several years… never heard a peep out of them until recently." Wanda leans close, even though Anisa's ears could probably hear her whisper from across the room. "Nobles we suspected with the organization have been withdrawing to themselves. We haven't been able to tell what's going on, they cover their tracks well, but there's definitely activity. We sent Gibson to check out a lead we got in Jadai… that's near Nagai."
"Gibson?!" Anisa's ears shoot upwards, and then splay in a wince as she realizes the said the name a little too loudly. "We haven't heard from him in forever," she whispers, "how is he? What's going on in Jadai that he needed to go?"
Wanda nods, sitting down at one of the tavern's long couches. "We've kept him really busy, otherwise I'm sure he would have written you," she says, beginning to go through the pockets of her duster. "He joined Sinai's Museum formally, he was really excited about it and was thinking about bringing you into the fold as well, but then this whole thing with the Society started again. He found out a top man in Jadai was hiring mercenaries and gathering them there, he joined them as a mercenary to try to figure more out. I guess something's coming this way, 'cause he sent a letter by way of the Curators rather than the post. It's addressed to you and me."
Anisa's already wiggling nose speeds up at the mouse's words. "Addressed to… both of us? What does he want with me?" The rabbit scratches the base of her ears.
The Skeek comes up with an envelope, and gives Anisa her quirky little smile. The wax seal on it is already broken. "I'll let him explain it," she says, proffering the letter.
Taking the letter, the rabbit unfolds it and begins to read to herself…
Dear Sis (and Wanda, I'm sure she's already read this),
Sorry I've been out of touch lately. I'd hoped our next meeting would be something a bit less serious. It's starting to look like I only ever write home when my butt needs to be bailed out. Ha, ha, just like when I first left home. At least I'm not bringing my laundry back with me and bumming meals at Snowshoe's. Wait, I am. That's the good news though, because I know you all missed me, right? Right?
Anisa cracks a small smile at this, and continues to read, ears set forward in concentration…
Anyway, I knew better than to send this to Quinn this time, and I also know better than to send it in a puzzle box in the post for Ben to find. (Did he ever get my watch out of that thing?) The mercenaries here got hired on with a local noble in Jadai. I'd heard rumors that we're going to Rephidim next, but I can't confirm them yet. I figure I should be heading back soon, but I don't know when. I'd like to meet with you when I get back, Anisa. I'll be honest, I think I'm in over my head again, and after last time, I know I can count on you to watch my back. I intend to report to one of our Curator scholars, a Rath'ani named Jervis Tinsnip. He's holed up in the old Collegia district, under pretense of maintaining one of the historic buildings. Hopefully, I'll have something for him, and we'll know where to go from there.
The doe's brow furrows as she reads, her fur rising to stand on end as goosebumps race across her skin. She pauses to take a brief glance at Wanda, then looks back to the letter.
Please check in on Mr. Tinsnip when Wanda meets you. If all goes well, I shouldn't be more than a few days behind, so we'll meet at Mr. Tinsnip's place. It's the Isstan Memorial Banquet Hall, in the northeast Scholar's quarter, the old Collegia grounds. Thanks in advance, sis. I'm sorry to drag you into this again, but there's nobody else I can count on. I promise I'm taking care of myself, don't worry about me. I'll see you soon.
Anisa's ears swivel backwards as she finishes the letter, a frown crossing her face in compliment. Folding the letter back, she looks up to Wanda worriedly. "Have you heard anything from him since you got this letter? Or anything about him?"
The Skeek shakes her head. "I'm sorry, I haven't, sugar. We generally operate independently of one another. It has its risks, I'll admit. Communicating through the Curator's network is a bit quicker than the post, but it's got limitations. I pretty much headed straight here after I received this."
Springing up from the couch, the small rabbit's expression changes quickly to one of determination. "Right! Then there's no time to lose!" She pivots to quickly race to the foot of the stairs, then looks back to the Skeek. "Let me throw some clothes on and we'll get going! We can stop by my gym on the way there I'll need to let them know I'll be gone for a few days… "
Wanda lolls her head back on the backrest of the couch, stretching out her feet and wiggling her toes. "Alright, I'll be here when you're ready." She closes her eyes. "Nnn, and I just sat down, too… "
"And I'll need to pack too- Oh yeah! I'll need to grab my stuff Gibson sent me, he'll be thrilled that I'm taking such good care of it all! Maybe we should pack some food too, you never know when you'll need it," Anisa yammers on and on to herself as she starts up the stairs, but pauses halfway up at the sight of her exhausted friend. "Or, you could take a break for a bit. There's food and tea and stuff back behind the bar, feel free to help yourself."
"You're a angel," says the Skeek, stretching again. "I'll be right as rain, don't you fret. Pack up whatever you might need. Mm, those teacakes do smell good."
Grinning, the rabbit continues her sprint up the stairs, and runs back to her room.
Once inside her room, the Lapi hurriedly yanks open her closet, and fishes around in it until she pulls out a mid-sized duffel bag. Tossing it on her bed, she begins to ransack her dresser, pulling out various shirts and pants and other clothing, stuffing each piece haphazardly into the bag. Once its full to overflowing, she sits on the lumpy container and buttons it shut. Standing back to admire her handiwork, she then takes another look around her room. "Oh yeah!" Grabbing her bow a gift sent to her from Spencer for her birthday one year she quickly wraps it in a cloth with a few arrows and sets it next to the bag. She then grabs her Skedat Shellguard another gift, this one from Gibson and straps it to her paw. "Alrighty, that looks like it'll do!" Hefting the duffel bag over her shoulder which is more awkward than heavy she grabs her wrapped bow, and clumsily makes her way back downstairs.
When Anisa returns, Wanda's helped herself to a teacake and a hot cuppa, which she's already almost finished with. "Goodness," says the Skeek, her laugh good-natured. "We're going to see a stuffy old scholar, not head off to war. Well, that stuff might be a good idea… I don't know if we might have to go elsewhere right away. Shall we go?"
"Lets!" Anisa replies cheerfully, swiveling to face the door. As she does so, a sudden chill wafts across her tail, and she looks down to realize she's still in her robe and nightgown. "Um, right after I change… "
A bit of playful ribbing later, the pair of friends are on their way. It's still morning, but late enough that the crowds are out and about, dining at cafes, hawking wares, moving freight, and so forth. The day looks to be a bright one, and Wanda finds a fairly quick path, moving like an eel amongst the pedestrians and criers of the bazaar alike. It'd be hard to follow her if Anisa weren't able to just muscle slowpokes out of the way, and the Kavi have long since learned to get out of Anisa's way; she is not going to buy a vermite on a string, and it isn't worth the toss to try to sell her one.
Once through the bazaar, it's clearer moving through the crafter's quarters, and Anisa can really stretch her legs out, though she's a bit limited by how fast the short Skeek can go. Cross the main street and hooking north, Wanda indicates that the place is in the old Collegia area, down a side street and through one of the scholar squares.
The overstuffed duffel bag, along with her concealed bow, make the going slightly clumsy for the Lapi. She keeps an eye out for temple guards, hoping that he bow is hidden enough that she doesn't get stuck with a fine for having a weapon. Once in the open, however, she's able to readjust her load, and let her long Lapine legs carry her along more easily.
Wanda trots along as best she can, though it's clear she's no distance runner. Still, she holds up admirably, and the blocks flash by. Soon, the pair are making their way through the stately residences, academies, and shops of the scholar's quarter, the jogging Lapi and Skeek lifting a few eyebrows as they jog past, but otherwise unmolested. Wanda points out (a little breathlessly) a tall and long building ahead. "We (puff) can go in the back way… "
Looking over at the Skeek, Anisa slows her pace a bit. "Do you wanna rest before we go in? I don't mind."
The Skeek props her elbow on Anisa, leaning on her as if against a tree. Her other paw gets held up in a 'I'm fine!' gesture. "(Huff, huff) No problem, sugar. (Puff) I'll just… sit down once we're inside." A little more panting. "Alright, maybe just a second or two… "\
Grinning, the Lapi throws her free arm around the Skeek to help steady her. "We'll walk the rest of the way. I'm sure Mr. Tinsnip would prefer that we weren't about to pass out when we talk to him." Slowing her pace even more, she helps Wanda the rest of the way to the old building.
With a strong arm to help her, the two rodents are soon at the hall's service entrance. Even from here, the building is majestic… a high gabled roof shines with shingles of polished stone, and gargoyles sneer down from the eves. Tall arched windows line the sides, and a wide circular window of Chronotopian glass, worked with lead between the panes, admits light into what must be a massive chamber. The service entrance lets Anisa and Wanda into a well-furnished kitchen, currently tidy and evidently unused for some time, and currently deserted. The Skeek seems more or less fine by the time they're inside, and she calls out, "Mr. Tinsnip?"
Anisa swivels her ears to and fro, listening for any sign of Gibson's contact. "This is a big place, maybe he's somewhere else in the building?" She sets her duffel bag on one of the kitchen's countertops, and gives a wide-eyed look around to admire the place as she starts to unwrap her bow.
"Well, he maintains the place, so he's probably off polishing an urn or waxing the busts or whatever it is he does. I'll check his office," says Wanda, hands on her hips. She starts to walk to one of the side doors, but before she pokes her head in, she stops. "… Sugar, do me a favor and listen hard for a moment."
Puzzled, Anisa begins to ask Wanda 'why', but the way her friend stops dead in her tracks make her think otherwise. Placing her bow beside her duffel bag, the Lapi strains her ears harder, listening intently.
Sweeping her large ears around like a pair of long radar dishes, Anisa zeros in on the office. Her brow lowers as she tries to make sense of what she's hearing. "Someone's in there," she whispers, "but they're not being very delicate. Whoever it is, they're thrashing a bunch of stuff around, and throwing things on the floor." She looks to Wanda. "I don't think its Mr. Tinsnip, I doubt he'd be trashing his own office… "
Wanda nods quietly, and points down at the floor. There's some streaks of dirt there… not especially remarkable looking, but Wanda murmurs, "I thought so. This kitchen hasn't been used in a while, and Jervis wouldn't leave anything like that. I don't think whomever's in there is supposed to be in there."
Eyes wide, Anisa glances to the office, and then back to her friend. As quietly as she can, the Lapi picks her duffel bag and bow up, then places them inside one of the kitchen cupboards. Keeping one ear on the office and the other on Wanda, she slowly makes her way to the Skeek. "Well, should we find out who it is?" Readjusting her skedat shell and balling her paws into fists, she pops her knuckles.
Wanda smirks, and quietly undoes the door catch. "After you, sugar."
Lifting one of her oversized rabbit feet nearly up to her chest, Anisa kicks the door as hard as she can, then springs inside the doorframe in a crouching stance with fists raised. "Alright, who's there? Show yourself!"
SMASH! With a shriek of yielding wood, the door comes right off its hinges, knob assembly shattering and the whole thing flying inward and landing on the floor with a crash. Inside, a rough-looking human clad in leather armor is standing there, staring wide-eyed at Anisa, holds a jar upside down, its contents spilled on a nearby writing desk. Bookshelves line the room, many of the books themselves on the floor, along with a small globe-map, some award statuettes, a vase of roses, and other decorations and knick-knacks.
After making a quick survey of the room, Anisa zeros in on the human, and hops sideways from the door to allow Wanda room to enter. Flicking her paw, the Lapi releases a rock from her Skedat Shell and holds it at the ready. "Who are you? Where's Mister Tinsnip?!"
The man looks quite stunned, dropping the jar. He forgets to take the surprised look off his face, simply stepping back, and a beefy hand goes for the sword on his hip, the long chitin blade sweeping free. Wanda peeks around the corner, frowning and fingering a leather sap held aside.
As soon as Anisa sees the sword loosed, she lobs her rock at the intruder as hard as she can. Without hesitation, she runs at the human, unraveling the Skedat Whip on her left paw while readying her right for a blow.
The rock hurtles across the room, and smacks the man's on his left bicep, right where the leather armor has a gap. The flesh there blooms an angry purple almost immediately, and the man winces, but nevertheless he raises his sword arm to meet Anisa's charge.
The human barely gets his sword unsheathed before the chitin barb on Anisa's whip comes after him like an angry hornet. He flails wildly, warding the stinging whip for only a second or two.
Swinging the whip a final time, Anisa finally makes contact with her desired target: the human's sword arm. With a loud 'pop!' it smacks the man hard, but doesn't result in him dropping his weapon as the Lapi had hoped. "Tell us who you are! There's more where that came from!"
"Aaagh!" cries the man, a small gash opening on his inner forearm where his leather bracer fails to protect. He skips backwards under the Lapi's punishing strikes and nearly fumbles his sword, but still manages to cling to it. Pushed back to the other end of the office, swings haphazardly at the Lapi. It's easily deflected, smashing through an inkwell and spraying black across the wainscoting. Anisa's blow flicks wide, and another sweep of the sword is caught easily by her skedat shell.
The situation is getting increasingly desperate for the human. He fends the whip off again, and barely adjusts when Anisa suddenly comes bearing in on him, trying to hold off a feinted slash of the whip that never comes. He's barely able to hold off the Lapi's pounding strikes with fists, his sword clumsy this close in and only just staying ahead of the combo that comes at him.
Anisa throws a wide left hook at the man, which he manages to just barely dodge by sweeping sideways. Unfortunately for him, the dodge puts him right in the Lapi's line of fire, as she uses her momentum to spin around and nail the human with a hard back kick of her large right foot.
That heavy hind paw connects with the side of the man's head, and his sword clatters to the floor as he's pitched into the writing desk, the wood buckling in and papers flying off. Perhaps it's a good thing that the spilled ink is covering his face, because it probably doesn't look very good right now. He groans, sliding off the timbers and slumping to the floor. "Nnngh… "
Wanda peeks around the corner. "Hey, we sure showed him, didn't we?"
With ears set back, Anisa marches over to the human, and pins him to the ground with one of her large rabbit feet. "Okay pal, spill it! Where's Mister Tinsnip? What have you done with him?"
"Guh… oof!" That big paw planted on his chest pushes the wind out of the ink-stained man, who throws his hands over his face. "Nuh! I di-didn't do nothin'!" he wheezes. "The guy, he wah-wasn't in here! The others wen' around front, maybe caught him there! Dun hurt me!"
Taking her foot off of the man's chest, Anisa bends down, and hefts the human up by his collar. "How many others? Who are you working for? So help me… " The Lapi cocks one of her fists back to threaten the man, gritting her teeth. Were someone to stumble upon this scene without knowing what just transpired, they would most likely find it comical to see a small rabbit threatening the relatively large human.
The man flinches away, his eyes shut. "Agh! I mean, eight! Me an' the others, eight of us! The boss gets our pay for us, I don't knows no more!"
Still glaring at the man, Anisa looks over her shoulder to her Skeek companion. "Do you have anything we can tie this guy up with? We need to go Mister Tinsnip may be in trouble!"
By way of response, the Skeek rattles around in the kitchen for a few moments, returning with a bit of cord for tying haunches of meat. "Will this do?"
"That'll do nicely." Taking the cord from Wanda, Anisa grabs the human's shoulders, and flips him onto his stomach. She then pulls his arms and legs back, tying them all together like a stuck Bromthen Hog. "Now, I don't want to hear so much as a peep out of you, understand? Otherwise I'll come back and give you more of the same!" Dusting off her paws, the Lapi picks up the man's sword, and offers it to the Skeek. "Know how to use one of these things?"
Wanda eyes the weapon dubiously. "I know which end to hold, sugar," she says, taking the handle. "But I'm not much of a fighter. I'll hang onto it, though."
The just man grunts, lying facedown in the litter of papers and books. He doesn't look like he's going anywhere.
Anisa nods, and wraps her whip back inside its shell. "Okay then, stay behind me, and I'll take care of negotiations. Is there a quick way to the front through the kitchen?"
The Skeek nods, trotting back through the door of the office. "The kitchen's got a service room that opens into the banquet hall and has stairs up to the promenade. We can go through the banquet hall straight to the foyer!"
The Lapi follows Wanda back into the kitchen, then quickly jogs over to the entrance of the service room. "Okay, I'll go in first, but we'll do it quietly this time. If there's eight of them, we may have to be more careful." Flattening her ears, she realizes she should have asked the human what he was looking for, but right now the safety of Tinsnip comes first.
Wanda gives a determined nod of her head, retrieving the swordsman's scabbard and thrusting it through the sash under her duster, wearing the weapon a bit awkwardly on her hip. "If there's anything I'm good at, sugar, it's being low-key. I'll watch our backs."