Settled in front of her writing desk for what may be the final time, Umeko quietly pulls out her ink brush. With ritualistic formality, she mixes the powered in the well-worn dish until its bitter scent fills the small room. And then she sets about writing with flowing brush strokes what may be the last words ever exchanged between her and her father.
Father, it is not with ease I put these words to paper. There is so much I wish I could say and so much I wish you could understand. I know I have never been quite what you wished for in a daughter. For that, I am sorry. But, I must be true to who I am and what my heart tells me to do. My heart warns me that if I marry the Artist Hakuu, it will not only be the end of my life … but the end of our entire family. There are ill-winds blowing through our once peaceful homeland. I pray that you understand that I am not running from my obligations to my family … but embracing them. As your daughter, it is my duty to protect our homeland and family. I cannot explain to you now why I must leave or where I must go, for our enemies may be watching … only that I must. I pray that my actions will one day bring honor to our family. I will hold you and Mother in my heart, always. Your daughter, Umeko Tsuguri.
The letter is left, meticulously penned and presented as is Umeko's methodical way, waiting for Lord Tsurugi on the manor's central dining table. The guards bid their mistress an enthusiastic "Good morning, Lady Tsurugi!" each time they see her, little knowing they may never see her again. Everything is quiet and unassuming as she departs the estate for the final time, meeting her friends at the airfield.
Royal Jadaian Airfield
One of the few urban areas of Jadai that doesn't have buildings crammed so close together, the Jadaian airfield consists of several towers spaced far apart, with expanses of cropped grass spread between them. Long, forked pennants billow from the towers and hang from majestic airships hovering at tower tethers, while smaller balloons are secured in the open fields near lean-to style hangars that deflect the wind coming off the sea. Dwarfed by the flying vessels, wagons with cargo and luggage crisscross the fields to and fro, coming and going from the port authority buildings at the point closest to the city. Here are found people of all shapes, sizes, colors, and species, moreso than anywhere else in Jadai.
The general lack of much emotional expression in Umeko's face probably helps to mask the mix of feelings that churn beneath her perfect scales. Once she was away from the family estate and could find some privacy, she changed into more commoner style clothing, and even put on two-finger gloves to mask her status as a noble. Her finer clothes are folded neatly away in her pack, along with her fans and a few sentimental trinkets. The only other visible item she is carrying is something long and wrapped slung over her back (her swords, of course. Wrapped away for now to not draw too much attention). Out in the airfield, she looks around for a familiar face … either that of Lilac of Gibson.
Gazing upward, Lilac comments as she walks along, "It looks like I'm leaving, again! It's nice to actually pick the airship before I get on it, though." She scans the skies, taking in the magnificent sight of the aerial vessels. "You know, I think I have a cramp in my tail," she adds, reaching back and tugging at it before pausing to sniff at the air.
The black Lapi by Lilac starts to respond, but glances up and spies Umeko, and smiles and throws his arm up in an exaggerated wave to catch the Kiriga's attention. Nearby is a small two-wheeled cart with some stuff piled in it, various odds and ends bundled up in canvas bags, matching one Gibson has slung over his shoulder. Nearby lurks the squat figure of Long Tooth, the orange reptile squinting at nothing in particular, scratching himself and looking either lost in thought or just lost.
The waving does catch Umeko's attention, at least … given the generally relaxed motions the citizens of Jadai make. She makes her way through those gathered, having to politely excuse herself or ask someone to move, now and then. When she finally reaches the three, she asks, "Have you arranged everything? I have … said my good-byes in my way." Then remembering something, she digs in her bag and pulls out a small cloth sack. She offers it to Lilac, saying, "Your payment for services rendered while on this island, Lilac. I also have the key with me if you want to remove that collar."
"Glad you made it, Lady Ts-… ma'am," says Gibson. "I was getting a little worried. We're having our things ported aboard, and we'll be ushered on soon."
"Oooo." Lilac takes the sack with both hands, holding it close but not bothering to open it and count. "Thank you Lady- … um, ma'am." She blinks at Gibson as he says the exact same thing, then leans forward and whispers, "What should we call you, now? I'm no expert on these things, but I guess that after this point any mention of your name may help the unwanted follow us." Leaning back, she adds, "Oh, I don't mind the collar. I've gotten used to it. If I had the key, I think I'd just wear that, too."
"Should I place my things on the wagon, then?" Umeko asks and smiles; though it's rather forced. "And you can call me Kin. Or Miss Ryuu, if you wish. It is probably better if I do not use my real name for now, yes. If you are curious, in old Jadaian, it merely means Gratitude well more or less."
The black rabbit nods and grins. "I'll get 'em for you, Kin," he says, reaching for the bundles. "Someone'll be along soon to lead us to our ship. Might as well enjoy the rest while we can. We have a long trip ahead of us."
"Long is good. It will give me some time," Kin replies as she hands over her things to Gibson. "I didn't realize how I would feel right now."
Lilac turns and sits down on the cart edge, leaning forward as her tail wags behind her. "I've always loved airfields! All these people, going every-which-way, on who knows what sort of adventure. Why, the amount of stories here must be immense! I wish I had time to talk to everyone," she says. As an afterthought, she adds, "I wish they'd answer me, too."
The burly Lapi hefts Kin's baggage onto the cart, careful to set them down gently. He looks over his shoulder as he does so. "Well, I guessed there might be a twinge or two. How do you feel?" He offers a little smile. "There's definitely good things to feel about it. Lilac's got a good perspective on it."
"I feel like I'm losing a dearly loved friend," Kin admits as she looks in the general direction of her 'home'. "We fought, but they were still my family. We had moments where … it was nice," she adds, "But a gilded cage is still a cage. I must uncover just what the Cinders seek and the threat they hold for my homeland. And … I will … just have to find happy things to fill what I have left."
"I have a lot of experience in traveling," Lilac exaggerates. "If it helps any, La- … Reiky, those separation pains ease after a while. I mean, they don't go away, they just, well, um … You should enjoy the adventure! Don't think about what's behind you too much; it'll only make you sad."
The old master grunts. "He does love you," the old man hisses in Imperial. "In his way. And certainly your mother does. I cannot say how the household will react, it is not what I know best."
"He will be angry. I do not know if he will fully understand why I had to go," Kin says to Master Long Tooth. "What do you wish to do, Tooth-san? Do you wish to observe them for a few days before you follow? It may provide us some warning if my family, or Hakuu, does send anyone after me."
Sniffing at the air more, Lilac suddenly declares, "I smell food." She leans towards Kin's bag and snuffles.
Tooth scratches his snout thoughtfully. "I am nearly sure they will send someone for you. But they do not know where you are going. Because of that, I am confident it will be some time before you see them again, but I will do as the lady wishes."
"Gibson," Kin says as she pushes Lilac away from her bag, "Would you prefer we leave a lingering eye behind us to watch for movements? Or would that be futile?"
"Hey," the human complains as she's pushed away. "I was just looking!"
The Lapi shrugs his broad shoulders. "Couldn't hurt. The ol' fella looks like he can take care of himself."
"Master Long Tooth, would you stay here one week, then follow us to where we are going?" Kin asks the older-than-some-islands Kiriga. "It would provide us some insight if plans change here, or what the consequences of my departure are. We're a small group, so the better informed we are, the safer we are."
The old master grunts and nods. "Mm. As you wish. Safe travels, my student. Be strong."
"I really should have asked for the rest of that meal in a bag," Lilac considers aloud, eyeing Umeko's bag longingly. Shrugging, she looks around and wonders, "I wonder if they sell that meat on a stick around here, like in that one town … "
"You eat too much, Lilac," Kin comments to the human. "Do all humans need to eat as often as you want to?"
"Ummmmm." Lilac tilts her head, then lies, "Yes."
Kin shakes her head slowly. "Such strange creatures," she notes. "Have you tried chewing on something? Like a bit of leather, perhaps? It might ease your hunger."
"A bit of leather?" Lilac's ears skew, one perking while the other flattens. "That would look rather weird, don't you think?"
"And wearing a collar does not?" Kin counters. "Everything you do looks 'weird' to me, Lilac"
Gibson laughs, and gestures at a porter who arrives to take up the handles of the cart, his sturdy taurid body looking more than capable of hauling it. "Just conserve your strength, we can eat on board." He passes a series of tickets to the porter, who looks them over and nods. "Tung Lun," he says, and points to a ship at one of the docking pylons. The orangy glow of paper lanterns dot the sides of the ship's wooden decks, and its great envelope bears stylized dragons painted along the sides. With a creak of the wheels, the porter begins heading out across the field.
"It's called having style," Lilac insists. She reaches up and tugs down her shirt, tapping her collar. "This is symbolic of my declaration to help you! A heavy weight on my shoulders." She shrugs, then adds, "Plus, it's kind of pretty." Then she hops off the cart and dusts her bottom off, removing the dirt and dust from her tail.
"Well, I suppose it is time we must be going," Kin comments as the wagon carries off their things. She walks over to Master Tooth and embraces him in a hug and then kisses his cheek. "Thank you for being there for me. I will see you later. Be safe and be well. And … do not drink the pickle juice instead of the sake by accident, again. You will be even more wrinkled than you are now," she tells him.
Lilac covers her mouth when she laughs at Umeko's comment to Tooth, trying to pretend she didn't hear it. "The last airship I was on wasn't nearly this nice," she then says aloud, perhaps to avoid accusations of eavesdropping.
The old master's joints pop under the hug, but the orangy reptile hugs back in turn, patting his student's shoulder and laying his tattered earfins back. "Don't you worry about old Long Tooth," he says. "I'll turn up again, like the cracked sake bottle in the brew cellar."
Kin steps away from the Kiriga, then looks to Gibson. "Do they have hair stylists aboard this ship?" she asks him.
Gibson's begun following the cart. "Mm, probably not. You look fine, though! You'll keep till Rephidim, I'm sure."
"Not for me, for Lilac. She really needs her hair cut," Kin tells Gibson as she walks with him. "It's wild and unkempt all of the time. Though, I suppose I could try styling it… "
"It's not wild and unkempt," Lilac insists as she reaches up and rakes her hand through her hair. "It's 'free.'"
The bickering keeps the chatters plenty busy all the way to the docking pylon, where ropes and pulleys hoist cargo and passenger alike up the Tung Lun above. From here, they can see the ship's sails, ribbed like fish fins. The Rokuga parks the passenger's cart on one of the lifts, and motions for them to step on.
"It's wild," Kin comments and folds her 'two fingered' hands together. She then looks ahead towards the ship. "And now there's no turning back, Umeko," she thinks, "Once you step onboard, your life will never be the same." The Kiriga takes a breath, then makes the decision and steps onto the lift.
Lilac simply sighs, sounding much put upon by the state of her hair and Umeko's displeasure with it. She doesn't hesitate to step onto the lift, however, and walks over to grab on to one of the pulley ropes.
There's plenty of room, and with a lurch of stomachs, the lift judders upwards and away from Jadaian soil. The Rokuga below calls out, "Tickets checked! That's the last of them!" Above, voices call out, "Envelope pressure!" "Moorings ready!" "Cast off moorings!" It's time to go.
Umeko looks out as the land falls away from beneath them. She lets out a long sigh of breath, then shifts her gaze upward towards the sky. "No looking back, Umeko. No looking back," she thinks.
Holding the pulley rope, Lilac leans dangerously over the edge of the lift and watches the ground pull away. If anything, the wind whipping in her face just makes her look more 'free.'
The sailing is smooth, and the food is delicious to Lilac and somewhat sub-par to Kin. Fortunately, with plenty of passengers, there's plenty to keep one's mind off whatever one doesn't want to think about, and enough room to do as they like. The ample area above decks provides a suitable place to spar as Gibson promised, and the bracing open air keeps them cool after the exertion of swinging and leaping about. Passengers often stop by to watch curiously, and look suitably impressed by the skill shown.
It's several days and nights of travel, with stopovers at paquebots. A chilly morning finds the Tung Lun passing through a curiously thick cloud bank, and one of the deck hands stands in the prow, blowing long blasts through a horn.
Lilac, who had been resting her head on the fore railing, suddenly perks up. Her ears shoot up, and her eyes widen. "I thought I smelled a storm," she says, sniffing. "We must be almost there."
Kin is sitting on deck and brushing out her long mane when the horn sounds and Lilac comments. "Almost there? To a storm? This place is surrounded by storms?" she asks, confused.
"It is! Sky islands have this … " the human fumbles at how to explain complex weather patterns, having never really received much in the way of schooling, " … smell to them. It smells a little like rain, usually. It smells like a storm is coming, and when a sky island comes, it usually is." She spins around and gestures to the massive cloudbank behind her. "This cloud is HUGE, and Rephidim is the biggest sky island, so we have to be almost there."
"But, I just washed my hair," Kin comments with a frown.
Indeed, as the ship cuts through the fog, vapor gives way to the light of dawn peeking over an island over a sea of clouds: Rephidim. The sky island's docks teem with the activity of ships coming and going, and the smaller figures of winged citizens passing amongst them. Eeee swarm around a spiny ship of Babelite design. The flag of Gallis flies from a tall merchantman that the Tung Lun passes, poodles yapping at each other on the deck. A Vartan and several Korv flit across the Tung Lun's bow, landing on a dock stretching out over the abyss below, and taking up mooring ropes. The ship's crew are bustling about now with their own preparations, and passengers gather their belongings amidst an air of anticipation.
"And here we are! Rephidim! If any place can be called the center of the world, it's this one. You'll find everything here," Lilac explains to Umeko. "I didn't stay long last time, but there's no forgetting Rephidim."
Kin rises slowly to her feet as the island comes into view. Her hands fall away from her mane, which now flaps and flows gently in the wind. Her expression is one of absolute amazement at the spectacle before them, eyes wide and webbed ears perked. "By all the Gods," she murmurs in Imperial.
"I know! I said the same thing well, after I realized where I … Um … " Lilac shrugs quickly, then whirls back around to race over to the railing and peer over at the approaching city. "If I were better, I'd play here, in the music halls and mansions of the nobility. This is the hand that guides the world, and here are the people who are the arms of those hands."
"I feel like a nothing," Kin comments as she gets hold of herself and the reptilian neutral expression returns. "We should find Gibson and gather our things. We will need to find a place to stay and work."
Lilac glances back, frowning when Umeko says she feels like nothing. "Oh?" She turns around, leaning back. "You don't want to watch the city? I s'pose not we do have work to do, don't we? What a shame." Pushing off, Lilac begins walking towards the rear of the ship. "Oh, you might want to tighten your purse strings here. The dock can be a little rough."
"I will simply kill anyone who touches me, then," Kin says idly. She starts looking around for Gibson and interestingly tries to not look at the city.
The Tung Lun slides along the docks, slowing and guided in by the Vartan and Korv dock workers as the ship's sails are taken in. Where Kin and Lilac perch, they can see their ship's shadow cast as a small patch of ink on top of the sprawling expanse of one of Rephidim's warships. Temple knights, resplendent in their armor, stand on the deck as airmen move efficiently around them. There's a shudder through the Tung Lun's timbers, and the ship comes to a stop. "Moored!" "Lower the gangplank!" "Porters to cargo, look lively now!"
Gibson emerges from below decks, squinting in the sunlight. "Whoof… home again," he muses, tapping his buckteeth with a fingertip. "It's been too long."
Meeting up with the others, Lilac looks between Gibson and Umeko and asks, "So, where do we go now? Should we look for their airship, or meet with someone? Get some lodging?"
"We should find lodgings and store our belongings. Carrying them around while we search would be ill-advised," Kin replies as she folds her arms together and seems to draw in a bit on herself. "It may also be advised to warn the people whose names were on the list as well."
"I've never had so much stuff on a trip before, I guess I forgot," the human remarks, glancing at their (mostly Umeko and Gibson's) belongings.
Gibson raises his thumb. "Not to worry, I've got us set up. We're going to meet one of the scholars in our 'cell'. I'll have our stuff taken to Snowshoe's, but for now I'd like to see that our contact is okay. He's hiding out in the old Collegia district. The Museum'll take care of us."
"Let me at least get my swords. I do not feel … comfortable here," the Kiriga admits. The reptile then vanishes into the deck to get her weapons from her cabin.
"On the way, I'll tell you something about Rephidim, Um- Kin," Lilac calls after Umeko as she hurries off. Turning to Gibson, the young woman suddenly smiles widely at him, ears perked and tail wagging.
Gibson returns the smile. "You look cheerful, Lilac! Travelling seems to very much agree with you, that's good."
"Oh, it does. But, I'm just happy to have people to travel with, this time! Usually, I roam alone." The woman's smile falters, if briefly, but she bolsters it with a cheery, "I bet you know more about the city than I do, you should show me around some time. I'd like that."
Kin returns with her weapons tucked into her belt sash. She still has a wrapping over the handle and guard to conceal her family crest. "Sorry for the delay," she says quietly, "I'm ready to go whenever you two are."
"Oh," Lilac smiles at Umeko, too, then nods to the woman's swords. "You can wear those openly, here. Rephidim has all sorts of fighting men and women; it's really very common. Just watch out for the bravos."
"They have my family crest engraved on them. I do not wish it seen right now," Kin comments idly as her head cranes and snakes about as she watches the chaos.
Gibson reaches out to pat Lilac on the shoulder. "I'd be glad to. The Bazaar's always fun, and you'll like Snowshoe's. I mean to get in touch with my sister there, in fact. First thing's first, though. We need to meet our contact and report to him. We left before Vandringar did, so I'd like to give the head's-up before they get here."
"Then we'd best get going, I guess!" Lilac's tail wags a bit more when she's patted, then she turns and heads towards the gangplank. "I bet you've never seen one of those before, Kin," she says as she walks down, pointing at a Zelak, and then again at the Rephidimite warship. "You'll see all kinds here. Mixing pot of the world, you know!"
Kin's gaze shifts back to Lilac and Gibson. She starts to say something, then just shakes it off. "I hope we won't cause your contact any concern. We did, after all … " she starts to say, stops as Lilac interrupts her. "No, I have not seen such monsters before," she admits.
"You'd better be careful about calling people monsters here, Kin-kin; they might get upset. Although, … " Lilac stops to watch the Zelak walk by, head tilting and ears splaying, "I don't know if Zelaks even have a sense of humor. Or, a sense of indignation, either, for that matter. I tried to get one to pay me for a song, once, but it was like trying to draw emotion out of a wall."
The Zelak clanking down the dock doesn't even register Lilac's remarks, or at least acknowledge them. It and a couple of Jupani Temple Guardsman stroll along, the two Jupani apparently not minding the insectoid, chitin-sabered 'monster' following them. The gangplank leads down into families on the docks greeting arrivals, more than a few Jingai peoples and a Naga here and there. Porters are already wheeling a familiar cart away, presumably to Snowshoe's at Gibson's behest.
The black Lapi leans toward Kin. "I'm sorry, you were saying?"
Kin eases off her gloves and pops her fingers lightly, then wiggles them. Her head then snaps back to Gibson and she answers, "Oh, I hope you will not get in trouble because of us and your revealing of their existence to us."
Gibson shakes his head. "On the contrary, I think you're just the kind of person they'd like to meet. I'd like to introduce you to my contact, he's one of the curator scholars, and currently holed up in the old Collegia district. His cover is that he's tending one of the historic buildings there. They'll appreciate what you've done for me, and I think we'll be able to help each other out."
Lilac glances back towards her companions, which causes her to almost run into a Jupani. Her quick reflexes keep her from colliding, however, as she skips back at the last step and stares up at the canine. "Rrr?" She wags, ears splaying out to either side.
"All right. We are at your mercy for aid and direction," Kin tells the Lapi and forces herself to smile … which might look a bit too toothy and disturbing. "Let's get going. This many people is making me nervous."
The Jupani guardsman barely notices, his ears flicking forward and tail giving a slow easy wag. "Careful, citizen," he says, and the patrol keeps on their way.
Lilac makes an awkward salute towards the Guard, smiling easily. She takes a step back, then walks to rejoin the others. "I've never been to the Collegia District. Forgive me for saying so, but it seemed far too old and musty, given to studies and book learning. Not the sort of place to hire a bard, unless it's for dull chamber music," she says.
The trip to the Collegia is direct, thanks to Gibson's direction, but it's anything but quick. The docks are choked with people of all sorts going every which way, far busier than Jadai's airfield was. Assembly Square airs things out somewhat, and it's a long walk along the main thoroughfare through the Crafter's Quarter. Tidy shops of every sort line the street, built of thick timbers and slabs of stone, and lined with great windows of plate glass, their signposts almost garish compared to the subtle wood and paper architecture prominent in Jadai. A side street goes through the Public Quarter; tall apartments stacked high, pedestrians forced to dodge wash water thrown out the windows, lines of laundry strung over the streets, and chimneys smoking away.
"This is so barbaric and uncivilized," Kin comments to no one in particular as the colors and commotion assault her senses. "Must everything be so loud? What is wrong with the elegance of simple and clean? Must it be so … busy?"
"It's alive, Kin! Look at all the people, the colors, the sounds and the smells! You won't find anywhere on Sinai with so much variation and culture," Lilac insists, sounding excited to be back.
The Scholar's Quarter allows one to catch their breath a bit, the crowds and din quieting down. It might be a bit more suited to Kin here. Stately houses with a variety of architectural influences line the streets, with stone and wood fences supporting climbing ivy. The occasional quiet square has students and scholars alike reading or playing k'tinza by babbling fountains, statues, or quaint cafes. Gibson leads the trio through winding cobblestone walkways, past an apothecary and cartographer's shop. "I think my sis might know the guy who owns that place," he comments. "We're almost there."
"You have quite a family, Gibson," says the human woman. She peers up at the sign, then sniffs towards the shop before wrinkling her nose. "Herbs, and other sundry parts for a brew, I'd wager. Smelly stuff."
"This is better," Kin says as the chaos subsides in the Scholar's Quarter and the Kiriga noticeably relaxes. "The buildings are odd … but at least I can think here." She pauses to glance at the apothecary as well and her ears flick at the comments.
The party arrives at the front of a large and long building, decorated intricately with pillars spaced along it, and tall arched windows. Gargoyles leer from the eaves, and a domed roof is shingled with sparkling stone that catches the light. A brass plaque, set high above the ground on one of the fences to deter the pettier thieves, proclaims "Isstvan Memorial Banquet Hall". Carvings in the gable above the heavy double doors depicts several Naga, one holding a scroll, one holding a lantern, and one holding a skull. One of the doors beneath it is half-open; curiously careless for such a rich place.
Kin's eyes narrow at the sight of the open door. "Something is wrong. Of the places we passed, none left their doors open like this," she comments to Gibson and Lilac. Quietly, she unwraps the hilts of her swords, then wraps the cloth around her right hand instead. "Do you smell anything, Lilac?"
Gibson pauses, looking a bit discomfited. "Good point, Kin." He looks askance at Lilac.
"Wow, is this the place?" Lilac blinks, looking up. "When I left my village, I wanted to attend the homes of the rich, but I never imagined it'd be quite like this," she murmurs, stopping to take in the building as she arrives in front of it. She blinks again, glancing at Umeko and frowning, "Wha- … " Her gaze flickers to the door, and she frowns more. "I didn't think … " Shaking her head, she sniffs towards the door.
"I smell something. Leather, sweat, chitin and … " Lilac's eyes widen, and she suddenly takes a step backwards. "He's here," she hisses in a whisper. "That Shiga man! The one I followed to Hakuu's estate! Here!"
Kin hisses and darts forward now, hand closing around the hilt on her sword but not drawing it. "Gibson, Lilac, let's go," she calls back, "Whatever he's after, we have to stop him."
"Let's go?! Go where! I can't fi- … wait for me!" Lilac hurries after Kin.
"Right." Gibson's ears lay back, and his face is grim. He trots after the others. The double doors open into a foyer with a rich red carpet with numerous muddy footprints already stomped into it. Past a cloakroom and staircase up, more open doors offer a peek of a huge room beyond. Out of sight, voices can be heard echoing… the acoustics of the place are amazing. "Come along quietly, old fool. The boss wants to have words, and would like you more or less intact." The voice responding is reedy. "N-no! Leave me alone! I'm just the caretaker here, I don't know anything!"
Kin moves with snakelike grace as she bounds through the foyer, then towards and up the stairs. Her head tilts and cants as she tries to locate the position of the voices. "Can your nose tell you how many are here?" the Kiriga hisses back towards Lilac.
"There's a few, I mean, look," Lilac replies, tugging at Kin's sleeve and pointing at the mashed together array of muddy footprints. She then sniffs, trying to ascertain just how many might be within.
"About five? Maybe? Minus one, for whoever they're on," the human woman says after a moment of sniffing.
From Kin's position on the stairs, she can hear the voices are slightly lower. They must be on the ground floor. Gibson stands close to her, whispering, "I've been here before; these stairs lead up to a promenade overlooking the main dining hall."
"That could be to our advantage. We could jump them from above. Or at the worst, drop heavy things on their head, if they're in the dining room," Kin says quickly, "Does it sound like they are in the dining hall?"
Gibson's tall ears swivel briefly. "Definitely."
"Up, then. It may be to our advantage," Kin says, then continues up the staircase.
The black Lapi seems to agree, and follows Kin onward and upward.
Lilac shifts her weight instinctively, her soft footfalls ceasing to generate noise at all. "What do you want me to do, Lady Umek … Kin?" Her ears perk, ready and attentive.
The grand banquet hall is, in a word: magnificent. The ceilings are high and domed, and suspended from them are a series of chandeliers, fresh tapers burning in them, their wax cups clean and bits of glass reflecting the light to the dining area below. Long tables are set the length of the hall, settings carefully prepared for each high-backed chair and candelabras burning along each one. The floor is composed of great slabs of marble, cloudy with age, but buffed and polished. Along the walls are paintings of famous mages, and at the far end the hall is a stage and lectern, backlit by tall windows. The promenade is similarly decorated and furnished, with stone busts on pedestals spaced under the clerestory windows. Doors on either side of the stage presumably lead to the kitchens.
Below, several heavy-set men are advancing between the tables, weapons drawn; though held casually… their quarry appears to be no threat. A small Rath'ani man in robes who nearly stumbles over the hem of them while backing away toward the stage to finally cower behind the lectern. "P-please! I don't know anything!" The head of the four men, a burly Shiga in leather armor, rests the haft of a spear on his shoulder. "I think you'll remember after we break a few fingers," he hisses. "Come quietly, and it'll be easier for you."
"Gibson, Lilac, I need you two to go to the ropes holding the chandeliers," Kin whispers and points to the points holding them in place. "I'm going down and will engage them in a fight. I don't expect to beat them … just move them into position … right under the chandelier. When they're in position, I want you two to drop it right on their heads. With luck, they will be focused on me and not notice it fall. If it fails to knock them out or kill them, well, it should at least surprise them long enough for me to gut them. Just one thing … don't drop it on my head." The Kiriga then smiles grimly, whispering, "Time to finish a fight that began in Jadai… "