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Ambrosia goes on the hunt for her missing sister and meets trouble on the way.

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Considered one of the most mysterious cities in Mizahar, Alvadas is called The City of Illusions. It is the home of Ionu and the notorious Inverted. This city sits on one of the main crossroads through The Region of Kalea.

Reusing Old Graves

Postby Madeira Craven on October 17th, 2017, 3:41 am

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84th of Fall, 517


"Ah, Miss Craven, welcome. Will you be having the usual today?"

The curly haired, soft spoken Dreams smiled indulgently from behind the low counter inside the Unnayme. The thick, sweet smelling incense that lingered around the many low lights guttered as Madeira closed the door behind her. The golden feathers of her cloak seemed to react to the smokey air. The young Spiritist suddenly found the garment lifting from her shoulders and peeling away from her front, revealing the crisp white blouse, dark pants, and glittering bracer crossbow underneath. Thankfully her heavy rucksack kept the magical garment from floating away completely.

"Good evening, Dreams. And- ah, yes, a pot of Overture please." Madeira gasped, while fighting her unruly cloak, which was starting to pull at the clasp around her neck.

"Go ahead and leave that here, Miss." Dreams said mildly, as the pressure slowly turned the pale Craven's lips a fashionable shade of blue. "I'll make sure to return it to you when you depart."

As the enigmatic clerk disappeared into a back room to brew her tea, Madeira was able to release the cloaks chokehold on her neck. The thing slithered out from under her pack and rose up near the heavily draped ceiling, where it fanned out and began to subtly shift in colours.

Massaging her neck, Madeira put five silver coins on the counter and turned to find a seat. As usual, the drug den was cozily packed with lounging patrons. A group at the front were speaking in low voices under a cloud of blue smoke, cigars in their fingers. Another couple were sitting shoulder to shoulder against the wall, slightly cross eyed and slack jawed. One person was sitting at an empty table, drinking a thin yellow liquid and talking animatedly to the empty seat across from him. Madeira avoided all these people. She picked her way through the colourful strewn cushions to one of the shadowy corners in the back.

She had a lot on her mind, and wanted to be alone. She usually stopped by the Unnayme after particularly brutal Spiritism training sessions, as this was the only place that served Overture- a mind mood enhancing tea that is the only cure for possession fatigue Madeira had ever come across. This time, however, the young Craven was in full control over her faculties. Tonight she simply came to breath deep of her favourite, grounding drug and think.

But as she stepped over a man who looked like he was having the time of his life while lying face down on the floor, a familiar flash of something gold caught her eyes. To the side she saw a woman with vibrant blonde hair and a pretty, open face that she almost didn’t recognize without its effervescent trademark smile. Most alarming were the green eyes rimmed with red and glassy with tears.

"Ambrosia?"
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Postby Ambrosia Alar on October 31st, 2017, 5:04 am

Curled up on some overly comfortable cushions in a secluded corner of the Unnamye and holding her hands over her eyes to shelter them from what little light there was, Ambrosia tried to recover from the after effects of her latest drug trip. Red had left her alone quite some time ago. Every time light hit the back of Ambrosia’s eyes, it brought the sensation of burning that came when one cut a particularly potent onion, except this was many multitudes worse than the worst onion she had ever encountered. One small spark of light, and her eyes were welling up with tears. She tried to open her eyes again, just to see if perhaps after several chimes of sitting things had improved.

They hadn’t.

As soon as her eyes opened and the light from a nearby, dim lamp entered them, the burning returned in full force. Tears flooded in and began to stream down her face. Clamping her hands back over her eyes, she let the tears remain where they were. She was certain there’d be more. Resigning herself to the fact that this trip was going to take a while to recover from, she enjoyed what parts of it she could.

There were still whispers.

Today, the drug she had come to try was called Blinders. It took one’s sight but gave incredible auditory hallucinations. From her previous experiences with hallucinogens, Ambrosia knew that her own experiences and memories tended to influence what she hallucinated. Her drug trip had been her way of trying to remember something her sister had said, and Ambrosia’s plan had worked. But now, she was flooded with whispers in her mind, little snippets of conversations she had had with others.

What are you gonna do, Ambrosia?... Love has a nice ring to it… Any time, love… A real sweetiepie, sure… Curious, observant, good memory… That’s a cheap trick… Bees. As soon as I step outside… Way to go, Titless… a crowd of people and a sack of rotting fish… You look at him and tell me… My Papa said that bars are no place for little girls like me… My five-year old niece comes up with shit cleverer than that… These things can’t be forced… Only a man could be such an ass… Your soul tastes salty… You’re a good kid… You don’t belong here. Leave. And don’t come back.

There was that voice again, so familiar, but Ambrosia couldn’t place it. What she did know was that it was somehow important, essential in her hunt for her sister, but she didn’t know why. It frustrated her, but she held on to the one clue she had from the night before her sister disappeared, one that had been jogged by her recent trip.

I’m going to be visiting one of our old haunts.

Ambrosia didn’t know what that meant either, but at least it was more concrete than the other voice. She’d follow up on that lead but not right now.

For now, she just needed to wait for the effects of the blinders to wear off. Forcing her eyes open, she kept them open and let the tears flow. Maybe crying would dilute the drug and rinse it from her eyes. So she cried and listened to the voices in her head as both the tears and the whispers began to slowly subside. To keep herself entertained, Ambrosia identified each voice as it came.

Curious, observant, good memory. That was Revan, and Ambrosia’s pride swelled at the compliment from the man. She didn’t know him well, but he was definitely the most observant man Ambrosia had ever met and the best at reading people.

You’re a good kid. Cordon. He had a way of frowning that put a smile on Ambrosia’s face. It drove her crazy that he still called her kid though. She wished he saw her as more than that, but she supposed that was mostly her fault.

You don’t belong here. Leave. And don’t come back. Again, that mysterious voice. Ambrosia couldn’t place who it belonged to, but by the accent, she was a foreigner who had lived a long time in Alvadas. There was a hint of a desert accent in there, but it had been long diluted by life in the city of illusions.

Love has a nice ring to it. Every time Ambrosia heard Winnie’s voice, it caught her off guard with how smooth it was.

Any time, love. Nothing was more disconcerting than hearing one’s own voice but not out of one’s own mouth. But as disconcerting as it was, Ambrosia liked being able to step back and listen to her voice the way a stranger would. There was something calming about hers, and she began to understand, in some small part, how people felt around her.

Bees. Ambrosia smiled inwardly at her memory of her introduction to Madeira. As much as the young Craven had tried to put on an air of propriety, the illusions of Alvadas stripped that sense away, leaving her looking ridiculous. Respectable, but ridiculous. Ambrosia’s only disappointment was that she hadn’t run in to Madeira since. There were so many things she had wanted to ask the spiritist, but their first and only meeting had been cut short. As soon as I step outside.

“Ambrosia?”

For a moment, Ambrosia’s mind ground to a halt, and so did the whispers brought on by the blinders. That was the same voice as the last whisper, but it had sounded so real, so present and in the moment, unlike the voices of the whispers, the ones in her head. Allowing her eyes to focus as best as they could, she let her gaze fall on the person standing above her. The silhouette was blurry, but it was close enough, and the voice matched. Besides, no one else would dress so properly for a drug den. “Madeira?”

Wiping her face once to clear it of old tears, Ambrosia stared blankly at Madeira. The wiping did little good. A few fresh tears sprang up to replace them, and she blotted at her eyes again with her sleeve once more before returning to staring at the spiritist dumbly. The Unnamye was the last place Ambrosia expected to see any Craven. It was a drug den, for the Goddess’ sake. This hardly seemed a place fitting for anyone of their repute. And then another idea came. Perhaps Madeira was here on business. Ambrosia let her eyes dart around the room, looking for anyone acting oddly before she remembered that everyone would be. She brought her eyes back to Madeira.

“What are you doing here?” She kept her voice to a whisper, so as not to alert any ghosts if Madeira was here as a spiritist. “Is the Unnamye haunted?”
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Postby Madeira Craven on November 2nd, 2017, 5:45 am

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Ambrosia seemed to be having a hard time bringing her into focus. Through the wash of tears and bloodshot eyes, her irises had contracted to pinpricks even in the low light. Nearly blind, she still looked spuriously around the room. Madeira looked behind herself, wondering what she could be looking for.

"What are you doing here?" she asked, whispering so low Madeira had to bend to hear her. "Is the Unnayme haunted?"

"What?" Madeira blinked. "No! No, it's ok. It's just-"

At that moment Dreams swept over, smiling vacantly. He put down a teapot and two earthenware cups on Ambrosia's table, bowed distractedly, and wandered away without a word.

Well, it would be rude to leave now. Madeira had no choice but to sit awkwardly on a poof across from Ambrosia. She poured them both a generous measure of the earthy green tea. "Here", she mumbled, pushing one across the table. "Whatever you've taken, this'll help you come down."

She sipped her own tea silently for a moment, breathing deep from the rising steam. A familiar feeling, something heavy and strong, flooded through her. Making her feel at once tall and rooted to the ground. She looked over the rim to the woman sitting opposite, and there was something appraising in the way her pale eyes swept over her. Madeira had only ever met the barmaid once, but she would never have guessed the bubbly, charismatic girl she knew would be the kind to sneak off to drug dens to weep silently in the corner. Something was so frightfully off about the whole thing.

"I came here for a cup of tea." she answered anticlimactically after what felt like an eternity of silence. "Why are you here, Ambrosia. You look awful." she said in the voice typically reserved for Emma and Allister, the one dripping in equal parts concern and exasperation. "Tell you what, give me your story, and I'll give you mine", she negotiated slyly.

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Postby Ambrosia Alar on November 4th, 2017, 8:54 pm

The racing patter of Ambrosia’s heart calmed some as Madeira assured her that the Unnamye was, in fact, not haunted. Despite her willingness to believe most everyone and her general good opinion of Madeira from the one time they had met, Ambrosia was still slightly hesitant to believe her. She knew most spiritists were accomplished liars. Ambrosia kept her guard up but only for a moment, as Dreams stopped by and set a tea pot and two cups before them. Knowing the tea was not merely tea as the Unnamye had no eason to serve anything unless it was spiked with something else, Ambrosia identified the drink for what it was, Overture. Sitting across from her, Madeira filled the two cups and offered one to Ambrosia. Taking it with a muttered ‘thanks’, Ambrosia sniffed lightly at the tea to confirm what it was and felt the familiar surge of confidence and strength fill her.

“Overture? Really?” Ambrosia shook her head in mock disappointment at the spiritist. “Oh, Madeira, how very boring.”

Flashing Madeira a quick smile to assure her she meant nothing by the jest, Ambrosia let the smile slip away as the simple act seemed to create a pressure that caused the tears to worsen. She dabbed at her eyes with her sleeve again, feeling a little ridiculous at being found in this state.

I’m Madeira Craven, by the way.

Ambrosia almost responded that she knew who Madeira was before she realized it was another whisper, a leftover hallucination. She shook her head to try to clear it.

There was a somewhat motherly tone to Madeira’s voice as she questioned Ambrosia, the same tone Ambrosia mother had always used when her curiosity had gotten her into trouble, the tone that chastised while asking if everything was alright. “Why are you here, Ambrosia? You look awful.” A hint of some sneaking motive crept into Madeira’s voice as she went on. “Tell you what, give me your story, and I’ll give you mine.”

Ambrosia had heard that line before but always from her own mouth from behind the bar to some half-drunk individual. Generally, she used it, because once the other person got talking, they forgot about Ambrosia’s promise to talk about herself. It was Ambrosia’s way of getting something for nothing. It was a cheap trick, but it worked. This was the first time being on the opposite end of it, and she didn’t like it. Having the bar between one’s self and another distanced one from the question and made it easier to answer. Not to mention, the answer to that question had never been as personal as it was today. Her hesitance had to be evident, but she stifled it as best as she could. Ambrosia liked Madeira and found her concern to be genuine. Besides, this presented her with the chance to ask all the questions she hadn’t been able to ask the first time they had met. Taking another light inhale of the steam- she wanted to feel steady but not too grounded- she decided to tell Madeira everything. If she spoke too much and bothered the other young woman with too many details, she could just blame it on the drugs.

“You’ve got a deal, and you can be sure I’ll hold you to that. I have to know what a Craven is doing in the Unnamye.”

She took a sip of her tea to give her time to gather her thoughts and decide on the best place to start. “My sisters and I discovered this place a few days after it opened, and we’ve been regulars here ever since.”

It was the simplest explanation and the truth, but it didn’t explain why she was here this particular day and it certainly didn’t explain the tears. Ambrosia went on. “My sisters are the reason I’m here. During the summer, my little sister went missing, and /I haven’t seen her for over a full season now. She doesn’t live with Bethany and I, so it’s not unusual for us to not see her for a couple weeks, but it’s been over a hundred days since I saw her last.” Ambrosia knew. She had been keeping track after four weeks of Tessa’s absence. Today was day 103.

“Anyhow, I remembered she had said something about where she was going the night we saw her last, but I couldn’t recall what it was she had said. That’s where the Unnamye came in. I remembered what some people had told me about a drug they had used. Blinders. It gives auditory hallucinations, makes you hear voices. Some people use it to hear the voices of loved ones who have passed. I’ve found that my hallucinations tend to stem from experiences I’ve had. I figured I’d give the drug a try. It couldn’t hurt.”

Ambrosia shrugged. “And it worked. I heard her voice as clear as rain, along with a few dozen others, and when I heard it, it was her saying what I was trying to remember. ‘I’m going to be visiting one of our old haunts.’ That’s what she said, and she said it like I was supposed to understand what that meant. I don’t, but it’s something to work with. Maybe it’ll lead to something. I’ve only had one other lead so far, and that one’s gonna take some time to see if it comes to anything. I’ve been waiting for that long enough, so I tried this.”

Ambrosia wiped her eyes with her sleeve again as another whisper drew her attention. A real sweetiepie, sure. That brought a smile to her face. That was a sarcastic quip Madeira had made about Jomi, one of her ghostly acquaintances. Shaking her head again to clear it of more whispers, she looked back to Madeira and was pleased to see that the spiritist’s face was coming into better focus now.

“It turns out, though, that just as with every other drug, blinders has its bad side effects. During the trip, it blinds you, which I suppose is all well and good as it makes the hallucinations that much sharper, but once my vision started coming back, my eyes began to burn and tear. That’s why I was crying.”

The tears were not for Tessa. Ambrosia still had faith that she’d find her little sister none the worse for the wear, having been off on some grand adventure, but she also knew that a hundred days missing didn’t bode well.

That seemed to Ambrosia to be all the pertinent information, so she went quiet for a moment, almost forgetting that she had questions for Madeira. When she remembered, she quickly added, “Now your turn. What are you doing in here, Madeira?"

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Postby Madeira Craven on November 6th, 2017, 3:43 am

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Madeira forced a smile at Ambrosia’s token jest. There just nothing amusing about hearing a feeble joke from a weeping woman. And she wasn’t about to let the the barmaid control the conversation by lightening the mood. That might work in the Rear, but not against a practised liar.

Madeira listened to her story silently. Ambrosia had two sisters, and one of them was missing. A cold thrill that didn't fit the cozy, smokey atmosphere of the Unnayme shot down Madeira's spine. As for the drugs, she had never taken blinder herself. There just wasn't much that she was keen to relive in her life. But she knew of it, and what it could do. At least now she had a satisfactory answer to Ambrosia'a uncharacteristically tearful face.

But the drug was not recreational for the barmaid- she was trying to remember what her missing sister said. She was trying to gather a clue to find her.

'I’m going to be visiting one of our old haunts', was the puzzle Ambrosia unearthed.

It took a moment for the Spiritist to remember that 'haunt' had a meaning beyond the ghostly kind. Gods, she needed to get out more.

At the end of her explanation, the two women were quiet for a moment, both lost in their thoughts. Then Ambrosia seemed to remember herself, and asked for her story to be paid in kind.

Madeira sipped her tea slowly before answering Ambrosia's question. The barmaid had been very honest with her, even personal. It only seemed fair for her to get the same treatment.

"So... one of the Speakers visited the heads of my family today." she began carefully. "My family has a bit of a hierarchy." The 'a bit' was putting it mildly. They had the governing system of a small nation. "I'm not important enough to be speaking to the Speakers, of course, but these things have a tendency to leak. And the Speakers think there may be a... there may be something really bad out there. There have been one or two disappearances. None of which have showed up dead!”, she was quick to clarify. "It might be nothing. It's Alvadas. They might have run away, or gotten lost in the Garden of No Return or the the Strands or what have you. But if they were speaking to my family..." she shrugged. "It means they don't know what's going on. You get a Craven for the weird stuff. That's kind of how it goes."

Madeira went quiet for a moment. What she was about to say next felt extremely foolish. The lumpy pack beside her began to feel very heavy.

"It's not my business. I shouldn't even know about it. But I thought, maybe… I could help."

Ah yes, the little Craven, armed to the teeth with a tiny crossbow and some decaying soulmist, was going to succeed where the Speakers of Alvadas had failed. She felt her cheeks growing hot. But at the same time, she saw herself coming to her family with the proof of her skill. Proof that she is worth more than they ever expected from their waif of a ward. It was uniquely intoxicating.

She cleared her throat.

"I don't know what I'm looking for, but I thought I would gather myself here, and then plan my path. Sniff around, you know." She paused. "But I'm coming with you instead. Honestly, I don't even know what I'm looking for. But you have your clue, right? And I'm being serious when I say theres something out there. I don't think either of us would be very good in a fight. But I have this at least", she held up her little silver bracer crossbow. "And this most helpful lout” she said wryly holding up the other hand, the one sporting a silver ring with a large black stone. It was the same ring she used to summon
Jomi in the Stallions Rear.

"Let me come help you look for your sister”, she pleaded plainly. “What do you think she could have meant by one of your old haunts? Did you used to go somewhere as children?"

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Postby Ambrosia Alar on November 10th, 2017, 3:01 am

So Madeira had heard of this mystery that had been thrust into her family’s hands and had decided to investigate it herself. Though there was no reason for Ambrosia to think that Tessa’s absence and these were related, at the mention of disappearances, Ambrosia’s heart skipped a beat, and her breath caught in her chest. Disappearances so sinister the Speakers thought they should get involved couldn’t mean anything good. And what if Tessa was one of the disappearances the Speakers were investigating? It was no secret that the two eldest Alar sisters were searching for the youngest; Ambrosia had many of the Rear’s regulars keeping an eye and an ear open for any indication of Tessa’s whereabouts. Madeira’s revelations were beginning to shake Ambrosia. No one had shown up dead, but no one had shown up. Just like Tessa.

For a moment, Ambrosia’s hope faltered, and tears threatened, real tears, ones brought on by sorrow, loss, and loneliness. With a single steady breath, not overly deep so as to make itself known, Ambrosia steeled herself. It was something she had become quite practiced at over the past season. The Rear made her a good pretender. A single blink, and the threatening tears were gone without a trace. Ambrosia was glad Madeira went on as it gave her something else to put her focus toward.

“You get a Craven for the weird stuff.”

Ambrosia couldn’t help but smile at that statement from Madeira. It wasn’t the fake, forced smile that she had used so often this fall. When she had something that brought her joy or made her laugh, her easy smile came, genuine and uninhibited with no signs of her previous worries left. Ambrosia thanked the Goddess for her smile, as sometimes it seemed to be her only defense and her only strength.

Even with her vision blurred and the low light of the Unnamye, Ambrosia could see Madeira’s cheeks flush as she admitted that she thought she could help her family. So this young Craven who was already leagues beyond Bethany’s skill still felt she had something to prove. This woman who seemed so composed whenever Ambrosia saw her sounded like a timid little pup, frightened but eager to please, when it came to this hierarchy in her family. Ambrosia couldn’t imagine growing up in a family like that. Her whole life, Ambrosia had never been made to feel small or insignificant, had never felt she needed to prove herself to anyone, but perhaps there was something in the way Madeira had been raised. Despite how she might compare to the rest of her influential family, the Madeira Ambrosia knew was a confident and collected woman who seemed sure of herself and her skill.

“I thought I would gather myself here and then plan my path,” Madeira went on.

So she had come here to gather herself? That meant that Madeira found this, the Unnamye, to be a place of stability. Which meant she frequented this place. Madeira was a regular here. Briefly, Ambrosia wondered what Madeira’s family would think of that. Perhaps they knew. Perhaps some of them visited the drug den often as well. As much as they were a family of repute, they were bound to be a little eccentric as spiritists. Even as much as she loved Bethany, Ambrosia had to admit her sister was a bit off. Ambrosia was so caught up in the middle of this thought that when Madeira offered her assistance in looking for Tessa it caught her off guard.

Her mind had already been hard at work, trying to come up with the answer to that exact question. “Somewhere? We went everywhere as children. I’d be hard-pressed to name a place we didn’t go.” Truthfully, Ambrosia couldn’t think of a single one. “Did you ever hear the fairytale of the Three Daughters of Light? Never mind. It doesn’t matter. The point is I always identified with the sister of the stars, the curious one. I still am the curious one out of us three. But when we were children, I was always discovering new places, and every new one I found, I dragged my sisters there to explore with me.”

A mischievous smile spread across her face. “We even snuck into your family’s manor a few times. The ghosts caught us the first few times and threw us out, but after about the dozenth time, we were never stopped again. I don’t think it had anything to do with us being sneaky. I just think the ghosts got bored with us.”

Ambrosia shrugged. “But if you wanna search for Tessa, I won’t complain about having the help, though I have nothing to narrow down my search. Someone said they saw her at the docks with a certain ship captain, but he hasn’t been back in town since. I’ve been to the Patchwork Port several times and never came away with anything I didn’t already know, but I’d try again. Anything is better than sitting around, just waiting for something to happen. I’d be glad for the company and a fresh set of eyes on this.”

An odd sensation against her thigh caused Ambrosia to shift and reach for what had created it. When her hand fell over her pocket and it buzzed, Ambrosia’s eyes narrowed. Reaching into her pocket and feeling the familiar six insect legs crawling over her hand, Ambrosia pulled the illusory bee out and set it on the tea tray. Although she found the bee to be a minor annoyance, she was glad for the distraction from discussions about Tessa. “I bet you recognize this little guy. I blame you for him, Madeira. Ever since you showed up at the Rear with him, he hasn’t left me alone. He’s always by my side. I’ve tried leaving him at the Rear with plenty of wine to keep him happy, but somehow, he always ends up back in my pocket.”

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Postby Madeira Craven on November 14th, 2017, 4:54 am

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At the admittance that Ambrosia had snuck into the old manor with her sisters, Madeira actually laughed. The woman who's humour barely extended beyond a smile had to cover her mouth with a smothering hand so as not to bring too much attention to their shadowy corner. She had never been brave enough to be anywhere she wasn't suppose to when she was a child- yet the Alar sisters had broken into the most haunted
house in Alvadas, home of known magic users and some of the most powerful people in the city. For fun. She vowed to ask the resident ghosts about it and see if they could tell her anything about the bravest sisters in all of Mizahar.

As she recovered, snorting into her earthenware cup as she took a hasty sip of tea, she let the steam root her to the present and remember what they were hunting for.

"If you think the dock is the best bet, we should start there. I know a captain who comes to port there", she remembered quite suddenly. Captain Barsala would not be thrilled to see her, but if the self styled merchant prince was there it would be one more door open to them. "and he tends to be in the thick of things. We can ask if he knows anything, if your captain is... not available...."

Madeira's sentence wandered off as Ambrosia pulled a very familiar fiend out of her pocket.

"So, we meet again", she smiled ruefully. This was one of the bees she had ended up wearing at the Stallions Rear the night they met. If she remembered correctly the greedy thing had almost drowned in her wine. Madeira dipped her little finger into her tea and set a glistening drop on the saucer beside the illusionary bee. With an incredulous shake of her head she turned back to the blonde.

"If you're ready we had better go. It's getting dark soon." She drank the last of the tea, shivered as that pleasant, heady rush tingled down her spine, and got to her feet. "I just need to grab my cloak", she pointed to the ceiling by the front door, where her cloak was gliding serenely around the draped ceiling like a vast, feathery manta ray.

She shouldered her rucksack and left Ambrosia at the table while she spoke to Dreams at the counter. The clerk nodded and disappeared into the back room, only to return a chime later with a long handled broom and a determined expression. Together the two coaxed down the golden cloak and managed to tie it securely around her throat.

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Postby Ambrosia Alar on November 20th, 2017, 2:11 am

Ambrosia smiled when Madeira laughed. In their one previous meeting, the spiritist hadn’t laughed, not a real laugh anyhow, not one brought by happiness. With Madeira’s adherence to an always proper appearance, Ambrosia imagined the Craven didn’t laugh much elsewhere either. Not that being a spiritist brought many occasions for mirth. Constantly dealing with deaths so horrific they wouldn’t let the souls involved pass on had to turn one sour. And for those reasons, Madeira’s laughter was all the more beautiful.

When Madeira suggested making their way to the docks, Ambrosia nodded in agreement and smiled in amusement as Dreams went to work trying to coax Madeira’s cloak off the ceiling. Once the cloak was secured around Madeira’s neck, Ambrosia held the door open for the spiritist and followed her out into Alvadas’ streets. As much as she was accustomed to the oddities that were Alvadas’ illusions, Ambrosia wasn’t sure if she’d trust putting a flying anything around her neck. With everything Madeira faced and the composure with which she faced it, Ambrosia was beginning to think the young Craven was the bravest person she knew.

She said so, as she began to follow an illusion she was certain would lead them to the Port. “You might be one of the bravest people I know. The way you face death every day, I couldn’t do it. Death is an ugly thing.”

It didn’t take too long for the illusions of cobbled streets of running water and little boats floating down them to direct the two to the Patchwork Port, and there was still a little light left in the day for them to search by. Ambrosia was glad for that. The light of predusk was muted, and as long as she didn’t look directly at the low-hanging sun, her eyes didn’t burn, not so badly that she cried. They still shone with threatening tears though.

When they entered the Port and started down one of the docks, a familiar face greeted them. “Ambrosia, I already told you the instant we know Malachi is in port, we’ll send someone to let you know.” Eli’s face said he wasn’t pleased to see her, not here. Ambrosia was usually his favorite person, but that was when she was at the Rear and serving him his alcohol. She didn’t blame him for being irritated with her presence. Earlier in the season, she had pestered him relentlessly to help search for her sister, and that had just been whenever he came into the Rear. There was a period of about two weeks when he had stopped being a regular.

“I’m not here to pester you, Eli. It wasn’t even my idea to come. It was my friend’s.” She gestured to Madeira.

Immediately, Eli’s attitude became very accommodating. It was easy to see that Madeira’s prim and proper attire didn’t dissuade the dock worker’s interest. “Why didn’t you say so? And why haven’t you ever introduced me to her?”

“You met her at least once before,” Ambrosia reminded him. “It was that night I ended up getting trapped outside the Rear. You even held the door for her, at one point.”

Eli shook his head. “I’ll be honest. I really don’t remember much about that night. Everything after about ten chimes after you disappeared is a blur. We put away a lot of drinks.”

Ambrosia felt a certain amount of connection to her patrons and was always proud when they did something well. She gave him a smile that said just that. “And somehow, completely sloshed, you managed to pay for every single drink.”

Eli smiled but looked at Madeira when he answered. “What can I say? I perform well no matter how many drinks are in me.” With a cocky smile on his face, he turned back to Ambrosia. “So are you going to introduce me?”

Ambrosia couldn’t wait, so she smiled and nodded. “Eli, this is my friend Madeira. Madeira Craven.”

At the mention of Madeira’s surname, Eli’s smile left, and he quickly became more accommodating than Ambrosia had ever seen him. For a moment, Ambrosia was jealous of the respect Madeira’s name brought her. For a moment, she understood her sister’s hunger for power. She envied Madeira’s power, until she remembered her observation about Madeira’s laughter. Then, Ambrosia only pitied Madeira. She couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have the weight of the expectations of Madeira’s family on her shoulders. Either that, or they expected her to amount to nothing and Madeira couldn’t live with that. Ambrosia’s family had never expected her to prove anything but had always expected that she would amount to something interesting.

Eli looked like he was trying to come up with an apology, but nothing came. “Well, you let me know if you need anything, miss.”

He headed back to moving what appeared to be very heavy crates on to waiting ship.

Ambrosia waited until he was out of earshot, then turned to Madeira. “That’s the first time I’ve heard him use a ‘miss’ or ‘ma’am’ on anyone.” Ambrosia smiled. “I hope that reaction doesn’t get too annoying. Not much you can do about it if it happens though, I suppose.” She shrugged. “Where do you think we should start?”

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Postby Madeira Craven on November 28th, 2017, 5:42 am

Image
Side by side the two women made their aimless way across Alvadas, hoping the city would consent to smile and the Patchwork Port would appear. They were silent for a while, lost in their own thoughts, before Ambrosia spoke.

“You might be one of the bravest people I know. The way you face death every day, I couldn’t do it. Death is an ugly thing."

For a long moment Madeira said nothing. She was firstly floored that anybody could consider her brave, but more than that she knew she had to pick her next words very carefully.

"It's... Ambrosia, death isn't ugly. Death is gentle and kind. It’s not a process, it's a destination. Illness and murder and all these horrible things are made right by death. Besides, ghost's and the things I deal with... they are a kind of unlife. They feared death so much they would rather live in torment than die in peace."

Ssanya would understand. The Dhani maledictor had a reverence for death and what it left behind. So would Maro, the Eiyon Kelvic who’s gentleness and respect for those suffering souls was so much greater than her own. What's more, both of them could have probably explained it better. Explained how Dira did not discriminate or show favour, how the wealthy and the thieves, the murderers and the pious, were all equal in death. How the very air sighs when a ghost lets go of it’s hold on life. How the soul leaves something behind with everything it touches, and in that way it's possible for your experience and personality to continue forever. But she didn't have the words.

Following the illusions of the city, eventually the Patchwork Port opened up to them. Madeira rarely had reason to come here, so it had been quite a while since she had walked the docks and dodged the labourers and tottering crates that moved somehow like a well oil machine, sprinkled with complete madness. Madeira was taking in the sights, squinting at the tall ships for one that looked familiar, when a voice slipped under the din of a dozen hollering sailors.

It was Eli, the man she saw at the Stallions Rear the night she met Ambrosia. Madeira did not appreciate how he spoke to her companion, and it showed on her face. When Eli turned to her he was met with an expression of stony disapproval. Though that did not seem to dissuade him as he gave her double entendre and a cheeky wink.

Ambrosia's voice was bright with a constrained glee as she dropped the name 'Craven' upon the man almost immediately after. And the change it brought in the irritated, lewd man was enormous. Suddenly he was standing straight, his face apologetic and stiff. He assured her that if she needed anything, she could find him. Then he did an awkward little head bow and scuttled away, and Ambrosia turned to her with a twinkle in her watering eyes.

"I wish he'd call you 'miss'" Madeira huffed, annoyed that he'd gotten away before she could tell him so herself. "I'm used to the reaction. It can be very useful. It tends to open a lot of doors."

Secretly, she was starting to love the reaction it caused. The name still sat heavy on her shoulders, but there was a hard kind of satisfaction in the way it intimidated people before they even knew her first name. Besides, if you did scare people at least a little
bit, what was the point?

"Well, I guess your captain is not in port. Eli was suppose to tell you when he was, yes? So lets look for mine. It'll be a merchant ship with The Golden Hand painted on the side in, predictably, gold." They continued down the dock, Madeira craning to catch sight of the ship between the last workers of the day. She thought it probably prudent to fill Ambrosia in while they walked.

"The captain of the ship is called Barsala. I sorted out a haunting for him last year. The haunt was Emma, actually." she caught Ambrosia's eye and smiled. She knew the barmaid had a soft spot her spectral charge. "He owns a few ships that go between Riverfall and Alvadas and the cities between. The way his reputation tells it he knows everything that happens on the docks all over the Suvan. If your sister was trying to get out of Alvadas he would know, I'm sure of it."

They didn't have to search long. The dying sun was at such a slant it lit up the side of a heavy-bellied merchant ship, and the tall painted words of the Golden Hand winked at them from between bustling sailors and labourers within fifteen chimes.

Lies and explanations were given to labourers as they scaled the gangplank. More lies and explanations were given to the deckhands. And then they were finally faced with the captains quarters. Madeira gave a smart knock on the door, but opened without invitation. She couldn’t risk them being turned away.

The quarters were much as she remembered them. It spoke of comfort and unspeakable wealth. The dark wood panelled room was lined with shelves of books and trinkets from around the world. Handsome furniture was nailed to the floor, an intricate rug underneath. Most of one wall was dominated with an incredibly detailed map of what looked to be all of Mizahar. And the man himself, Captain Barsala, behind his desk with an abacus and a sheath of ledgers, was just the same. Dark skinned, dark eyed, his big belly constrained with a silk sash over a tasseled coat and gold hoops hanging from his ears and neck. He looked up as the women barged in, and Madeira watched him deflate as shock wore off recognition took it’s place.

“Madeira Craven.”

"Captain. You look well." Madeira smiled as warmly as possible, willing the merchant to remember that she had successfully had his flagship exorcised, and forget that she had stolen a very valuable pelt from him in the process. Not to mention the untold damage she had done to the cargo before securing Emma, or the slight he had received from her family for foisting Madeira on him when he asked for the much more powerful Madara.

“Well, you don't" Barsala said gruffly. He had forgotten nothing. “Miss Craven", he tacked on hurriedly at the end. He was eyeing the two women with suspicion, twisting his gold rings endlessly around his fingers. Barsala was frowning at the pair of them, his face closed and unreadable.

"This is my friend, Ambrosia Alar.” Madeira went on determinedly. “Ambrosia, this is Captain Barsala of the Golden Hand.”

There was a pot of mulled wine sitting on a brazier sending plumes of heady, spiced steam into the cabin. Unlike the last time she met him, he did not offer his guests any refreshment nor did he invite them to sit. She had the impression that he was hoping they’d leave quickly. Madeira had suspected before that the man had his many gaudy fingers in seedy dealings. Perhaps the presence of a big name and a woman with questions made him nervous.

“Captain, my friend is looking for her sister. And last she heard Tessa Alar was on the docks, looking for a certain ship captain.” Madeira began dryly, but soon her voice turned up at the end in a kind of flattering coo. "And we thought we should talk to you first. We’ve heard nothing passes this port without you knowing about it.”

From deep inside, she willed her soul to rise and dijed to pool in her eyes. With her eyes locked on his she push her influence on him, overriding his feelings of caution with her own manufactured feelings of trust and openness. But the effect was inexperienced and clumsy, and she could tell almost immediately that it did not work. Barsala gave a twitch like he was dispelling an irksome fly, but otherwise his expression did not change from an unwelcoming frown.

Without the crutch of Hypnotism, they were stuck with old fashioned persuasion and flattery.

"I'm sure you've heard something. You’re a powerful man, and anything could help. Isn't that right, Ambrosia? What can you tell him about Tessa?” Madeira looked to her partner with that same warm smile, but hidden in the fullness of her skirt she gave the woman a poke with her boot. Oddly, this was were their jobs overlapped. Both barmaids and spiritists were regularly involved in such tricky social situations. But Madeira was more used to prying information out of the angry, insane dead; while Barsala was observant, obstinate, clever and very much alive. If anyone could soften him up, it was the barmaid.
I will be slow posting in the lead up to Christmas. Please be patient with me!
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Postby Ambrosia Alar on December 12th, 2017, 3:51 am

“Ambrosia, death isn’t an ugly thing.”

Ambrosia listened quietly and patiently as Madeira searched for the words to explain her view on death and managed to make a few elegant points. Still, at the end of her words, Ambrosia’s stance remained unchanged, and it was her turn to reach for words.

“I know I won’t change your mind, Madeira, just as you won’t change mine. We are all of us stuck in our ways. The way I see it, though, is that life is beautiful, and death is the end to all of that. Every beautiful thing life contains and every beautiful sensation you’ve ever experienced from the smell of freshly fallen rain to the warmth of the embrace of a loved one, those are things of beauty, and death just means you will never experience those again. I’ve seen lives end too soon, good people with much more good left to do.”

She sighed, hoping she had made her point but knowing pretty certainly she had not. “We’re all set in our ways. I won’t think less of you for your thoughts. I hope you don’t think less of me for mine.”

Ambrosia went silent, listening to anything else Madeira might say, but soon they had run into Port and Eli.

Madeira was indignant as Eli strode back off to his work. “I wish he’d call you ‘miss’.”

“I’m glad he doesn’t,” Ambrosia admitted with a smile as she watched him walk away. “I’d probably punch him if he did. Miss is all well and good for someone like you, someone he doesn’t know, I mean. But as much as he respects the power of a name, as much as he respects you for your name, he will never respect you as much as he respects me. There’s a deeper respect in familiarity and friendship, one that’s stronger than the artificial respect bred by propriety. He respects me and adores me in his own little way. It works for us.”

Madeira had a lead for them to follow. Over nearly half the season, Ambrosia had exhausted every lead she had here on the docks, burning a few bridges while at it, and she was willing to try anything. Besides, a new lead meant new hope, and that was something Ambrosia needed desperately. The lead Madeira spoke of was a merchant captain who had many connections across the Suvan Sea and plenty of those right here in Alvadas. Barsala, captain of The Golden Hand. And to top it all off, Madeira had exorcised a ghost from his ship. He’d practically be leaping at an opportunity to repay her.

In all her years spent visiting the Port, Ambrosia had seen ships she had considered large, but they all paled in comparison to The Golden Hand when they finally found her.

As they approached the boat, another whisper, more difficult to hear this time, sounded in her mind. You don’t belong here.

Ignoring the voice, Ambrosia followed Madeira up the gangplank. As they moved their way farther on to the ship though, Ambrosia noticed something odd. Each laborer and sailor they met along the way was given a quick but artful lie. It wasn’t that Ambrosia looked down on Madeira for it. Rather, she admired her spiritist friend for how easily each lie slipped off her tongue and brought the desired result. Ambrosia just thought it would be easier for Madeira to drop her name. Certainly, that would get them an audience with the captain a little more quickly. After all, Madeira was the Craven who had exorcised their ship. But Ambrosia didn’t question her friend’s methods, because they worked. In less than a chime of stepping onboard, they were outside the captain’s quarters.

When Madeira knocked, Ambrosia was prepared to wait, but when the other young woman entered without invitation, Ambrosia followed her in without a second thought. The way Ambrosia imagined it, Madeira had to be a celebrity here and was bound to receive a warm welcome.

The scene they stepped into was one of absolute decadence. No expense had been spared; and no comfort, forgotten. Gorgeous, dark wood panels that could only have been sourced from the finest Talderan trees lined the walls. With all the books lining the shelves, the layout of the furniture, and a rug that seemed could only have been crafted by the best artisans in Ahnetep, the room had more of the feel of a manor’s library than the living quarters for a seafaring vessel. There were little things, like the bookends carved to look like cresting waves and the fact that all of the furniture was nailed into place, that spoke of the sea. In one of the bookshelves, several bottles of wine were secured ingeniously, so their labels could be seen but no damage would be done to them when the waters got rough. On a brazier sat a pot of mulled wine, and the scent it left in the air nearly overpowered all others. Ambrosia was so enthralled by the richness of it all that she almost missed how cold the man’s greeting was.

“Madeira Craven.” Captain Barsala’s attire spoke to his wealth as much as if not more than the décor of the room. Gold and silk bedecked the man, and his extravagant coat’s tassels moved with the rhythm of the belly it contained. Rings adorned every finger. He was a man very comfortable with his wealth.

“Captain, you look well,” Madeira greeted the man politely.

“Well, you don’t,” Barsala stated.

Way to go, Titless.

Ambrosia had to look away to hide her smirk at the interruption from one of the whispers. This time, it was Jomi, one of Madeira’s ghostly acquaintances. Her mind still couldn’t wrap around how the two had become partnered as they were nothing alike. Jomi was overly sarcastic while Madeira tended toward the serious side, but maybe that made them good for each other. Despite what Madeira had said earlier, the spiritist did not seem to be on good terms with the captain. With the man’s reaction to her sudden intrusion, Ambrosia was beginning to wonder if Madeira had sorted anything at all. If Madeira really had taken Emma away from The Golden Hand, she must have done something awful not to be in Barsala’s good graces anymore.

At Madeira’s introduction, Ambrosia bobbed a quick curtsey. As Madeira explained their reason for being here, Ambrosia listened distractedly. The absolute splendor of the captain’s quarters still had her awestruck. Though they were never poor, her family had never been rich, so the lifestyles of the ungodly wealthy had always fascinated her. That wasn’t to say that she didn’t know how to deal with the rich. Even though the Rear wasn’t the classiest establishment, it still had its share of wealthy patrons. Most of them required a different touch than the usual bar goers.

A nudge from Madeira’s boot brought Ambrosia’s focus back to their purpose for being here. “Isn’t that right, Ambrosia? What can you tell him about Tessa?”

Ambrosia let her eyes wander to Barsala’s. Hard as granite, his dark brown eyes watched her warily, assessing and picking apart every facet of her they could. Like many rich people, his caution had helped him secure his wealth, and his continued shrewdness had let him keep it. But one thing Ambrosia knew was people, and she had met plenty like him before. Captain Barsala had attained wealth, but that wasn’t what he valued most. His wealth had bought him power and the respect of others, and he was used to being treated with the respect he was certain he deserved. Somewhere along the line, Madeira hadn’t given him that, and her lack of respect had bought his ire. That gave Ambrosia an idea, a way to get Barsala to warm up to her. She hoped Madeira would forgive her for what she was about to say, hoped her friend would realize it was all for show and that Ambrosia didn’t mean a word of it.

Part of Ambrosia wished she was a little more presentable, that she had taken the time to do up her hair a little more nicely before she had gone on her drug trip, that her eyes weren’t bloodshot and teary like some little girl after her first heartbreak. Part of her wished, but she knew she only had what was available to her at the moment. Though she probably looked at least a half a mess, her smile shone through it all, the one that bought her attention and trust.

“Captain, it was very generous of you to not kick us out right away, especially after we interrupted so rudely.” It was a risky statement as it gave him an opening to do just that, but he didn’t jump on the opportunity quickly enough. Ambrosia went on. “I do hope you’ll forgive Madeira. Her name gives her an inflated sense of self-importance.”

Captain Barsala hadn’t made it to where he was in life by giving his trust away easily, but Ambrosia watched in secret satisfaction as a smirk tugged at the corners of his eyes and lips, even if only for a moment. With as quickly as Barsala regained what little of his straight face he had lost, Ambrosia knew she’d have to be careful not to push too far too fast. Being a merchant, he was bound to recognize flattery for flattery sake. Still, a little flattery never hurt. The rich tended to love hearing how amazing they were.

Her eyes swept over the cabin once more and she let the wonder she felt show on her face. “It must have taken you years to accumulate all this wealth, and no doubt, it takes much of your time to maintain such an enterprise. We’d hate to take too much-” Ambrosia stopped as one of the bottles of wine caught her eye. It wasn’t so much the bottle itself as it was the label. “Is that…?” She stepped closer and saw the label, rare but familiar, that confirmed what she had thought. “Bluevein Godspirit? Captain! You are a man of exquisite taste.”

It was expensive. That much she knew. Once, early in her days working for Cade at the Stallion’s Rear, they had had a representative from the Bluevein Vineyard arrive and try to turn the Rear into a supplier of their wine in Alvadas. Every flavor the big blue man (an Akalak, he’d called himself) described had Ambrosia swallowing as the saliva in her mouth built. But when the man had told Cade the price of their finest wine (upwards of two hundred golden mizas a bottle), Cade had laughed in the big man’s face, not because he thought the wine wasn’t worth it but because he knew none of his patrons could afford it.

“I’ve only ever seen one bottle of this, and I didn’t even get to taste it. Is it as good as they say?”

Captain Barsala gave her a haughty and knowing smile. “Better.”

Ambrosia reached her hand out toward the bottle, stopped, and looked to Barsala for permission. “When the Akalaks brought this to the Stallion’s Rear to try to get us to sell it, they wouldn’t even let me touch the bottle. May I?”

The captain gave an affirmative gesture with his hand, and Ambrosia released the bottle from its craftily-designed wire holder. Ambrosia held up the bottle, inspecting its simple yet elegant label more closely before turning to Madeira. “Do you realize how amazing this is, Madeira? I bet that even Madara would be hard-pressed to get her hands on one of these, not due to cost, of course. I’m sure she could afford them by the dozen, but the contacts one would need to get just one, let alone three. I doubt even she has those.”

Ambrosia was sure the head of the Craven family certainly did have those connections, but that wasn’t the point. What she was doing was continuing to diminish Madeira’s name while making the captain feel more important. As much as she hoped Madeira knew it was all a lie, it didn’t matter to Ambrosia. Even if her friend recognized it, it still left a bad taste in Ambrosia’s mouth and the heavy feeling of regret.

“How does being rich feel?” Barsala asked. Whether he was just putting on a show or whether he was enjoying how impressed Ambrosia acted, she couldn’t tell. “As good as you imagined?”

“Better.” Ambrosia’s smile said so. Letting her hands slide over the label once more, she imagined what it would be like to open it, pour a few glasses, and sip away at them in the company of friends. Her present company was not excluded. She was sure Madeira would appreciate such a fine wine. Cordon and Cade would be there too, maybe even Bandon, and her sisters, of course.

Her sisters. They were her reason for being here. Ambrosia’s face fell, and her smile disappeared.

Captain Barsala saw. “What’s wrong? Finally remember you’ll never have this much wealth?”

Ambrosia shook her head and put the bottle back, securing it once more. “No. I was just thinking who I’d share it with, if it was mine. My sisters were at the top of that list. Despite her lack of manners, Madeira meant well when she brought me here, and I wouldn’t be able to say I had any manners of my own if I wasted any more of your time. Please, Captain, tell me anything you might know about my sister, and I’ll let you get back to your business straight away. I’m sure the Alar name is meaningless, especially to someone of your standing, but she has an unforgettable face.”

Since Tessa had disappeared, Ambrosia had been carrying a picture her sisters had had painted of the three of them. She remembered that day well. By the end of it, having held a smile for the full day, smiling no longer felt natural. Setting the painting on the table in front of Barsala, she spun it toward him and tapped above the woman in the middle. “Tessa’s the dark-haired beauty in the middle. She disappeared late last season.”

The painting was a good likeness. Barsala was sure to recognize Tessa’s face if he had ever seen her before.
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