Solo A Friend Indeed

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A lawless town of anarchists, built on the ruins of an ancient mining city. [Lore]

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A Friend Indeed

Postby Shakune on July 30th, 2015, 4:36 pm

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85th Summer, 515AV

Helen Montgomery was not a lucky woman. Whereas her older sister had been born with grace, beauty and brains, Helen was born with poor eyesight, a crooked nose, and a terrible lisp. Her sister Sandra had also married well: a merchant from Lhavit who, after their brief meeting, swept her away to the Crstalline city and treated her like a Goddess. Helen, in comparison, had married Stan, who had lived next door to her family for her entire life. The two were of similar age, similar class, and it was a marriage 'you'll do' rather than 'I do'. Four years later, Helen discovered her husband in the arms of another man. Stan and his lover, Russell, departed from Sunberth that very night, leaving Helen to bring up her three children on her own. The single grace of good luck in Helen's life was that all three her precious children grew up healthy and as happy as children could in Sunberth. Until, of course, Stan Junior was scratched on the arm by a dirty nail. The wound became infected and the entire limb had to be chopped off from the shoulder joint. Hector, her second born, caught the pox one Winter and died in a pool of his own vomit and fecal matter. Finally, Helen's only daughter Sasha, was raped one night on her way home from working in a tavern. The sixteen year old died a short while later after giving birth to her twin sons.

So after all she had been through, Helen was, to say the least, a little jaded. She was fifty-something years old, of generally poor health, and barely had two coppers to rub together. She lived with her two grandsons and crippled eldest son in the same house she grew up in, and it was an utter shithole. The furniture was almost always falling to bits, there was mould on all the walls and ceilings, and it was impossible to stay warm once Syna had dipped below the horizon.

Helen was therefore less than pleased when her busy day was interrupted by a knocking on the door. The babies were both crying loudly - Helen had long ago given up on trying to remember which one was which - and Stan Junior was sitting quietly in the corner of his bedroom, reading poetry and doing his best to write his own. He had been terribly forlorn and artistic since losing his right arm, and being right-handed, his injury made it almost impossible for him to write down the awful limericks he thought up.

"Yeh? What d'ya want?" Helen demanded upon answering the door. She was dressed in her usual drab clothes, nothing that was more colourful than grey or brown, and nothing that fit her properly. She glared at the strange-looking woman on the other side of the door. A pair of black eyes were staring straight her had been the last thing Helen had expected to see. She jumped back, a little disgusted at the woman's obvious foreignness.

"Helen? Helen Montgomery?" Shakune asked, trying her best not to judge the squalid-looking home that the woman stood in front of. The denizens of Sunberth were hardly people of luxury, and yet Helen Montgomery appeared to be a whole new level of poor.

"Yeh that's me. Look, I'm busy. Be quick 'bout it." Helen gestured briefly to the sound of the infantile crying that erupted in waves behind her. Impatiently, and without giving Shakune even a chime to speak, Helen added, "what do you want?"

Shakune inhaled sharply. After an entire season of living with the ghost of Bridie Salt, it still seemed unnatural to discuss her openly with other people. "You knew Bridie Salt, yes?"

Helen gave a firm nod. Oh, she knew Bridie Salt. She had been only a child when she first met Bridie, who used to do a spot of babysitting for Helen's parents when they were working. Even from a young age, Helen knew that she was jealous of Bridie in the same way she was jealous of her older sister. Like Sandra, Bridie had been gifted with a pretty face and a demure little body that made Helen's own plump form seem like a baby whale. What was worse was Bridie's sense of charity. Her husband had come with unexpected riches, and out of the sweetness of her heart, Bridie had volunteered to do her bit for the people of Sunberth, having come from a poor family herself. She had actually remained close friends with Helen's mother, for reasons utterly unknown to the girl. Helen had actually long decided it was actually because Bridie enjoyed placing herself higher and mightier than others, that she babysat and cooked meals for Helen's family.

So it was with great mirth that Helen replied, "Yeh. I knew her. But she's been dead for years."

Shakune tried to ignore the sick smirk that crossed Helen's wrinkled lips. She recalled Bridie quietly noting that Helen had been a quiet, sad little girl. It seemed that that quietness and sadness had bubbled away, eating away at the woman's sizeable gut for the past forty or so years.
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Last edited by Shakune on August 3rd, 2015, 3:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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A Friend Indeed

Postby Shakune on July 30th, 2015, 5:59 pm

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"Anyway, whatsit to you?" Helen demanded eventually, having moved her perverse mind off Bridie's untimely death and onto the present moment. She peered at Shakune through narrowed eyes before throwing a tired gaze to the dank living room behind her. One of the babies had crawled it's sorry little way to the doorway, and sat looking blinkingly up at his grandmother. She stared back at the infant with little emotion in her eyes.

Shakune stepped cautiously away from the child as if it was contagious. As a woman who jumped through every herbal-tea hoop to avoid pregnancy, a baby was an unpleasant sight indeed. "I, er--" She coughed, quite distracted by the gurgling pile of flesh that now sat between her and Helen, "I wanted to talk to you about her. If that's okay. You're the only person I know who knew her."

Scooping up her grandson unceremoniously, Helen glowered at Shakune before sighing grumpily. "Fine." She murmured, then extended a stiff finger to the courier, jabbing at the air aggressively. "But it'll cost ya. I don't do owt for free nowadays." If the memory of Bridie Salt was having to be dug out of her memory bank, Helen was sure as shyke not going to do it for free.

"Of course, of course." Her reply was far too eager. It would be evident from Shakune's enthusiastic agreement that she had money to burn, and was happy to do so for the sake of uncovering new information about Bridie. Helen gave her a smug look before nodding inside her little home. Shakune followed the woman inside and shut the door behind her. "What a lovely... home."

Helen snorted at the sheer lack of truth behind Shakune's false compliment. The woman had lost what little enthusiasm she had about her home years ago, but she had never been one of those proud women who kept their house spotless and who delighted in baking cakes. She had always been too busy disliking her life and being miserable to do such pointless things. "So, what's someone like you wantin' with poor dead Bridie Salt?" She asked with a huff, sitting herself down on a lumpy chair. The baby she carried with her squealed loudly at the drop, and Helen released the child onto the grubby carpetted floor. Suddenly Helen's eyes flashed hopefully towards Shakune, "did she leave somethin' of worth? Because if so, I want my share of it. For tellin' you this stuff."

What a despicable woman.

Shakune sat on a seat opposite Helen, her feet tucked under herself to avoid coming into contact with one of the naked, horrible little infants that crawled across the floor like a pair of cockroaches. "No. She's not left anything of worth." She replied primly. "But the reason why I want to learn about Bridie is rather long. Do you -- have time?"

It was obvious that Helen had all the time in the world to dedicate to Shakune's tale. But the woman gave a great sigh, investigated her fingernails and snorted loudly before saying, "I got stuff to do, missus. The more time of mine you waste, the more I want payin'. So it's up to you."

How surprising.

Shakune stopped herself from rolling her black endless eyes, but she did delight in telling Helen: "I'll be quick, don't worry." She paused briefly, considering how best to tell the tale in the fewest words possible. The most meaningful details would be wasted on Helen, for sure. "Bridie's husband - Archie Salt - adopted me when I was thirteen. He died two years ago, and I never knew about Bridie or any of the children they had together. I only learnt about their existence last season. And since then, I've actually met Bridie. Or, rather, her ghost. But she doesn't realise she's dead. So she's of no help to me." She finished with an exhausted sigh. Had she covered all the necessary information? Only then did Shakune realised that she had missed the most important part of the tale: "I'm here because I want to try and find their two oldest children, Roseanne and Lark. I have no clue what happened to them, but I don't think they died like the other two did."
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Last edited by Shakune on August 3rd, 2015, 3:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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A Friend Indeed

Postby Shakune on July 30th, 2015, 8:38 pm

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Helen was silent for a moment. Her first thought after Shakune had finished talking was whether or not anyone would go to such an effort for her ghost. She presumed not. The woman bristled with annoyance and jealousy. Even in death, Bridie Salt was being treated like a princess when she, a living woman, was living in a miserable and squalid life. Giving another great snort that made Shakune wince Helen said, "Right. Well, I ain't bein' funny love, but I reckon you're wastin' your time. Them kids are either dead or as old as I am. And probably just as miserable," she added irritably, shifting one of her crawling grandsons out of the way of her feet, "that's assumin' you're not just outa your mind."

Shakune had expected the rebuttal. In fact, she would have been quite concerned for Helen's mental wellbeing had the woman simply accepted the story. So the courier had come prepared. Unfastening her satchel, Shakune retrieved a crumpled piece of parchment. She had quizzed Bridie about her closest friend, a woman called Nancy whose children she used to babysit. According to Bridie, Nancy had two daughters calls Sandra and Helen. Through her work, and general Sunberthian gossip, Shakune had subsequently learnt that Helen was still alive and well, living in the same house she had grown up in. From, there it had been relatively easy to track down the haggard woman.

Glancing down to the paper, Shakune spoke again, her voice even in an attempt to improve Helen's mood and the chances of the woman being of some use. She was, regrettably, Shakune's only lead so far. "I understand this is all... difficult to believe. But it's true, and I do want to find out what happened to them. Pa-- Archie never mentioned anything to me about his wife or chil-"

Helen gave another derisive snort. "Ain't no surprise there. As soon as Bridie were in her grave, that fella had dumped them kiddies on me' mam and dad. O'course they obliged, but that's just the kinda selfless people we are."

Shakune's hot desire to punch the miserable bitch flared instantly. How dare she, this pathetic woman living in a stinking hovel, dare to speak about Pa Salt like that? He had given Shakune everything in her life. He saved her from her own mother, and the terrible future that would have awaited Shakune had she continued to live in Zeltiva. He was still everything to her.

But Helen had not noticed Shakune's furious expression. She continued to speak as though she was discussing something as mundane as the bad weather, not a person who had been dead for forty years. "M'sister and Roseanne were good friends, as I remember it. Tha' little boy though, Lark. I don't remember him much. But them two stayed over here... oh, plenty'a times. For the old man's work, y'see. Buggered off every other day and left his own kids with m'parents."

Concentrate on breathing, Shakune told herself silently, her hands twisting and ripping the parchment piece that lay on her lap. Concentrate on breathing and not on smashing her pig-ugly face in. But despite her calm instruction, Shakune still found herself imagining Helen's broken face, bloody nose, black eyes and all.

"...And well, with m'mam's weepin' disease, they just couldn't cope. And then the accident with m'dad happened and..."

Her attention dropped back onto the present conversation. Something Helen had said flagged a distant memory. It was faint, and fractured. But the more Shakune tried to grapple with this memory, the more she remembered. It was approximately a year since she had first met Pa Salt, and they were in... Syliras? Nyka? No: they were in Lhavit. The old sailor had always delighted in partaking in the local gossip, so Pa Salt and the crew were in some tavern discussing the latest scandals with the barmaids. One of the women had mentioned that a friend's mother had been struck with an ailment named the weeping disease, and the stricken woman had subsequently tried to drown herself. As soon as the illness was mentioned, Pa Salt had stood up and walked away from the table, returning only when the waitresses had left and the stories had finished. At the time, Shakune had simply assumed he had needed a piss, or had remembered some last minute chore that needed to be finished off before the night drew in.

But now she understood that the dark expression that had clouded over his blue eyes had not been because of bed shellfish or gas. It was for another reason entirely. Something far more serious and with terrible consequences.
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Last edited by Shakune on August 3rd, 2015, 4:06 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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A Friend Indeed

Postby Shakune on July 30th, 2015, 9:06 pm

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"I'm sorry," Shakune interrupted, ignoring Helen's irritated grunt, "what's the weeping illness?"

Helen gave Shakune a sideways glance, her eyes scanning up and down the half-breed critically before she briefly concluded, "well, maybe you don't 'ave it where youre' from." she gave another irritating smirk, but the casual racism went completely unnoticed by Shakune, "but the weepin' disease strikes women - sometimes men, too, but not as often. They cry alot, sometimes they become crippled by sadness. Other's go a bit mad and do crazy things, like hang themselves or drown their kids. M'mam's was never that bad until Archie bloody Salt dumped his two kids on her. Then she got worse. She was very sad." Finally, a flickering of humility crossed Helen's face. She glanced down to her infant grandsons, who were squabbling over who would put a piece of dirt in their mouth first. Shakune winced, looked away and towards the staircase that stood crookedly to one side at the living room. Someone was loitering at the top of the stairs, in the murky shadows of the upper level of the house.

Helen frowned at Shakune's clear distraction, turned around and caught sight of the pair of legs at the top stair. "Oh, Stanny. Come down, boy." She slapped the empty seat beside her, making a cloud of dust lift from the pink cushion. The babies stared up at the sudden noise, and one of them began to whimper.

For a moment, the man on the stairs did not move. But then he lumbered himself down the stairs, one by one and very slowly. He, like Helen, looked incredibly tatty. His hair was shoulder-length and uncombed, his beard thick, yet patchy as if he had shaved it a while ago whilst blindfolded. His mannerisms were entirely different to Helen's. He was cautious and unsteady, full of doubt as he edged down the side of the room, barely looking at Shakune until he was forced to turn a corner and approach the sofa.

Her black eyes landed on his arm -- or rather, his lack of it. The right sleeve of his shirt hung completely limp at his side. For a moment, Shakune was too stunned to not stare. Her mouth hung open, the breath caught in her throat. She had seen men missing fingers before, but never one missing a whole arm.

How has he survived this long...?

"This is m'son, Stan." Helen's introduction was almost affectionate, until she followed it up with a scolding: "you could'a at least tried to brush your hair, boy."

Stan mumbled something incoherent, his skin blushing intensely under the two women's stares. Shakune gaped, made some rather interesting guttural noises, before finally stating: "I'm Shakune. Pleased to meet you, Stan."

"Shakune." Helen repeated, trying out the foreign name on her tongue and wrinkling her nose as she said it. "Interesting name."

Interesting meant foreign, Shakune knew. But she said nothing. The entire purpose of her visit had been knocked out of her head at the sight of Stan. He was so tragic, so sad. And what was worse was that Shakune could tell that his lack of an arm was recent. His figure was too strong, tall and broad to have been crippled for his entire life. No: this was a man who had trained hard and take pride in his body until something had hacked off his arm. He wasn't that bad looking, either. Had she seen him in a tavern, she probably would have shown him her breasts without a second thought. She might have even fucked him. If he had an arm, she thought guiltily.

"I like it." Stan mumbled, his eyes darting from the carpeted floor to Shakune's face shyly. She smiled: his compliment had been so earnest and genuine that it was impossible for her to not smile, "is it a Chaktawe name?" He asked tentatively, though the question was rather redundant given Shakune's black eyes.

Nevertheless, she smiled and gave a small nod, as if talking to a child. "Yes. M'ma was a Chaktawe. My dad was apparently a Svefra, though I never set eyes on him."
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Last edited by Shakune on August 3rd, 2015, 4:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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A Friend Indeed

Postby Shakune on August 3rd, 2015, 11:00 am

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Helen, displeased at how her son was befriending their visitor, decided that discussing Bridie's Salt's demise was not so painful for her after all. Especially if it meant distracting her son from this foreigner that currently sat in their damp living room. She did not want her precious son socialising with such people. Clearing her throat, she gestured to Shakune and the notes that lay on the courier's lap before explaining to Stan: "Shakune was just asking about your grandma."

The young man looked hopefully up to his mother, "has she written to us again?"

"Gods, no, don't be stupid." His mother retorted flatly, picking up one of the infant boys and stating, "this'un needs a change. I'll be back in a chime." With that, she rose and sauntered off, carrying one grandson on her hip and leaving the other one on the carpet to play with a dirty butter knife.

It took Shakune all of one moment before she turned her investigation onto Stan. He seemed mcuh kinder than his mother - almost a different species entirely. Shakune hoped that she might be able to charm him enough to share more information about Nancy. "Your grandmother's still alive, then? And her name is Nancy, yes?"

Stan nodded slowly, finally bringing his face up level with Shakune's. Underneath that beard and unfortunate greasy hair, she realised, was a really quite attractive young man. "She lives in Zeltiva now. Her and my Granda' moved there when I was young. But he died last year. She's all alone now." He added sadly and unnecessarily, casting a pathetically depressed look to his nephew. "I'd like to go and see her in Zeltiva, though."

To Shakune, Zeltiva was a place of historic regret and unhappiness. It was where she had lived for the first thirteen years of her life, with her mother Kinsha. Their relationship had not been a loving one. Shortly after Shakune's birth, the man who had fathered the black-eyed baby left mother and child stranded in Zeltiva, having quite abruptly decided that fatherhood was really not for him. In turn, the young Kinsha had been utterly, pathetically heartbroken. Her love for the Svefra male had been intense, borderline obsessive. Whilst he had appreciated her devotion for a while, he quickly grew bored of the young beauty, especially when their numerous copulations resulted in a baby with horrendous black eyes. For two or so years afterwards, Kinsha found herself engulfed with heartache and depression. She despised Shakune for forcing her beloved to leave them both on Zeltiva's docks. But at the same time, the thin maternal bond between them stopped Kinsha from giving her baby away. Shakune often wondered how her life would have panned out had she grown up in an orphanage or with another family. She supposed she would have been happier as a child, with other children to play with and talk to. She wouldn't have had to deal with her mother's drug habit, whoring, or neglect.

So the courier did not acknowledge Stan's quiet desire of visiting Zeltiva. She could not bring herself to lie and agree with him, and it seemed unnecessarily cruel to inform the fragile young man of her troubled history with the port city. With a change of tack, Shakune asked, "And they still have your mother's maiden name, Hastings? Do you know what trade your grandparents were in?" The more details she knew of Nancy and her husband, the more chances the courier had of ever contacting them.
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Last edited by Shakune on August 3rd, 2015, 8:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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A Friend Indeed

Postby Shakune on August 3rd, 2015, 5:00 pm

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"Yeh, they do. M'Grandad was a general labourer, I think. But my grandma' made jewellery. Nothin' fancy or anythin'. Just little trinkets." Suddenly, Stan's remaining hand began to ferret with the buttons of his stained shirt. Filthy fingers unlatched two buttons, revealing to Shakune a surprisingly taut, hairy chest. She averted her black eyes to the floor, but did allow herself a quick little peek as Stan explained. "She made me this."

The male was leaning forward now, his thumb latched onto a small silver chain that hung on his neck. There was a tiny little pendant, made of some sort of gem, welded onto the chain by a silver hook. "She gave it to me when I was little, just before they moved."

"You borin' our guest with our family history Stanny?" Helen snapped, her voice breaking into crude laughter. Stan, in response, withdrew back into himself, arm folded across his chest to hid the necklace from his mother. "This one does 'alf talk." His mother added, elbowing Shakune in the arm as if they were drinking buddies.

"He's actually been very helpful." The courier replied, her voice edging on the borderline between even and sharp. Stealing a glance to Stan, who was smiling appreciatively in her direction, Shakune continued to speak to Helen: "I want to know about your parents. If your mother is still alive, she might remember what happened to Roseanne and Lark."

Helen plopped herself down on the chair next to her son, dropping her freshly changed grandson back onto the carpet with his twin. "You've got about as much luck as gettin' somethin' outta my mother as you have flyin'."

"Grandma isn't like that." Stan muttered quietly. When Helen turned sharply towards her son with raised eyebrow, the young man fell into an embarrassed silence.

"You don't know what she's like, Stanny. You fell for all those shitty little trinkets she made, not knowin' what she's really like. She don't do nothin' for anybody unless it benefits 'er." Helen folded her arms crossly, glaring at Stan and Shakune in turn. It was then that the courier realised just how falsely Helen perceived herself. She seemed to be under the impression that she was some kindly charitable woman who did all she could for others. A thought that was, as far as Shakune could see, the direct opposite of reality. "Nah, my mother won't be 'elping you, love. I can tell you that for free."

This declaration from Helen silenced even the twin boys who were crawling across the floor. Stan chewed on his bottom lip, clearly wanting to argue against his mother, but fearing the consequences. Shakune stared glumly down at her notes. She had hoped to learn so much from Helen that the brief slices of information she had uncovered so far were thoroughly disappointing. Glancing up to Helen again, she watched the woman pick dirt from under her fingernails and cough grossly. There was only one way to get through to someone like this, Shakune decided. Putting her notes away, the courier lent forward and spoke in a low, serious tone.

"Look, Helen. I don't give two shykes about what you reckon your mother's like." When Helen and Stan glanced up to her in surprise, Shakune swallowed and continued speaking, her black eyes focused solely on Helen. "I want to find out what happened to Roseanne and Lark Salt, and I'm guessin' you know more than you do, you just don't care enough to tell me. You were older than both of them. You're telling me that you don't remember anything? They lived with you, according to what you've said. You must have been-- what? Seven, eight?"

"Ten." Helen snapped, sitting upright and staring down her nose to Shakune. "It was a very hard time in my life. M'mam wanted to do so well for the Salts, the Gods only knew why." The woman gave a pathetic little sniff. She even bought a dirtied hand up to her eye as if wiping away a tear. When that bought about no sympathy, Helen grunted and gave up the facade. "I dunno what else to tell ya. One day, they was there, eatin' breakfast with us an' all that. The next, they were gone. This was after m'dad had an accident at work that left him with a permanent limp." She gave a shrug, "I dunno what happened to them. But we didn't see 'em again. Sandra was dead upset, but she got over it after a few days."

"And what about Archie Salt?"

The woman shrugged again. "We saw 'im a coupla times. He always gave m'dad some money, even though they weren't lookin' after his bloody kids anymore."

Another silence spread over the room. Eventually, Shakune accepted the fact this information was all she would ever get out of the despicable Helen. Though it was not what she had expected to learn, the courier had at least found out where Roseanne and Lark Salt lived straight after Bridie's death. But they had moved, or been moved, out of the Hasting household after a while. Presumably Pa Salt knew about this, or he would never have continued to give Helen's father money.

The courier stood to leave. "Thank you for helping me, Helen. And thank you as well, Stan. I'm going to leave my address with you, if you don't mind. If either of you remember anything else, don't hesitate to visit me."

Helen stood up sharply, her finger jabbing at Shakune's satchel bag. "Oi. You said you'd bloody pay me. I want twenty gold."

The courier gave her a derisive look. Helen Hasting would not get twenty gold coins from Shakune, or even ten. She would get five, and not a copper more. With a flick of her hand, Shakune threw the coins into the air, leaving Helen scrabbling desperately to gather them up.
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A Friend Indeed

Postby Sayana on January 3rd, 2016, 1:05 am

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Don't forget to edit/delete your grade request. If there's anything I may have missed, please PM me and I'll be happy to look into it.


 
Shakune
Skills
  • Interrogation: 5
  • Investigation: 5
  • Intelligence: 3
  • Persuasion: 1
  • Storytelling: 1
  • Rhetoric: 4
  • Meditation: 1
  • Observation: 1
  • Intimidation: 1
Lores
  • Helen Montgomery: Daughter of Nancy, miserable old woman
  • Bridie Salt: Wife of Archie Salt
  • Roseanne and Lark: Bridie's and Archie's children
  • Stan: One armed man, son of Helen
  • Nancy Hastings: Friend of Bridie Salt, lives in Zeltiva
  • Roseanne and Lark: Went missing after Bridie's death and were last under care of Helen
  • Nancy: Suffered the weeping disease
  • Helen's story regarding her early life with the Salts
Miscellaneous
  • -5 GM for the information from Helen

Comments: I loved all the backstory you're adding to Shakune's plots. Helen certainly sounds like a miserable old woman and you played it well making it difficult to get information out of her. I'm curious where this investigation will take Shakune in the future and if she'll manage to find Roseanne and Lark, or not.

Your Grader,

Sayana
Boxcode design: Firenze
---

**Available via PM (generally) but looking to tie up loose ends. (Feb 15)

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