Aroldo and Marius both sink back into the comfortable chairs in the manor’s sitting room.
“Is it over?” Asks Marius quietly.
“I certainly hope so," replies Aroldo. With a glance upward, he reaches for several clam shells and starts to study them intently.
For his part, Marius begins patting himself, ensuring each and every weapon is in its rightful place. After several rounds of this, he clears his throat.
“I dabbled a bit in the Arcane area myself you know.”
Aroldo glances up from his shells, “Oh, really?”
“Yeah. Didn’t really stick with it though.”
“I see, why not?” asks the wizard, hiding his exasperation at being disturbed.
“I’d say I lost interest in it, after I learnt a spell that made me a lot better at stabbing people!”
Aroldo purses his lips for a minute as he considers the statement. Finally he replies “Fair enough.”
Deciding he’s on a bit of a roll, the usually quiet Marius continues “She always like that?” asking with a glance upward.
“No, I think she’s just a bit nervous. Well, perhaps more than just a little bit. She doesn’t get out much these days, I think she needs to blow off a bit of steam.” answers the wizard.
“Fair enough,” responds the rogue, before both men exchange a smile.
With the household generally still, it’s quiet enough to hear someone come down the stairs.
Both men rise from their chairs moments before Alaria appears in the doorway.
“Sorry I took a bit long getting ready,” she announces the bard as she stops forward. She’s wearing a tight black dress that fits her perfectly and it is heavily embroidered, flaunting the Little Black Swan’s disregard for the Lord-Mayor’s proclamations.
“What do you think?” she asks the two as she gives a small mock curtsy before twirling once, showing off.
Marius let out a low whistle as Aroldo smiles broadly. "I’m sure you’ll have all their attention.
“Better cover that up for now though,” advises Marius, stepping forward with her disguise and helping her cover up.
“I’ll see the two of you there, even if you don’t see me.” says Aroldo as he moves to the door. "I have to get ready yet, and I’ll have a disguise!”
Aroldo moves to his greenhouse and begins tending to his plants for a time until he hears the front door open and close – Alaria and Marius are on their way. Wiping his hands clean, Aroldo heads up to his bedroom to get changed. As he’ll be using his magic to disguise himself, he worries little about his appearance; his choices are based on comfort and convenience.
As he finishes wiping his face he glances down and spots the Harrow deck Alaria had dug up. He reaches for it and places a hand on top of the deck, considering performing a reading. Deciding against it, he casts his spell, nodding to the stranger’s face that now appears in the mirror before him. Disguise in place, he too heads out the front door, on the way to the same destination as the bard and rogue.
- * *
The tall half-elf with flowing silvery-blonde hair smiles beatifically down at the girl on the final layer of security. Handing the invitation over, he steps through the doorway. All in all, Aroldo was pleased with the layers of security, seen and unseen. The location seemed secure, a sub-basement in a rarely used warehouse. The owner kept two guards on staff so the Dottari rarely patrolled. That the two guards were sympathetic to rebellious ideals and nicely bribed by The Barman was the icing on the cake.
The impromptu stage had been set up at one end of the rectangular room. Standing upon it, Gruckalus was on stage swallowing a sword, an impressive act that resulted in some cheers and claps from some of the attendees. The street performer then fired back at a member of the audience whose heckling was describing a completely different type of sword swallowing. The crowd roars with laughter as the heckler is subdued.
Alaria is seated in a corner, surrounded by a small group, seemingly entranced by one of the bard’s anecdotes.
Most of the crowd has clumped into groups large enough to form energetic conversations, most regarding recent events in the silver city. Some wear masks that Aroldo and the other distributors of the invitations had spread around. Others, no masks at all. A few even wear elaborate costumes of their own devising.
Arriving at the bar, he leans against it and makes eye contact with The Barman. He saunters over as the disguised wizard scratches at his right eyebrow.
“What will you have?” he asks, scratching at his own right eyebrow.
“Star wine from the Tehithal Valley,” sniffs the half elf, "but I don’t expect you to have heard of it.”
“Coming right up!” The Barman announces as he fetches the bottle. When he returns and begins to pour a glass he leans forward slightly and adopts a lower tone. “All good so far. No signs of any Dottari or anything yet. Eyes still open of course.”
Nodding, Aroldo turns and leans against the bar, back to surveying the crowd. The air is tingling; he’s very obviously not the only one utilising illusionary magic here, unsurprising, given the Alabaster Academy was one of the places he had discreetly placed invitations. Students were likely to attend, but infernal influences were opposed by more traditionalists amongst the faculty also.
It is still a little surprising when the figure of Professor Volonari stands next to him at the bar. If one of the students was imitating the head of the Divination School, and it got back to the professor…
“Not a bad illusion. Wrapped the outlying threads past the vertical vortexes. Very nice. You must have paid attention in your illusion class. Somewhere between say seven to ten years ago? Old Veymich taught that method, I remember!” the professor announces after sizing Aroldo up.
“Don’t worry,” he chuckles as Aroldo draws back a little in alarm. "That’s all I can easily tell,” He leans forward and sniffs at the wizard. “And that you stink of Harrow.”
Aroldo smiles at one of his old teachers, "I didn’t expect to see you here, I admit Professor. “And definitely not to just go Gandalfing,” referring to Kintargan slang for a wizard openly patronising a less than reputable drinking establishment.
“I’m just a worried citizen, concerned with the direction this city is taking,” the Professor says in a serious tone. He goes to say something further but movement in a corner of the room distracts him.
“Oh here she comes,” the Professor announces, “The Little Black Swan. My oh my, isn’t she magnificent specimen?”
Aroldo watches as Alaria heads towards the stage, to the murmurs of the crowd. She pauses to hug Gruckalus and exchanges a few words with him. She then ascends gracefully up the stairs to the stage.
“She is indeed,” Aroldo responds, gaze flicking between his friend and the crowd, seeking any threat. He does see Marius, across the room, doing the same.
Alaria stands right at the front of the stage gazing out as the masses attending quieten down to an expectant silence.
A city of free souls
Chained to fierce devils
Who pursue their own goals
And in their dark revels
They ignore the cries of the people
That go unheard and unwanted
Devil priests laugh from their dark steeple
But people remain undaunted!
After her recitation the crowd cheers and applaud, pleased with the performance so far. Some whisper to their neighbours, discussing the feelings behind the poem.
Alaria looks around the room, seemingly soaking up the approval the way a man stranded in the desert drinks water. Her gaze finally comes to rest on Aroldo, and she raises a hand slightly to quieten the audience before beginning her next poem.
Aroldo, however, is wondering if Alaria can somehow see through his disguise, it would appear her gaze is fixed upon him, and he’s growing more and more uncomfortable.
She begins the next poem, an emotive piece about someone’s feelings towards another, and tying it in to their feelings of a Free Kintargo. It’s impactful and tragically romantic, but Aroldo has trouble taking in the words, Alaria’s gaze on him has disconcerted him. It is unwavering, and the wizard’s anxiety moves beyond feeling that he is without an illusion, but more that he’s standing there naked and exposed. The voice in his mind that thinks Alaria can see through the illusion only grows louder. It begins to wonders if her rescue from excruciation and the sacrifices the Children of the Ash were ready to make has inspired her.
The poem moves to its crescendo, the subject explaining the danger they have decided to go into is all for their love for the other. Alaria’s delivery is perfection, her silky voice seemingly caressing the listeners ears. At the word ‘love’, Aroldo finally looks away, gulping at his wine.
He’s unable to look back at the stage, so he looks around. The crowd in the speakeasy seem to have been invigorated by the Little Black Swan’s poetry, talk around the room has spread from complaints to people beginning to ask one another “Well, what can we do?”
With this Aroldo has some small sense of accomplishment, perhaps this idea is one that will work.
Signalling at The Barman, who responds with a small pointing gesture, Aroldo heads through a small door, into a dark and dingy corridor. Casting another spell, the wizard disappears from view, before heading down the dark corridor back out into the dark and lonely streets of the oppressed Silver City to head home and ponder the nights events.