The Kitten, the Witches and the Bad Wardrobe - Willow & Tara Forever

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 Post subject: [AU]The Vaesen and the Society - Chapter 3 Posted
PostPosted: Wed Mar 17, 2021 9:36 am 
3. Flaming O

Joined: Wed Jan 13, 2021 4:47 pm
Posts: 51
Topics: 4
Location: Uppsala/Sweden
Since I'm just about done with My Dark Disquiet, here's the first part of my latest piece. I got ten chapters done already and at least ten more planned out(but I doubt I'll stop there, things have tendency to drag out with me).

• Title - The Vaesen and the Society
• Author name – Rutkowski
• Rating - Teen
• Disclaimer - Some period-appropriate sexism and bigotry. Trying to be realistic while I also refuse to be exploitative. Images taken from the Vaesen RPG sourcebook
• Feedback - Always!
• Summary - The Society is being rebuilt and Rupert Giles is gathering those with 'the Sight' to help in the struggle to keep the people safe from the supernatural elements that rebel against increasing modernization and industrialization. Giants, Wood Wives, Mermaids, Werewolves, Revenants, Nissar and Fairies all react poorly as human civilization increase their reach into the wilderness. Caught between these clashing cultures are the regular people trying to survive in a harsh world and reactionary society.

Late 19th Century AU. That means no vampire slayers, no Hellmouth and no watchers but there's still magic, monsters, secretive orders and other supernatural elements.
• Notes - Okay, what you need to know:
Takes place in 19th Century Sweden
Sweden is at this time poor, kinda backward and in the middle of a period where about a third of it's people emigrate to North America
No Vampire Slayers and no Hellmouth but magic and mythical monsters exist and are a big part of the setting
Consider all characters to be speaking Swedish with varying proficiency unless otherwise noted
Many names have been 'Swedified' to fit into the setting. Most, if not all, should be easily recognizable though.
Gender roles are relatively accurate for the era but with some exceptions to prevent too restrictive storytelling
Images from the Vaesen RPG and some characters, quotes, scenarios, plot hooks and excerpts from the books will appear
First couple of chapters are kinda worldbuildy, sorry about that
Yes, 'worldbuildy' is a real word

Throughout history, supernatural Vaesen have lived side by side with the people of Scandinavia. But these creatures are not perceptible to human senses – unless they choose to be. Invisible, they have helped out on farms, assisted in calving, made sure that stray ewes find their way home, and kept people safe during harsh winters or wildfires, in exchange for some of the farms’ milk and grain. Vaesen have filled the fields with flowers, shown the way to ponds where people can see their future reflected on the surface, and whispered dreams into the ears of the sleeping.

In the nineteenth century Scandinavia is changed by industrialization, war, and revolutions, with new ways of thinking and understanding the world spreading through its universities. Old truths are being questioned. The rural poor are pouring into the cities or across the Atlantic to escape starvation, hoping to build a life where they can be free. It is no longer the nobles and priests who decide how people should think and act. Instead, those who are able to use the inventions of this new age can make a fortune and exert influence through their wealth. Factories are emerging around the cities, giving rise to vast suburbs where impoverished workers are crammed together in harsh conditions. The elderly are left behind in the villages, along with those too weak or scared to leave. Meadows become overgrown, forests are cut down, and the construction of railways between cities lays waste to paths and communities that have existed for centuries.

Glassworks spew out chemicals while the mines eat their way into the mountains like wolves feasting on a wounded animal. The Vaesen of Scandinavia are changing as well. The villagers used to know how to appease the creatures when angry and gain their help with farm work – for instance, they refrained from peeing on the ground where the vaettir have their burrows and provided the nisse with porridge and a new hat every year. But the old rules and traditions no longer seem to apply. The Vaesen have turned aggressive and bloodthirsty, snatching children from the villages, wrecking houses, and setting barns on fire. In certain parts of Scandinavia, the supernatural seems to have grown stronger and started acting erratically – like a storm sweeping over the farmlands.

There are rumors of kittens being born with two heads, streams where the water is mixed with blood, forests lulling young ones into eternal sleep, and fairies dancing through villages, luring youngsters into the woods to slave for those underground. In other places, the creatures seem to have disappeared from the countryside, as if they never existed, and magic along with them. It is also said that some Vaesen have followed people to the cities and found new homes in sewers and abandoned factories.

Some people in Scandinavia - and the rest of the world - are able to see the Vaesen even when they are trying to stay invisible. It is called 'having the Sight.' There are few of them. At some point they experienced something that scared or hurt them; maybe they almost died in a fire or a werewolf chose to reveal itself to them for their own enigmatic reasons. After that nothing was ever the same. Suddenly they could see nature spirits stealing food from the tables and trolls showing up uninvited to weddings and christenings.

Two kilometers away from the city of Upsala a motley group loudly made their way towards civilizations. They were an odd gathering on the best of days and today they stuck out from their surroundings even more blatantly than before. Three of the four strangers were covered from head-to-toe in black soot and were loudly expressing their discontent with the lone unblemished member of the party.

"There was no reason for you to change the plan, young miss Rosenberg. Mister Alex and I had the situation well in hand and if you had just kept to the plan none of this had to happen," the dark-skinned woman protested with a tone that would have ensured anyone overhearing their argument that she had already stated her opinion several times already.

The woman was a rarity in the city. Kendra Young had been born to children of slaves in Jamaica who saw their own parents joining and dying in the Baptist War, a slave uprising that was quickly crushed. Kendra's parents outwardly stayed out of politics but secretly had joined an underground resistance towards the British slave owners. When Kendra was twenty her parents were arrested and executed for their rebellion.

Kendra would've joined them at the gallows if she hadn't been able to flee to a local abolitionist, writer, and diplomat who offered her asylum. His name was Rupert Giles and together with his wife and fourteen-year-old son Alexander they provided solace and a family for the distraught young woman.

Soon the family moved to London and the Giles family employed Kendra as their chief of security at their small estate. The extended Giles family wasn't numerous but they were known to have influence in many different circles - both the politically powerful but also the obscure - within and outside the reaches of the British Empire. Kendra employed her expertise as a guerilla fighter within the resistance and skillfully protected the family for five years despite numerous attempts to assassinate both Rupert and his wife.

Just two years ago she had failed when a mysterious assassin managed to infiltrate the estates and murder the lady of the house in front of the eyes of both Rupert and Alexander. Rupert was at first arrested by the law as the main suspect but was quickly released due to lack of evidence(and a not inconsiderable amount of money spent on bribes). Both of the remaining Gileses claim to have no clear recollection of the appearance and identity of the murderer and rumors soon spread amongst the local gentry of conspiracies and skullduggery within the Giles family.

Just a month ago the two men moved to Upsala with their exotic employee and travel companion after Giles received an important missive from a long-lost friend. They were suddenly on a mission to rebuild Castle Gyllencreutz - a neglected old castle located on a hill by the Fyris river that divided the city of Upsala - and to resurrect what Giles called the 'East Aros Society.' They hired local constructors and soon after that Giles had recruited a young local engineer and savant that now formed the last member of the party.

Kendra was dressed in practical but elaborate armor that covered her torso, thighs and upper arms. While somewhat cumbersome the grey-brown protection had already proven it's worth throughout the years as she employed her considerable strength while she fought both man and monster with her trusty saber that she had sheathed in her belt. Otherwise she employed as unremarkable clothing as she could find in order to avoid sticking out in a crowd - despite her exotic skin and long black hair being a constant foil in the mostly Caucasian kingdom - and mostly wore drab colors that wouldn't make her stand out in most local terrains. Her only indulgence was the masterwork violin that never left her side. Her mother had taught her the art and it was a constant source of stability in the chaos that often formed her day-to-day life.

It was something she deeply regretted at this moment as the instrument had suffered the same fate as the rest of their equipment - a thorough packing in layers of black soot - and she just knew that she would have to spend considerable time to remove all traces of the intrusive contaminant.

"The plan didn't work, Kendra. The plan was for me to stay in the back and ring that small bell to make the giant think it was a church but as I warned you before; I'm not Christian like the rest of you. The giant only care if Christians ring church bells - if only my father was so lenient - and I'm very much not of the local faith," the only unsooted member of the group protested. Willow Rosenberg was a member of the local Jewish community and had grown up in the Jewish quarter of the university city. The only daughter of Sheila and Ira Rosenberg - the city's jeweler and watchmaker - she was the youngest of six siblings and had made national news last fall when she became the first woman in Swedish history to enroll at the renowned university.

It had taken a lot of effort and resources to earn that opportunity. Willow was know to be a strange and lonely girl who spent most of her time with books and in her father's workshop. Since an early age she had shown a remarkable talent in engineering and machinery which she had employed - despite frequent and loud protests from her mother - in order to become a part of the family business. Willow and Ira got along throughout her adolescence and she became more and more an integral part of his business ventures and when she approached him for support in applying for formal education he gave it without objection despite his lack of faith that she would be approved.

Society in Sweden at this time wasn't even attempting to be at the forefront of social movements. The royal family and parliament were both of the reactionary kind - even if some concessions to liberal movements were given to minimize dissent - and a woman weren't considered to be legally adult until she had been either widowed or granted a divorce(which were exceptionally rare at the time). Up until her marriage she'd be in the care of her father(and if he were no longer in the picture, the oldest brother or other close male relative) and once married she just transferred that role to her husband. Some invited foreigners were given special rights - the most noted local is the current chief at the asylum - but otherwise only special circumstances would afford those rights to any woman. Upsala was somewhat of an outlier, however, and both the local police as well as a couple of local governmental offices had recently begun to employ talented women of good families.

Ira and Willow were both smart and resourceful. Ira was able to summon support from not only the local Jewish community but also from those that lived in the capital and Willow's application quickly became a cause célèbre for the Jews living in the kingdom. By pushing the cultural and religious aspects - instead of her gender - on the application they gave the royal family an out where they wouldn't have to lose face. As such they granted Willow a slot in the student rolls in Upsala due to her faith without having to offer any similar opportunities to the country's native women as a consequence.

Sheila had opposed the venture from the start. She was a staunch conservative who saw her only daughter as a political marker to marry of to an influential family. In an ironic twist her principles on women's role in society led to her staying silent on the issue by command of her husband which resulted in her daughter becoming a noted figure for her political opponents. That the approval of Willow's application also led to the youngest Rosenberg becoming a legal adult was not something Willow or her father had opted to inform Sheila about and ever since then the two women hadn't communicated at all.

Willow didn't mind. She hated her role as nothing but a vessel for her mother's ambitions and despite her parents' insistence she didn't entertain any suitors and kept pushing back the date where she'd start looking at forming a family of her own. At first it was once she turned seventeen, then it was when she had her application approved or rejected and the most recent answer given had been when she would finish her studies. That she already had planned her next moving of the goalpost was something Ira suspected but hoped to dissuade. He had always loved and respected his daughter and tried to support her numerous eccentric ideas despite his own wishes that she'd one day settle down and help continue the family line. As a compromise - and to remain on good terms with her beloved father - Willow had conceded that she'd try to appear in at least one social gathering per month. Just in case she'd be proven wrong and she'd find someone that she could eventually settle down with.

As expected, Willow had other plans. She loved her father, despised her mother and tolerated most of her brothers. She hated being the youngest of a large family(but by far the smartest) and knowing that she would never be able to have the same ambitions and dreams as her brothers. So her 'coup' in convincing her father to support her further studies was the first time she really felt proud to be herself. She had never been one who had close friends - or friends at all really - and once she approached her mid-teens she soon realized that her peers only paid attention to due to her family's wealth and name and not for her intellect or personality.

Her first year of university studies had been rough. She had no naïve idea that she'd be accepted as an equal by the other students or the faculty but the notoriety that preceded the start of her schooling led to her being a frequent subject in derisive and satirical ballads in the student unions. When she was approached by the only professor who'd given her any kind of support just a week ago and offered a membership in the East Aros Society she didn't hesitate to join. She left her small student lodging and accepted the free lodging in Castle Gyllencreutz where she was put in charge of the library and equipment.

It was a role that she was looking forward to excel in. She had never been good with people and her lack of verbal discipline never failed to put her in dispute with both her peers and many authority figures. As a result of years of social faux pas's and the ostracizing at the university she looked forward to a job where she could spend time tinkering with her equipment and reading the books that had been her constant companions.

The small woman was only nineteen years old and in contrast to Kendra she stuck out from the crowd due to her small size and boyish clothes. She wore pants and a comfortable jacket under the green coat that provided much warmth this cold spring afternoon. The clothes were of her own design and were lined with protective leather and hidden pockets while still giving her the mobility her new occupation required. Willow's shoulder-length red hair was a visual marker of her family that gave her some leeway from harassment on the street from the law and religious leaders but also marked her as an outsider from regular society.

Even if her clothing hadn't been unique her equipment would make her stand out as she was walking back with her new compatriots. Her backpack was a gift from her father upon enrollment and held not only a small, portable laboratory but binoculars, a compass, a small tinderbox, a box of silver bullets, a couple of relevant books and even some paper and writing utensils. Mounted on the side of the backpack - in a holster she added just before the day's adventure - was a unique rifle of her own design.

It was a carbine with three rotating barrels that she had spent the last two years building in secret. She never thought she'd ever use it but after seeing the obsolete equipment the local garrison employed she wanted to see if she could design something that would provide reliability, accuracy and a steady rate of fire. Building the weapon - one she had affectionally dubbed a 'Rheinlander Carbine' after her family's German origins - had been an exercise in secrecy and fine workmanship. In general civilians were not allowed to carry weapons - especially not women and not in urban settlements - so she had to keep it in a small size which limited the potential range.

She also wanted to employ the revolver magazine design that became increasingly prominent in handguns and as a result she had three rotating barrels(to prevent overheating in extended engagement) with a nine-shot revolving magazine that gave her a reliable but complicated weapon that had no equals - as far as she knew. Of their group only Alexander knew about the weapon. The two young adults had quickly become friends and he had sworn to keep the existence of the carbine a secret until she was ready and willing to deploy it. She had brought the weapon with her - disguised as an umbrella attached to her backpack - but the brief but violent battle with the giant forced her to employ her considerable chemical skills instead and the hidden weapon remained just that; hidden.

"How does that work anyway," the tall young man queried. "did he just know it wasn't a real church bell or did he hear you curse in that weird language I sometime hear from the library at night?"

The dark-haired young man chuckled to himself and wiped off some soot from his large sledgehammer that he frequently employed as his primary weapon. Alexander Giles had always been a large boy and somewhat of a charmer towards the women he encountered over the years. In London he employed his muscled physique and jovial personality to court a number of attractive women but he rarely spent a large amount of time with any of them. Rupert was a strict man in regard to his son and although they both respected and loved each other the son's lack of interest - and talent - in academia was a scab in their relationship that never fully healed.

Alexander was not without his own abilities though. He made friends with ease and picked up the local language faster than anyone had ever expected. He was also a fiend when it came to reliable and quick construction and those talents were invaluable in the repairs of the castle that had become their new home. He was put in charge of the construction crew as soon as the family had arrived in Sweden and with the help of Willow's intellect they had already refined the already existing blueprints to ensure the castle would not suffer the same fate once again.

He got along well with Kendra as well. He had seen her as an older sibling for years and deferred to her leadership in both battle and planning. She appreciated his friendship as well and the two had developed a well-honed routine when it came to dealing with the prejudices of society. Despite Kendra's stronger talents in finding out what makes people tick it was often Alexander that strangers listened to as he was not only a man but handsome, charming and Caucasian. As such they often put up the front of Kendra being a hired help and offering discreet advice in situations where Alexander would be in over his head.

"I really don't know why Alex but I doubt it's the Yiddish that singled me out. I don't think there's some stealthy giant sneaking around and checking the church registrars and then sending out news bulletins to inform his friend and family just who they should be afraid of when employing the Christian religious symbols and who are nothing but heathens and heretics that should be ignored. What we can surmise from today's events however is that a lack of belief in Jesus seems to prevent me from being all chasey with the jingling of the bells. Wonder if someone of the Islamic faith would be able to-"

"Can you PLEASE shut up," Kendra growled through clenched teeth.

"Ken, please, Willow just answered my question. There's no reason to lash out like that," Alexander offered in an attempt to calm the growing frustration between the two women who hadn't managed to hit it off since becoming acquainted.

"If all three of you were to take a deep breath - or ten - then maybe the lingering frustrations after a day's hard work and exhausting conflict. Kendra was right - we had a plan. Miss Rosenberg wasn't entirely wrong either though; the plan had a fault that resulted in all of us being put in considerable risk and even though her quick application of the loud smoke bomb chased the giant away we would indeed be better off if she had warned us and the problem of the delinquent giant still remain as he fled the field and left us in the very literal dust."

The older man of the group smiled inwardly as the three younger members muttered different levels of acceptance to his judgement. Rupert Giles may be the black sheep of the Giles house but he was still a man that was able to command respect and influence in certain circles. The others didn't know of it but he had been a recruit of the old East Aros Society when it had collapsed decades ago. He hadn't been inducted to most of the secrets of the group and wasn't informed of the fates of most of the other members but he had been sent back home to England - and eventually to a diplomatic post in Jamaica - as a result of the collapse of the society.

Like the rest of his group he was one with the Sight. Ever since the mythical musician called the Neck had tried to drown him as a child during a vacation in southern Sweden he had seen the Vaesen that hide in plain sight. As a consequence his father sent him to Upsala as a young teen to become a part of the previous incarnation of the East Aros Society. Back then the group had over four dozen members and despite their headquarters being in a state of constant disrepair they worked relentlessly to keep society safe from the pestilence that Vaesen was for the common man.

But then it fell and he moved back to London where he became an aspiring writer for one of the local newspapers. He eventually engaged and married the love of his wife who gave him a son and soon they were sent to Jamaica to help reorganize the diplomatic station in the colony. He was fierce opponent of the institution of slavery - however - and spent a considerable amount of his wealth to buy and liberate slaves that he then employed as servants in his home. When the colonial government struck against the underground abolitionist movements he suddenly found himself in the position of someone who had offered implicit support of a lost cause and by transference, support against the crown's interests. Due to his family name he would never be imprisoned for his actions but he had attracted enemies amongst the local elite who did not put a kind eye on his abolitionist activities.

It was the offer of asylum and housing of the orphaned Kendra Young that formed the final incentive for the family to return home to London. They sold their estate at a loss and returned before the local governor could arrest the teenager for her part in the struggle against the institution of slavery.

When his wife was murdered half a decade later he felt like half his soul died with her. None other than Rupert and his wife would ever know how much they loved each other - not even Alexander and Kendra were privy to spectate their close affection - but just because they were private with their feelings it didn't mean it was just a marriage of convenience as was the standard at the time.

It was only because of Kendra and Alexander that he managed to survive in the two years that followed. He had managed to return to writing and kept to himself and his family while rumors surrounded their lives and history. When he eventually received the secret missive from his childhood friend Linnea Elfeklint he realized that it was time for him to make amends for the failures of his youth and rebuild the East Aros Society and protect the people of a country that had suffered in the decades since he had left.

And so he returned to Upsala and claimed the deed to Castle Gyllencreutz. He - with reluctant support from the local government - reactivated the old charter that gave the society the legal rights to pursue their sacred calling and keep the Vaesen at bay. Thus civilization could finally be able to claim the wilderness and provide safety and stability for the people in the Kingdom of Sweden.

Only this time - instead of a group of veterans and eager recruits - he had a brutish son, an escaped slave and a young but eccentric genius without any ability to control her verbal outbursts as the foundation for the society.

It was at times like this Giles was glad he enjoyed a challenge.

While he had his issues with the young miss Rosenberg's missing social tact and lack of mannerism he appreciated her complete dedication to her new role as a member of the society as well as the innate talents the woman held. He hadn't met her parents but due to her emancipated legal status and her request to not inform them of her new situation he saw no reason to break the trust she had given her. Her skill in discerning relevant facts and information in the wide range of tomes and texts the old castle library were starting to gather as well as her talents in the mechanical field made her an essential part of their new organization despite her other - oft notorious - shortcomings.

"Dad's kind of right, Will. There's no reason for us to continue arguing about this though, what's done is done and at least nobody was hurt," Alex offered as an olive branch. "Besides, the three of us have that shindig later tonight to clear our heads."

Willow groaned dramatically as she stared into the open sky in frustration. "Ughhh, thanks for reminding me. I forgot about the monthly concession to my dad, what is today's big event that I'd shame my mother if I bailed out on?"

"It's some pre-wedding celebration for one of the rich farmer families. Can't remember which one, I think it's one of the Irish families this time."

Kendra sighed audibly. "If any one of you were up-to-date on your social events you'd know it's the Maclays and the Doyles who are wedding their children in a week. And before you ask, none of us are invited to the actual marriage. I'm not invited because I'm of 'mud blood' - they didn't even sugarcoat it for me - while miss Rosenberg is too Jewish and you are too Anglican for their very Catholic tastes. They kind of had to invite all of us to today's event though; they'd loose too much face in the city if they didn't. Especially with your people, miss Rosenberg."

"Yeah, my dad's best friend does a lot of business with the farmers in that region so they won't dare insulting us by completely keeping me away. Why can't they insult us so I could just stay home?"

Alexander grinned at her. "Look at it this way, Will. If you didn't go today there's that Maydell ball in two weeks and do you really want to spend an entire day in formal clothing and classical music with that crowd?"

Willow demonstratively kicked a small rock that deflected at a boulder and hit her arm on the rebound. "Ouch," she whined while rubbing the area there self-inflicted projectile hit. "I guess you're right. I mean, it's just one evening and then I'm free for the entire month. At least I got you guys to keep me company, right? What's the worst that could happen?"

Willow never saw Kendra blanching behind her back at the prospect of spending an entire evening chaperoning the blabbermouthed redhead.


My Dark Disquiet[AO3]
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Last edited by Rutkowski on Tue Apr 13, 2021 1:56 am, edited 1 time in total.

 Post subject: A Wedding in Upsala
PostPosted: Fri Mar 26, 2021 5:39 am 
3. Flaming O

Joined: Wed Jan 13, 2021 4:47 pm
Posts: 51
Topics: 4
Location: Uppsala/Sweden
Seventy kilometers north of the Swedish capital of Stockholm and on the border of Norrland - where cities and villages are few and the wilderness endless - is where the renowned city of Upsala is positioned. North of the city the Mounds of Upsala signpost the border between the wild north and populated south of Sweden. The Mounds are ancient barrows from the sixth century where old kings were interred in glory and splendor and the area was one of the last outpost of the old Norse pagans when the country was Christianized.

As it was, the city was best known for its university, the oldest in northern Europe. Despite the city almost being burned to the ground in a fire that killed a fifth of its citizens in 1702 the city have recovered and modernized and was one of the leading cities when it come to the research into the natural sciences. Over ten thousand men, women and children live in the city - tiny compared to the rest of Europe but noticeable in the backward states of Scandinavia - and over a tenth of those are students. Despite its small size it's very cosmopolitan with scientists and workers from Europe making their mark on the city's culture as gas lamps lit the streets and the local newspaper - the Upsala Gazette - release new issues frequently and with established credence.

As the Archbishop of Sweden - Henrik Reuterdahl - had his seat in Upsala the Church holds great power. The gothic cathedral is the largest in Scandinavia and with a bell - Storan - that can be heard throughout the city. The altar cross contains a relic of the True Cross and a new gigantic pipe organ takes up an entire wall inside the cathedral.

The university campus is massive, thanks to the Gustavian patrimony. Back in the 17th century, King Gustavus Adolphus donated 400 farms owned by the crown - and their land - to Upsala University to fund the school and the research within. There are numerous grand and beautiful buildings in which the students gather in student unions, singing songs and discussing science and philosophy. Some of the groups favor the romantic ideals with focus on emotions rather than reason, idealization of the exotic, and an interest in mysticism. Other groups believe in the natural sciences and despise the sublime. They wish to uncover truths through carefully performed experiments. Conflicts and confrontations are constantly raging between these groups.

It was a divided city that had grown from the ashes of that which burned in the early 18th century. The primary divider was the Fyris River that separate the rich west and suffering east as it flows into the lake Mälaren. Several bridges - such as the Cathedral and Iron bridges - cross the river but while there are no states laws that bar the poor from crossing the water local police often keep an extra watchful eye on those that travel westward across the river. The Romani that live in a semi-permanent camp in the south-eastern outskirts of the city are under constant surveillance when they dare to even approach the bridges crossing the city.

The eastern sections of the city suffer from cholera, violent crime and brutal crackdown from the law. The police mostly abandon those sections at night and even at day they rarely move without their sabers drawn and never on their lonesome. Natural resources provide the material for both brick and textile factories but it's the production of aquavit - both illegal and legal - that form the backbone of the local economy. Farmers, industrial workers and servants live side by side in the east while students, nobles, and clerics – the latter enjoying extravagant luxuries in huge villas and apartments - occupy the west while the poor tend to their every need - bowing and scraping - until their bodies are all worn out. Open conflicts rarely arise between the two groups but when they do it tends to happen at illegal night clubs, the opium den and the brothel where the distinction between rich and poor was less clear.

On top of the east-west divide the city was also fractionalized by differing cultures. While the west contain Swedes almost exclusively - invited researches and experts from other countries excepted - the east hold sizeable populations from several different cultures. The Jewish of Upsala are noted despite their relatively low number and their quarter was richer than most of the rest of the citizens east of the Fyris River with several craftsmen and workshops ensuring their safety through the value of those establishments.

One thing that provided constant value to the eastern side of the city was the recently finished train station that connect the city with the Stockholm - the capital of Sweden - and from there the port city of Gothenburg and the Scania province.

Wallonian craftsmen and Finnish exiles form two of the three largest minorities but it was the settling of veterans and their families from an Irish mercenary company - the Eire Galloglaigh - following their end of services for Denmark in the Schleswig War that radically changed the politics of the city. Led by officers from the Doyle, Maclay and O'Connor families they were granted particular exceptions to the religious laws of the country and the former officers now hold sway in both legal and illegal trade.

The Doyles are numerous and many sons of that family have followed in their fathers' footsteps and joined either the local garrison or the constabulary. The Maclays are less numerous but hold the most political power as Donald Maclay were the Chief and commander of the cavalry in the Eire Galloglaigh and used his amassed fortune to purchase a vast amount of farms that now provide a significant portion of the food that supply the city. The O'Connors were the poorest of the three families but have carved out - quite violently and with a considerable amount of loss - a powerbase in the underworld.

Known in the papers as the 'Whirlwind Gang' the family was lead by the married couple - Darla and Liam 'Angelface' O'Connor - who hold court in the brothel at 59 Wellspring Street. Angelface was a young lieutenant who inherited his post in the mercenary company after his father died in mysterious circumstances. After assuming his role it didn't take him long to establish a fearsome reputation as a particularly cruel and vicious leader of irregular infantry. He brought his cruelty and expertise to Upsala and - together with his young wife - they soon established the brothel and promptly destroyed the three gangs that had previously divided up the city amongst themselves. Only remnants remain of the earlier criminal powerhouses and the only significant illegal establishment outside of the O'Connors' control was the opium den located in the Poorhouse basement at Kamphavet Square.

The center of attention this spring evening was in the world-famous Botanical Garden where the Doyles and the Maclays hosted all local individuals of repute - and some of ill repute - in the pre-wedding celebrations between the eldest remaining daughter of Donald Maclay and Mickey Doyle, the third-oldest son of the Doyle patriarch.

The Botanical Garden of Upsala University was founded in the 17th century by Olof Rudbeck but is best known for being the workplace of world-famous natural scientist Carl Linnaeus in the 18th century. Linnaeus transformed the garden into one of the finest in the world with thousands of different plants that can be viewed in their full splendor from the walls of the nearby Upsala Castle.

The main festive hall of the Botanical Garden had been decorated with opulence and splendor to convey the message that the Maclays did not shirk from the responsibilities they've claimed as the leading family of the Irish. Donald Maclay was the father of the bride and as such had put a large amount of money to both the celebrations and the dowry in order to marry off the second of his two daughters. He was known as a stern and traditional man, one who had grown even more so after losing his best friend - Joseph O'Connor - in mysterious circumstances during the Schleswig War, and when his wife died in a bandit attack that led to his eldest daughter's disappearance five years ago he had lost any warmth and familiarity to those outside his closest family.

Willow sat by her table at the back of the party and watched the celebrations with a morbid curiosity. She watched as the Maclay patriarch - the father of the bride who would in just a week give away his daughter to the son of his closest ally - should have been celebrating with glee and joy but seemed to actively project the opposite emotions as he sat in his seat at the head of the main table. At his side, almost completely out of Willow's view, sat the soon-to-be bride in her splendid dress and made-up dirty blonde hair. Willow couldn't get a proper look at the young woman but the despair and sadness in her grimace was undeniable.

Willow herself wore a simple long-sleeved dress in forest greens - one of the two fancy dresses that she kept once she moved out of her parents' household - and sat in-between the empty seat that had been assigned to Alexander and on the other side the stoic Kendra wore a comfortable maroon dress as she finished the last of her dessert. The main floor of the room was filled with young men and women who danced the night away and while Alexander had partaken in the celebrations with gusto his two friends had both remained seated for the entire evening - the first open dance excepted where Alex had eagerly brought Kendra to the floor where she partook in the delicate dance with grace.

Willow was a pretty young woman and had been asked to dance at earlier social events but after her infamous acceptance to the university most men had backed off - her chosen path being considered uncouth for a proper lady - and those that hadn't were rebuffed by her until she were left alone for what was turning into the third social event in a row. It didn't bother her - it was the intended outcome of her rebuffing of any eventual suitors - and she had found the observance of her mother's futile attempts to convince other guests to dance with her to be the largest source of humor in otherwise dull proceedings.

The rest of the time she spent doodling down notes in a small notebook she had managed to smuggle indoors - Kendra had spent considerable time quietly trying to figure out just how she accomplished that feat - while keeping the notes out of sight of her mother who continued to glare daggers at the unruly daughter. Sheila still refused to talk to the daughter who refused to atone for the shame she was bringing to the Rosenberg name so Willow were free of one of the worst bringers of grief to her mental well-being.

In fact, the party had been way above expectations. Ira was in a jovial mood and dropped by at times to catch up and provide brain teasers for his daughter to solve and even helped to cover the notes when Sheila almost caught her daughter's unwomanly writings. Alex was a pleasant companion as they had eaten the abundant supper and even Kendra appeared to be in a better mood than expected, especially after the mishap with the giant earlier in the day, and had even taken part in the latest of Ira's riddles - an event that instantly endeared the Jamaican woman to the rotund jeweler. Of course, Willow still would've preferred to spend the evening in their library or even with Giles to provide annotations to the records he was currently transcribing to document their adventure.

"Hey Willster, what's the what? Did someone nail your dress to that chair or are you able to join me for a dance before they throw us out of here?"

Willow expressed a sound that could best be described as an 'eep' as she remembered that Alex hadn't been informed of her 'unavailability' at social events.

"I'm sorry Alex but I don't dance at these things. It's just not my thing, I'm provided with two left feet and would just spaz enough that they'd drag me to Walsh's asylum within minutes. But I think that-" Willow paused as she took in Alexander's disheveled appearance. He was wearing a simple but handsome suit that exhibited his build but that had been scuffed and dirtied - a condition his face shared as he was sporting a mark that would soon grow into a distinguished bruise. "What happened? Did you fall or did one of the local girls finally tire of your 'undeniable charms'?"

Willow noticed that Kendra had realized his scruffy condition and subsequently palmed a sharp knife while taking in their closest perimeter as she tried to find any potential threats.

"It's nothing, Will. I just had a minor disagreement with the two youngest Doyles - the twins who were making a ruckus earlier - and they needed to be taught a lesson. So I did. And they learned."

Willow blanched as Kendra made a sound that reminded Willow of a fierce growl.

"Alexander, are you telling me that you not only fought at the first social event we were invited to but that you also fought two brothers of the groom? Brother who, if I must remind you, have plenty of siblings, cousins and nephews who could give us an abundance of grief as a consequence?"

Alexander haughtily scoffed but flashed his trademark grin to disarm the woman he considered family.

"I didn't just fight them, I beat them. But do not worry, Kenny, I also had time to have a glass of ale with them after."

Willow arched a brow in surprise. "Wait, really?"

Alex grinned and nodded to a pair of almost identical young men sporting numerous bruises and superficial cuts but who also waved happily at Alex as he caught their notice.

"Friend told me that the Doyles always fight at weddings, funeral and when they're baptizing so I figured I'd find a way to make some friends while we're here since you two seem to stay content while brooding in this here corner. Now, if you don't mind I got to talk to the twins' elder brother Allen. He's a friendly sort and a cop so he'd be good to have on our side, okay?"

Alexander stood up with a wink and turned towards the table where the twins were sharing an ale with two other men with traits that clearly identified them as members of the notorious family. In his wake he left a pair of women with shocked expressions on their faces as they started at the group that Alexander was swiftly integrating himself with.

"Have... Have I completely misjudged Alex and he is really a smart and devious mastermind who only act the lout to lower others' expectations?"

Kendra shook her head with an expression that was less shocked than Willow's, if only marginally so.

"You have not, miss Rosenberg. Alexander is a shiftless thug with a talent for physical labor and a charming grin but he is not one you'd call quick or keen."

"What was that then?"

"I figure that as someone who enjoy his spirits and his tumble he have found kindred spirits amongst these Doyles. Did you know of this tradition of theirs? You are the local, after all."

"Nope. In case you missed it; I'm not exactly a social butterfly. I don't do well in formal settings - or informal for that matter - and if anything you'd best describe me as-"

A new voice entered the conversation from the right of the two women. "A social reject and mannish pretender?"

Willow winced as she recognized the voice of her old tormentor; Cordelia Creutz, daughter of the baron Creutz. The Creutz house used to be based in Finland but Cordelia's grandfather took his family to Upsala when the Russian Empire invaded and annexed the provinces of Finland that used to form eastern Sweden. With long brown hair, impeccable style and a figure that would make a romanticist artist swoon with delight she was considered the most eligible bachelorette in the city. Cordelia was everything that Willow wasn't - and vice versa - and to make matters worse Sheila had compared the two for years and favored the noblewoman in all matters except religion and did not try to hide it.

At her side were two other young noblewomen that rarely left her side. Harmony was of the Maydell house. Baron Maydell was another descendant of a family exiled from lands that Sweden had lost over the last hundred and fifty years, Estonia. While not as notable as the Creutz the Maydells were richer and Harmony had a reputation of never reusing a formal dress and once even wore three different dresses in one day-long ball. Amy, eldest daughter of Count Mellin, was of higher birth but lacked the same social grace and wealth that her two closest friends carried. As a child she had been of somewhat friendly terms with Willow but that friendship had been ended by her mother once her tutelage as a lady of noble birth had begun.

"Hello Cordelia," Willow muttered as she hid her noted under a napkin.

"That's Baroness Creutz to you, Rosenberg. Who's this woman; did your father finally give up and start paying for someone to be your friend or did you just pick her up in the street?"

Kendra frowned as Willow wilted under the scornful gaze of the new arrivals. While the young student often proved herself tiresome with incessant babbling and erudite conversations Kendra did respect Willow - in a way - for her bravery and quick thinking but now the young woman more resembled a little girl, one who shrank into her chair while witless socialites - women she should've been able to verbally dismantle in moments - tore her to pieces.

"She's Kendra Young, protector of the Giles family," Willow revealed in a demure tone.

"The Giles's you say," Amy pondered. "Does that mean that you live with them in Castle Gyllencreutz?"

"I provide security and friendship to both master Giles and his son Alexander, yes. As do-"

"Isn't that just a rat-infested ruin these days," Harmony interrupted Kendra's attempt to answer. "I heard it used to house a bunch of freakish bookworms so it's no wonder you're getting along so well with this animal."

The trio of tormentors left the girls with a mocking symphony of derisive laughter as Willow failed to lift her eyes from her hands as they rested in her lap. "I'm sorry, Kendra."

"While I'm disappointed you let them humiliate you as they did, you have done nothing to offend me miss Rosenberg."

"You got tarred by proximity. I've never been anything but an outcast at these events but once I began school it's like I got leprosy and everyone who even dare to associate with me are to be shunned until they stop doing so."

"I am not here to make friendships with insipid noblewomen, miss Rosenberg. I care not for their opinions but obviously you do or else you wouldn't let them treat you like this."

Willow sighed as she tried to find a way to explain her situation. "I just-... I mean, it's like this," she attempted before closing her eyes to prevent the tears that tried to escape. "I'll just go on home. I didn't want to be here anyway and there's still a few hours that I could spend in the library instead of getting humiliated in a place were I was only invited as a matter of formality. I just want to read and then go back to my room and sleep again."

Kendra sighed inaudibly and shook her head. "You haven't slept in your room since that first night, Rosenberg. You'll just fall asleep in your chair again and both of us know it; it's not like I haven't noticed that you moved your footlocker with your clothes to the library storage a couple of days ago."

Willow grinned mirthlessly as she hid her notebook in her right-hand sleeve. "It saves time. And place. Now, will you cover me as I try to sneak out without offending our hosts?"

"It's not like we're lacking in beds with only four members of the Society. But there's no need to worry about anyone noticing as a diversion seems to have sprung up on its own."

Kendra nodded towards the ruckus by the main table and Willow's eyes grew wide as they took in the chaotic scene that gripped the attention of the party guests; the bride-to-be had gone missing and nobody could find her. The two women watched the collapsing event with a kind of horror-filled fascination as Alexander returned to his friends.

"So Willster; is this the worst that could happen?"

Map of 19th Century Upsala

A/N: Fun fact; this map is incredibly accurate to how Uppsala(oh yeah, that's the modern name of the city) looked back in the day with only Castle Gyllencreutz and Olympus edited in(none of them real buildings). In fact, you could use that map to find the other locations in today's Uppsala without any issue(okay, the Asylum was a bit further south and is torn down these days). The Vaesen RPG is incredibly well-made.

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 Post subject: Guests in the Castle
PostPosted: Tue Apr 13, 2021 1:55 am 
3. Flaming O

Joined: Wed Jan 13, 2021 4:47 pm
Posts: 51
Topics: 4
Location: Uppsala/Sweden
Castle Gyllencreutz

The home and headquarter for the East Aros Society - Castle Gyllencreutz - was located by the eastern bank of the Fyris river that divided the city in twine. Positioned on a strategic hill, the huge but neglected old castle was surrounded by a black iron fence with only the large gate - flanked by statues of griffins - providing any safe land entrance or exit to the grounds. The garden - and the paved walkway leading to the entrance - were overgrown with bushes, trees, and shrubbery. Plenty of mice, rats, foxes, and birds had since long claimed the area and the possibility of their eradication was one of the primary reason the locals greeted the news of the Society's return with middling acceptance. On the bank of the Fyris river - in the backyard of the castle - there was a dilapidated jetty and a boarded-up old boathouse.

The garden itself had several smaller abandoned buildings – most likely used as stables, storage rooms, and servants’ quarters – as well as a fountain and a number of statues. Up on a small hill there were seven rotting crosses of wood marking what appeared to be a hasty attempt at a graveyard before the castle had last been abandoned.

Monstrous gargoyles decorated the three-story castle’s façade. Castle Gyllencreutz was a building with several towers and a vast underground cellar that - up until a month earlier - had stood vacant for many years. The old furniture was covered in cobwebs and mice had nested in couches and chairs. Rats defended their homes while bats and crows came and went through the holes in the ceiling. Parts of the building reeked of mold and the leaky roof let rain and snow in with abandon.

Most of the castle was unexplored as many of its doors still were either locked or nailed shut. By reading old journals left behind by previous residents Giles had learned that there were several libraries, a laboratory, an infirmary, a chapel, an observatory, and halls for magical studies that - time and resources willing - could be discovered and returned to service for the Society. According to the journals there would also be cells where Vaesen used to be held – all of this hidden behind the many secret doors the group had mostly identified - but not yet opened.

Shortly after taking over the castle Giles were visited by a man called Algot Frisk. He had claimed that his ancestors had served at Castle Gyllencreutz for hundreds of years and insisted on being hired as steward of the castle. Steward Frisk worked hard to keep the group fed and clean up the castle while remaining - emotionally and socially - distant from his wards.

Willow sighed as she put away book eight - out of twenty-two - of Description of the Northern Peoples and withdrew its successor in the series. Willow had no qualms of describing herself as a friend of the written word and - in her stronger moments - could even admit to herself that it was one of the few times her overactive mind didn't wander. She had enjoyed the long evenings she spent with her father managing the books of the family business - as well as tinkering with the fine machinery that Ira employed - but it was more a means of an end to prepare her life for a future where she would be the master of her own fate.

And she had succeeded. Despite her mother, her peers, the crown and her religion, she had managed to get herself emancipated and become the first woman in Swedish history to study in the higher fields. She was a milestone and on top of that she was part of a group that kept humanity safe from the Vaesen that lurked in the darkness.

Yet here she was; alone and reading a thick book by an incredibly dull author - Olaus Magnus - who gathered his many essays of the different cultures of the Scandinavian people and the mysterious creatures that lived in their shadows.

And she was so damn bored.

Willow still loved her research but spending another long night in the library after seeing her peers talk to friends and be merry in good company while she remained the stagnant wallflower reminded her of the solitude that had - ironically - been her constant companion throughout her entire life.

She came back to Castle Gyllencreutz with Kendra(Alex had decided to join his new Doyle friends in one of many impromptu search parties to locate the missing bride-to-be) only to be abandoned at the lobby as the older woman joined her surrogate father and his new friends for a cup of evening brandy. Willow wasn't invited to join - and she knew that technically Kendra wasn't either - and lacked the confidence to claim a seat with their company as the warrior had done so Willow did what she always did; dove into her studious work to eventually read everything the library had to offer.

It's not like Willow was a complete outcast of society. She got along well with her father and while she wasn't part of the Giles household there was a friendly kinship of sorts. Amongst the laborers - currently in the process of restoring the old infirmary at the bottom floor of the castle - she was on good term with a physical powerhouse Lars while the rest of the local craftsmen kept their distance. While she lacked friends among her fellow students she got along well with Giles' colleague, professor of engineering Ethan Regn. She shared Regn's technical interest and mischievous spirit and he was relatively forward-thinking when it came to Willow's attendance at the University.

She had few friends in the rest of the city. The Romani camp - which was often unfriendly to outsiders due to decades of judicial and extrajudicial harassment - greeted her as a fellow oddity in a xenophobic society. They knew that those that took part in the attacks on the camp were often the same who attacked solitary Jews in the streets after late evenings of drinking. Other than that she were on friendly terms with a couple of the local urchins and had helped them hide from the law a couple of times when Judge De Hoffryn sent out one of his many declarations against the 'plague' of poverty - in reality a carte blanche for the constable and garrison to brutally enforce their will upon the meek and helpless.

In the moments before falling asleep in her chair - as she always did - Willow considered if her new friendship with Alex were the key to making new acquaintances. Alex had already been able to make more friends than Willow had in her entire lifetime and if anyone were able to help smooth over her social inexperience it'd be the English charmer.

It didn't take her long to abandon this train of thought for primarily two reasons. First and foremost, it felt manipulative to her to use a man who had taken her in as a friend without any kind of precondition or expectation in return, except for her own friendship. But on top of that his friends were of the loud - often drunk - kind that while friendly would not be reliable companions to a young woman who had no romantic interest in them no matter what circumstances. She trusted Alexander, implicitly, but not the men that she only knew by name and vague reputation.

But if nothing else she always had her books. And when they were all exhausted she could always acquire new ones.

"Good morning Alexander, mister Giles, mister Frisk, miss Rosenberg," Kendra greeted her colleagues in a not unkindly manner.

Alexander sported a wide grin while he stretched his arms as the Steward placed his breakfast porridge on the table. "I bet you'd never see the day where I'm up and about earlier than you are, huh?"

His father side-eyed him but kept his mocking scoff to himself while Willow smirked tiredly.

"Young master Giles was indeed early enough that he fell asleep again below the kitchen table," the Steward haughtily added. "In fact, he must have been so early that he forgot to change his clothes from those he wore as you left for the Doyle-Maclay celebration."

Alexander scoffed. "Hey! I was just, well, efficient!"

"And fragrant," Willow teased.

"And dirty," Kendra added with an uncharacteristic smirk.

"And ready for the loud noises that'll accompany the full workday that await you I hope," Giles teased.

"Full workday?" Alexander gulped. "I thought we gave the men the day off?"

"That was yesterday, Alexander. The team is setting up for the day outside the soon-to-be infirmary and they need their foreman not only there but sober and able."

"Hey, I resent that! I'll be ready as soon as I've finished eating and changed into my workday clothes but when have I ever failed to do my duty with the hammer and nail?"

Giles pointedly glanced at the warrior who was now in the process of devouring her own breakfast. "Kendra?"

She sat up and put down the spoon. "Two months and five days ago, Alexander. I believe you were spending the night elsewhere and missed the wakeup call that morning."

"Oh?" What happened?" Willow asked curiously, ever-willing to learn more of her companions.

"My beloved son spent the night at the local constabulary," Giles answered dryly. "He had been arrested the previous evening for partaking - and possible starting - a drunken brawl that sent two members of another family to the surgeon."

"Okay, I'll grant you that I missed two hours of work that day, father. But in my defense those Morgan bastard was talking ill about, y'know, her and I could not let that stand," Alexander responded without shame or regret.

Giles looked at him apologetically and Willow noticed that Kendra grimaced slightly at the memory. "That is true, son. My apologies, I had promised not to drag out that instance again and I forgot myself. You were right then and you're right now, you do your duties with enthusiasm and expertise." Alexander beamed at the apology before Giles muttered an addendum under his breath. "Such as they are."

Alexander's face fell and his gaze followed suit. "I'm done eating. I'll go and change and if you need me, I'll be at the infirmary trying to restore this sorry ruin to something suitable for habitation."

Willow didn't know what had happened but felt the atmosphere in the room change noticeably. Before Alex could leave the dining area a loud series of knocks on the front door alerted the group to the new arrivals. Alex quietly lingered in the room as the Steward hurried - while never breaking decorum - to the door and in a minute he returned to the group to announce their guests.

"A representative of the local constabulary has arrived with an escort to inquire the masters of the castle about the missing Maclay lady."

Giles nodded and stood up before motioning to the others to join him. Alexander quickly brushed off his dusty clothes while Kendra quietly followed Rupert. Willow began to follow them before stopping by the Steward's side.

"I've put my dirty clothes in the bag outside my quarters as usual, Algot. Can you put the broom and clean sheets in front of the door and I'll clean and make the bed before nightfall?"

He nodded with a sigh. "As you wish, mistress Rosenberg. I still say you should let me clean your room as I do for the rest. Or if not that, convince master Giles to hire a maid to ease the inconvenience."

She shook her head and offered an apologetic smile. "I'm sorry but I promised my father that no men were to be in my quarters - not even the help - and I must not dishonor him by breaking a promise given. Besides, I'm no stranger to physical labor of sorts."

He nodded. "I can respect that and you do your family proud - despite everything - by not compromising on those principles. Even if I do still need a maid to supplant the workforce. I'll have the sheets and equipment in place before supper."

Willow smiled and curtsied in thanks before joining the rest of the increasingly loud group in the entrance hall.

The entrance hall - a large lobby that fortunately were one of the best-maintained rooms of Castle Gyllencreutz - were filled with more men and women than it had seen ever since the 'Oulu Massacre' had crippled the old Society at the tail end of the 18th century. Other than a couple of civilians armed with axes, hunting rifles and pitchforks - as well as a couple of assigned representatives of the local garrison - the majority of the roughly two dozen guests were part of the local police.

Armed with sabers, batons, and a never-ending sense of innate superiority, the city’s police wore blue uniforms with golden buttons and helmets. The force was known to practically all locals - even relative shut-ins like Willow - to be remarkably corrupt and violent. One of the few people in the force who cannot be bought was, ironically, the newly-appointed police chief, Allan Finch. He were trying to purge his organization of corruption which made him numerous enemies on the force - and on the outside. Some officers, however, idealize him and have tried stopped working with shady elements with varying degrees of success; once you're caught in the Whirlwind's grasp it's hard to break loose.

In the middle of the gathering was the chief himself dressed in an expensive - if dirty after long night's search - uniform that distinguished him amongst his fellow officers. Upon identifying Giles as the presumptive leader of the inhabitants Finch moved up to him and extended his hand in greeting. "Greetings! I am Chief Finch and thank you for letting us take solace from the morning cold for a moment. Am I correct in my assumption that you are the leader of this organization I've heard so much about?"

Giles shook the offered hand - firmly - but shook his head with an apologetic smile. "Good morning Chief Finch. I may be the eldest of the East Aros Society - our Steward excepted - but I am not the leader as we are not that kind of organization. However, I - Rupert Giles that is - am the Castle Master as the structural organization of both the castle and the society are under my responsibilities. My son Alexander over there," he motioned to Alex who kept himself to the back as to hide the obvious signs of a long night on the town, "is our treasurer and in charge of the repairs and reconstruction of our humble abode.

Finch nodded to the young man who returned the greeting. Behind the chief of police was a different man with red eyes and a tired smile who waved at the younger man and Willow recognized him as the Doyle family member that Alexander had planned to befriend the evening before.

"Young miss Willow Rosenberg here is our resident librarian and armorer - I'm sure you've heard of her technical expertise and renowned intelligence?" The chief locked his jaw but politely tipped his helmet to the shy woman. He had been informed - and informed his officers in turn - of the unique situation regarding the emancipated young lady who was not only a student but the lone daughter of one of the most influential craftsmen in the city.

When he heard one of the members of the crowd mutter an insult, loud enough for most of the room's inhabitants to take notice, his demeanor changed from one of resigned politeness to apologetic friendliness.

"I apologize for that remark from one of the twats that I've been straddled with, mister Giles." He spoke loudly to ensure that no member of his party would misunderstand his intentions. "I'm sure there'll be no further outbursts of that rude nature or else I'll be forced to send everyone present in a double-shift down by the poorhouse."

Giles smiled politely but Willow still shrunk back behind the closest pillar. She was used to the jeers and insults - sometimes even threats - but had grown comfortable in her new home and had enjoyed a safe harbor from the ugliness that was a regular part of her life in the city.

"Certainly, chief Finch. But finally, but far from least, there's our Guardian." He pointed towards Kendra with outstretched hand. "Kendra Young is a warrior with ten years of experience both on the field and as our personal guard and together with the rest of us we form a council where we decide as a group of where the Society's goals should be."

The chief once again tipped his helmet in polite greeting before turning back to Giles. "Remarkable, such an organizational structure is rare indeed outside of traveling troupes and some sea vessels. I'm curious to see if the structure remain intact if you're able to grow into the numbers that I've been informed the Society held a hundred years ago. But that's neither here nor there as I'm actually on the job and you're our last stop of the day."

"Ah, the missing lady Maclay I presume?"

"On the spot, mister Giles. We have reasonable assumption that she was kidnapped while going out for some fresh air during the celebration yesterday. Nobody has seen her since and together with the other two parties that have canvassed the city we've found little to dissuade us from the notion that she's been taken by an enemy of the Maclays, Doyles, or both. So I'm here to see if you or your... companions have seen or heard anything that might point us in the correct direction."

"I'm afraid not, chief Finch. My son was a voluntary member of one of the other parties but the rest of us have spent the night in our respective quarters ever since the younger members returned home from the aborted festivities."

The chief nodded but if the poor news changed his mood in any way he masked it well. "I dared not hope otherwise but I had to investigate every avenue. I thank you all for your time and if you hear something - anything - do not hesitate to contact us at the station. The Maclays have already put out a reasonable reward for any information that lead to her safe recovery and I do not doubt it'd do wonders to help in the rebuilding of this once illustrious castle."

Giles smiled gently. "That is most certain. Do you want me to send for our laborers so you can ask them as well before heading back out? Otherwise I'm afraid I'm going to appear quite rude as we all have business to attend to this day and need to avoid any further delays."

The Castle Master had no idea just how much chaos would continue to haunt them over the next few days.

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