Melyda sighed heavily as, in the torch-lit evening of this first Festival day, she shifted the last box of books onto her wagon. She had thought, this morning, that she could keep the books locked in the stall overnight, but the theft of that mysterious tome made her decide otherwise. Who knew what other valuable or dangerous books she might have, all unawares? She gave an affectionate pat to the patient Gypsy, standing harnassed to the wagon, and slowly drove through the market toward the Bards Hall, Ari and Khale perched on top of boxes behind her.
After leaving the wagon in a shed and stabling Gypsy, she brought Ari and Khale to the Bards Hall kennels. Ari whined disconsolately and balked in the doorway. Melyda sighed, dropped to one knee, and hugged the morose wolfhound.
"I'm sorry, Ari," Melyda said, her voice conveying regret and necessity. "But I'm sure the Dragon Inn will be crowded enough as is. We'll have a nice romp after I get back." She stroked dog and cat a moment, then sent them inside.
Melyda hesitated at the gates of the Bards compound, then headed back to the market. It would be slow going through the crowds in market and town on her way to the Inn, but those crowds actually made her feel safer. As she walked, she kept her eyes open for any sight of Kieraan, unlikely as that was, or the confederate he had sent to her book stall.
She was just beginning to discern lights from some of the Inn's second- story rooms when she passed by the opening of a narrow, dark alleyway and heard a shrill shriek from within--the scream of a young kitten in dire straits. Her natural protectiveness for animals drove her a few steps into the alley before she remembered the peril of her situation. She stopped in her tracks, looking and listening intently. But before she could start to back away, someone grabbed her from behind, spun her around, and started dragging her further into the dim alleyway. A cloth- covered hand, protruding from a dark sleeve, clamped down over her mouth, and she smelled the sickly-sweet scent of a narcotic.
Melyda cursed as she struggled with her assailant, trying to drag the cloth away from her nose and mouth before she lost conciousness. She suddenly went on the offensive, driving her left elbow backwards. She had the satisfaction of hearing her attacker grunt in pain as she connected with his stomach, and raised her arm to do it again. But she heard the man grate out a few words in a harsh whisper, and this time her elbow smashed into something that felt like a brick wall. She reached back with her right foot, trying to hook one of his feet with it and send him falling backwards, but again she was blocked. The pain from her left arm and the narcotic were sending her senses reeling toward darkness. In desperation, she removed a ring from her hand, dropped it, and stepped on it to drive it a bit into the hard-packed ground and hide it from her attacker's sight. Her last concious thought, as her resistance relaxed and the man began dragging her back again, was the desperate hope that, somehow, Sammel would find the ring before anyone else did.
Sammel strode into the crowded common room of the Dragon Inn. The other members of the search party were still out, though he guessed they'd be back soon for another planning session. But he'd promised Melyda he'd meet her here for dinner, and she deserved to know how the search was going, even though his report would be negative.
'How could that man have disappeared so completely?' Sammel wondered as he snagged a seat at the bar and ordered a light ale. The account of the theft at Melyda's stall and a description of Kieraan had reached all of Montfort within a few hours. But once he'd reached the south gate in his flight, Kieraan seemed to have vanished into thin air. Sammel had seen, before he'd taken leave of the search party, that Karyn was becoming increasingly frustrated--and anxious. 'As I am,' he thought as he settled down to wait.
Time passed. No Melyda. With his third mug of ale, Sammel ordered a bowl of stew, knowing better than to drink too much on an empty stomach. He finished both. Still no sign of Melyda. Sammel felt the first stirrings of panic, but he fought that down as he stood and caught the barkeeper's attention.
"Hugh, if Melyda Carrisford--"
"Aye. If she comes in, could you tell her to wait here for me?"
Hugh nodded, and Sammel edged through the crowd of patrons and out the door.
He hurried through the Festival grounds to her book stall. It was shuttered and dark. He then threaded his way through the thinning crowds to the entrance to the Bard Hall.
"Has Melyda Carrisford been back here?" he asked one of the gateguards.
"Aye," Sammel replied. He couldn't help but smile. She'd only been in Montfort two days, and she'd already firmly established her identity.
"Aye, she drove in here, oh, an hour ago, I'd say," the guard replied.
"At least that," affirmed his partner. "And she left again about ten minutes later."
"Thank you," Sammel replied soberly. He turned to go, but a sudden thought checked him. "Did she have her dog and cat with her when she left?"
"No," said the first guard. "She was alone."
"Thanks!" Sammel raced through the gate to the kennels.
At the entrance of the kennels, he grabbed a length of rope, then continued on inside, searching for Ari and Khale. He spotted them by the far wall. Ari was pacing back and forth. Khale was sitting, but her tail repeatedly curled up, then slapped the floor.
Sammel and Melyda had visited each other often enough for him to be quite familiar to her pets. But even so, as he walked up to them, their greeting was remarkably demonstrative. Ari reared up, put her paws on his shoulders, and began licking his face. Khale twined around and between his legs, rubbing herself against them. He laughed a little breathlessly, greeted them affectionately, and finally settled them down a bit.
He tied one end of the rope to Ari's collar and held her gaze. "Ari, find Melyda. Track Melyda."
Ari yelped once and took off, dragging Sammel along, Khale trotting beside them. Once at the gate, Ari put her nose to ground and, with only slightly diminished speed, led Sammel and Khale toward the market.
The group wove their way through Festival grounds and city streets, always heading toward the Dragon Inn. Suddenly, Ari stopped at the entrance of an alleyway and peered inside. Sammel took a torch from a nearby wall sconce and carefully stepped inside, scanning ahead and down. A few paces in, he could see signs that something, or someone, had been dragged along. Ari trotted a few more paces, then stopped, nosing at the ground. Khale studied the spot, then began scrabbling in the dirt. One of her claws hooked something and dragged it out. A gleam of metal caught the torchlight as Sammel squatted down and picked up the object, brushing the dirt off.
They all three stared at the ring resting in Sammel's palm. It was a ring he knew well. It had belonged to Melyda's mother, who had died when Melyda was five years old. Melyda's father had passed it on to Melyda when she turned sixteen, and she'd never taken it off since then. To find it now, and in these circumstances, could mean only one thing. It was a sign--the only sign she could give--that Melyda was in trouble.
Sammel rose to his feet, clutching the ring in his hand. Ari led him and Khale to the other end of the alley, which opened into a quiet side street. There Ari circled around for a moment, whining, then sat down and howled once. There was no more scent to follow.
Sammel stroked her head and scratched her behind the ears. "Don't worry," he said softly. "We'll find her. Somehow, we'll find her." He stood there for a moment, anger and fear building inside him. Then he tugged at Ari's leash and led her and Khale back through the alley and up the remaining streets to the Inn.
He scanned the common room as he stepped inside. He spotted Karyn, Takayoshi, and a few others of the search party in a far corner. He shoved his way toward them, fighting to keep despair from replacing determination. Takayoshi spotted him first, and nudged Karyn to call her attention to his approach. They both rose from their seats, wondering at his bleak expression.
"He's got her," Sammel said in a voice equally bleak. "That frapping Kieraan's got Melyda." He told them everything he'd seen and done, and showed them the ring. As he reached the end of his narrative, he was suddenly glad beyond measure that he didn't have to bear this alone.
"Finally," she thought to herself as she looked around her new room. "I've finally made it." She walked over to the mirror and studied her reflection for a moment.
"An apprentice, " she smiled at the thought, and held her head up a bit taller. Then glancing at the clock on the far wall, she spun around on her heel and headed for the door. "Better get goin' b'fore I'm late," she thought to herself, as she ran a hand through her short red hair. Off down the street she went, her step just a little livelier than usual. She even began to whistle a little tune she'd picked up in her travels, though she wasn't quite sure from where. Finally, she could hear the sound of people, and she knew she was coming to the Inn.
"Here we are, then," she said aloud to herself. "The Dragon's Inn, and right on time too." She strode up to the door, adjusted her tunic a bit and in she went to join the others.
She was still a few feet away from the table where Karyn Silversheen was talking with her friends, when the door of the Inn suddenly flew open. Sammel stepped in and looked around the room rather frantically. As the others suddenly stood up at the table, she could feel her stomach turn with uneasiness. "Oh, no, somethin's wrong," she thought to herself, as she saw the man's anxious expression.
"He's got her," she heard him say. "That frapping Kieraan's got Melyda.
"The bookseller?" she heard herself say in disbelief, and she knew it was true even before she received a reply. Her temper flared immediately, that anyone could even think to harm the kind-hearted woman. "Oooo, if anyone's hurt her," she raged to herself, green eyes flashing in wild anger, "so help me, I'll... I'll..."
Still picturing a number of different uses for a person's various appendages, she went to join the others in hearing Sammel's disheartening news.
Upon listening to Sammel's sad news, that feeling became more intense, he looked to both Sammel and Karyn. "Well, we know for a fact that Kieraan was pretty ticked off about cracking Melyda's spell...However, he has Melyda and I hope she has a good very good will...and a high threshold pain!! Seriously, We HAVE to act fast!" Takayoshi commented, "About the posse, I say we take what got, because time is running short!" The oriental looked at Karyn, and mentioned that she has the last say.
Karyn Silversheen, Bardmistress of the Hall, stood among the group of searchers. The group was sizable, containing within it members of the Hall, the Tower Guard, concerned townspeople, and a bevy of cats led by Icarus and his family.
"I would tend to agree with you, Takayoshi. However I don't think Melyda need worry about her will or her pain threshold. Kieraan is the one who should worry, especially if Elwynn gets hold of him. Or any of us, for that matter."
The blonde actress divided the searchers into groups, and sent them out again. Each group was given a small signal ring, which would notify the others if Kieraan were found. The last group contained Karyn herself, Takayoshi, Sammel, Thaddeus Troll, and Breanne O'Connor, one of the new apprentices.
"Well all right then," Karyn said at last, tightening her cloak over her leather armour, "does anyone have any questions?"
In a darkened corner a tall woman in a weatherstained green cloak smiled to herself and spoke up.
"Yes, I have a question. Could you use another hand? I am Regina, a Tracker."
Karyn turned to the other woman. The newcomer was tanned and sunburned, and her otherwise pleasant face was marred by a scar which ran from above her left eye and down across the bridge of her nose.
"We can use all the help we can get." the Bardmistress said. The woman smiled and rose, revealing a longsword in a weatherstained scabbard at her side.
"It would help," she said, "If you could lead me to where the kidnapping took place."
Sammel nodded. "I'll take you there now."
He led them through the city streets to the alley. Edging along the side, keeping a close hold on Ari, he pointed out the tracks he had seen and the place where Ari and Khale had found Melyda's ring. He moved on to the other end and called back, "This is where Ari lost the scent." He then settled down on an upended box and watched the others begin their work.
He sighed as he waited, stroking Ari and Khale. Melyda was his friend, his confidante, the sister he'd never had. And while he knew now that she'd never be more than that, that was certainly enough to fill him with rage at the thought of what might be happening to her. He knew he couldn't rest until she was either rescued or avenged.
The 6', 200+ lb. solid oriental took note of Regina. He thought that we could use some help tracking Kieraan down, because two trackers ar better than one. He then smiled to himself in esteem. "Now its time to get down and dirty, and to wear 'proper' clothing", he smiled to himself as he mentally planned ahead for night. He then jingled his charm filled bracelet, and felt his ring and the signaling ring, both on his right hand. He looked over to Karyn and mentioned something like he had to go back to his hotel room to get some stuff for tonight.
Takayoshi stepped in into his hotel room, and began to undress. Looking down at the large sack/bag that had laid motionless since that morning, Takayoshi mumbled something like "now it is time for you." He bent down to the bag and took out his ninja suit, two different length scabbards, a leather pouch, and about 7 shurikens. The former ninja then proceeded to put on the suit.
"I can't believe it still fits after all these years." the lone wolf ninja (as he would be called back in his homeland) commented about the fit. After he put on the pitch black suit, his two scabbards, and the small leather pouch. He then mumbled something under his breath and a magically glowing katana appeared in his hands. He then sheathed into the longer empty scabbard, that was strapped onto his back. He mumbled something else...and this time a magically, glowing wakizashi appeared. As with the katana he sheathed it into other scabbard that was also strapped onto his back. He finally mumbled something else and this time 3 shuriken appeared in his hand. He put them, along with the other 7, snug into the leather pouch that was strapped in front of him.
"Now it is time to hunt you down Kierran." he said out loud to himself. Then the unhooded oriental proceeded out the door to look for Karyn, Sammel, Thaddeus, and rest of his patrol group.
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