“You fool! I can’t leave the inn!” Sieresa Coriel screamed. But the accursed Bellamie continued setting fire to the inn’s rough wooden furniture. Johann Bellamie, Sedrie’s prized heir. He had spoken of Johann with such pride, Sedrie had, telling her how Johann was the first in their family in generations to possess a talent for true wizardry. The bragging certainly hadn’t made for very exciting pillow talk, and seeing Johann now, Sieresa Coriel couldn’t really understand what all the excitement had been about.
As Sieresa called upon the power of the Seeming to create fire, only to be countered at every turn by Johann’s magic, she developed a healthy new respect for the younger Bellamie’s power. The involvement of the mannish Roesone girl and the insufferable white-haired poseur from Ghoried certainly didn’t help matters. Within moments, Sieresa found herself outmatched. And Vilnik just…walked away. Somehow that hurt worse than the physical injuries. Granted, she had worked as something of a double-agent in his court, however unwillingly, but she had also offered him the ultimate sacrifice. Sieresa watched the Baron’s stooped and retreating back as the final blow struck her to the inn’s straw-strewn wooden floor.
The matriarch of House Coriel returned to consciousness in exquisite agony. She felt her joints pop and her bones stretch as she was dragged from the sweaty grasp of the self-styled White Falcon back through the doorway of the Wanderer’s Rest. ‘This is it,’ she thought to herself, ‘I will be destroyed here.’ Though she had never expressly been told that she was unable to leave the inn, she knew enough of the Seeming and the Shadow Realm to understand the nature of her confinement. And now, as the demiplane of the inn collapsed around her, she waited for the final annihilation of her soul…
...and found herself instead seated at a rough wooden table, watching firelit shadows dance across the hewn timber walls. Without turning her head, she could smell the exotic perfume of the Khinasi, the sweat-and-leather stench of the Vos barbarienne.
The door behind her burst open, admitting a blast of cold air. “Welcome to the Wanderer’s Rest!” the innkeep began in a tone of forced cheerfulness. “Have a seat any…oh. S-sorry my lord, my lady…”
“My my my, Geir,” a woman exclaimed, “what have you done with this place! You’ve completely let it go! It’s no wonder our new guests were in such a hurry to leave.”
Sieresa willed herself not to turn. She could feel the Seeming twist and writhe around her, a ripple spreading through the room as the walls and floor and furniture jumped to re-configure themselves. Suddenly she was seated at a vast banquet table laden with a feast of epic proportions. Golden grapes spilled practically under her fingers and the air was filled with the smell of roast meat. Above the table arced the roof of a Rjurik longhouse, lit by chandeliers of horn, the walls adorned with priceless tapestries.
“Much better,” the woman said, and now Sieresa had no choice but to look at the speaker from across a haunch of roasted venison. The other woman was tall, angular, dressed in a silver robe with a high, stiff collar. Her hair was stark white and swept up dramatically, her eyebrows like lines of frost above colorless eyes. To say she was beautiful would be to say the sky was grey: it would only approximate the truth. She was accompanied by a small, dark man, clearly of Brecht extraction.
“We-ell Geir, you let us down again, no?” the Brecht man said, seating himself by the two Brecht merchants, neither of whom bothered to glance at him. “I shall be verrah displeased if I am deenied my body because of your incompetence. Even if my body is…meh…”
“Don’t worry, Sinister.” The tall woman seized the innkeeper’s jaw in one white-gloved hand. “Geir did his work admirably, though I admit that throwing yourself on the fire was a bit dramatic there at the end, mm? You certainly know by now that we don’t let good help go so easily.”
“But they all escaped, Lockhart!” the man identified as Sinister complained.
“Yes. As we planned. As I planned, anyhow. We shan’t be stuck here for much longer, watching as the others do the Great Master’s work. You shall have your body…”
”...such as it is…” Sinister mumbled. The woman called Lockhart laughed, a sound like breaking ice.
“Shush. It’s a fine form to start with, and you will be powerful…influential…and then you will help me acquire my own body.” For a moment her visage shivered, becoming that of a classically pretty blonde. “And what did you think of our Baron Vilnik?”
“Meh. He was…fine, I suppose. We are certain then that he was chosen, yes?”
“Yes. And I think he will be more than fine. I can’t say I like his companions much. But even if he somehow goes astray, the other seems well-positioned to take his place.”
“I do so weesh that they had stayed!” Sinister exclaimed, glaring at the silent Brecht merchants. “All of our friends have grown so dull.”
“Not all of our friends,” Lockhart said, and Sieresa felt a chill run up her spine as the tall woman looked at her. “You nearly managed to escape, little bird, and after you’ve joined us so recently. But it’s those little escapades that keep life exciting for us around here, isn’t it? Now, Sinister, we have other business to attend to. Shall we?”
Even after the two were gone, Sieresa could still feel cold suffusing her being. The fire blazing in the re-shaped longhouse fireplace did nothing to help.