Chapter 1: Master of the House

In which a mysterious and much-maligned magus is met at long last....

Even for those who have lived here a while, the White Lady doesn't feel like home. Its grounds are large and patched together with no apparent plan in mind. Strange buildings, created by magic with callous disregard for those around them, dot the entire valley. A small village of mundanes huddles on the central plateau of the valley, dwarfed by the abandoned towers and structures raised by magic. Now, it is said, most magi live in the central manor; a poorly maintained, dusty, and cavernous place if ever there was one.

The weather has been mercifully warm for the past week, but judging from the chill and light snow already falling this afternoon, that is about to change. Within hours, several parties of visitors arrive, piling into the small gatehouse near the entrace to the valley and huddling near whatever open flame or stove they can find. There is a single man there, middle aged and greying with no weapons or armor to speak of. He has but one answer for all who ask to be admitted: wait. He is differential to magi, but he is standoffish and clearly unused to the Gift. After a time cooling your heels - just long enough to be awkward but just short enough that you haven't had a chance to say anything of substance - the door leading into the covenant proper creaks open and a man enters.

Well, a man of sorts. His is not quite five feet tall, his hair is greasy and black, and his skin is pale as a corpse. Seeing you, he smiles humorlessly, showing long canines.

"Good day, visitors. You are the most we've seen in a long time. Pray, introduce yourselves I am Pyror, and I will be your guide here." His tone is curt, dismissive. He somehow he manages to look down his long white nose at all of you despite his small stature. He searches each magus in turn with his eyes, and then looks away dismissively.

"Don't stare, and don't complain about the wait. The Master has been expecting each of you, and you wait on his pleasure."

Cresting one final ridge, Winds walks steadily down the road, her unshod hooves a dull accompaniment to the mountain pony’s sharper, iron shoed steps. Pausing at the top, she looks down at the valley before her with a heavy heart. Sometimes during her journey she could delude herself into thinking all was as it once was, but now seeing her final destination, the reality of her loss crashes down once more.

Turning her head away from the sight, Winds quickly goes through her options, deciding that it would probably be easiest to enter the valley in human form. Sighing resolutely as she eyes the snow that seems to be drifting down in ever heavier flakes, she rumbles at the pony behind her, Stay here, and ambles to the side of the road where a boulder blocks some of the wind. Dappled grey fur appears to dissolve into bare skin, hooves break apart into fingers, and her long, black tail seems to get sucked back into the base of her back as Winds makes the transformation into human form as quickly as she can.

Pulling open the saddlebags that fell into the snow when she shrunk in size, Winds dances from foot to foot, shivering in the cold mountain air. Her movements seem to be hindering her more than helping as she yanks on heavy undergarments and dark grey robes. Fumbling with her shoes, she looses her balance and tips over, falling on her rump in the snow with an undignified squeal. Winds finally gets both shoes on and stands up, dusting the snow off her robes as she picks up the saddlebags and heads back onto the road and the waiting pony.

Gently laying her bags into the cart, Winds looks at the swathed figure, cold and stiff, lying there. “You’re almost home, pater.” She looks away quickly before the tears forming in her eyes can fall. Taking a deep breath, she move to the head of the pony, grasps the lead rope, and continues walking towards the valley below.

A while later, after tending as best she could to the little mountain pony, Winds will step into the gatehouse at the entrance to the valley. She pulls back the hood on her robes to get a better look at her surroundings, revealing long, unbound black hair and eyes so dark they seem to match her hair in color. Surprised to see such a crowd here, she frowns slightly and wanders over to one of the braziers, holding her hands out to warm them. Winds is about to start up a conversation with the man next to her, curious on what all these people are doing here, when the inner door opens and Pyror steps out to greet them all.

Disturbed by the idea that the master here would know of her coming, she steps forward anyway to state her business to the little man. “I am Winds Silubreins ex Bonisagus. I have come bearing the body of my pater, Georgius ex Bonisagus, home for interment.”

Korvin stands outside the Mercere House on the path leading to the manor. Pyror had informed Korvin that other magi would be coming today and it was time to meet with "[color=green]the master". He like to imitate how Pyror says it in his droll creepy voice. He had been filled in by several Redcaps on[color=green] the master and knew he was not a pleasant fellow. Which is probably why he is standing out here in the cold waiting for Pyror to bring the new Magi in. A show of power from Jacopo and a challenge.

While he waited he pondered. If the Redcaps dislike Jacopo so much why would Alcyone make a deal and set up a portal, a house and himself at the Covenant. Plots within plots within plots no doubt.

Apple is haunched over in a corner with two other men. He looks backwards when the little, white man walks out from behind the door. He listens to Winds introduce herself and waits until Pryor looks at him.

He holds up a finger, "Just a moment please." He'll turn back to one of the other two men squatting beside him. He'll point at the little cube on the ground and point at the side that is face up. "Did you finish counting Jakob? That's how many?"

Jakob holds up four fingers. Apple nods. "That's four. Hurtgar got a six. Is six more than four? Than you have to give him a penny."

Apple will stand up and turn to Pryor, cocking his head to the left and smiling. "My name is Apple ex Tytalus. Are the days always so sunny up here?"

Pryor flares his nostrils, not returning the smile. "Only when we’re very lucky, master Apple." His use of formal language is biting, with just a hint of sarcasm.

"Mistress Winds, of course. Burying our own is a thing we know well here - you may leave your burden with the grogs for tonight. They will ensure he is well cared for, and we can see to it tomorrow morning." His voice softens ever so slightly, though his haughtiness remains. "I was informed you would be bearing a burden, but the Master never told me what it would be."

He walks with you all out of the gatehouse as he talks, apparently oblivious to snow and cold though he wears only an overshirt.

"I will show you to your rooms. We are having a formal dinner tonight, where you will have the opportunity to meet one another and to be greeted properly."

(For those of you already living at the covenant.)

The servants here are quiet and timid, so the knock on your door is a little surprising. A mousy, blonde servant, one of the only young women in the castle, shuffles into the room.

“Erm, pardon me, master. I’ve been asked to inform you that there will be a formal dinner tonight, in the dining hall, with a, erm, council meeting to follow."

Well, this is unusual. Several of your sodales more your age, and perhaps more willing to talk (or boast, plan, politic, whatever) than the distant Cato, have arrived today. This covenant has potential - the aura is strong and the library, what you each have seen of it, is quite good.

Even you who’ve lived here a while have not been invited to attend a full, formal dinner, much less a council meeting, so it's hard to say if rumors of Jacopo’s stranglehold on covenant politics are exaggerated. Everyone seems to do what they want here. Cato is the only senior magus who really talks to you younger magi. He has been quite welcoming and open to the establishment of the Mercere House. There may be one more senior magus, a woman, but you haven’t seen her either. Rumor has it her name is Primrose ex Criamon, and she’s been in Twilight for several years.

Apple falls into step besides Wind, looking about him at the layout of the valley and the odd placement of towers and buildings.

"I can not decide if it's eerie or it's lovely. It seems to strike a balance of both. At least there will be plenty of space, eh?"

He turns to Winds. "I am Apple ex Tytalus. I am sorry to hear of the loss of your Master. I wish him well in his next life.

"Please let me know if I can do anything."

Winds picks up her saddlebags and tosses them over her shoulder, reluctant to let any of the grogs carry them for her. Tugging her hood back up, she follows the little man out into the wind and snow, sloshing through the snow that has already accumulated on the ground. The covenant is ghostly quiet as they walk along the path, the only signs of life coming from the village proper in the form of chimney smoke. Looking around at all the empty buildings, she wonders where all the magi have gone, or perhaps more importantly, why they have all gone.

Broken out of her reverie by the man beside her, she replies softly, "Thank you for your condolences, and your kind offer. He was a brilliant man who lived a very long and fulfilling life." Glancing over to study her companion, she continues, "I am Winds Silubreins ex Bonisagus, but you may call me Winds. May I ask what brings you here, if you do not mind my prying? I hope it is nothing as sorrowful as my business."

Apple's smile grows bigger. "I am a fortunate man. Nothing in my life has yet been that sorrowful. That comes later.

"I am here because I wrote to the head of the Covenant, Jacopo ex Tytalus and asked if I could come and he wrote back that I could. I wrote to Jacopo because I've been in need of a challenge. And from what I have heard, The White Lady is a challenge. Perhaps not a noble reason, but a reason none the less."

Apple will shake his head and look up at the sky. "Did you know this place has a...reputation?? What have you heard about White Lady? Please forgive my presumption, but you do know to have a care while you are here, right?"

Winds is curious about what Apple means when he says that his sorrow comes later, but he continues talking, and she is too polite to inquire his meaning at a first meeting. Perhaps some other time. She hesitates for a moment before replying to Apple, trying to figure out how best to phrase what she would say.

"I do not know much about The White Lady, what reputation does this place have? Though this is my pater's home covenant, he was always traveling about since he took me for an apprentice and never returned here. He didn't talk much about it, but he did mention his covenant mates once in a while, and not always with fondness. One member in particular he was rather... vocal about, and has quite the reputation, from what I have heard. " She pauses a moment, and then adds, "Life has taught me to be careful no matter where I am."

Winds seems as if she is about to continue, when she steps on a hidden patch of ice and her foot slips out from under her. She flails about with her arms to stable herself before she falls into the snowdrift beside the path, but her saddlebags are not so lucky. They drop into the snow with a soft 'whuff.' "Oh, just Perdo it!" she curses.

Apple will smile. "Are you hurt? If you like I can ask one of my friends, Jakob or Hurtgar to carry those bags for you.

"Supposedly there are a lot of magi who have fallen at White Lady. Some left for other covenants. Some have not been heard of again. Some seem to be thriving."

Apple reaches for the saddlebags and stops mid motion. He looks at Winds. "May I retreive your bags for you?"

Observing Apple, Winds will hesitate for a moment before nodding, giving him permission to pick up her bag. Straightening from her awkward stance that she ended up in from slipping on the ice, she says, "I'm fine. I don't think the help of your companions will be necessary, my bags aren't that heavy. It's just, when you can fit everything you own in some saddlebags, those bags become rather important to you."

Winds looks up as a murder of crows flies noisily overhead, spooked off their perches. She watches them as they fly across the valley and out of sight, wondering if they portent what is to come, and if it is good or ill.

"There are rumors that it has not only been magi that have fallen here," she says softly, and then her voice takes on a more normal speaking tone. "I wonder what dinner will be like, and who 'the Master' is. I was under the impression that there was more than one magi left living here."

[color=green]Jonathan: [color=red]Really? I should really pay attention more. Jonathan, in a very un-mage like fashion, is practicing knife throwing :slight_smile:
[color=red]And what are your dinner plans pretty girl? I am sure that this meeting is going to be as exciting as watching paint dry, full of dull plots and boring intrigues. (approaches closer, touches her lightly on the chin) [color=red]What do you say to a moonlight picknic? I will try to cut out of the meeting early, you try to grab a bottle of wine, some bread and cheese and some fruits, and I will take you up to the lLookout and we can watch the snow waft over the White Lady.

Apple hands over the saddlebags. "I imagine dinner will be interesting, yes." He follows her eyes to watch the crows and chuckles. "A Peacock, a Cuckcoo, and A Crow are arguing about which of them is the biggest sinner.

"The Peacock says he is because he spends all his time admiring his own feathers instead of giving glory to the Lord.

"The Cuckcoo says she is because she places her own eggs in the nests of other birds so they will have to raise them, proving she is slothful and lazy.

"The Crow just laughs. I am the biggest sinner he says. I regularly take part in a Murder."

Apple's grin spreads. "That gets big laughs in certain circles. Come on. The others are leaving us behind."

She smiles coyly, her shyness gone, then hurries out with a wink. Your advances are welcome, especially if you’ve ensured your previous conquests are well cared for. You’re nowhere near as creepy (or cruel) as some magi here, and by now, many women have figured out that there is no danger of getting a child by a wizard.

Meanwhile, the snow continues to swirl outside as Pryor guides you visitors to their rooms, which are spare, reasonably clean, and entirely unremarkable. Servants are few, and many sections of the manor are poorly lit or not lit at all - the darkness is cold and eerie. Once you have settled in, Pryor gathers you together and leads you down into the dining hall, your footsteps echoing on the stone floor. Like the hallways, the dining hall is chilly, dim, and smoky. Apparently the senior magi here shun the comforts of magic, at least in public areas, for the hall is lit by candles and heated by fireplaces. Korvin and Jonathan, you rarely eat here, because it's just easier to get a meal from the kitchen or in your room or sanctum. There is a high table, apparently for magi, and a few lower tables for servants.

Two magi are already standing together at the table. One is Cato of Jerbiton, dapper old magus with a tired, haggard look about him. His white hair frames an old, distracted face. The other is a thin, nervous looking young magus with kind eyes. He wears robes with the symbols of House Guernicus on them, though they are big on his small frame.

"Hello everyone. I am Andrei of Guernicus." He speaks Latin with an accent that suggests his home Tribunal is Novgorod, Transylvania, or perhaps the Rhine. "Terribly excited to meet you all. Cato and..." He pauses awkwardly. "I believe Cato has asked me here to help with your council meeting, among other things."

With that, the tired-looking Cato stirs himself, though he is still pensive and distant.

"Hello, friends and sodales. Be welcome, for I understand some of you will soon join our numbers here. Please, be seated. If you have any questions, I will gladly answer them." His voice is distant and his mind is clearly elsewhere.

Andrei is friendly, nervous, and quiet, while Cato is nice enough but withdrawn. Both are willing to answer questions, but if you want substantive conversation, you may have to introduce yourselves to your sodales. Also, the other two known senior magi of the White Lady are absent. The beautiful Primrose of Criamon is purportedly in a long Twilight, and hasn't been seen for years. There's another magus who none of you have met but all of you know... where he might be is the first of many mysteries tonight.

On the way to the Manor House, the group passes a structure that is in good repair. Outside stands a young man in mage robes with the symbol of a red hat with a yellow circle inscribed with a blue triangle. It takes a moment to realize that this is not a Redcap but a mage of house Mercere. A rare sight for many in the order.

He joins the group as they pass.

"Greetings sodales. I am Korvin ex Mercere. I'm new to the White Lady as well. I arrived early to help my house mates set up You should stop in for a drink or meal and meet the others."

"...I've only met Cato. Ive not seen anyone else but the servants. "

Child :open_mouth: !!
Look, I have Hermetic Birth Control :laughing:, the Longevity Potion!
Besides, I am not out to tag all the ladies. I am not Lustful. I just like female attention and spending time with them. And other stuff, occasionally, but that is not formost on my mind :slight_smile:

Even in the heat of summer, when the sun-seared paving stones blister the bare feet of her family - "'This is a perfectly apt application of Ignem,' young Flavius told me, but I never got the knack" - the breezes off the glaciers sweep the valley with an early spring's touch; and now, as the snows ride in on a great blanket of smothering clouds, they chill bones. Inside her little room over the bakery - "built by my Bartolomeo sixty years ago, God bless his soul" - Nonna Francisca bundles layer upon layer over her fragile, hunched body. Perhaps it is the gray light coming in the open hole of the window, or perhaps it is the fact that this is the eightieth winter she's seen that makes her look particularly frail on the morning of her journey.
A gust blows in the window, and she bundles on a fourth coat. "Don't worry, dear, I shouldn't be gone long," she says to the mountain breeze, as the wind-blown snow dusts across the floor. She totters over to her worn walking-stick where it is propped by the doorway. "Come here, stick," she tells it, her hand falling neatly into the grooves of a dozen years' service. "You're a good stick, you know, even if you are as gnarled as I am. You keep an old woman centered, hmm?" She totters down the stairs - "Goodbye, creaky step, and you too, quiet one, you'll keep while I'm away" - and through the back of the bakery. She hugs her grandchildren and great-grandchildren who are working the ovens, even in the dead of winter, heads back through the cow barn - "Hello, young Pink-nose, don't you fret, winter will end like it always does" - and, with only her stick, a sack of loaves, and her many layers of coats, she walks out into the snow, down the road along the frozen stream to Orta.

The covenant of the White Lady rises from the snow-filled valley like a grasping hand, granite-fingered against the bare white of the mountain behind it. The first sight of the guest that Loysio the Watchman notices is a tumbling cloud of snow coming up the valley, blown wild upon an errant gust. In the heart of the dancing cloud is a tiny black dot, the silhouette of an old woman and a twisted stick. As the tiny storm gets nearer, Loysio can hear singing, the frigid blast of wind providing a wailing counterpoint to a decidedly vulgar peasant song.
As the old woman gets closer still, the cloud disperses and the song ends mid-verse into mumbling. She calls out, "Ho there, you at the door! Care to let an old woman out of the snow? It's awful cold." The wind whistles. "No, no, my little north wind, you've been good company, but I'm going inside where winds aren't welcome. You should blow back to the Weissmeis!" Loysio gives her a funny look, but ducks his head inside to shout down to the porter at the service door. "You're a good strong door," Francisca says as she passes through it, with a loving pat on the timber. "Can you show me to the master?" The steward gives her a funny look and coughs. She turns from the door to him and pats him on the shoulder. "You're a good strong man," she says, in the exact same tone she addressed the door in, as he leads her into the manor's halls, punctuated by the clattering of her walking stick on stone.

Apple's joke will win a small smile out of Winds, lightening her somber mood just a bit before she carfully hurries to catch up with Pryor.

As Korvin joins their little group, Winds gives him a nod of greeting and says, "Well met, Korvin. I am Winds Silubreins ex Bonisagus, and this," she gestures to the man walking beside her, "is Apple ex Tytalus. Thank you for your offer of hospitality. I will be sure to take you up on it sometime. But enough for now, we can talk at dinner. Let us get inside and warm up!" With that she rushes on after their guide in hopes of getting a warm meal in a warm room.

A little disappointed at the lack of warmth in the dinning hall, Winds introduces herself once more at dinner to all those gathered. As she sits and waits for the food, she decides to try to get some conversation started in this quiet hall.

"Cato, thank you for your hospitality tonight. You have probably heard by now the greivous news I bring with me about my pater, Georgius. His last request was to be interred at The White Lady. I am not familiar with the traditions here though. Do you use a communal tomb or temple perhaps, or will he need his own mausoleum?"

"Andrei, it is nice to meet you as well. Will you be staying around for the funeral?"

"Korvin, I didn't know that there was a Mercere House here. How many of your House stay here with you? Do you get many of your House stopping by here?"

"Apple, if you don't mind, where are you from, originally? Are you an Alps native, or are you from father afield? I've traveled around most of the Rhine and a bit into Novgorod, until my pater got sick." Winds face falls only slightly at this mention of her parens, her eyes going distant, but she recovers quickly and focuses her attension on dinner once more.

Apple bows his head to Korvin. "Well met Korvin ex Mercere. Having a member of your house here is a comfort in many ways." Apple takes note of the building Korvin indicated as the Mercere House. He looks to see what buildings are near it and how the houses are laid out.

When they arrive at their rooms Apple will briskly rub his hands together. "Ah. What a fine, cold stone room you've prepared for me!!!" He'll smile at Pryor. "It's as if you knew what I liked and avoided it at all costs. Well done.

"Is that a bedroom across the way? It is? My friends Hurtgar and Jakob will take it. Please have someone build them a fire. Don't worry about building me one though. I wouldn't want you to have to put in a hearth on my account.

"Good night Pryor. Thanks for not leaving me a candle. Please slam the door on your way out. Oh, I see you did." Apple will sigh and turn to Jakob and Hurtgar. "Hunt me down a candle please Hurtgar. Ask that maid that was with us. She seemed to be looking you up and down all the way through the hall.

"Jakob, while I'm out, please practice writing your name. Also, sit beside the door to your room and listen for people walking up and down the hall. Keep your door open a crack and see if you can see who frequents this hall." Apple will nod his head. "That will do then. I'm off to supper. Hurtgar, have your maid send up some bread and cheese."