Musical Illusions

Shops, street merchants, taverns, brothels and inns situated along the busy Main Street that runs through the middle of the city.
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Julen
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Musical Illusions

Post by Julen » Thu Dec 28, 2006 6:22 pm

(OCC: I felt a bit daunted by the prospect of jumping into an existing plotline, especially since all of the active ones are already pretty long. So I’m starting this thread to dip my toe into the world and begin to get a feel for Julen. If anyone would like to join -- passing through, actually meeting Julen, or starting some sort of plotline with him -- then please do. As of yet, I have no major plans.)


Julen sat at a small wooden table, watching drops of rain splatter against the tavern window like liquid insects in a suicidal swarm. He remembered when rain used to make him happy. When it meant the sprouting of seeds, the unfurling of green leaves, the filling of streams where his animals could drink. But rain seemed incapable of bringing that kind of life to the city. Here, it only meant cold, damp, and muck.

Tearing his gaze from the window, Julen looked down into his nearly empty tankard of ale. Only one or two more sips to go. Then they would expect him to get up and do what they were paying him to do. Involuntarily, Julen’s fingers tightened on the tankard’s handle as he fought a sudden urge to flee, to dash out into the night, to run from all the eyes that were about to be on him.

No. I can do this. For the sake of Rosemary, I can do this. Strengthened by thoughts of his wife, Julen swallowed the last dregs of his ale and stood up. Then, throwing the other tavern patrons a smile filled with false confidence, he walked to the center of the room. I can do this. I just have to focus on my technique, on my breathing, on the way I shape the notes. I’ll be fine as long as I don’t close my eyes and start seeing the things I’m singing about...

The noises around him, the conversations and sounds of utensils clinking against plates, didn’t actually cease. But they quieted to an expectant hum. Drawing a deep breath through clenched teeth, Julen offered a silent prayer to any gods that might be listening. Then he opened his mouth and launched into a popular ballad, Autumn Hearts, about a woodsman who falls in love with tree spirit.

...so they lie together in the forest
Beneath the autumn skies
And the forest sheds its colored leaves
For them, the forest cries...
Last edited by Julen on Fri Jan 05, 2007 1:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by Aranel Nolatari » Thu Dec 28, 2006 7:17 pm

OOC: I hope you don't mind, I thought I would join in :) I have no set plans as yet either - so feel free to meet, or not meet, Aranel.

IC:

Aranel’s fingers tightened around the handle of her own tankard of ale, which she had been nursing for the better part of the evening. Any excuse to remain in the relative warmth of the tavern, and out of the rain and muck outside. She sat alone at a table in the darkest corner of the tavern, wanting nothing more than to be ignored. The dark brown hood of her cloak concealed her features and made her appear that much more mysterious – and times were such that most mysteries were best not trifled with.

Several months had passed since the sudden death of her father and Aranel’s funds were starting to run low, leaving her to realize that she would soon have to postpone her vendetta and find employment…somewhere.

This was Aranel’s first venture into the city of Marn, and so far, the experience seemed to be like everything else she had done these past few months… pointless. Having been protected from the outside world for her entire youth left Aranel with little in the way of social skills, and her father’s murder had led her to hide her more tender side behind a sullen wall of anger and mistrust.

Now, however, that deepest part of her heart was touched by something unexpected, a song that took her back to her beloved woods and rekindled the memories of love and loss.

Hunched over her table, silent tears began to fall… dripping, splashing into her mug of ale. For the moment, she was lost in reverie…
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Post by Julen » Fri Dec 29, 2006 4:37 am

(OCC – Thanks for joining my thread! I’d very much like for Aranel and Julen to meet.)

...so they lie together in the forest
While smoke blots out the skies
And the forest burns so brightly now
For them, the forest dies...


As Julen guided the song to its tragic conclusion, he felt a surge of relief. Nothing had happened. Thank the gods, nothing had happened! Moreover, many of the tavern patrons were now giving him their full attention, and a few even clapped with genuine enthusiasm. Smiling, Julen let his gaze travel across their eager faces.

Well, not all eager faces. For the first time, Julen noticed a woman seated far back in the tavern, bent over her drink as if she was struggling to support some unbearable weight. A brown hood hid her features, but Julen sensed her sadness. He wondered if she was like him -- far from home, stuck in a city that seemed ugly and cruel. And he decided to sing his next song for her. It was one that his mother taught him, before she died. A song about dawn, about the return of light and warmth, about living things reborn for another day. A sort of lullaby in reverse. A fragment of hope.

Julen’s eyes slipped shut when he began to sing. He could still remember his mother, humming these notes each morning as she gathered herbs from their garden, seeming to wake the plants from their dewy sleep. And, lost in his own emotions, he remained blissfully unaware of the bits of green light beginning to appear around his feet, twisting themselves into stems and leaves as the intensity of his song built.

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Post by Aranel Nolatari » Fri Dec 29, 2006 2:00 pm

Hope…

Like the beginning of a clear mountain stream, it flowed through Aranel’s spirit, easing her pain and lessening her despair. With a flick of her hand, she brushed away a final tear, before turning her gaze to the man upon the stage. How had he done that? How, with a song, a mere voice, had this man managed to turn her from a strong – if discouraged – woman into a pitiful mess, crying into her ale?

Who is he…? Curiosity took hold, and Aranel found herself standing slowly and moving along the wall towards the stage. She had almost reached it when suddenly she froze. Like the piercing cry of an eagle, an indescribable sensation tore through her being. Something was happening…Aranel could feel it before it became reality.

Her eyes widened as she saw shimmering lights around the man’s feet…slowly coalescing into what appeared to be leaves…vines… Immediately Aranel scanned the room, wondering if she alone was seeing what surely had to be an apparition – but the looks on the faces of the audience mirrored her own.

Magic? She wondered, knowing how dangerous that could be in a place like this. All it would take is for one person to react – to say what they all were thinking – and the innocent song this man was singing would be destroyed by a mob, dragging him to the unforgiving authorities.

For reasons Aranel could not explain, she did not want to let that happen.

A distraction… Moving forward Aranel forced herself to trip over an empty chair, falling onto the table and sending the contents of it flying. The resounding crash of the chair and clatter of scattered vessels was enough to wake the man from his trance-like state. Their eyes met for the briefest of moments – and Aranel mouthed the words, ‘RUN!.
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Post by Julen » Fri Dec 29, 2006 10:28 pm

A loud crash shattered Julen’s reverie. Startled, he choked on the words of his song, and his eyes snapped open, searching for the disturbance’s cause. The first thing he saw was the woman he’d noticed earlier, now sprawled on the floor next to an overturned chair. She seemed to be looking right at him as she mouthed the word ‘RUN!’

Run? Run where? Run why? Still struggling to figure out what was going on, Julen glanced at the other tavern patrons. More than ever, he had their full attention, but their faces no longer expressed eagerness. Instead, he recognized shock, fear, and anger. Following the direction of their unified stares, he glanced down at his feet, where he saw the last bits of green light flicker out of existence.

Oh, hell...

Too late, he understood what had happened, understood the woman’s urgent command. Desperately, Julen’s eyes darted to the tavern door. But the crowd was moving now, and several people blocked his path to the exit. They weren’t advancing on him, not yet, perhaps too unsure of what they’d seen to react that strongly. However, they also seemed reluctant to let him leave. And Julen couldn’t entirely blame them. He’d heard stories about what the judges did to people convicted on aiding an unlicensed magic user.

Trying hard to control his panic, Julen stumbled off the stage and began to back toward the woman who had tried to warn him -- the one person he had any right to hope might possibly be on his side.

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Post by Aranel Nolatari » Tue Jan 02, 2007 2:51 am

Aranel mentally cursed the impetuous move she had made. As she pushed herself off the floor, she realized her hood had fallen back, and now her identity would be marked by anyone who cared to notice. It had been a foolish maneuver… succeeding only in that it made the singer aware of his precarious position.

She was half-tempted to pull her hood back up and try to fade into the background, but instead she scanned the room, weighing her options. The singer had moved in her direction – obviously taking her for a possible ally considering she had tried to warn him.

Fight or flee…? While Aranel was strong, she was far too outnumbered to attempt to fight. But fleeing presented its own difficulties. If she moved now, she could possibly leave alone… as she knew that few in the room were intelligent enough to figure out that her fall was anything but an accident. The main entrance was now blocked by the many standing patrons of the tavern – and while some might be sympathetic, few would risk the wrath of the judges by letting this man leave with her. Their only hope was a back entrance – or possibly a flight to the rooftops…

Why can I not just leave him? Aranel was surprised at her own reaction to the situation. Folding her arms defensively she turned towards the man, raising an eyebrow as if to say, “What now?” Perhaps she had found something – if temporarily – to live for…
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Post by Julen » Tue Jan 02, 2007 1:19 pm

Glancing over his shoulder, Julen noticed that the woman’s hood had fallen back, revealing a striking face with high cheekbones and magnificently blue eyes. Julen found himself startled by the way she looked both young and old at the same time -- young in years, but old in sorrow. Then, his mind yanked his attention back to the current problem.

Julen knew he only had a moment to act. Fast as playing cards shuffled in the hands of a madman, the possibilities flashed through his mind. He could give up. Let himself be taken to the judges. If he was lucky, they would only imprison, torture, or execute him. If he was unlucky, they would force him to become a battlemage, and his eyes would grow cold as his heart sank beneath the weight of acts too horrible to contemplate.

Or he could try to fight his way out. Years of farm work had insured that Julen was no weakling. But he didn’t own a weapon, and hadn’t thrown a punch since he was a boy. Somehow, Julen suspected that trying to fight would lead to the same result as giving up, only with more bruises. Besides, the woman might feel compelled to join the fray. Getting her hurt would be a poor way to repay the help she’d already given him.

Run, then? Julen scanned the taverns’ back wall. Where, to his dismay, he noticed three doors. One of those probably led outside, but the other two probably didn’t. He’d only get one chance. If he fled into a broom closet, it was over.

Left to himself, Julen might have stood still, paralyzed by indecision, until it was too late. But as his eyes darted sideways, he again noticed the woman, her arms folded across her chest as she looked at him. She expects me to do something. Her clever ruse had gotten them this far, and now it was his turn. In his head, Julen understood that the woman was in no real danger. She hadn’t done anything to positively identify her as his ally. But in his heart, in the same place that he’d sensed her sadness, he felt like she did need his help. Maybe not with this, but with something.

He’d failed Rosemary every way that a husband possibly could. He didn’t want to fail this new...friend?

So, pushed by the desire to aid someone else, his brain worked harder than it would have for his own survival. And he hit on an idea. It was risky. It would depend on the populace’s general desire to remain uninvolved with anything that reeked of magic. But, at the very least, it might get him out the door. Turning his head slightly, so that only the woman could see, he mouthed ‘Arrest me.’

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Post by Aranel Nolatari » Tue Jan 02, 2007 11:02 pm

Aranel bit back the urge to smirk at the singer's silent request. It was risky... but considering the alternatives, definately worth a try. At least it would be the option the least likely to incriminate herself in the eyes of all these people.

With a swift move Aranel plucked a small blade from an unsuspecting man's belt, then she grabbed the singer's arm roughly and held the blade to his throat.

Her dark blue eyes flashed as she addressed him, "I hereby place you under citizen’s arrest – for violating the code of conduct of Marn and flaunting your magic in this public place. I will turn you over to the court of the judges of religion, cultural and ethical enforcement and they will deal with you!”

She immediately began pulling the man towards the exit, but paused as her path was blocked by the keeper of the tavern. “Wait… who are you? We should call the City Guard…”

Aranel’s lips curled into an evil smile, “Yes…do! I am sure the Guard would love to interrogate everyone in this room regarding their connection to this man…” she gave the singer another shake.

The tavern’s owner paled – after all, he had hired this man… who was to say the court would not find him guilty of aiding and abetting a lawbreaker? There was a subtle murmur around the room; clearly this option was less than popular. “No, no… you take him…take him away!”

Not giving anyone time to change their minds, Aranel pulled the singer out the door and into the rainy night. Her eyes scanned the streets – pleased to find them empty. She strode silently down the street until they were far enough from the tavern to duck into a dark alley, providing slight shelter from the rain. It was only then that Aranel lowered the knife and stood back to get a better look at the man she had…rescued?

“Perhaps we should introduce ourselves…” she began with a wry smile. “I am Aranel.” She chose to only use her first name – it was the only one she needed now.
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Post by Julen » Wed Jan 03, 2007 4:17 am

After mouthing his silent suggestion, Julen saw comprehension flash across the woman’s face. She’d gotten it. And gotten it fast. He barely had a moment to wonder if he should do anything to add to the charade, try to protest his innocence or put up a token struggle, before he felt her grab his arm and press a knife to his throat. At which point all thoughts of even pretending to resist arrest flew from his mind like a flock of startled birds. Julen knew the woman was on his side. But he’d never had something so sharp so close to his jugular and he didn’t need to fake his look of fearful submission as she dragged him toward the tavern door.

Fortunately, the woman didn’t seem to need any help from him. Julen’s heart nearly stopped when the tavern’s owner blocked their path, but she handled the man without flinching, subduing the rest of the crowd in the process, and they were soon outside. Since arriving in Marn, Julen couldn’t remember ever being more grateful to see its dirty, ugly streets. If not for the knife still held to his throat, he might have seriously considered dropping to his knees and pressing a kiss to the broken cobblestones.

Without seeming to hurry, the woman guided him into a dark alley, and Julen released an audible sigh of relief when she finally lowered the knife. The rain had already begun to weigh down his unruly brown curls, forcing him to push a handful of them from his face as he grinned at her.

“Aranel,” Julen echoed, after she’d introduced herself. “Thank you. You saved me from something really bad back there. Since coming here, I haven’t met many people -- hell, I haven’t met anyone -- who would do that for someone they didn’t even know. And...well, thank you.”

Aware that he’d started to babble, Julen hesitated. He knew that when someone gave you their name, it was customary to give yours in return. But if he did that, it would bring the conversation to a sort of conclusion, and she might walk away, leaving him standing alone in the rain. Julen didn’t want her to go. “If there’s anything I can do for you...?”

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Post by Aranel Nolatari » Fri Jan 05, 2007 4:18 am

The question gave Aranel pause as two warring responses welled up in her. The hurting, defensive, mildly sarcastic side would have answered "I doubt it" - bluntly. The sensitive, trusting side wanted to answer, "You have already done more than you know..."

Either response would have been true in its own way... but in the end Aranel only replied, "Perhaps..."

The rain had not stopped falling however, and Aranel and her new companion were not only risking catching cold, they were also tempting fate by remaining so close to the tavern where the singer's 'abilities' had emerged.

Glancing towards the end of the alley, Aranel's keen eyes saw that the way was still clear. "It is not safe to remain on this side of town, and the hour grows late. Do you know of a place we might stay tonight? I... would be interested in hearing your story - and sharing mine if you care to hear it." Aranel was surprised at the way the words flowed out of her... the most she had probably said in months, especially at one time.

But something in her did not want to lose this person too quickly... he had managed to create hope where she had found none - and Aranel could not help being curious as to how he had accomplished it.
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Post by Julen » Fri Jan 05, 2007 6:50 am

Julen watched while Aranel considered his offer of help. And he realized how absurd it must sound to her. She’d just saved him, an idiot who apparently didn’t know any better than to cast forbidden magic in a tavern full of people, and now he had the audacity to suggest that she might need his assistance. Right. She needed him like a chicken needed dancing lessons. Julen’s grin faded as he waited for her to laugh, to mock him, to give voice to the doubts that taunted him all through the silence of night’s darkest hours.

But she didn’t. She just said “Perhaps.” And Julen grabbed hold of that single word, vowing that -- somehow -- he would make himself worthy of it.

When Aranel went on to ask if he knew of a place where they could spend the night, his grin returned with fresh enthusiasm. This, at least, was something he could provide. “I’m renting a room behind a bakery on the edge of the business district. We could go there. It’s not much, but there’s a fireplace, and when they start cooking in the morning, the air smells like herbs and melting butter. My bed should be--”

Abruptly, it occurred to Julen that a young woman, traveling alone, might react with something less than enthusiasm to the proposal that she spend the night in a strange man’s bed. Hoping that he hadn’t already offended her, he hastened to clarify. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to imply that we would both be in my bed at the same time. At least, not in a carnal sense. I just--” Julen tugged at a handful of his curly hair, attempting to pull his thoughts straight at the same time. “We could go there to talk. I’d like to hear your story. I would.”

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Post by Aranel Nolatari » Wed Jan 10, 2007 5:59 pm

OOC: So sorry it took so long for this reply... I will not let it happen again if I can help it!

IC:
Maybe it was the sincere enthusiasm in the man’s voice… or the innocent way he pulled at his hair… or, a less pleasant thought, maybe he had cast a spell on her while he sang… but Aranel trusted him.

The man’s song had, for the first time since her father died, caused the depression that had clouded her spirit to fade slightly. She would not allow herself to admit that deep down, she trusted this man because she wanted to trust someone… To stop feeling so alone.

“Lead the way,” she replied with a smile, hoping to show him that she was not offended at all by his ‘slip of the tongue’. Aranel was not really in a position to refuse such an offer… having come to the city with little money and even less food. She had planned on sitting in the corner of the tavern until they forced her to leave… then to walk around the city looking for some form of work. This man’s offer was definitely more appealing.

As they started to leave the relative protection of the alley, Aranel realized she still did not know this man’s name. Reaching out she tapped him lightly on the arm to stop him. “By the way, you never did tell me your name,” she remarked quietly.
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Post by Julen » Wed Jan 10, 2007 10:57 pm

(OCC -- No problem. Real life first, I always say. But it is nice to have you back!)

Even when Aranel smiled at him, Julen couldn’t help noticing the drops of rain trickling down her cheeks. Again, he sensed a sadness in her so deep that it seemed to fester like an improperly healed wound. And in his desire to ease her pain, he nearly murmured something comforting, nearly reached out to brush away her tears, before he remembered that they were not tears at all -- only the rain. Only the rain, creating its illusion of a grief he hadn’t yet earned the right to touch.

Embarrassed, Julen let his hand drop to his side, glad that Aranel hadn’t noticed the half-completed gesture. Her instruction that he ‘lead the way’ gave him an excuse to turn toward the mouth of the alley. But as he started to take a step, he felt her tap him on the arm.

“By the way, you never did tell me your name.”

“That’s right. I didn’t, did I?” Julen chuckled softly, amused by his oversight. Now that he’d secured her company, there was no longer any reason to withhold the information. But he couldn’t resist the temptation to joke a little, to try to cheer her up. “After a delay like that, you’re probably expecting the answer to be something really exciting. Like I’m a daring outlaw, unjustly accused of a crime I didn’t commit, and I can’t tell you my name until I prove my innocence. Or maybe I’m a king, overthrown by traitors, and I can’t reveal my true identity until the day that I regain my realm. That’s always how things happen in the songs, isn’t it?”

Julen turned to look at Aranel, struck by a strange impulse, only half-joking as he asked her “If I could be anyone, who would you have me be?”

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Post by Aranel Nolatari » Sun Jan 14, 2007 3:18 am

The seemingly light-hearted question pierced Aranel to the core. She immediately stopped, her fingers lightly brushing the knife hilt now tucked in her belt. Just breathe she ordered herself, willing her mind not to jump to conclusions. “I would…” she started, forcing herself to consider the question. “I would have you be an oracle – so that you could tell me where to find…”

Her voice trailed off and she cocked her head slightly, “No…you sang as if you already knew…”

“Who…or what… are you? What do you want from me?” she asked accusingly, though keeping her voice quiet so as not to attract unwanted attention. Cold and wet, hungry and weary, Aranel was fast losing her ability to remain calm.

“I would have you be the one… so I could avenge his death and be tortured no longer!” Her voice rose with feverish pitch at the end of her speech. She no longer saw the innocent man before her – instead seeing the dark monsters who haunted her dreams.

Eyes wide, Aranel pulled the blade out and held it with a shaking hand. “Help me…” she whispered to no one.

It was uncertain now if anyone could…
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Post by Julen » Sun Jan 14, 2007 12:14 pm

Julen’s eyes widened when Aranel drew the knife, and he stumbled backward until his shoulders were pressed against the rough brick of the alley wall. Despite sensing her sadness, he hadn’t guessed that something so battered, so close to breaking, lay beneath the capable exterior of the woman who had executed their escape from the tavern. Now, he cursed himself for lingering here, for not being quicker to get her someplace warm and dry where she could rest. He’d failed someone who needed him. Again.

If I could be anyone, who would you have me be? Too late, he understood the dangerous nature of that question. It was not something to be tossed around like a toy ball. Because in their hearts, people never wanted harmless fantasies like daring outlaws or displaced kings. Julen knew that if Aranel had asked him, and if he’d been brave enough to confess the truth, then his answer would have been as cruel and desperate as the one she’d given him.

We shouldn’t tempt other people by asking them what they want us to be. When, no matter how we try, we’re only capable of being ourselves.

“Help me...”

Aranel’s plea tugged at Julen like a hook sunk deep in his flesh. He wanted to. He wanted to earn the “perhaps” she’d granted him. He wanted to wrap his arms around her and hold her body against his until she could stop shaking. But he was afraid to move -- a little afraid that she might panic and stab him, more afraid that she would simply flee into the rain and he’d never see her again. So he closed his eyes and struggled for the words of a song. If it had been his voice that touched her in the tavern, maybe it could touch her again.

But in his shaken state, Julen could only remember one song, and it wasn’t even in the human tongue. It was something his mother had sung for him when he was young. She’d never explained how a human woman knew an elvish lullaby, but she'd always promised that, one day, when he was older, she’d tell him what the words meant. Except she died before that day ever came. So Julen only knew that it sounded very beautiful, like the memory of a magical land he could only visit in his dreams. It was one of the things he held most deeply inside his soul. He’d never sung it for anyone else, not even Rosemary. But he sung it then, in that alley, his voice cracking at first, but then growing smooth, transforming into a rich, soft, tenor. And when the last word dropped from his lips, he opened his eyes, praying that -- for once in his life -- he’d done the right thing.

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