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 A Malady, an Illusion, a Skeptic, Kalliope Tamsin - Closed
 Posted: Jul 11 2018, 07:20 PM
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Kalliope Tamsin, Namid Waagosh'Giizis

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Kalliope spent another hour holed up with Lieutenant Al-Amin, organizing the missing persons list chronologically to the best of their ability. Some were more difficult to place than others, being less noted by the Guardian who took down the information. Those who belonged to richer families had much more detail but no less progress. Kalliope outlined twelve families whom she might speak to in regard to their missing family. Four of them were part of the first known cases, a handful were interspersed over the past two years, and the last six were from the past two months. Rocio's people were the most recent victims but Kali had already spoken with her and investigated the last known whereabouts of her missing people. Afternoon lay well into the day, hanging the sun low in the sky. Another hour and all the torches in the city would be lit for the final evening of the festival.

The more time passed, the more time the two girls had to round up slavers and prepare for Kalliope's hunt. Perhaps they believed in their own abilities too highly and thought Kali was down for the count or wouldn't catch their scent again. Considering they and the others managed to escape unscathed for the better part of two years, it wouldn't be over-confident of them to assume. However, Kalliope managed to catch them out twice in less than a week. Both times, the girls barely managed to escape. How likely were they to forget about her? Not very. Kalliope outlined the base she'd found and left the Lieutenant to set up a watch just in case the girls returned, but Kalliope doubted they'd go anywhere near the place. Especially considering a pack of Guardians just investigated the area the night before.

No, Kalliope was sure they'd cut and run, holing up in another safe house for the time being. The older girl, Earth - as she had yet to find the girl's real name - was wounded, once in the shoulder and once across her chest. She might shrug off the superficial wounds over her sternum but the shoulder would be much harder to ignore. She wouldn't be fighting-fit for at least a few days. Would this make them more likely to slip up or less? If someone injured Kalliope's family, Kali would hunt them to the ends of the earth. These two were obviously sisters. Would "Caroline" go after Kali or was she the conniving one where Earth was the brawn? She might plan another ambush but she couldn't be seen again. Unless she thought Kalliope was foolish enough to chase her twice.

Kali massaged her temples. Trying to untangle this mess and anticipate her next encounter was giving her a headache. But she understood this would be one bounty where she couldn't rely on her own strength. She had to out-think two very capable manipulators. She had to plan for everything she could think of. This was something Lucinda might help with, being of the conniving sort herself. But first Kali had enough time this afternoon to visit one or two of the victims' families. Ozzie Ojeda was the first on her list. He was twenty-seven, disappeared two months ago, and he belonged to a silk trader family. Kalliope wasn't far from the market, being caught in between Rocio's place and the Guardian Headquarters. It wouldn't hurt to stop there first. They were surely still open. She left the Lieutenant with a promise to visit the victims in the morning and report back.

Thanks to her constant trekking back and forth across the city, Kali was able to arrive at the market without asking for assistance. Perhaps it was studying the map in the Lieutenant's office for the past few hours. Kali preferred to believe she was getting comfortable in Navdia. A few stalls were being closed up for the evening. Some of the proper buildings closed their doors but a few others remained open. Everyone buckled down for the impending festivities. Banners still draped from walls. A few of the garlands strung on the first night hung limp and listless, but most of them remained intact and colorful. The Ojeda residence sat above the store front on the second floor with narrow windows closed up tight. The front door, however, remained open. Kalliope peered through before she entered.

A couple women moved around inside. At least two handled merchandise. The third flitted between the lock box bolted to the counter and an incredibly old, wrinkled human in the back. Kalliope was usually quite good at guessing ages but this woman looked somewhere between a badly aged fifty to a wrinkly eighty. She was a bag of fragile bones wrapped in a loose shift with a thick blanket atop her lap. Her hands weren't so much many fingered as many knobbed and decorated in various rings. Kali slipped through the open doorway and dodged to the left as one of the females, the younger of the bunch, swept past with a broom and a brusque manner. "We're closed for the evening, lass. Come back tomorrow." She didn't so much as look up. Her dusky skin, dark lashes and large, nearly black eyes were mirrored in the three other women in the room. Family, obviously. These must be the Ojedas.

"Pardon me, ma'ams, I'm not here to shop. I work with the Guardians and I'm investigating your brother's disappearance." Three heads jolted upward and twisted in her direction. "There's been some new information--" The first woman dropped her broom and gripped Kalliope's shoulders hard, yanking her close. Her mouth went flat, her eyes hard flecks glaring up at Kali. Kali resisted the urge to yank out of the woman's grip, despite Kazimir's immediate snarl.

"Where is he? What do you know?" She hissed. "Where are the vermin who took him from us?" Another woman, older and just a little bit rounder than the others, took the first woman by the hands and pulled her back. This woman kept her eyes down and her tone soft--but Kalliope saw the tension in her shoulders and the force she exerted over the first woman in her clenched fingers and the vein throbbing along her throat.

"Sorry, miss. My sister here is a bit emotional since our brother disappeared." She looked away. Kalliope didn't believe her demure attitude. There was something about her, the way she stood, the way her hands clutched her sister tight enough to leave a bruise. "You have information?"

"Perhaps. If I may, can I get your names and relation to Mr. Ojeda for our records?" Kali asked. She wanted to have a record as much as she wanted names to place with faces.

"Of course, sorry about that. I'm Araceli. This is Libby, and that back there is our sister Ena. Mother is in the chair. Forgive her for not participating, she is very hard of hearing and a little bit senile. She barely notices his absence." Araceli dipped her head politely. Kali didn't trust it. This wasn't a submissive, fragile woman. She had callouses on her hand and the thin fabric hanging off her body didn't completely hide the muscle underneath.

"Thank you. My name is Kalliope Tamsin. Before I divulge any information, would you please take me through the day your brother disappeared? Anything you remember. Suspicious patrons, strange occurrences leading up to it, whatever you know." She put both hands behind her back and leaned onto her heels, trying to pose less of a threat despite towering over the sisters. "Anything helps."

Libby, who looked to be the youngest, glared. "You come here saying you know what happened to our brother and you ask stupid questions instead? Don't waste our time." She shoved out of her sister's grip and stomped off to the back of the store. Araceli's eyes flashed before she turned to Kalliope, head tilted and hands folded over her stomach.

"Sorry. She's really taking his loss hard. They were very close. You want to know about his disappearance? It was Qwilsday. Early morning, about two hours before we opened the shop. Ozzie isn't the strongest weaver in the family, though he's fine with simple patterns and small projects. Occasionally we send him out for supplies. Dyes, ingredients for bleaching the silk. Things like that. Sometimes we use him to carry the heavier tapestries, the custom orders and such. I think he was going to deliver one of our orders that morning. A big piece, five feet across, eight feet long. It was over fifty pounds rolled up. The family who purchased it lives on the east side of Navdia, closer to the mountains. They own a plot of land out there and are...not farmers. Ranchers, that's it." Araceli folded her arms tight across her chest. Her balled fists hid behind each elbow.

"We sent him off as soon as the sun rose, before the market really opened but not so early he was an easy mark for the rogues around these parts. Can't be too careful. He took his jynx with him as a precaution, which should have at least come home if something went amiss. We thought nothing of it when he didn't come home by noon. He's...not lazy, per se, but he likes to wander off on his own." Ena snorted. She stood in the back by their mother, folding a silk rug very carefully. And slowly, like her attention wavered. Araceli said nothing, but she paused for a long moment before continuing. "Later in the afternoon," her words were sharp and precise. "He still hadn't returned. The tapestry was a time sensitive piece. A birthday gift, I think, or some celebration. The man who ordered it came stomping in near closing time, shouting up to the rafters and cursing at us."

Araceli shrugged, shoulders tight. "Normally Ozzie handles the grumpy customers. But he was the one out on delivery and the man should have gotten his tapestry that morning. It was suspicious, but at first we figured he was being lazy and went off for the day."

"Stop painting Ozzie like he wasn't a lout." Ena snapped. "He was useless unless he was weaving, and even then if he got the faintest whiff of alcohol or food, he was off wasting our time and coin."

"Ena, hush." Araceli snapped. She glowered at her sister, turning toward her. "That's not relevant to the situation."

"Of course it is. Ozzie wasn't a drunk by any means but he was incapable of passing on a drink and tended to get lost on the way home from one too many. The only reason he took that expensive tapestry instead of Araceli or me was because we were strapped for time already. He blew through a thousand coins the week before and we had to take on extra assignments to keep from being evicted. We warned him if he didn't get this one to the buyer on time we'd throw him out on his ass. Instead of delivering it, he didn't show up at all. He took off with an expensive piece and didn't come home. There was no way to smooth those feathers. We three had to work all night to make a passable replacement for half the fee. It was an embarrassment to the family and a black mark on our name as weavers."

Ena spit on the ground. "If he'd come home that night, we would have skinned him alive." Her dark eyes narrowed with disgust. "Except he didn't come home. We thought maybe he was too scared to confront us yet and wanted to let us cool off. But then three days passed and nothing."

"He can't survive long without us." Araceli rushed to take control of the conversation. "He can't fend for himself and he throws away gold like it's gravel. If he's on his own for two days he's in a gutter starving away. That's why the threat of being kicked out should have made sure to get him to drop off the tapestry. He wasn't even allowed to pick up the fee. Libby would have gone over during the next week to fetch it. So when he didn't show up..." She went silent.

"Something was wrong." Libby's voice was soft, empty of her earlier fury. "Ozzie is an idiot but we love him. Why else would we put up with his nonsense day after day?" She muttered.

Araceli nodded. "We went out looking for him. For a full day we shut down the shop and hunted for him, but there was nothing. No trace of him anywhere." Her fists clenched, then dropped at her sides.

"The jynx we mentioned belongs to Ara. She was supposed to keep him on track and make sure he completed the delivery. She didn't come back either. She was loyal as they come. Had her eight years, right? Not a strong 'mon, but clever and capable." Ena shook her head. "We still haven't found her. The only thing we could think of is she was kidnapped. That only would have happened if Ozzie was in danger. An idiot, sure. But he would never leave Jez to save himself. We went to the guardians the next day, but it was too late. He'd been gone so long there was no trace of him. No one ever followed up with us." Her voice grew thick. "Nothing. Almost two months, not a word. Then you show up." She couldn't keep the frustration out of her voice.

"I understand your anger. This is a difficult situation and without a lead to follow, there's almost nothing a guardian can do." She raised a hand to stall Libby, whose mouth flapped open. "As I said, almost nothing. Tell me, where exactly is this buyer's home located? Do you know what general path Ozzie might have taken? Have you delivered to this buyer before? Was it odd to request a delivery or a tapestry with such short notice, or is it standard?"

Frowning, Araceli answered. "We've sold to him a few times. Marlow, his name is. He's one of those old money families. His ancestors helped pave the first roads in Navdia, something like that. Sometimes he sends someone to pick up the pieces but this time he was trying to make it a surprise. He couldn't pick it up, or else his family would talk and the secret would be out. So he paid us extra do make it discretely and deliver it at the back door two days before the event. Asking for discretion isn't exactly odd, neither is getting a short notice request. In his case, we didn't mind. He pays a lot for good work and he has a lot of friends." She shrugged. "Eccentric rich folk keep us afloat."

"And thanks to Ozzie, we barely made enough to cover expenses and Marlow won't be singing our praises any time soon. We've already noticed a decline in patrons." Ena muttered. "If Ozzie got lost on some drunken bender, he better stay gone."

"Don't say that!" Libby exclaimed. "He's your brother!"

"Yeah, and I've been suffering his burden for twenty-nine years." Ena retorted. "How much has he cost us over the years? When was the last time he contributed to our family? We could barely keep him under control as it is."

"So he wasn't very reliable." Kalliope cut in. She had to shut down this family spat before it exploded. "Your jynx, Jez you called her? Would she have kept him on the fastest path to Marlow's?" She asked. "Would he have resisted her much at all or followed her, if something hadn't happened?" The sisters remained silent. They looked at one another.

"She should have. She goes with Ara everywhere. If anyone knew how to navigate the streets, Jez did. She'd have kept Ozzie on a pretty short leash, too. She hates to be away from Ara for long." Libby finally answered. Her lip caught between her teeth and she chewed. Her short nails dug into her palms.

"Can you tell me exactly what path she would have taken him on?" Kalliope asked.

"She'd have him avoid the food markets and taverns. North of here for three blocks, then east down Rhyhorn Road. Then it's about...halfway to the other side of the city?" She looked at Araceli. "You spend more time training Jez and dealing with Ozzie."

Araceli frowned. "I've marked that path with her a few times but it's hard to picture it without walking it." She admitted. Kalliope had an idea. She looked to her right, toward Kazimir still perched on her shoulder. Kaz, you saw the maps in Lieutenant Al-Amin's office, right? Any chance you can recreate it at all?

Kazimir cocked his head to one side. The sisters conferred but Kali didn't pay much attention. If this worked, it might save them all a lot of trouble. I don't know how to read your words. But I vaguely remember the lines. He answered. That's good enough. When we go back to the Lieutenant, we'll have you study it a bit. You don't need to memorize it all but it will be helpful if you have some idea of what were dealing with. Kali returned her attention to the Ojedas. "Excuse me." She coughed, calling their attention. "Would this help?" She gestured to the empty space to her left. Kazimir followed her direction and a bright white map bloomed in the air beside her. The sisters flinched and stepped back. "He doesn't know for sure how accurate it is, but even a vague idea would help."

The girls held back for a moment, staring. Then Araceli took a step forward and Ena and Libby followed in her wake. "This isn't exactly how the city looks but it's close enough. This is our shop." She hovered over a spot at the lower end of the market. "Ozzie would have walked this way," she outlined the vague route with her finger. "Turned here, followed this street all the way up the foothills, and then stopped right here." She gestured to a blank space on the map where Kazimir's memory faltered. Kalliope had moved to stand beside Araceli, so she could better take in and memorize the pattern. Between her and Kaz, they should be able to reconstruct the route. Kali made a mental note to bring a roll of vellum and a quill next time she went out to interview.

"Where's Spearow Hollow and Bakers?" She asked. She had an idea of where it was, but she couldn't be sure. Ena pointed at the invisible cross street where Kazimir's map didn't have a mark. South. The exact opposite of where Ozzie walked. Unless he deviated completely, his kidnapping had nothing to do with that particular base. That was okay. The rogues had many points of contact, and using one place too often was risky. "Thank you for your help." Kalliope mumbled her mind reeling.

"Hold up," Libby shoved her face in Kali's. Kazimir snarled, the illusion disappearing with a snap of lost concentration. "Tell us about our brother." Her narrowed eyes searched Kali's desperately. She ignored Araceli's chiding.

"Alright. I'll tell you what I know." She remained where she stood, forcing Libby to either back up a step or stand barely an inch from Kali's nose. Libby took a step back and folded her arms across her chest. "Let me make this absolutely clear. This is a Guardian investigation. Anything you hear cannot leave this room, do you understand? One word and you can destroy the investigation completely. Whoever took your brother will cut and run and we might not ever find him. Or we'll find him with his throat slit. Dead victims can't talk." She waited until she got a nod from each girl. The more important she pressed her point, the better chance they wouldn't talk about it where others could hear. Kalliope knew the information would get out somehow. The guardians might have a mole. In all honesty, it was impossible for every person Kalliope spoke to from the time she arrived in Navdia would keep their mouth shut. Someone would gossip.

But she would cut them off at the pass where she could. "I can't go into specifics but your brother isn't the only victim. We have enough information that I can say with some certainty if your brother hasn't caused too much of a problem with his captors, he very well may be alive. We may even be able to bring him back. I can't promise you, however. I can only say we have a very strongly supported theory about what's happened and how to stop it. The more we know, the closer we'll get. So if you have any more information or remember something else, please contact me at the Headquarters. I swear this--I will find who's doing this and I will put an end to it. Count on that." Kalliope swore. Yet another promise to a victim's family. She would make a hundred more, a thousand if she needed to. She would catch these monsters and they wouldn't harm anyone ever again. Not if she could help it.

Namid and his Travels

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Kalliope and her travels
Incredible sprite by Mackay!

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 Posted: Jul 14 2018, 06:14 PM
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Kalliope Tamsin, Namid Waagosh'Giizis

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notes to self

Kalliope left the Ojeda residence not long after. Having learned as much as she could, there wasn't much left to do. She considered walking the route the Ojedas gave her to Marlow Zang, the man who commissioned the piece Ozzie never delivered but decided against it. If they were upper class citizens there was no way Kali would get through the door this late at night. No, it was better to retire at the Cuevas residence and recoup for the next day. She needed extra recovery time after the head injury anyway, though it seemed there were no lasting affects. The hot, acrid air dried out her throat. She made a note to carry a water skin tomorrow. Sweat clung to her neck and arms, and Kazimir's heat on her shoulder wasn't made any more comfortable by the heat of the late afternoon. Kali hoped the weather would turn cooler now that fall set in but unfortunately the desert remained a sweltering wasteland people continued to live in. For no reason Kali could fathom, either.

Gustav met Kali at the door and begrudgingly let her in, though the look he gave her when she passed him by could curdle miltank milk. She ignored his rudeness and continued into the cooler recesses of the sandstone home. She didn't understand the prejudice of older folks, especially since neither of her parents ever had such a problem. But she left him as he was. He'd have to accept it eventually. Rocio and Lucinda sat at the table peeling vegetables, talking quietly between them. Cin looked up the second Kali walked in, eyes unblinking, hands squeezing the potato so hard it might burst. "Any news?"

Kalliope collapsed in the seat across from Rocio. "Yes and no." She reached over to fetch the bowl of potatoes and tried to grab a knife. Rocio stopped her, clucking her teeth in admonition. Kali sighed. "Fine. I just wanted to eat sooner rather than later. It's been a long week." She was pulling at Rocio's heartstrings and the older woman knew it. Rocio grumbled under her breath and passed Kali a knife. While her hands worked, Kali relayed as much of the afternoon as she could. "There's too much we don't know. Where are the slaves going? Who's running the ring? It can't be legal, not with this many victims." She tossed the last of her potatoes into the collective bowl and began on the carrots. "There have to be a lot more players in this game than the two rogues I've met. And they have to have so many rattatta holes hidden in Navdia that we'll never plug them all. It's the only way they've gotten away with it this long."

"Why aren't there more people involved? Why don't people in the city know?" Rocio demanded. She smacked her hand into the hard wood of the table. "These are our children and our family. Our neighbors. Why doesn't anyone know?"

"Slaves aren't unheard of in our world," Lucinda pointed out. She'd given up peeling and instead began doodling on the pale faces of the potatoes. "What's it to anyone if a few poor folk get disappeared in the streets? Less hands reaching for purse strings. Good riddance." Kali raised her eyebrow. Lucinda caught the expression and looked away. "I'm not saying that's my opinion. I'm saying that's the collective opinion of the city. Rogues have always had more of a reign in this city than most. What's one more child stolen?"

Kalliope sighed. Cin wasn't wrong. Frustrating though it was, too many might turn a blind eye to save themselves some grief. And to keep from being targeted instead. "Every life matters. Even someone like Ozzie, who creates more problems than he solves. Some people here might give up but I won't." She sliced too sharply and cut off the tail of her carrot. She tossed the half peeled carrot back in its bowl, where Rocio snatched it and finished the job. "I just need more information." She looked at Lucinda. "You said you wanted in. I'm interviewing as many families of the victims as possible tomorrow. I could use your help. An extra set of ears will do wonders. Plus you've experience in the trade industry. You'll better know where people are lying than I will."

Lucinda nodded. She straightened in her seat, twirling the knife blade between three fingers. "I'll help wherever I can." She promised. They would have continued except Gustav came stomping into the dining area, wearing a slightly stained apron around his middle.

"Dinner is served, missus's." He wiped his hands on the edge of his apron and stomped away. Kalliope wondered if that was standard for Gustav or if he was still feeling salty. Then it dawned on her.

"If dinner's ready, then what are we doing?" She asked. She gestured to the bowls of vegetables. Rocio quirked a smile.

"We're having stew tomorrow. It tastes better when it steeps overnight." She gathered the bowls in both hands. Her tongue slapped the back of her teeth with a loud smack. "What did I tell you about making faces in the potatoes, Lucinda? It ruins the flavor."

Lucinda rose from her chair in a single, graceful movement. "You just don't like it when your food stares at you while you eat it."' She grinned. "It tastes the same." She picked up the remaining bowl full of peels and took Kali's hand, leading her toward the kitchen to fetch some delicious dinner. The evening passed quickly and before they knew it, the sun had long set and both Kali and Lucinda fought back yawns. Rocio departed as soon as they finished dinner, leaving the girls to their conversation. They strayed from talk of the current investigation and returned to happier memories. It wasn't long before both women retired for the evening themselves.

An hour before dawn, Lucinda pounded on Kalliope's door. "Get your backside in gear. Breakfast is in five." Kalliope thrust her face beneath the covers and groaned. Already she regretted inviting Cin along on her morning endeavor. How can anyone be that chipper before the sun was up? She dressed, stiff backed and sighing. Her uniform lay out on the small table near her bed, placed before she fell asleep. Her thick scale mail vest and trousers completed the outfit. Despite the heat of the oncoming day and the extra weight she knew she needed protection. No way was she getting caught in another fight without her full armor. Her buckler hung across her right shoulder. She prodded Kazimir, who slept still on her pillow.

"You heard her. I'm not going to be the only one suffering this early in the morning." She teased, ignoring his wordless complaints. "We won't be snacking all day this time. You eat now or not until dinner." He batted at her fingers with his paws, but eventually he sat up, glaring blearily up at her with bright pink eyes. She straightened the wild strands of hair and brushed her fingertips over the curves of his horn, taking solace in the fierce warmth emanating from him. She'd read plenty in her pokecard about the unique appendage. Whenever a ralts was happy, especially in regard to their owner, it was warm to the touch. No matter when she checked nor how often, nor how angry Kaz would get at her for spending time with the other pokemon in her party, it was always hot to the touch. Kali smiled and picked him up, cradling him in her arms. They went to breakfast, taking comfort in one another's company.

Day Nine
Extremely hot, humid
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"Alright, who are we visiting first?" Lucinda asked, striking out down the road with a bounce in her step. Morning people. "Who do we need to shake down?"

"Rein it in, wild child." Kalliope admonished. She kept pace with her friend easily, matching the shorter woman's footsteps by shortening her usual stride. "These are family members and friends of the kidnap victims. You can't go in there on the offensive or we'll get nowhere fast."

Lucinda shot Kali a mock glare. "I know that. You brought me with you for my brain, didn't you?" She ran a hand through her long, black curls and winked. "Leave it to me. I'll get them to squeal." Kalliope resisted the urge to groan. Despite her gusto, Kali knew Lucinda would take this seriously. She had her own family at stake, after all. "So? Who is it?"

"Marlow first. We'll leave a message with their steward - or whatever the rich use nowadays - and then move on backward from the most recent to oldest kidnappings. Better to follow the freshest leads first, you know?" Kalliope tilted her chin and let her eyelids drop, trusting Kazimir to warn her if she was about to hit someone or trip over an obstacle. "Kyung Lugo, Krysta Locklear, Darrick Himes, Maple Batiste--"

Lucinda stopped her with a gasp. "Do you seriously know every single person we're looking into by name?" She asked, voice hollow with shock. Kali nodded.

"By name and how long they've been gone. I went to Ozzie's family first, even though he's technically after Darrick Himes but before Silas Medrano, because he was close to the Guardian's Headquarters and they were most likely to still be open. Plus they live where they work so even if it was too late for the shop, they'd still be home." Kalliope met Lucinda's eye with a hard expression in her own. "These victims aren't names to me. Every single life matters and if I have to hunt down information on every last one of the two hundred eighty-four, I will."

Lucinda swallowed and broke from Kali's gaze. "Fair enough. Tell me about...Kong?" She chewed her lip, trying to place the name of the first on their list. "What do we know?"

"Kyung. And not much. He's nineteen, and he disappeared three weeks ago. I don't know much more than where his parents currently live." Kalliope turned, tracing her path to the Ojeda's shop from yesterday. "First, though, we need to speak to Marlow. He might have more information. Plus I want to follow the path the Jynx took Ozzie. I doubt we'll find any clues since it was over a month ago, but we might as well try." When they reached the shop, Kali avoided going too near the building. She didn't want to upset any of the sisters with her presence. Instead she stood across the street and two buildings up, then asked Kazimir to bring up the map they'd used yesterday in her mind. He was able to mark where they stood with a big, purple dot. Kalliope muttered the directions she'd memorized yesterday under her breath.

"That where we're going?" Lucinda stuck her face in Kalliope's, tiptoeing to better see. "I gotta tell you, that's a ridiculously roundabout way to go."

Kalliope replied without opening her eyes. "I know. Araceli said they did it on purpose to lessen the temptation for Ozzie to drink or waste time at food stalls." Kazimir tapped her chin and she sidestepped the small child in her way, trusting Kaz to keep her safe.

"Sheesh, how bad was this guy? I'd have put him out of his misery by now. Or Momma would have thrown him onto the spice farm with nothing but a head wrap and some trousers chopped at the knee. She would have worked him dawn till dusk for weeks until he ate only what he could put in his face before he passed out, and never touched a drop again." The mixture of admiration and trepidation in her voice caught Kali's attention.

"Is that what she did to you?" She asked, curious. They didn't talk much about the scuffle between her and her parents. It was too personal and painful. But Kali couldn't help herself.

"Yes and no. She definitely worked me to the bone in the fields. Might as well have been a mindless tauros chugging all day long back and forth. But I refused to break. By the sixth month straight, she finally sat me down and told me if I was going to be stubborn and tauros-headed, I might as well do some real work for her." Lucinda's voice softened. "That's when she started me on the books. If she'd used paperwork to break me, I would have crumbled by day three." She laughed, but it was brittle. "Still. I forced her hand, and proved myself. I wasn't going to let the numbers break me after all that hard work."

Kalliope wrapped an arm around her shoulder, and Kazimir refrained from complaining. He must have sensed Lucinda's emotional aura. "I always knew you were tough as a Marowak's skull. And hey, she's letting you out on courier duty. Finally!" Kali tried to cheer Lucinda up with a bright tone and a smile but it fell on deaf ears. "So he's still against it." Kali sighed. "Someday he's going to have to get over himself. Grandbabies aren't everything, you know. You're perfect exactly the way you are, Cin." They walked arm in arm for a while longer, silence between them. Despite their silence, their minds ran down the same thoughts.

By the time they reached the Zang residence, the false dawn had begun. More folks were on the streets, but not enough to make walking difficult. They chose the back door where Araceli described Ozzie's drop off point. Kali pulled back her arm from Lucinda, who stepped back to let Kali work. Three sharp knocks and the door whipped open with a rush of warm, damp air. "What're you want?" A gruff woman in stained linen glowered at the pair, seemingly unimpressed by Kali's Guardian sigil. She bowed to the kitchen woman and tipped her head.

"Excuse the intrusion, Ma'am. I need to speak with Mr. Marlow Zang, on Guardian business." Kalliope announced. Her voice came out confident and even, and she rose as she finished speaking to offer the woman a warm smile. "Guardian Tamsin at your service." The kitchen maid snorted and shook her head.

"Ain' happenin anytime soon, lassy. 'Low's too busy for the likes of you. Send a proper one next time." She shut the door in Kali's face. Or tried. Kali shoved her foot into the door and the wall. "Saucy tart--" The woman's face darkened to a ruddy red.

"I'm afraid I have to insist. The matter is of utmost urgency." She braced one hand on the edge of the door and pushed. She was in the better position to muscle the door open and used her hip to push it against the woman. "If you would please send someone up to speak with your master and let him know I will be returning this afternoon at his earliest convenience. He may send a message to the Guardian Headquarters for Guardian Tamsin with the time. I'll wait until your helper comes back." Kalliope brightened her face with another warm smile and stood there, halfway in the doorway. The young boy covered in flour and something sticky on his fingers stared at her. She met his wide eyes with a wink. When the woman said nothing, Kali twisted to look her in the eye and let the warmth drip away. "I'll wait all day if I must."

The woman's face twisted into an ugly sneer but she nodded to the boy, who took off up the stairs. Kali could hear his frantic feet almost all the way up.

"Nice day, don't you think?" Kalliope asked pleasantly. The woman said nothing. Up close she looked perhaps thirtyish, with her face weathered from constant exposure to heat and flame. She had two burn marks on one arm, her wispy hair was tucked away in a scarf. Pale gold hair spilled out in a few bright strands stuck to her face. Kali felt a little sorry for brutalizing the woman, but with rich folks, politeness only went so far. Especially when it came to an investigation involving any of their people, however indirectly. As long as Kali used respectful language and no actual brute force, she should be fine to a point. Eventually the young lad came bounding down the stairs, breathing hard.

"Twas still asleep, miss." He gasped. "But he'll hear soon as he wakes." Kalliope nodded and stepped back, though she kept her foot in the door for another moment.

"See that he does. I'd hate to have to come back under less polite circumstances." Kali met the woman's eye as she took another step back. The door slammed in her face. Kali chuckled. "Sometimes my job sucks. But sometimes, I really enjoy what I do." Lucinda laughed and they strode off, this time with Lucinda in the lead. By the time they reached the Lugo household the sun breached the horizon and pale gold painted the tops of the sandstone buildings. Kali took point again, leaving Lucinda to have her back. She knocked, three decisive raps. No one came running. Well, it was early. She knocked thrice more. Slowly the lock snicked and the door widened two inches. A dark, almond eye stared up at her. Olive skin, deeply creased around the eyes and mouth. Dark, thick hair.

"Excuse me, are you Mrs. Lugo?" Kali asked. The woman nodded once. "May we take a few moments of your time?"

"What for?" Came the curt reply. Kali blinked.

"It's about your son, Kyung--" The door swung open, revealing a petite, middle aged woman in soft gray wool and a tight mouth like she was holding needles between her teeth.

"What do you know of Kyung?" She demanded. "I've never seen you before." She whipped her hand up and down, gesturing to Kali and Lucinda each. "Who are you?"

Kalliope executed a short bow. "Guardian Tamsin, Ma'am. I'm here regarding his disappearance. I had a few questions to ask about what happened." The woman didn't move a muscle. Not her pursed mouth, not the way her hands folded over her stomach, not the staunch way she stood directly in the doorway to keep Kali from entering or looking inside. "The report we have is sparse and we would appreciate a little information." Mrs. Lugo stared at both girls one at a time, eyes flicking between without moving a single inch in any direction. When she stepped back and to the side in a single motion, Kali released the breath she didn't realize she'd been holding.

"Come. I don't help much, but I will answer." She muttered. She jerked her head sharply, a quick and aggressive move. "In."

Exchanging a look, the girls entered. The older woman led them inside. The house was dark, every window buttoned up to keep out the heat of the day rather than let in the occasional breeze. The walls were bare, the furniture simple but functional. Kali sat across from Mrs. Lugo and Lucinda sat at her elbow.

"Thank you for your help." Kalliope tried a smile. The woman's blank expression didn't change. "Well. Like I said, we have a few questions." She fumbled, trying to put words into a proper order. Mrs. Lugo was intimidating as a rabid mightenya. "Our report says he disappeared three weeks ago, on Kernday."

"What of it?" Mrs. Lugo demanded. Kalliope flinched.

"What time would you say you realized he was gone? Was it early morning or afternoon? Did he say he was going somewhere or did he just leave without a word? Is it normal for him to leave without saying anythi--" She swallowed hard. Mrs. Lugo lifted a hand, her tiny fingers a firm command.

"Too many questions. I don't know when he left. I don't know where. He went to bed, he didn't come to breakfast." When it was clear she wouldn't speak again, Kali moved on.

"Okay, can you tell me where he worked? Does he have close friends around here we might speak to?" Kalliope inquired. Mrs. Lugo shook her head once. "Anything?"

"He doesn't live here. He visited from Little Marchton, I don't know where he worked. He didn't know anyone here. That's all I know." Her curt voice cut off Kali before she could go on. "I can't help you."

"Ma'am, if your son was taken the same way my family was taken from me, there might be a chance to get him back. If you could just--" Lucinda began.

"Who woke me up this damned early?" A deep, grave voice called from the room behind Mrs. Lugo. A large, tan man stomped into the room wearing nothing but a pair of trousers. His hard, round belly stuck out over the hem and his thick, golden brown beard touched his chest. His blue eyes met Kali's and glowered. "What's a Guardian doing in my house? I haven't done anything, y'hear? Now leave me alone."

"She's here about Kyung." Mrs. Lugo explained. Her eyes never left Kalliope, as if she thought Kali would reach out and swipe at her if she turned away for a second. "Asking questions about his disappearing." He stopped. He swiveled to stare at Kali and Lucinda for a few seconds. As she watched, his face turned purple and his cheeks began to tremble.

"OUT! Get out of my house this instant!" He shouted. The table near rattled off the floor. Kali leaped up in shock, hand on her sword. She immediately dropped both hands, reminding herself that this was a civilian. Kazimir covered his ears and Lucinda knocked over her own chair in her haste. "You have no business meddling in my son's life. You get out of here right now or I swear I will smash your skull in!" All this time Mrs. Lugo didn't move. Of course, she wasn't at risk of getting her face smashed in.

"I understand you're upset sir but threatening a guardian--"

"Damn your arceus forsaken Guardians. Get your ass out of my home or I'll throw you out!" He threw up one arm as though he planned on smashing her face from five yards away. Kalliope backed up. This wasn't a time for her to fight or argue. She would beat a retreat and come back another time. Possibly with backup that could restrain him without her getting in trouble for the struggle.

"Thank you for your time, Mrs. Lugo. If you have anything else to tell us or remember some detail, I would appreciate hearing of it. Send for Guardian Tamsin." She turned on her heel and left, trying very hard not to look like she was running from the screaming madman at her back. The door slammed behind them, barely missing Lucinda's backside. She hissed, baring her teeth. Kalliope led them away from the door and around the next corner.

"For parents with a missing son, they are surprisingly closemouthed about the whole thing." Lucinda observed. She glanced over her shoulder, the bright daffodil of her dress a contrast to her dusky skin. "What was with those two? A defensive maractus would have been less prickly than that woman. And her husband? What a maniac."

"Agreed. The really interesting thing is neither of them reported him missing." Kalliope pointed out. She slowed once they walked beyond the first block away from the Lugo residence. "Did it seem to you like they were hiding something?" Kalliope asked.

Lucinda nodded slowly. "It did. We didn't learn anything at all. Other than Mr. Lugo has a nasty temper." She picked up the pace and sidestepped Kali, taking lead. "Wait, then who did?" The streets remained moderately empty, with a handful of youngsters playing or running errands for their families.

"Someone named Ha-Jun." Kalliope rifled through her mental notes. "There was almost no information regarding Kyung's disappearance. It's one of the reasons I chose to investigate him personally." She glanced at Lucinda. "How do you feel about asking Ha-Jun a few questions?"

"Mysterious tip, suspicious parents. This looks like a job for a nosy redheaded Guardian." Lucinda grinned. Kalliope met the expression with a smile of her own. "Lead on." She threw her arm in the air, like the announcer of a pokemon race. Kali cleared her throat.

"Maybe you should lead? I have no idea where I'm going." She admitted.

"The Ginger Guardian and her Trusty Sidekick!" Lucinda decreed. "Follow me!" They took off, laughter chasing in their wake.

Namid and his Travels

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Kalliope and her travels
Incredible sprite by Mackay!

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