(2018-05-23) Ill-Advised Adventure - The Bandit
"Do squirrels eat people?"
marsilia 
Cottage.jpg
Summary:
Marsilia and Antonella set off in search of visitante! Or bandits. The contessa was definitely on the look-out for bandits, unbeknownst to her companion.
Related:
The conclusion to a bookish beginning.
Misc Info:
A bandit may have been found and followed that Capello girl home…
antonella 

Now, robbers are everywhere, right? That's why older sisters harp on you to be careful when walking through the market, because those robbers will get you. And since they're so prevalent, they can't actually be difficult to find. Right? … Right? RIGHT?!

Right.

And it takes a little longer than Marsilia imagined, but eventually a stray mercenary-guard does give up what he knows. There is a robber cottage, about two hour's ride north. He's even kind enough to provide a map, for a few silver, of course. Perfect!

After that, it's just a matter of showing the map to Antonella and letting her imagination take over. The fact that the main trail even looks a touch like one of the signs in her book? All the better!

And so the two young women set off in the direction that leads them directly into the nearest forest, following a map that… becomes quite a good bit difficult to read. But they think they've got it. Maybe? There's certainly a cottage right up that way, which looks long abandoned… That must be it?

"With so much thievery hitting the city as of late, I can only imagine that the…" And here Marsilia's voice becomes all the more quiet as she ushers her horse foward, closer to Antonella, when she completes her statement, "Cattivo Visitante are working in full force with their corruptive powers." Just uttering those words makes the young Contessa feel uneasy and for a time afterwards, she falls completely silent. Ever attentive, however, she keeps her wits about, scanning their surroundings in a careful manner.

Dressed in her most comfortable riding attire, a heavy purple cloak draped over her shoulders while her fair blonde hair is hidden within the safety of a cowl, despite her bout of nerves with being alone, without her guards, in the forest, she tries very much not to show it; the way her eyes are filled with cautious determination and how her jaw is set tightly, lips pursed.

When they do finally come across a cottage, she lifts her chin to peer over at the map which is now in Antonella's grasp. "We'll want to take care in how we decide to approach this." She starts, keeping her horse still at a safe distance as she looks if she can find anyone else around in the vicinity.

"All the more reason to appeal to the bene visitante!" If Antonella should at all be ill at ease with their current adventure, she doesn't seem to have any awareness of that fact. Her saddlebags are filled with goodies to share with whatever spirits they might findor with which to make a fine picnicand a few other miscellaneous references and trinkets. There might be a single opal earing in one of her pockets. Her blonde hair's been braided back today, the style well-suited to her riding attire, making her seem far more the daring adventurer than she truly is.

As the cottage comes into sight and Marsilia approaches to get a better look at the map to confirm that they might be where they were heading, she holds it over for consideration, though it's pretty plain she hasn't been able to make heads nor tails of the thing for some good while now. Which might be why she has it out, in hopes of identifying some landmark or another. Without much luck. "I'm fairly certain that doors are made for knocking. If there's anyone inside, we can talk for a bit, see what stories they might have to share. If not, well…" She looks over at the cottage and notes, "It does look abandoned." Because inviting a contessa to join you in breaking and entering is a perfectly reasonable midday activity.

It does look abandoned. And yet, as they draw nearer, on the broken remnants of a front gate, Antonella will spot something that is surely, totally, without a doubt a sign. Seventeen hashmarks along the gate. Not one more, not one less. Seventeen. An unlucky number. A devilish number. And as Antonella stares at that certainly-is-a-sign, Marsilia catches a sight in the window. Eyes. Two eyes. A touch too small to be an adult persons… maybe a child…? They peer at the two women until Marsilia spots them, then they vanish into the gloom of the abandoned cottage.

To Antonella's words regarding appealing to the bene visitante, Marsilia can only nod slowly and in silence. Perhaps instinctively, she reaches over to her own saddlebag of items and gives it a reassuring pat — as if the contents within will protect them from most anything! Still seated upon her horse, and for the time being, not seeing anything, Marsilia urges the steed forward for a few steps.

While, she may not have noticed or didn't think twice about the marking which Antonella had found, as she is about to dismount, Marsilia's eyes do catch another set of eyes staring back at her. Just this sight alone causes her initial alarm and her body tenses incredibly. Immediately, her gaze looks towards her companion, to see if Antonella, perhaps, had seen the same thing which she had. "Did you see—" She starts, before deciding to finally dismount altogether. "Yes, knocking seems to be the most suitable approach to take."

Slowly, she steps away from her horse to approach the house to do just that… but not before glancing over at whatever it is that Antonella sees. "What is that?"

Antonella draws Garbanzo to a stop as they get closer to the house, as she catches sight of those hashmarks by the gate. All that good cheer of hers fizzles as she considers what it might mean, the awful implications that, perhaps, they will stumble upon something awful instead of something lovely. Whatever it is that's captured her companion's curiosity and concern isn't yet noticed. It isn't even until she catches Marsilia's movement that she looks the contessa's way. And then considers the window where those eyes had been and may yet still be. "VIXI," is spoken as she moves to dismount as well, to tie her horse up to that broken gate. "I lived. We're liable to find only dead and dark things here, Swan. Mind your words and mind your manners." She takes up a pack from the horse's burden, a small sack of miscellaneous foods and goodies, and follows beyond her companion, unwilling to let her go alone even if she's grown wary.

No sign of movement inside. No sign of life. The door is closed, but there's no chance it's locked.

Perhaps it's the utterance of the numbers VIXI that stops Marsilia in her tracks, or just Antonella's warnings as a whole. The whole thing does ground her more and rather than just wandering off recklessly to the door as she had planned (but with careful steps, mind you!), her head is far more clear now. Withdrawing from the door for the moment, she returns to her horse and does as her partner-in-crime is doing currently and that it to tend to her own horse. "You are right, Little Magpie," She finally says, her own gaze being cast in the direction of the markings once more, but rather than let them linger there for too long, she instead works to tie her Midnight to the gate as well.

Pulling out an entire basket, the one which she usually carries, from inside of her saddlebag, her small steps move to meet up with Antonella once more and here she whispers as the pair move towards the door, "There's someone inside. A child perhaps, or… well, we shall find out, now won't we." Once the both of them have come to a stop just outside of the door, the contessa looks towards Antonella, "Little Magpie, do you want to do the honors?" All the while, she continues to try and present herself as being as calm as she muster.

"Or," Antonella echoes, not bothering to actually follow it up with any possibilities. She's certain they're both on the same page there. Once they're both stilled before the door, basket and pack at the ready should they need to treat with either mortals or visitante… well, the young philosopher stays motionless for a moment. She needs a deep breath to calm her racing heart and to muster her smile, unduly bright, as if she's bringing the good news of cake and wine out to this desolate place. And then, yes: Knock knock knock. All nice and polite. No one will probably answer, right?

There's a noise inside. Something's moved. Something hits the wooden floor with a dull thud. Then, silence once more. No answer.

Standing out here while she can clearly hear someone inside of the cottage does make Marsilia realize how difficult the life of a traveling peddler must be. Just the sound alone, however, does heighten her nervousness. No sound of footfall can be heard within making their way to the door, that much is certain. "You heard that, did you not?" She asks of Antonella, "It couldn't have been all my imagination."

There is that tense awkardness about lingering around outside of what should be an abandoned structure, when one has a good feeling that it's not abandoned, but there is no response once the polite knock was given. "It is not impolite to simply enter to ensure that the resident is unhurt?" She asks almost rhetorically, "I mean, if they weren't hurt, then they would have answered the door." All of this sounding like a self-affirmation that she, in no way, is doing an awful thing by going in!

After waiting for a few seconds more, she does decide to tentatively reach for the door handle and give it a twist and push, before quickly murmuring, as if whispering a prayer! "I apologize if we are intruding into your humble abode."

Antonella nods rather certain confirmation to Marsilia that, yes, she definitely heard that. "There's certaily someone in there. Could be a cat, mm?" And cats are nothing to worry about all on their own. She doesn't seem all that nervous, really, simply uncertain of appropriate protocol. If the house had been empty, well, no harm going in. With the noise from within, though? She casts a glance behind them while the contessa works through her reasoning, a murmur of, "Sound logic," angled back over her shoulder. It's when Marsilia moves for the door that her blue-eyed attention is turned forward, her posture drawn up, one hand to pat the dagger at her hip just in case. Then, sure, yes, let's do this. She's ready to follow her companion in.

The door offers slight resistance, creaking on rusted hinges as Marsilia pushes on it. There's no response. No further noises. Inside, it's dimly lit, with light failing to properly penetrate still-covered and wholly gritty windows. Still, shapes start to form. A fireplace, a table, a shelf-… And then… a shape of a man - a woman? A person - set in a chair, face locked right on Marsilia as she enters.

Only-… why is that person so pale? Why is-… Oh, God. The face is half eaten away, the other naught by dried flesh. A corpse, one that's been gone quite a while.

Not a person to startle so easily…in normal circumstances, Marsilia is quite taken aback when she notices the figure in the chair. Fighting to contain a sharp gasp which tries to push it's way out from between her lips, her very form stiffens at the sight and she quickly offers up, "Again, I apologize for the intrusion but.."

When her eyes do lift and she makes eye contact with the seated figure, she realizes that there are no eyes to be seen. How quickly the arm in which her basket hangs from lifts so that her hand rises to cover her mouth. "What in heaven's name happened here…"

Without the fear that the stranger is in any way attempting to harm her or Antonella, nor is a crossbow pointed at them from the chair, Marsilia stumbles in further, but at a slow pace, to get a better look at the room in its entirety. "Those were not eyes that I had seen…"

Antonella doesn't start like she probably should. Maybe because Marsilia's heading in first which means she's got to look past the other woman's shoulder. Maybe it's because her curiosity is too easily piqued by her companion's movements, by her words, that other reflexive responses can't quite keep up. Whatever the case, she's quiet as she creeps in behind the contessa, though she's got, like, no interest for the rest of the room. See, there's a body with a half-eaten face here, and that is not something a young noblewoman sees every day. "Oh wow. Bugs, you think? Bears? Maybe squirrels? Do—" Her brow furrows. "Do squirrels eat people?" She tries to make some sense of the dead person's injuries, not yet concerning herself with the rest of the cabin.

There's suddenly the sound of claws on the wood floor. Something's coming..! And it darts along the baseboard, and knocks hard into the shelf there, sending a clay mug to the floor to shatter. What was that? A … cat? A dog?

It doesn't matter how long the figure has been dead, but just the stench of death and the horrible sight of it starts to make Marsilia's stomach turn. Lowering her cowled head, she quickly crosses herself before reaching into her basket for a handkerchief in which to cover her nose and mouth with. The barrage of, well, rather sickening questions that Antonella asks falls on deaf ears initially, but as the contessa tries to regain her bearings, she takes in all of what the other young woman has to say. "If it were a bear, it would have taken the thing— dragged the person off rather than simply, did that too it." And here she gestures to the corpse with her handkerchief hand. "A squirrel, possibly, but it could be any—"

Before she can even finish her sentence, a strange claw-like sound can be heard, but before she can even make out whatever the thing is that made those sounds, it is gone… crashing into a shelf and making a whole lot of rucous! Just the sound of the falling, broken mug makes her jump and quickly she swerves to see if she can get a better view of the creature. "Whatever it was, it looks like it's still here. Be careful, Little Magpie."

Antonella's grown up around some pretty terrible smells. Oh, sure, the nobility don't get down in the muck and mire all that much, but there have been enough visits to farms and butchers to learn all about what keeps their house thriving that she knows well enough some of the truly awful odors of this world and the next. She has the sense not to touch the body, at least. Though she does really look like she's thinking about it — see that lift of her hand? — when Marsilia's very sensible answers are interrupted by… by what?

What was that? Suddenly stock-straight, the young woman looks for the source of the sound and takes a few swift steps backwards to put some distance between herself and the sudden commotion. Maybe now would be a good time to reach for her dagger, but, instead, she's pulling her pack around to her front that she might reach in for something. Cured meat. Whatever eats faces is likely to enjoy salami! "We've brought gifts," she entreats and entices, in case they're not dealing with an animal, in case it is a child or, better — maybe worse — a visitante of some ilk. "Things with which we might barter."

The smell isn't of rot, of course. It's of death. Old, forgotten, dusty, yet somehow all too human. They are in a cottage with a dead body, without a doubt. That and a-… something. There's quiet for a moment, in response to Antonella's offer. Then some scritching and scratching. Then, finally, a face pops out. Eyes. Those eyes Marsilia saw. And the face? Why, that's a raccoon. A big one. It stares for a moment, then starts forward, cautiously.

Still standing upright, her own back rigid and straight, Marsilia can only watch as Antonella carefully pulls out a piece of meat from within her pouch to offer it to, whatever this creature was. It moved so quickly that the contessa couldn't gauge how large it was before it hid itself, but surely, it wasn't as large as some wild cat or bear. Or even a wolf! So, the thing shouldn't be too terribly frightening, now would it?

Then again, it might not be an animal all together and perhaps it is one of the visitante or a changeling creature of sorts. Or something! All of these thoughts quickly run through her mind from the various tomes which she had read that as they await for the thing to take notice of the offering, Marsilia is also reaching into her basket for her husband's dagger which she had stolen.

Then out hops a raccoon. Nothing overly cruel and rather cute, she thought. "How quaint, I can't say that this was the bandit I was seeking… and while it has an adorable face," And here she looks over her shoulder and back at the corpse, "It may have been snacking on the poor soul in the chair." Maybe it's not so cute after all.

FRIEND! Friend. Look at that adorable little fuzzy face! That's not the face of a face-eater, is it? Antonella crouches down slowly, carefully, as she holds out that little treat for the raccoon. "We do what we must, don't we?" It's half answer to Marsilia and half question to the critter. "I'm sure he didn't want to eat anybody's face, did you? All a matter of unfortunate circumstances." Brows arching high, eyes wide, she goes on to say, "I expect we may well be his rescuers, if he'd gotten all locked in here—" It's about at this point that something clicks in Antonella's head, face scrunching as she runs back over the contessa's words. She doesn't look back, not wanting to leave her hand at the unseen mercies of the beast, but she does wonder aloud, "The bandit you were seeking..?"

The raccoon is, without a doubt, big. This might be the biggest raccoon the young women have ever seen in their lives. Look how it waddles when it walks. And it does walk, right up to Antonella. Those eyes - are they sad eyes? - stare at the woman for a long time, in a clear effort to gauge if this is just at trap. Then, finally, it reaches out with one grabby hand, then takes the salami. It proceeds to sit upright, like a person, to start to snack. No, no running off. It's eating right here.

And while Marsilia isn't busy feeding critters, she might note the various wooden crates and broken jars. All of them likely used to contain food. All of them likely gave up their contents to one over-stuffed raccoon. One fat critter that maybe ran out of easy food and went for the next easiest source of nourishment. That dead body right there.

"Whether the creature was trapped in here or not… it doesn't look as if it were suffering so." Marsilia just has to comment on the raccoon's roundness. At first, she may have thought it was pregnant, but as she mills around the room further, she learns otherwise. Reaching a free hand to pick up an empty jar to inspect it, her eyes quickly move to the other various crates within the room.

"Poor lonely soul." She then thinks aloud, herself, when her attention refocused on the corpse. "They did not lack food, but I wonder what ailed them and how they felt in their final moments. Alone." Pondering further, she then looks back to the raccoon now. "Maybe, just maybe, they weren't alone. Perhaps the raccoon was their companion. One can only hope." And with that said, Antonella's question comes up!

"Yes, I was seeking out bandits, I mean… keeping an eye out for them, as we would be in the forest as it were." Then from the corpse, the crates, the raccoon, everything — Marsilia's gaze moves to peer across the way at the Little Magpie, "My family had been plagued with thievery not long ago, so I thought I'd kill two birds with one stone." She almost regrets saying those words once they are utters, for are they not two birds themselves?

Loneliness! Plainly, this was the plight of the poor creature. This was how it suffered. Loneliness and excess. Antonella smiles at the rotund critter as it plops down and enjoys that little snack, keeping her eyes on the raccoon even as Marsilia answers. "No birds killed yet this afternoon," she answers. "God willing, we'll keep it that way." With that, she flashes a smile back at Marsilia. "You should have told me, Lady Swan. I can handle things which aren't entirely fantasy." Sometimes. Maybe. Reaching into her pouch, she pulls free an apple and sets it on the floor between herself and the critter before pushing to her feet. "Perhaps we should eat, too. Out in the fresh air. Lay out an extra spot. For our new friend or for… whoever might decide to join us." Unspoken is that, well… perhaps they ought to head home, their quota for adventure met.

There's not a lot else to see. Marsilia - playing detective of the non-pet kind - will find some items to suggest that it was, indeed, a person living here unhindered for years. Some knitting work. A stray ring, made of pewter. Inspection of clothing will suggest a woman. The body set in a chair suggests, well. This woman likely sat here to die. Was the raccoon her pet? Difficult to say.

The beast surely isn't talking. No, the round raccoon flops onto it's side as it eats salami, then proceeds to wiggle and crawl it's way over to the apple. That will be gone soon, then it's staring at Antonella. What's next?

"It would seem that our search was not a fruitless one." Marsilia begins, turning one last look to the figure in the chair, before following Antonella's suggestion to head outside into the crisp, clean air. "In a way, we were, while I would not say blessed, perhaps… led to this location, strangely, to find this woman all alone here." And to rescue the raccoon, but that is at the back of her mind right now! "When we return back to the city, we should alert someone, so that the woman can have a proper burial. Finally."

Seeing that the heavy set raccoon wants to follow them now, the contessa wonders aloud, "You're not taking it along with you… are you?"

"Yes," Antontella agrees. For the point of sending someone back to tend to the woman's remains. She looks back to the seated corpse, finding it all so much sadder now that there's a little less mystery to it. "Whoever she was, she certainly deserves to have her soul looked after properly." For that thought, there's a warm smile for Marsilia, for her wisdom in this matter. As to their tubby friend? Well, that gets a brighter smile, eyes all alight at the prospect of putting the thing on horseback. "Let's see how long we hold its interest. And how well it takes to riding." Though, really, the critter would surely ride in one of those pouches all full of food on their way back to the city. Look at that face! How could she resist! And it does seem rather intent on keeping itself obscenely well-fed…

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