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IC [Freebooters on the Frontier] The Gate

Atlictoatl

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The black cat is notoriously the symbol of witchcraft, though folk traditions vary on whether the black cat is the enemy or the ally of the witch. Some claim that witches' familiars are actually a dark violet, and only appear black because their demonic fur absorbs all light. In some mountain communities, a black cat is a witch who tried to mend its ways, and was shaped into a cat by its betrayed coven; it follows in the footsteps of witches to reveal their presence to faithful citizens.

Posting a black cat to a door, in the East, is how a community warns its denizens that a witch dwells there. In the early days of the Rightfinders, there are accounts of the investigators announcing their findings by posting a black cat to the dwelling of the witch, and leaving the witch's fate to the rending mob. (These days, it's much more common to drag the witch off in irons and to burn their house down after first ransacking it of all evidence, including the ill-gotten riches the witch stole from its neighbors.) It's further complicated because there's old places where a nailed-cat means the opposite: it's a witch's declaration that the home is now marked and under the witch's curse. Scholarship seems to indicate that the Eastern practice grew out of the ancient practice, when people re-appropriated the cat-posting for their own ends. Some old people will say that the cat's anus on the left means a witch left it, while others who claim to know about such things will say the cat's yowl to the left is the sign. It's a bit of a mess parsing things out, and regionality of place and the perpetrator all need to be taken into consideration.

Scooping out its organs could, variably, be a) an attempt to create a homunculus disguised as a common animal, b) a ritual sacrifice, c) some sympathetic construct that allows some sort of control or vision on behalf of the keeper of the organs, or d) some uncommon, little known ritual purpose. It could also have been the act of someone who was attempting to pretend some nefarious purpose, or someone practicing a modicum of hygiene. Amimami is the castrated god; perhaps the cat was meant to be associated with him.

Some symbology behind the three iron nails could be inferred, though it's subtle and would require some scholarship or practical knowledge of witchcraft. The fae dislike iron. The three crones are potent icons. There's also the Three Avatars, the dominant gods of the region.

Pieces of cats are used in a number of spells, most notably Strange Eye, Ray of Balance, Despair Tooth, and the ritual Inasta's Terror Feast. You don't know the details of those spells, but have seen them referenced. Cat's entrails, specifically, have been mentioned as ingredients alongside the rituals Spray of Maddening Wisdom and Cinniglana's Unseen Doom.

It's possible that a visit to the place of its demise could allow you to summon its spirit and interact with it. The cat corpse, itself, isn't exuding any signs of magic.

Zsofika, you heard a rumor whispered about black cats before you left your training, among the other young mages. What was it?
 
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MrPrim

Bleak Academic
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There is a whisper, among the student mages, whispered in their dark chambers out of earshot of the masters, of the Fang, a powerful magus... or witch, perhaps... or god... or devil... who uses cats, all cats, as his familiars. It was just a child's fairy tale... but other bonded mages you have met in your travels have heard the same stories.

A warning or a message or a hoax or a curse or a declaration of intent....

"More mysteries, more obfuscation," she mutters to herself, somewhat bitterly, "These things are never uncomplicated are they."

"The Mayor said this was found on the...," Zsofika looks up from the cat and realizes that they have a visitor. "Oh... More mystery," she says, her words dropping into the room like weights.

"Lead on," she says.

OOC: I'm not sure what other questions to ask about the cat.
 
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Atlictoatl

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The Midwife's home is closest. Fülöp Zora (the deputy) and the Watch Captain accompany you to the garden of Whitehead House, a typical mountain peasant home with a sturdy whitewashed brick base and a half-timbered second story. It's got the traditional milk pail on the north wall to chase away the Rotter, and a looped horseshoe on the south wall to hold the sweetness of the Solar Saint.

There's a small gathering near the turnip patch. A fierce woman with hard eyes and false teeth stands next to a large man wringing his hands with anxiety. Clustered around them is a strapping teenage boy with massive fists and two young women in their late teens, though the quieter one might be in her twenties. Even the dog has turned out. It's a shaggy beast. A one-legged man sits on a bench on the back porch, watching.

Standing relaxed guard over the garden is a sharp-chinned, wiry man holding a military pike. He looks like he knows how to use it, but otherwise seems an undisciplined soldier.

The Watch Captain introduces him. "Gilbert, my gardener." She turns to him. "Report."

Gilbert spits out the grass he'd been chewing on. "Nina here," he says, motioning to the hard-eyed woman, "came 'round sayin' somethin' was wrongways with her snails." He looks to the three of you. "We gets snails 'round this way, after the harvest. Moisture," he says, pointing to the sky.

"Anyways, I came to have a looksee. They stink, and their colors all wrong-like." He steps into the patch and plucks a few snails from the ground, handing them out to you and the Watch Captain. The snails definitely have a strong, unnatural, sulphurous odor and their fleshy feet are an odd reddish color instead of tan.

"It's blood, and brimstone!" scowls the hard-eyed woman.

Fülöp Zora, the deputy, chimes in. "We've found them in the inn's garden as well."

"And the Mayor's," says a new voice. Magyar Tünde, the far Easterner and the Innkeep, has walked up the path and entered the garden. A younger, quiet man with wispy blonde hair and light ivory skin, like Lukacs', has accompanied her. "Or rather, their father's garden. Just got word." Tünde peers at you with that intense gaze of hers, curious what to make of you.
 
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Lysus

Unbelievably Fancy Ostrich
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Devilfish

Not foolish enough to touch anything that may be a sign of a witch unprotected, Veronika quickly pulls out a handkerchief and accepts the snail proffered to her in the cloth.

"You say the snails here are expected after the harvest. Do these snails differ from your expectation in ways other than their color and odor?"

Veronika shifts her position to get better light on the snail and grasps its shell through the handkerchief as she twists it back and forth to examine it. The mollusk squirms, antennae flailing about, before withdrawing into its shell.

OOC: Veronika is trying to figure out if she's familiar with something like this as another species of snail that might simply have been carried here on something else or whether this is actually a sign of a witch. Either way, she could still use it to accuse someone.

Know Something: 2d6+1 4

Not my lucky day.
 

Atlictoatl

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Gilbert, the Watch Captain's gardener

"Well, I mean, there's a lot of them...," he turns and squats down, pushing the vegetables aside. The ground is literally covered with snails. "That's not normal."

It's impressive, the facility with which his hand slides down the shaft of the military pike as he squats, keeping the heavy weapon seated perfectly upright. That's a master pikeman, there.


OOC: Mark Intelligence, Devilfish. Whatever your biased convictions about a witch being here were coming into this town, these snails absolutely confirm them.
 

Lysus

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Devilfish

OOC: Well, my thoughts upon coming to town were that this was likely much ado about nothing. Coincidences happen, so I'm free to string up whoever might be most advantageous. Perhaps that infuriating mayor...


"Yes, quite. Tell me, what other unusual things have you seen around the town these past few weeks? Let me assure you, no detail is too small."

Veronika's face assumes an expression of rapt attention, her posture entirely focusing her energy toward the gardener. After all, detail can be very helpful as a pretext to frame someone and get back to the comforts of true civilization.
 

Artaud le momo

Slicey Bois FTW
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Lukacs

Lukacs crushes one of the snails under his boot in order to see what the resulting mess looks like, if there is any visible parasite inside it, etc.
 

Atlictoatl

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It looks like a normal snail inside, Lukacs, except for the red meat of its foot.

In response to your query, Veronika, Gilbert starts off on a meandering explanation of the coloration of the leaves on certain of the harvest plants, the changes in weather compared to past years, that it seems like there are more dogs in town than normal, and other such dead ends. When he starts talking about the wilted buckwheat and the bleeding pumpkins, your ears perk up. It seems there was a dry spell, and that it was unseasonably hot. He noticed an unusual increase in insects for that time of year, but also found footprints in each crop that didn't belong there. "Wrong kinda shoes," he says when pressed, but can't really explain.

The Watch Captain explains that most of the folks around here either tend their crops in bare feet or with the traditional footwear that people wear around these parts, and that they had found some firmer, more boot-like impressions in the fields. She put her attention on that for more than a few days, and found some similar tracks in fields that weren't malaffected in any way, and ultimately ran into dead ends with that as a lead.

Gilbert has his theories about the crops -- continuous bad weather, neglect, some weird virus... "people 'round here plant their crops, then forget 'bout them, all focused on their beer and socializing and whatnot" -- and is quick to note that not all of the buckwheat and pumpkins went bad. The town lost most of its buckwheat, though a much smaller stand a distance away survived. The bleeding pumpkins were just one patch.

Gilbert is no-nonsense and doesn't go out of his way to treat any of you as special, though he shows some deference. He kind of doesn't give a shit, in the manner you'd expect of a career soldier who's seen it all and isn't much impressed by officer-types. He's more than happy to talk your ear off about nothing for as long as you'll let him.


OOC: Lukacs Get Lucky: 2d6-2 4
 

Atlictoatl

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Magyar Tünde

During a lull in the action, Magyar Tünde approaches you, Devilfish. She lets you know that the rooms for the three of you are ready whenever you desire them, and invites you all to join her this evening on her Sampling Stroll. Apparently, she brings a small cask of her handcrafted fall beer round town with her, exchanging a cup of it for a cup of whatever the folks she's visiting have brewed, sampling what her neighbors have on offer, socializing, generating custom for the coming month for the inn. She hints that it would be a way to see parts of the town and get impressions of folks, in a less severe manner, where they might be more inclined to let down their guard.

You overhear this conversation, Zsofika, and should feel free to chime in, if you desire.

While this is going on, you're running through things with the Watch Captain, Lukacs. She's recounting the steps of her investigation, and has her deputy and gardener there to verify or clarify aspects of what she's covering. You can't find any fault in her investigation, but you start to notice an odd dynamic between her deputy and the Watch Captain, like the deputy (Fülöp Zora) is trying to hide something from her boss. It's subtle. The Watch Captain, who you'd otherwise label an observant woman, doesn't seem to be aware of it.


 

MrPrim

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Zsofika picks up one of the strange snails and stares at it. She pulls a glass jar out of one of her pouches and places the snail inside with a handful of grass. With the tip of her sharp dagger, she pokes a few airholes in the lid of the jar.

Out here in the open, she can once again feel the eyes of the dead on her. It's not an unfamiliar feeling, spirits have followed her as long as she can remember, but the weight of their interest is a constant psychic presence.

"I'm sure people will be very excited to have a drink with witchhunters," Zsofika scoffs, maybe a little too loudly.
 
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