Part of the Rise of Larket Arc
Summary: No wanting to bring political scandal to Frostmaw, Josleen turns towards Cenril and her estranged friend, Skylei. Kelovath and Josleen (and Gigi) ask for refuge, and while Skylei initially resents the imposition, she eventually concedes, but not without her own list of strongly worded rules. Also the interpersonal drama between Skylei and Josleen is so strong you could cut it like butter.
Skylei’s Flat, West Arril Street
Josleen and Kelovath couldn’t stay at her parents’ house for very long. Soon the Larketian Guard would know to come looking for them there. They had to keep moving. Taverns posed a risk as the golden, shiny Kelovath would draw attention from patrons and informants alike. Frostmaw was off-limits, as Thane Josleen did not want to create a political scandal and drop it on Queen Hildegarde’s doorstep. (Look what the cat dragged in: a murder suspect!!) Kelovath had no family, and the few friends he had, lived in Larket. It soon became all too clear: Josleen would have to impose on Skylei. Few would think to look for the couple in Skylei’s Cenrili haunts, which was a sorry testament to the friendship’s disrepair. There was a time when uttering the name Josleen or Skylei necessitated naming the other. They were a pair, and publicly so. These days, few think of them as such. In fact, although Josleen has spoken of Skylei to Kelovath, he’d be hard-pressed to articulate whether or not they’re close. Their lives forked away from each other by tragedy and circumstance. At the fork in their fate lines there exists no argument to point to and say ‘Aha! That’s why they hardly write.’ Last time Skylei heard from Joslen, she wrote she was moving to Larket with a new beau, Kelovath. It’s been months since then, and no letter from Josleen, until today, when Josleen showed up in person and dragging the new beau and the troubles that plague them. She knocks on Skylei’s door, unsure if the scholar was home, and fidgets as she waited for confirmation one way or the other. She smiles uneasily at Kelovath. Skylei rarely approved of the trouble Josleen found herself in, or the men she dated--and vice versa.
Skylei is home. Skylei is home 90% of the times these days. As Josleen and Kelovath approach, the half-elf is sat looking over a large hand drawn diagram of Hollow’s solar system that sits on her coffee table. Every so often she would lift her hand and make tiny notes in the left hand corner of the parchment. She’d be quite content to dally away the rest of her day in similar fashion. But then comes the soft, clearly feminine knock on the door. One of the biggest changes since Josleen last visited Skylei’s apartment is that she’s had a peephole installed on the door. And a chain. And a deadlock bolt. So, at the knock on the door, the half-elf would rise through her chair and peer through the peephole. Her forehead contorts and she blinks several times before going back for a second look. Josleen. What would Josleen be doing on her doorstep? They haven’t spoken in months and, even if they had, Josleen is a sucker for social etiquette and would have surely called ahead. Skylei pushes open door as far as the chain will allow and peers around. “What are you doing here?” Though the emphasis falls on the ‘doing’, the question is not void of accusation. Kelovath gets little more than a passing glance and a slight nod of the head in acknowledgement of his existence in this initial interaction. They could have stayed in that stalemate for a good long while, with each party separated by the door. But Skylei doesn’t like to keep her door open for very long, not even on the chain; living in South Cenril will do that to you. She pushes the door closed. Three long beats. Then it reopens properly and Skylei makes intentional eye contact with both of the two. “You should come in.”
Kelovath thought very little of Cenril as a whole. Nothing good ever came from his visits to this city and any recent news from here was negative. But, Josleen apparently had a friend somewhere within the city and he knew the Larketian guard would do their best to avoid making a trip here. Relations between Larket and Cenril were…Well, they didn’t exist. Minor trading with specific merchants, but nothing more. The city consistently remained in chaos and the paladin did his best to stay away. If anyone could drag him back here, it’d certainly be Josleen. She did so easily, as getting away from the tension within her parents’ house was ideal. His eyes were always scanning ahead as they walked the streets. Skylei had the right idea when it came to security. It was noted when the woman half-opened the door that she was scared. Protective. Smart move. Kelovath would wait for Josleen to make the first move toward the door before following, the man staying quiet until he actually needed to say something. When they did finally enter the home, it gave Kelovath a chance to get a good look at the half-elf. She seemed familiar, but he questioned that. She’s from Cenril. No way he knew her. Although they just arrived, it was clear the tension here was growing thick. Maybe this time he wouldn’t be the one getting upset and storming out.
Josleen flies in the face of social cues and palpable tension and chirps out “Sky!” She pulls the other half elf into a hug as if months had never transpired since the last one, as if Skylei had never been ruined by the drow (not that Josleen would ever use the word ‘ruined’ aloud), and as if Josleen, despite her own hardships, didn’t come out the other side of war better off. Josleen always came out the other side of things better off, and Skylei always wound up back in Cenril looking at maps. Maybe if they behave like their lives never forked, then the fork will be fooled and close. A white poodle noses into the apartment. Its pedigree fur is cut into pom-poms here and there, a bikini cut in the poodle-world (terrifying world, stay out of it, Skylei). “Gigi!” Josleen reprimands her pet. Then to Skylei, “I can have him wait outside if you prefer he not enter.” The dog has already entered, and is currently licking the sticky film of tea in a recently emptied mug. “Gigi!” Josleen hisses again, but the dog whines and licks faster, knowing at any moment he may be yanked away from his precious tea-and-spit grime. Josleen smiles broadly at Skylei and isn’t quite sure where to begin, so she begins in two place at once. “This is Kelovath. Kelo, this is Skylei,” then before Skylei and Kelovath may greet each other she yanks a book out of her purse and presents it to Skylei. “My father’s latest book. This was the third draft, still has his notes in the margins. It’s about…” she reads from a note Kyl’oriel tucked into the book for Skylei, “...magnetism and brain chemistry in rodents and theories about what this could mean for the intelligent races. He said you could borrow it as long as you like.”
Skylei is visibly uncomfortable at the hug. She doesn’t pull away, but she certainly doesn’t lean into the hug in the way that old friends might. As soon as all three are in the apartment Skylei reinstates her security procedures; chain chained, bolt bolted. Before turning back to her guests. It’s an overwhelming mess; a paladin, Josleen (who could take up a room all by herself) and some kind of fluffy mess. She starts with that. Sky raises an eyebrow at the ‘dog’, “Gigi?” She attempts to make eye contact with Kelovath, as if to say ‘for real? You let her get this joke of a dog?’ before realising she lacks the easy rapport that she has had with most of Josleen’s former boyfriends with the latest addition to the carousel. “He’s fine in here.” She pauses and looks around the apartment. Priceless books, countless reams of parchment and, yes, a smattering of mugs litter most of the surfaces. “Actually, maybe put him in the kitchen. Too much stuff lying around here.” The book is received, quickly looked at and then deposited on a surface. Kelovath is received in a similar way; a handshake, a “Nice to meet you” and then he is promptly offered a cup of tea and a seat on the slightly bedraggled looking three seater couch that currently only sits one and a pile of books. No matter what response he gave, he’s unlikely to get the aforementioned tea. She would turn back to Josleen who is inevitably still flapping around trying to complete eight tasks at once. “You still didn’t answer my question, Jos. Why are you here?” She would look back at Kelovath, “Or more aptly, what are you both doing here?”
Kelovath missed the awkward hug between the ‘friends’, as his attention quickly changed to Gigi. The dog, although well trained, was a mess. Only listened to Josleen sometimes. Listened to Kelovath none of the time. He saw the half attempt from Skylei regarding the dog, but had no response. It seemed like they both knew Josleen well enough. When she wants something, she gets it. The paladin took his chance and pulled Gigi into the kitchen, getting that quick handshake in passing. While in the kitchen, he picked a spot for Gigi to stay, then spoke the command, “Stay.” He turned and started to leave the kitchen, but heard footsteps. With a sigh, he turned, pointed at the dog and repeated, louder this time, “Stay!” Gigi cocked his head slightly, giving the paladin –that- look. “C’mon. Stay here, Gigi.” The man finally turned and re-entered the living room. He stood in the doorway, as Skylei asked Josleen yet again why they were here. Then the elf’s gaze found him, but he didn’t speak. Josleen was better at explaining it, even though it’s basically his fault this is even happening.
Josleen takes the sole seat between towers of books on the couch. “Gigi, stay,” she says to help her frustrated beau. Gigi whines and obeys, sits and flattens on the ground in an Oscar-winning performance of abuse and neglect. Where does depression hurt? Everywhere. “Well, it’s a long story, Sky, but the short of it is that a psychotic “man”,” she air quotes around the word ‘man’, “has framed Kelovath for a murder he would never commit. Kelovath was arrested on suspicion of murder--which he never committed!--” her eyes widen slightly to impress on Skylei the truth of this, “We knew the truth would free him, but justice is slow and during Kelovath’s stay in jail awaiting trial to clear his name, Macon was turning the public against him. A witch hunt was forming! A mob! And the sheriff had it out for Kelovath too, and we feared he’d be lucky to live long enough to see a trial.” Embellishments, sure, but not wholesale truths. She speaks the half-truths without stutter or flush. An actress through and through. Were she and Sky still very close, she would be unable to maintain a poker face while twisting the truth, but the distance between the women has made it easier for Josleen’s easy manipulations to settle between them and take root. “So, a friend of ours, a giant from Frostmaw broke Kelovath out of jail before justice turned rotten. The guard, of course, are following orders and need to take him in again. We need a place where we can work on our plan to clear his name in peace. We do have a plan, and we intend to clear his name and return to Larket, right love?” She looks at Kelovath for confirmation. “We just need time.” aka a safehouse.
Skylei was once so enamoured with Josleen’s friendship that she chose to ignore when the tales she told took on a more theatrical tone, left the world of the realistic and started to impose onto the world of the fantastical. Now, Skylei believes the tale that Josleen tells (Josleen is an excellent storyteller, that’s for sure) but fails to be swept up in its more dramatic flourishes that attempt to pull her onside. She sits there in complete silence, her hands resting gently on her lap. Down the street somewhere is the sound of a small but scrappy brawl. It’s such commonplace to this part of Cenril that Skylei barely registers it. Eventually the half-elf leans forward and rests her elbows on her knees. She speaks slowly and calmly in comparison to Josleen’s animated telling of the troubles, “So.” Skylei pauses again, “You decided to bring that trouble to my doorstep.” It’s not a question. Her face displays a clear conflict of interest but she says nothing more.
Kelovath has heard Josleen tell this story before. The man is currently living it, but even still, he cannot help himself by being wrapped up in it. The bard has a true talent, but based on Skylei’s tone and posture, she was not engulfed in the theatrics. He nodded to Josleen when she looked toward him, offering a weak smile. The words she spoke sounded so much like Josleen’s father, it wouldn’t surprise the paladin if they were related in some way. That thought sparked another, which sparked another, until finally it clicked as to why Skylei seemed familiar. They’d met before. He, many, many years ago, knew her father. Or, lack of a father. That guy was…Something. The sudden realization brought back memories of a life forgotten, which the man just had to verbalize. “I was sad to hear about your father, Sky. Nasurate wasn’t…A close friend, but I do remember him asking me to keep you safe. It was a long time ago, it feels like.” The man stepped forward a bit, out of the doorway. He wasn’t sure why that was necessary, but it felt so informal, standing out of the way. “I brought you in to a…” He laughed, shaking his head at the memory of a goal too large for him at the time. “It was basically a mercenary group. My way of agreeing to his request.” A glance to Josleen, wondering how she felt about this piece of history he’d yet to share with her. “I’m not trying to play to your feelings, Sky. I…” Another shift in attention to Josleen, his eyes staying with her this time though. “We need help.”
Josleen looks around the apartment on the sly, ostensibly looking at Kelovath, or Gigi, or an interesting book, but in truth she scans the drab, chipped-mug, sunken-couch, dusty apartment that Skylei has always inhabited in the worst neighborhood of a failing city. Pity and guilt throb in Josleen’s heart. Poor Skylei, ruined woman, made unappetizing by too much baggage, a tragedy in the eyes of this storyteller. Should Josleen have done more for her? There’s Josleen, ascending the socio-political ranks through a lot of charm, and a little elbow grease. Core values she has but a few, and they form a hard seed of integrity within the fleshy, sweet, tantalizing peach that is Josleen, seducer of queens and future kings alike. And Skylei? Working hard to make lateral gains and distract herself from a tortured past. Josleen fought tooth and nail to save Skylei (for courage and tenacity are part of her virtuous core). She dutifully stuck by Skylei until the ranger could walk again. And then what? What about the follow up care? Instead she follows up with trouble, the law on her heels, suspected murderer at her hip. It was a mistake to come here. She doesn’t answer Skylei right away. Her impulse is to make a pitch, to appeal to Skylei’s high-minded ideals, to continue to manipulate until she gets what she wants, but then she remembers what she loves about Skylei, their history, and the fact that if Skylei is distant now, well, Josleen concedes privately that perhaps she herself is to blame. She drops the pretense and admits in a quieter tone, “Perhaps I shouldn’t have come. I could think of no one else.” Kelovath interjects with his epiphany and Josleen frowns at him when he brings up Nasurate. First they come with baggage, now Kelovath pokes at old wounds. She bristles when Kelovath calls Skylei by her nickname, ‘Sky’. That isn’t for him. Sky is hers. Her sudden possessiveness surprises her. Perhaps it’s to do with the guilt. When Kelovath looks at her she calms down a little. His stare was always kind, intentions always good. She holds his gaze for a moment then looks to Skylei.
Skylei sees Josleen’s gaze as it spans across her apartment. Perhaps in Josleen’s eyes, Skylei’s life is wholly disappointing. But the ranger is happy in South Cenril; happy in her little dusty apartment filled with books, dust and random knick-knacks. In fact, she’s mostly happy with her life. Of all of Skylei’s flaws, jealousy is not one of them. She doesn’t envy Josleen’s new found positions, or status, or life. She does resent that slow tail-off in friendship that is, at least, partially her own fault. But she’s torn from her resentment by Kelovath’s blast from the past. Skylei’s jaw visibly tightens as he speaks and when he finishes she responds with a cold, “I remember.” She isn’t entirely comfortable with this reference to a life she barely recognises as her own. More silence and she rises from her chair to examine the various wall hangings; a series of sketches in a set of mix-matched frames. Then her face and her voice softens, “Thank you for remembering Nasurate.” Her face resets to neutral as she turns around and makes eye contact with Kelovath, “But yes, with militia’s and running from the law, it seems you are bound to drag me into trouble every time we meet.” She sighs and makes eye contact with Josleen, with chief negotiator in this situation, “You know I only have one bedroom, right?”
Kelovath could feel that he may have brought back bad memories. They weren’t the best for him either, but back then he wasn’t being chased by the law for murder. A simpler time, yes, but, with his gaze lingering on Josleen, he knew he was happier now. He waited nervously as Skylei lifted from her chair and walked about the room. His gaze connected with the half-elf. A silly grimace and nod, followed by, “Not my intention.” With the bedroom situation about to be discussed, the man felt like it was the best time to slink back some, giving Josleen and Skylei the floor. The bard typically was in charge, but the paladin hoped his slight interjection helped ease the tension.
Josleen smiled at half mast at the mention of Nasurate again, this time by Skylei. The bard never met him, but had heard some of his story from Skylei, the rest from Kyl’oriel. Her hand itched to take Kelovath’s. She felt uncomfortable in this room. The distance between herself and Skylei was wider than she anticipated, and she had quickly come to rely on Kelovath whenever she felt unsettled. She spread her itching hand over her own knee. Gigi whined to fill the silence. Skylei mentioned the logistical hiccup and Josleen nodded, “I know. It’s a lot to impose. We’d sleep in here on the floor and try to stay out of your way during the day. We just need a roof over our heads, Sky, or if you know of a better place, that’ll do too.” She pauses then adds thoughtfully, “If it’s too much, I understand. We can find something else.”
Skylei folds her arms across her chest, “It makes more sense if you take my room.” It’s easily the nicest room in the house - after all, Josleen helped decorate it when Skylei first moved in a long, long time ago. It’s airy, light and decorated with all manner of floral patterns. The single bookshelf houses romance novels that Skylei had borrowed from Josleen throughout the years. Put in short, Skylei rarely uses her bedroom, preferring to fall asleep on the musty couch. She sighs before breaking into a thorough list of house rules that don’t befit the kind of life it might appear she lives. Those rules conclude with: “The door stays locked and bolted. Neither of you are to answer it if someone comes calling. I’d prefer if you avoid coming and going at all hours – it’s unlikely that anyone around here will care who you are or even notice you’re here but I prefer to avoid attention.” Skylei pauses, “And don’t touch my books.” She looks at both of them and shakes her head at her own fierce and potentially misplaced loyalty before offering a final plea, “Please don’t make me regret this.”
Kelovath made no attempt to persuade Skylei into allowing them to sleep on the floor. Each rule she spoke the man would nod like a child getting scolded. If he were less nervous, he may have even replied with a ‘yes ma’am’ after every rule. The man shifted his gaze from Skylei to Josleen, waiting to see if this was okay with her. He’d go with whatever, as the man was simply thankful to possibly have a place to hide out for a time. And plan. Gigi whined again, to which the paladin had to ask about. “What about Gigi?” The words were soft, almost as if he was asking himself what they were going to do with him. He’d never seen the dog chew on anything, but to be safe, he felt like asking what Skylei would prefer. Whatever the reply may be, Kelovath finally moved closer to Josleen and took her hand. Her touch calmed him and made the dog whimper again. Needy thing.
Josleen nodded at each rule. “Of course,” she said a couple times. She squeezed Kelovath’s hand but didn’t look away from Skylei. She was grateful for a place to stay, but also saw this as an opportunity to right past wrongs, to deliver the follow-up care and friendship she felt she owed Skylei. Perhaps their friendship can return to how it used to be, one more goal on top of all the others, the largest goal of all being to return to larket. Who knows, maybe when they return they’ll bring with them a new Larketian resident. It’ll be easier to help Skylei if she keeps her close, Saint Josleen thinks, even as she is the one being helped by Skylei now, and not the other way around.