The Road to Tullybrook


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The air was crisp with the smell of fresh-fallen rain.

Mildewed and humid, with underpinnings of soil. It was a lovely smell, but unfortunately, it was also a forboding one. This far out from the city, the road was nery paved, save for the parts near towns that had the funds and will to pave it. From the passing showers, the trampled and stamped dirt had turned muddy, leaving every step a guess of how far one's boots might sink before reaching something solid.

Least there wasn't much traffic, here. Carriage ruts would only make the going all the tougher.

Mud aside, though, there was another pressing issue on the way. The road was relatively straight - it veered wiss and ways to make passage nearest the nearby towns, but for the most of it, it was the shortest distance between two points. That was the very nature of roads, of course. They were built to lead you to the place you wished to go, and those that weren't had a terrible habit of being dreadfully annoying to the people who wished to use them.

Take the Long High Road between Western and Eastern Linsburry - the surveyor crew had began building it with the intent to connect the towns, but through the unfortunate medly of a donkey's bum leg, a poorly oiled compass, and a foreman who was wholeheartedly convinced the sun set in the south, the poor sods built it due north for several miles before realizing their mistake. As one might assume by their names, Eastern Linsburry is not to the north of its Western sister, but instead a simple twenty miles east. They eventually rectified the mistake, turning the road at a sharp angle to meet the other town, but by then they'd turned that twenty-mile gap into a hundred-mile one.

Imagine the complete and utter shock of relatives wishing to visit each other a city over when they found themselves on the road for several days longer than expected!


But I'm beside myself. This road, the Road to Tullybrook, was, thankfully, far more straight than the Long High Road, and had been well-built by a survey team who knew their south from west. However, that straightness came with the side effect of it running over any obstacles in its way. One such obstacle, Soddy Creek, was just a ways ahead of you, and the bridge across said creek was just as straight-across as the road it carried. Normally, this is little issue, but with the recent rain -

You arrive at the creek to find it bloated past its shores, and the bridge nowhere to be seen.

A tiefling sat on a rock by the creek's edge, washing off the mud of the road off her boots in the rushing water, staring listfully at the other side where - had there been a bridge - she'd surely rather be.
The rain, of course, had been dreadful.

Viviane had never left Duleis before, in her twenty-four years of life. Duleis, for what it was worth, was a beautiful little settlement a moderate distance from Tullybrook, and the centerpiece of the Barony of Duleis. It was quaint and quiet at home, and it was dreadfully, horribly boring. For much of her childhood, and all of her adulthood, she'd been eagerly awaiting the time she would be sent off to learn at Lamplight College, somewhere moderately distant from home, and much more active.

Travel, to this point, had been quite easy. The Road to Tullybrook was by all accounts safe, it was easy to follow, well traveled and well marked. Viviane had never felt that she was straying from her path, and each step away from home, her excitement rose. What would the city be like, she wondered? Her father had always said it was a chaotic mess, a prime example of why she needed to learn to lead, as he had, as mother had. The bards, though, told different stories. They sung of adventure, of art and music, colorful streets and wonderful people. They said that Tullybrook was a city of opportunity.

It was exactly what she had been hoping to hear. When the time came for her to leave, she had already been ready for hours. She hadn't slept that night, she'd been so excited.

Now, several days (had it been a week? Or two. She wasn't sure) in, it had rained, and put a stop to everything. Viviane had refused to ride in the rain. It wouldn't have been fair to subject her poor horse to that, and traveling in the rain sounded miserable, so she stayed the day in a small village not far from the bridge across Soddy Creek, and set out early the next morning.

Imagine her surprise when she found the bridge gone! Vexing indeed. Truthfully, she was not sure that there would be alternate routes to Tullybrook, and so instead, astride her horse, she rode up as near as she could to the tiefling near the water, cleared her throat, and asked:

"Excuse me? Isn't there meant to be a bridge here?"
Abryxia had been having a terrible sort of day. Walking in the mud was always dreadful, but the slipshod job that that two-wog tinkerer had done on her left boot a week back had already undone itself, and worse of it, she'd managed to lose another two nails trudging through this mess, so the sole of that shoe was looser than a drunkard's tongue. She'd managed to keep it from worsening by tying a bit of scarf around the bottom, but it still squelched everytime she took a step.


Maybe, she thought, swishing her feet in the creek, she'd make enough the first day at Tullybrook to afford a proper cobbler repair. Or maybe even a new pair of shoes! Now, that was a lovely wish.

The creek, swollen as it was, was roaring loud, and the road was soft, and - ah - well - she wasn't exactly the most perceptive individual to begin with - so she completely missed the muffled clopping of hooves approaching behind her. It was only when someone spoke from directly behind her did she realize there was someone behind her at all, and this came at such a startle that she nearly toppled off her rock.

"Oh - oh! My heart - sorry, a proper moment, miss, ye gave me more a startle than I was expectin'!" She laughed, a tad embarrassed, turning to face horse and rider. "And it's not everyday a horse of all things manages to sneak up on ye. Turnin' around to see one of 'em just -"

She splayed her fingers out.

"There! Well, it's a bit much, innit?"

Standing, she swept the caked, drying mud off her leggings, wincing a bit as - not just the left - but both boots squelched when she put weight on them. Then, she glanced over her shoulder.

"Reckon there was, with the road goin' down one side, then goin' up the other. They don't expect us to be fish, do they? Abryxia, by the by." She held out her hand, gave Viviane and her horse a better look up and down, and quickly pulled the hand back. "Sorry, s'pose I should curtsy, ah?"
Viviane hadn't expected to startle the poor woman, much less to nearly send her head over heels into the creek. "Oh, apologies. I hadn't meant to come up on you in such a way, I'd just meant to- well, I suppose ask direction. What, with the bridge out and all," she said, turning eyes from tiefling to creek and back.

Now that she'd stood up and come a bit closer, Viviane had a chance to look her over in earnest. Obviously, her attention was drawn to the ribbons and colors in Abryxia's hair, and while her own was up in a crown braid, she hadn't ever thought, or perhaps been allowed, to accessorize to such an extent. Unfortunately, the compliments would end there, though she wouldn't say that aloud, lest she wished to offend. She was covered in dirt and grime- to be expected, given the weather, but she had just been cleaning her boots in the river, though even then that was less than ideal.

It took a great deal of effort to avoid frowning at the offered hand, though the woman withdrew it soon enough, saving her the discomfort of having to reject it. She replied with a dignified nod, back straight and head held high, before introducing herself. "Lady Viviane Othelia Allard, heir to the Barony of Duleis. You may, if you'd like, though I would appreciate it much more if you so happened to know a way across."
"I love the moun~tains,
I love the rolling hills,
I love the flo~wers,
I love the daffodils,
I love the riverside,
'Cept when it overflows... Oh."

The voice that approached sang more with enthusiasm than with training, one of those old old songs that occasionally people's great-grandparents would sing at the fireside. Maybe some of the others knew it or knew of it, maybe they didn't - though the last line was definitely different, and seemed to have been made up on the spot, as a very small person in a very large hat tromped up in boots that probably only looked so large on account of being caked with mud.

A hand lifted the hat's brim, raising it a bit to survey the scene. The eye that peered out was unusual - one wanted to default to red, but really, it was more pink.

The steps had stopped short, although at this person's height they certainly weren't going to stop tall.

"Is there usually this much water here?" The question seemed to be at least somewhat rhetorical - either that or it wasn't, but the person suddenly remembered that manners were a thing that should exist, and perhaps they should give them a try.

"Oh! Hello! I'm Rally Rose. I am not Lord or Lady of anything right now. It's very nice to meet you!"
"Course, m'Lady," Abryxia replied, giving a slightly lopsided curtsy with the look of someone who'd spent a lot of time practicing, but not a lot actually doing. Looking over her shoulder at the creek again, she frowned. "Dunno how high or low the swell goes. Considerin' this is where they built the bridge, I'd guess it was the shortest part, anyway. Honest, I was just hopin' to wait it out an' try an' make my way across when things're less - drowny."

She crossed her arms.

"Maybe we - oy, s'that -?"

Perking up up, Abryxia looked up the road, eyes squinting to make out the tiny figure making their way down it. Good manners to approach with a song. Make your presence known before a horse sneaks up on you and all that. She hummed along to the tune, then began to sing beneath her breath, tapping her fingers against her thigh.

"I love the daffodils,
I love the riverside,
Merrily as it flows~"

The figure sang a different line, there, though.

"Good day to ye, little miss," the tiefling called, smiling at the face under the hat. The pink eye was a bit odd, but odd things were plentiful, so she didn't give it much thought, in the moment. "Very fond of yer self-made verse, it's - er - quite relevant to the situation. There isn' supposed to be this much water, here, an' me an' the good Lady were just tryin' to figure out the best way across regardless."

She scratched her head, tail flicking to and fro.

"Don't reckon none of ye know how to fly?"
The problem with roads, that Sae found, is they were always quick to turn to sludge once the rains came, and the rains had definitely come. Even without the merchants and carriage wheels to churn the muck, the road was soft and only hard where the stone had been swallowed whole into the murk. The berm provided something like stability, when her boot didn’t slosh down the side from a careless step to the hungry earth below.

The trail was unfortunate for her hair as well, no time to get it proper care and oil while long on the road and the air was still damp with the next rain. She had braided it during the last rainstorm to make it easier, which just meant she would need time to untangle it once she reached Tullybrook. Still, time in the bath with a comb was its own sort of incentive which kept her moving.

The creek was as lovely as any sound, and it carried with it the sound of voices. An oddity, that, on the lonelier roads, but welcome all the same. Perhaps she could trade some slices of smoked jerky in her pack for a fresh vegetable or two to make a campfire stew.

Hullo!” She called before approaching, a hand raised in greeting. It looked quite the assortment of strangers standing on the bank of a bloated creek. It was easy enough to guess why they were gathered, given the lack of any bridge. “Well, doesn’t this look like quite the fine crossing? What’re we thinking, link arms and make our way across?” She stopped at the creek’s edge, and gave the waters a frown as they passed.
"Cricket knows how to fly!" The self-identified Rally Rose poked a finger at something on their sleeve and came away with a largish bug at the tip of one fingertip, which spread its wings obligingly. It was not a cricket, but rather obviously a cicada. This did not seem to deter either the insect or its keeper. "I... don't suppose that's particularly helpful, though."

Another person had come up, with a cheerful hullo and a different suggestion. Rally considered it for a moment, with a tilt of the hat that likely indicated a tilt of the head beneath. "Horses don't have arms." They were certain of this fact, and there was a horse there, underneath what was presumably the Lady. Rally could see her boots, and a great deal of horse, and not much else. Perhaps if they looked way up, but they were much more interested in the situation with the creek - and the fact that the girl with all the ribbons had liked their song.

Rally thought about wishing for some ribbons, but that seemed like a bit of a silly use of a wish, and it probably wouldn't have worked anyway. They squelched their way up to the edge of the water, crouching not-very-far down to peer at the current. "It's too strong, I think. You could get swept away and hit a rock and break your bones. I don't want to break my bones. I like my bones. They're very nice." Rally was quite proud of their skeleton. It was one of the best things about them.

"Hmm... We could invoke a spell to turn the water into a typhoon to crush the scions of the houses of the bridge-builders unto the eighth generation?" They considered this, and also the apparent Cricket. "Except... no, I haven't got that much magic. And there's got to be some other way..."
A rather large hat approached the pair, singing a tune that Abryxia seemed to know. As the hat introduced itself, Viviane spared no more than a glance, her mind very much stuck on the problem of how to cross a raging, flooded river. "If the gods gave out wings, I'd be the first in line," she mumbled, half in response to Abryxia, half in recollection from some story or another she'd read while stuck in the castle. After a moment, she realized that perhaps neither of them had read said novel, so she followed up with "So, no, unfortunately."

Only moments after, however, what else than an elf came striding down the road, plagued by the mud just as the rest of them had, in one way or another. She wasn't used to elves, there weren't many, if any at all, back home, and so she looked her over carefully as she came near to them. It was striking, how tall she was, though again, just as Abryxia, she was dressed to travel, and not in a way that impressed.

Rally Rose gave a suggestion, and Viviane couldn't keep a look of bewilderment from her face. "That hardly seems fair! The bridgemakers aren't responsible for the weather. It would hardly be fair to punish them for something beyond their control."
"While that's a wonderfully creative idea," Abryxia replied, still smiling with all the placcid patience of someone who's dealt with children quite a bit before, "the good Lady's right - we don' wanna be mean to folk who had no proper hand in our predicament!"

Another newcomer - well - came, a tall elf who seemed a bit rough around the shoulders, her hair tied back high in a tangled mop. Abryxia waved her over, holding out her hand.

"Good day, good day! I'm Abryxia, and this'ere's the fine Lady Allard. An' the little one's miss Rally Rose. We were just ponderin' the best way to cross, ourselves."

She glanced at the creek.

"Ye think linkin' arms would be - well - safe? Water's awful high, and I don' fancy gettin' swept half-away to Landon."
The Lady said something about Rally's suggestion and it not being fair to bridgemakers, which seemed to be seconded by Abryxia.

"It's not?" Rally hadn't considered that before. From a pocket, they withdrew a small, leatherbound book. "We better write that down." The last was a whisper, seemingly to the cicada, which had crawled onto the back of its owner's hand while they fumbled with a little stick of charcoal, noting this information carefully in the little volume:

It is not fair to punish people for what they cannot control.

They would remember that - or try to, and if they didn't, that was why they had written it down.
Mm, perhaps not.” Sae said, watching the rapids thoughtfully. They were fast here, thought it was possible that it might be slower somewhere up stream where the creek was wider. “Could perhaps attach rope to an arrow to give us something a little sturdier to hold onto, though I doubt that would be of much help to the horse.” Once one of them was across they could get the rope properly tied to a tree and they could slide the supplies over the river, but would that work well enough for the shorter ones? Or even trying to keep hold of wet rope with wet hands in fast water might just be asking for trouble.

Ah, excuse me, I’m Sae Falseer, a pleasure ta be making your acquaintance.” She said, a little late but better than not at all.

Could try our luck heading along the creek, should be running a little slower where it’s broader across.
One thing was certain to Viviane in that moment; she would not abandon her horse, and risk ruining her boots in the muck. That meant they needed to find a way across that wouldn't sacrifice the fine leather, which meant deviating from the set path, the Road to Tullybrook.

As easy as that sounded, she did not have a map. She'd been set on this road because it was the safest path, the most direct path. It was, as far as roads went, a straight line. It was impossible to get lost. "Hm. I don't... suppose any of you know of any other bridges? Or how to get to Tullybrook from said bridges?"
Abryxia shrugged.

The road was muddy, sure, but trudging through the grasslands around would doubtless be even muddier. Still, if they had any hope of passing to the next village by nightfall, they had to decide on something.

"Dunno these parts, much. M'from north, round Fuddle. Figured since this is *the* road to Tullybrook, things'd be a bit more straightforward, yea?" She snorted. Glancing down the riverbank, then, the tiefling shrugged. "Best luck's to head down, then? Ye seem like ye know what yer doin', Miss Sae - ye reckon ye can find us a safe spot to cross?"

She looked to the elf, tail flicking as she crossed her arms.
"I don't really know my way around any more," Rally admitted, but it didn't seem like this was that uncommon in their group. Were they a group? They peered out from under the hat once more. There certainly were a lot of them, if they weren't a group. They hadn't been in a group for a long time. It had just been them and Cricket, and they weren't sure whether or not that counted.

"But I don't really know where I'm going, either, so maybe it doesn't matter. The sign on the road say Tullybrook, so I thought I would go that way, but I think I'll go a different way now. One that's less soggy. And has bridges! Or a ferry. Or - or if we walk long enough I suppose the sun will come out and it will dry up and then we can just wade across? But that might take a few weeks. But I'm not in a hurry..."

They seemed to debate this in the sort of way that was usually internally, except they were also talking themself through it, so perhaps it was externally after all. "Why are you all going there, anyway? What's in Tully's Brook?"
Be a lot of backtracking to find another bridge I’m afraid, and ‘sides I’d think that the best bridge on the creek would have been this one.” Sae said, crossing her arms. “If there’s a split we could find that should help reduce how deep the water is as well.” She added, more to herself than the group. With how high the water already is, that might make for only a marginal difference anyway.

But, aye, as long as there’s somewhere safe to cross, I can get us there one way or another.” Sae said with a confident nod of her head. “Be more productive than waiting here for the rains to pass at least.” Her attention turned to the shortest one hidden away beneath a rather floppy hat. Seemed a young one for traveling, though it wasn’t like Sae really knew what was young or old.

They say it’s a city of dreams, Tullysbrook, so long as you have the fortune's favor.” Sae laughed at that. “For myself, there are some beasties I’ve been looking for, and I hope learn where I might find them.
"City o' Dreams the half o' it," Abryxia added, grin widening. "They got spires a thousand feet tall as far as the eye can see, as many people as a ten o' hundred towns livin' in em - anythin' ye wanna buy, ye can find there, from ancient secrets, to two-headed goats, to big floppy hats that whisper in yer ear the most outlandish o' tales."

She tweaked the brim of Rally's hat with her finger.

"Finest foods, and most talented o' artists, an' - as I hear it - every book ever bound. Every. Single. One, oath."

Squelching her boots to the edge of the road, she gathered her skirts and began to walk down the overgrown riverbank.

For me, I wanna play at the Aurelium Alto. Earn meself a voucher and get meself a patron." She patted the worn, battered lyre strapped to her back. "Been practicin' all me life to be somethin' worth somethin'. Just gotta get lucky, now, I hope."
"Father says it's a chaotic mess, and I couldn't get mother to speak of the place," Viviane began, turning her horse to follow after Abryxia, though further from the waters edge. "The bards sing it's praises, though, and travelers and merchants have told me wonderful tales. From the way they speak, I'm not sure what isn't in Tullybrook."

As they stepped away from the well traveled path that was the Road to Tullybrook, the Lady took a moment to answer the hat's first question. "As for what I am traveling for, it's to learn. For education, at Lamplight College. It is tradition, for my family, and most others of noble descent. I can't imagine I will be the only one making the journey this time of year," she said, voice clearly displaying her thorough disinterest at the idea of attending a school for the likely several years necessary. "I only hope I have time to actually see the city, once I've arrived. Perhaps I will be able to find the time to attend one of your shows, miss Abryxia?"
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A little bit of a jingle, a little bit of a jangle, and a whole lotta glasses tinkling announced the approach of a man whose steps seemed to make no sound in the mud. Nothing magical- no nothing like that- just a man who had practiced the art of walking until it was a finely tuned dance. Walking was a skill, after all, The Hat Man knew that very well. There were just so many people who didn't understand it! The weight of each step, the speed at which the foot is picked up, and the little sliding motion you had to make in mud to keep a sure foot...

A dance. No other word for it.

But not one without its drawbacks, of course of course, as his fine black boots and fine black pants had found themselves splattered with mud. Oh that wouldn't do at all! He'd have to clean them before Tullybrook, he'd just absolutely have to. A wide, white-toothed smile across his concealed features, he smiled at his own shoes before smiling forward at the windy-straight path that lead to a bridge-

er, well, a bridge should've been there. But instead, people! How wonderful! The smile widened even further as little red eyes flickered out from underneath the wide-brimmed black hat. People meant customers and customers meant money! Approaching as he, hopefully, found a natural lull of back-and-forth questions in the ongoing conversation, The Hat Man twirled his fingers and spoke up.

"Well well howdydoo friends unmet and acquaintances unknown! Mayhaps I mightn' be allowed to grace your presences for a little while? It do be seemings that the ol' bridge has up and walked itself off! How unfortunate!"

For someone so tall, so dark, and so 'spooky,' his voice was as high-pitched as a songbird. His voice simply did not fit his frame, not one bit. But he made sure, as he was talking, to tip his hat in each person's direction. To the Teifling, the young woman, the elf, and the younger woman. Four hat tips. Not his favorite number, he liked five better, so he tipped his hat to the horse too. Five was a good number.
T'would be a right honor, m'Lady," Abryxia replied warmly - though, she doubted anyone like her would frequent the places she'd likely end up playing. Aurelium Alto was a dream - a dream of any artist to wear the golden ribbon on their chest, to proudly proclaim themselves the finest pick of any patrons in the city. But -

She could dream, couldn't she? It was free to do, and freely made, and freer still to keep.

Almost loosing her boot in a particularly nasty bit of mud, she opened her mouth to speak, again, then promptly closed it when a voice she didn't recognize spoke up.

"Aye, sir, marched right down to bloody Southwater," Abryxia replied to the yet another traveler with a friendly smile and a wave. "We were all makin' our way along the bank to find some shallower cross. Miss Sae here thinks she can spot us safe."

The new man seemed a bit odd - it was still a bit overcast, so shadows were expected, but beneath the wide brim of his hat it was a bit of a struggle to make out his face, save for a wide white grin and a pair of red eyes. Beside that, he was quite tall, taller than anyone she'd ever met, and was dressed head to toe in fine black cloth.

The rumors of the Dark One came to mind, if only for a moment, and a cold chill ran from the nape of her neck to the tip of her tail. Unconsciously, she shifted a little closer to the rest of the group, keeping them between her and him.

"M' Abryxia, that's the fore said Miss Sae, this little one's Miss Rally, and the one on horse is the Good Lady Allard."

Then, after a slight pause.

"A pleasure, sir."