For your weekend reading enjoyment, we bring you In the Shadow of Virtue - Lost and Found, Part 1 through 4 . [size=+1]In the Shadow of Virtue - Lost and Found, Part 1 [/size] Amber Turner 26 Feb 2010 15:59:49 EST Sherry’s whiskers shivered with anticipation as she crept between the aging stones of the castle. She’d suspected for quite some time that something lay behind the oddly foreshortened wall of the throne room, but it wasn’t until recently that she’d been able to find a place where the stones at the base were weakened enough to force a way through. Clearing away the crumbled stone had taken several tail-wrenching trips until a few of the castle servants began offering helpful hands. The end result was a new mouse hole and a dust coated Sherry but no amount of debris in her fur could detract from the thrill of discovery: soon she would be where no mouse had been before! The air was close; chokingly full of dust and heavy with time. As she pulled herself through the tight confines of the hole and into the chamber beyond Sherry blinked in surprise. The area was faintly illuminated! Nervously casting about for the source of the glow, Sherry fastened her gaze upon a small bundle of what appeared to be silk. The source of the illumination was coming from within. Gingerly Sherry extended a claw to prod at the dusty fabric only to recoil with a startled squeak as the aging cloth parted and tore, disintegrating to reveal a strange translucent shape. Tail in claw, Sherry edged closer to investigate… [size=+1]In the Shadow of Virtue - Lost and Found, Part 2 [/size] Mark Steelman 13 Apr 2010 16:21:05 EST Captain Avery stood before Queen Dawn at attention, even though with Lord Francesco dead he wasn’t technically a member of any militia. Old habits from old identities die hard, thought Sherry. A few moments earlier, Captain Avery had entered the chamber and found Queen Dawn and Dexter the Mage in an animated debate. He didn’t seem to notice Sherry the mouse, with whom they had also been speaking, because she was under the edge of the sofa by one of the legs. All three of them had stood as he entered the room; their shame in his presence was palpable. “Oh, I’m sorry to interrupt, your highness. I will come back later.” “Please come in. We are discussing something that concerns you.” said Dawn, almost apologetically. “Yes, your highness.” And thus he had sprung to attention. “At ease, Captain.” Dawn’s usual verve was returning and she smirked. “This isn’t an inspection.” She extended her hand to him to welcome him. Avery stepped forward, took her hand and bowed until his forehead touched the back of it. Well, at least he managed not to salute her again, Sherry thought. The queen blushed at his gallant, if awkward, gesture. “I trust that your accommodations here at the castle have been acceptable?” she fumbled. “Yes your highness, it is far above what I am accustomed to.” Avery said with a pleasant smile. He quickly added, “I meant to refer to when I was living in the barracks of Lord Francesco, of course.” Wow, thought Sherry, Now I bet Dawn and Dexter wish they were hiding under the sofa…. Avery is truly a remarkable man to resist bitterness after so much hardship, Sherry thought to herself. Eight months ago, after a distinguished military career, Avery had been framed by Casca for the murder of the royal council and thrown in Yew Prison pending execution. Only recently had he been absolved of the crime and released. It seemed that with all that had happened he had simply been forgotten. In an obvious attempt to say, “I’m really really really sorry we accidently left you in prison for eight months for a crime you didn’t commit,” Queen Dawn had made Avery her personal guest at the castle. Prison has changed him, thought Sherry. He seems more serene now. In earlier times when Sherry’d seen him in the castle, he was always rushing by, saluting, reporting, listening to new orders, and rushing off. Since his return from Yew, Avery spent most of his days in the gardens or out by the shore. He seemed to avoid the more bustling parts of Britain and preferred the grass and the sun and the sea. Even his clothes were more relaxed; linen shirts and soft leather boots were his uniform these days. “One of your charming tales led Sherry to make an important discovery.” Sherry noted that Dawn was becoming skilled at recovering from awkward social moments. It must come with practice. Sherry smiled to herself as she recalled the tale that had begun her quest. Avery certainly can do a spot-on imitation of Ricardo, she mused. Well, I suppose they spent enough time together in prison. In her mind, Sherry could see Avery hunched over, one eye wide, the other squinted, his fingers waving near his head to resemble Ricardo’s shaggy and disheveled hair. “Lord British’s Vault is a place of legend among us thieves! It contains expensive things, things what have the added value of belonging to Lord British himself! Among its treasures be items such as The Crystal of Duplicity; the very one which Lord British took from Minax when she infiltrated Trammel…” Avery turned from Dawn and looked directly at her, “Uh-oh, Sherry, what have you been up to?” His sudden acknowledgement snapped her out of the daydream and spooked her. Was she so easy to spot? She resisted the urge to scurry farther under the sofa. “I found the vault… and the crystal.” said Sherry, holding her ground. “Surely you are joking.” Avery turned back to Dawn with a quizzical look. “That was just a mad story from a poor wretch of a man.” “Mad or no, the crystal exists, and it is here. We’re just trying to decide if we should let the cat out of the bag.” said Dawn. “And, of course… how to get the bag open.” Sherry frowned. She had asked Dawn to stop using that expression. It was inconsiderate. “But there is more,” said Dawn with a look of glee. “Tell him, Dex.” “Oh, um, ok.” said Dexter, eyeing both Dawn and Avery. “Well, my research suggests that the crystal Sherry describes matches one owned by Nystul… The Nystul… the one that split Trammel from Felucca and created a spell over Trammel to protect it…” “I know who Nystul is, Dexter.” said Avery, nodding. “The short version, please, Dex.” said Dawn impatiently. Dexter grimaced but continued, “Well, if my theory is correct, this crystal actually…” “He thinks he can use it to break the curse and restore Magincia!” blurted Dawn. “We have been trying to rebuild there for so long I can hardly believe it! Avery, I want you to lead the team to get this done.” Dexter’s mouth hung open in mid sentence and Avery’s eyes opened wide. “Oh” sputtered Avery. Then he composed himself and cast his eyes to the floor. “My dear queen, while I am deeply honored by this offer, I cannot accept. I had actually come to tell you I am leaving…. I think I need time to know I am free before I can take on the yoke of service again.” --- A short time later, Sherry and the Queen watched Avery leave the palace and walk out the gate. Sherry felt a tear come to her eye. She had briefly considered going with him. She knew she would miss him and she always felt better when he was around. She could tell that Dawn felt that way too. [size=+1]In the Shadow of Virtue – Lost and Found, Part 3 [/size] Mark Steelman 30 Apr 2010 18:05:00 EST Private Crag was proud of himself. He had made the big time. No more pickpocket nonsense for me. No more back alley dice games to make ends meet. I’ve finally got a legitimate job. Crag watched from his post at the door of the dimly lit room. There were only two people in this room besides himself and they were way above his pay scale. Yep, this is the big time. In the center of the room a glowing orb cast a faint blue light on a man in uniform and a woman dressed in an unusual outfit that was both revealing and intimidating. The man was a high ranking officer in the faction, Lieutenant Toadstone; the woman was no other than the dark mistress herself, Minax. Lieutenant Toadstone broke the silence, “See my mistress? It is as I told you. That which was lost has been found.” He smiled a cloying smile. “Indeed.” In the glowing crystal ball, Minax watched Queen Dawn, Dexter, Avery and Sherry the mouse as they discussed the discovery of Lord British’s vault a few weeks ago. “Toadstone, you have done well….” Minax picked up the ball from its stand and gripped it tightly. “Soon I will have my lost crystal again, and with Lord British gone there will be no one to stop me from ruling all of Trammel!” She let out a haughty laugh as she stared up at the tiny images. From his post at the doorway, Crag was impressed by the appropriateness of her laugh after making such a statement. This was exactly the kind of stuff he signed up for. “Now that we know where it is, how will we get it, my queen?” said Lieutenant Toadstone bowing. A blast of lightning threw Toadstone against the wall. “That is the wrong question, Toadstone!” Minax screeched. She immediately resumed her usual alluring posture and turned away coyly to put the crystal ball back on the stand. “Now, try again.” There was no answer. Then there was a thud. Minax turned back toward Toadstone sharply. He was lying face down on the floor in the shadow by one of the doors. Minax rolled her eyes, “Really, Toadstone, there is no reason to keep groveling. The correct question is, “YOU will get it for me.” Toadstone didn’t move. Crag watched Minax cross the room and as she bent over Toadstone he thought to himself, Being ignored has its privileges. Then the seriousness of the situation struck him and his attention snapped back to the moment. Minax was examining something. It looked like the peg of the coat rack had broken off the wall and was sticking out of the Lieutenant’s back. Minax pulled her hand back quickly and curled her lip in disgust. The disgust quickly turned to annoyance. She stood up and looked around to see if anyone had noticed what happened. The lone witness was Crag. As she stood over Toadstone’s body looking at Private Crag though her thick mascara, Minax smiled at Crag the way a swamp dragon smiles at a bogling. “What is your name, guard?” “Crag, mistress.” Private Crag knew what being the lone witness to an embarrassing situation could mean and was trying to decide if he could run fast enough to escape Toadstone’s fate. “Lieutenant Toadstone just left for Magincia to spy on the Council of Mages; he won’t be back for several days…. Do we have an understanding?” “Yes mistress. Would you like me to dispose of the body?” Minax smiled a big red smile, her large teeth glistening. “You are doing well in your new position as Lieutenant... but no.” With a casual gesture, Minax opened a rune gate and with another blast of lightning she sent the late Lieutenant Toadstone flying through it. Crag gulped. “Would you like me to find out how to get your crystal back?” “An excellent idea, Lieutenant Crag. How do you plan on doing that?” Minax was now standing right in front of him and her strange perfume was muddling his mind. Crag’s years in the back streets of Britain made him good on his feet. Hopefully, they made him good enough to survive his new promotion. “Umm… I was planning to go to the port of Cove… and err… buy some information.” Minax stared him in the eyes for a moment as if she were searching for something. Then she straightened her back, winked at Crag, and turned away to leave. “Do you need money, Lieutenant?” Crag was relieved that his first meeting with Minax was going so well and that it was ending, but it was not over yet, her spell casting hand was still glowing. He quickly checked to see that the wall behind him was flat and smooth. “No mistress, I was planning to steal something for bribes.” Minax stopped, turned to Crag with a big, dangerous smile. “Good answer, Lieutenant. I knew I picked the right man for the job.” She winked again, “Now, if you really want to impress me, steal the chest Sir Geoffrey was using a few weeks ago to bribe those mercenaries in Britain. That will show these do-gooders.” “Yes ma’am.” Crag watched breathlessly as Minax passed the doorway, turned, and disappeared down the hall. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly to make sure she wouldn’t hear. Well, he thought, it looks like being lieutenant is going to be a whole lot like being a kid in Buc’s Den. That’s fine; field work suits me better anyway. These stone floors in Minax’s secret fortress are killing my back. [size=+1]In the Shadow of Virtue -Lost & Found, Part 4 [/size] By Amber Turner 01 Jul 2010 17:59:52 Sherry cautiously inched her way across the throne room beneath the unwavering stare of the Queen’s Elite Guard. With the sheer amount of dust and debris in the air it was no wonder they wore masks to protect their airways. Unfortunately such common sense seemed to hold little weight among the castle staff. I don’t care what anyone says. Those masks don’t look like beards. Or fangs. This room, however, IS a horrid mess. Sherry’s whiskers twitched with amusement. Trust a human to make a mess of a mouse hole. Queen Dawn had wasted little time after hearing Sherry’s news. Frankly, Sherry saw it as a sign of Dawn’s queenly experience that she had waited at all before initiating her own personal excavation. Dawn as commander would have simply walked in and knocked down the entire wall. Dawn as Queen however had managed to sit still long enough to pay lip service to magic centric pontifications of the wise. Good thing she didn’t wait too long. The longer we leave it back here the more likely it is the tail-wrenching thing will go missing. Of course now we have a whole different nest of problems. The immediate results of Queen Dawn’s brief foray into demolition were fast becoming a public relations nightmare. Audiences had been suspended until the artifact could be retrieved and the throne room cleared of rubble. The mere presence of the Queen’s Elite Guards were causing a stir and nothing the Queen, her counselors nor Sherry herself could say seemed potent enough to stop the whispered conjectures of just what exactly was going on. Not that anyone particularly wanted to trumpet news of the discovery from the castle battlements until the crystal had been successfully retrieved, but, in Sherry’s opinion at least, the confusion was doing more damage than if they had employed that trumpeter in the first place. On top of it all someone had apparently gotten in to see Ricardo and was now spreading tales about his knowledge of the whole process. As if anyone can trust a thing that comes out of his mouth. Solitary confinement isn’t fit for man or mouse. Thankfully that breach of security was one problem that would not occur a second time. Queen Dawn’s blistering lecture on proper protocol and procedure had seen to that. Looking up at the chest-sized hole in the northern wall, Sherry smiled. The hole wasn’t really that bad of work for a first timer. A little rough around the edges but not bad. Not bad at all. Now we just have to get the blasted thing out.