A Grim Discovery

Title: A Grim Discovery
Time Period: January 31, 135 A.E.
Characters Appearing:

Summary: Title is self-explanatory.

Early morning is a terrible time to be awake, by Mariah’s standards, anyway. But this morning, she’s up and even dressed and presentable for the sole purpose of meeting Cas for a walk before he has to be off to work. He’ll just have to forgive her mild sleepiness.

Dressed in a warm coat and gloves to combat the winter chill, she walks along a line of trees off and away from the population of Dornie, even the farms are a ways off. Purposefully. She carries with her only one simple object. A book.

It seems that the person Mariah's leaving to meet has already found someone to talk to, from the voice that can be heard in the distance through the trees, "I'm pretty good at catching fish, actually— it's the only thing I ever bothered to learn to hunt— mostly cause I can't bring myself to trap animals. Fish at least kinda… seems fairer." From his voice, Cas seems to be in a decent mood. Mornings are something he's far more used to. He's usually worked a few hours by this time of the day.

Sitting on a fallen tree, he holds a broken off branch in his hand, and wearing one of his nicer clothes, though still noticeably patched in places. His voice is directed toward someone not human, sitting nearby. A shaggy golden retriever, in fact. The familiar of the young woman who's meeting him. Who apparently met up with him first. "There's a stream right over that way— I'm sure you already know of it, living here for so long. You probably know more of the streams than I do."

It's hard to get a moment alone these days, if your name is Cordelia Ross. The young girl has to steal her private time in small doses, a moment here, a moment there. And she needs them. Cordie, not one for histrionics usually, finds that emotions overtake her too easily these days, and rather than let her mother or father see them, she tries to hide them away — or herself, if it's easier.

At the moment, she's hiding herself, in the guise of a quick walk in the area surrounding the Ross Manor. Argyle at her side for safety, she's managed to slip away from Jorn's watchful gaze and get a quiet moment in the fresh sunshine, cold as it is. That moment is too short-lived… the peace and quiet broken by Argyle’s deep booming bark as he lopes forward to paw at something, tail wagging.

Cordie follows, head tilted with curiosity until she sees what her deerhound has stumbled upon, and she cries out, even as she runs forward. “Argyle, No! Get away from that!” Looking back toward the road through, though she can’t see anyone, she cries out, “Help! Someone help! Someone’s hurt!” Her voice cuts through the copse of trees that separates her from the two walkers.

It's pretty normal for Mariah not to know exactly where her familiar is in the world, him being something of a secret and an indepentent creature by nature, he's not usually around her like other familiar are to their mages. It's also pretty normal to find Cas talking to some animal or another, a trait that happens to be adorable and manages to get a smile out of Mariah despite the cold and the hour. And even her familiar being around Cas isn't a terrible shock!

But him being in the form of a shaggy, golden-furred dog? That's a bit of a surprise. And it shows on Mariah's face when she approaches the pair, her smile dimmed by the furrow of her brow. She looks between the two, who are greeted by a confused expression rather than a more traditional hello.

However, both are saved whatever questions would follow when that voice cuts through the trees. Still— she does take a moment to lean over and press a kiss against Cas' cheek, as well as giving Masque a look before she nods the pair of them in that direction. Masque is up on his feet to follow, and he barks at Cas before running off toward the yell.

"Oh— hi," Cas is saying as he gets to his feet, face dimpled for a moment as she kisses him. "We were just— uh— " he starts on his awkward explaination of his somewhat onesided conversation with her familiar, not realizing the reason she might be surprised seeing them together. But the sound in the air keeps him from going into the whole thing. It probably would have taken a few minutes the way he can ramble.

Still a scream in the forest isn't what anyone wants to hear, especially sounds of someone being hurt. Masque responds first, as Cas raises his eyebrows in surprise and looks at his two companions. Once the shaggy golden retriever takes off, he nods to the woman he's with, as if deciding, and runs off after him. "We're on the way!" he even calls out, so the young voice he heard would know that help is coming.

Help with a stick?

Camouflaged by the sodden earth and damp, dead leaves is a hunter green wool coat— the kind favoured by some of Duncan Rowntree’s soldiers. It takes Cas and Mariah a moment or two to realize that this isn’t all there is; bundled in the fabric is the body of the man wearing it, a middle-aged soldier with a scruffy red beard caked with blood and gore. The corpse’s neck is twisted at an unnatural angle and his back bent like a marionette carelessly discarded on the ground, but it doesn’t seem likely that a broken spine is the cause of death.

This is because the gentleman’s throat has been savaged and torn out and his ribcage cracked open like a clam with thick strings of intestines laid bare and frozen solid by the winter chill. It’s been there for some time — long enough that the tracks left by the animal responsible have solidified too, preserved in the mud with the same fine detail as a millennia-old fossil.

At a glance, Mariah recognizes the corpse’s face: a member of the night patrol, like Algernon Fogg, and a frequent visitor to the Dovetail, though this one is no big loss. What she remembers most about him is that he never tipped very well.

By the time they make it through the trees, Cordelia is scuttling back from where she had been kneeled next to the man, looking for signs of life, looking for a way to help. But it’s clearly much too late for this man.

Despite seeing people die, despite her training for the past few months as a medic, seeing a corpse — knowing she just touched a corpse, and one long dead at that — is a shock for the girl who had just been kidnapped in the recent past. Cordie is pale, and she merely points when she sees Cas and Mariah, then curls into a ball. Her shaking hands cover her face, though the image is burnt into her memory. Closing her eyes won’t help.

When Mariah and Masque get in sight line of the girl, Masque breaks off and goes deeper into the trees to make sure there’s no dangers lingering around. But Mariah comes over to Cordelia first, putting her arms around the girl before she looks toward where the girl came from. She doesn’t go investigate just yet; her concern is more on the girl.

“Are you alright? You’re not hurt, are you, Cordelia?” Her voice is soft, and has that odd bit of comfort on it that comes in handy in times like these. The man that’s hurt is just going to have to wait for her attention, or for her to notice that he’s gone further than just hurt. “Are you here by yourself?”

The unfortunate thing is that Cas is the one here to see the ravaged man's body. Any color in his cheeks vanishes at first, and then is replaced by something decidedly different. He may be used to cleaning fish and he has birthed horses, but it's something else entirely to see a man's body torn up like that.

While Mariah comforts the girl, a retching sound can be heard a few feet away, behind a tree, and Cas reappears a moment later wiping his mouth with a handkerchief. And avoiding looking at the body, and likely wishing he skipped breakfast. "Sorry— not used to seeing— that." And he's not going to look to see it again. "Are you okay?" he repeats Mariah's question, while he covers up his mouth.

The questions from Mariah get a nod and then a shake of the head from Cordelia. Yes, she’s all right. No, she’s not hurt. Her hands are muddy from trying to help the man before realizing he was past all help. She keeps her head down, shielded from her hair as she takes a long deep breath to try to steady herself, and then she looks up.

Dark eyes are wet with tears that have been blinked away. “I need to go tell Jorn or my uncle,” she says, voice surprisingly steady if a little forced. “He’s a militiaman, isn’t he?” She’s not sure — though she knows most people in town by face, a night watchman is not someone she sees too often.

There is a glance back at the reaction Cas has to the sight, which is none too uplifting, but Mariah looks back to Cordelia swiftly enough. “Good idea. We’ll come along with you,” she says as she slips her coat off and moves to wrap it around the girl. It’s more for comfort and warding off shock than actually keeping her warm. Mariah even buttons it up a bit.

“Cas,” she says with a nod toward the girl. “Stay here. I’ll… see,” is her reply to Cordelia’s question, and she leaves her in Cas’ company instead as she goes to see if it is, indeed, a militaman. She knows a number of them, after all.

When she sees the corpse and the damage done, there’s not a peep from her that the others can hear, although Masque gets to endure her reaction unfiltered. She crouches down, possibly to restrict her field of vision to just the man’s face, instead of his mangled bits. The fact that she has to linger away from the others for a time before she can settle her expression enough to return without upsetting Cordelia is telling enough, but when she comes back, it’s with a rather stony expression.

“He’s from the night watch, yes. Come along, we shouldn’t… stay here, ey?”

"Do you think an animal may have done that? There's been some issue with dragons lately," Cas says quietly, wiping his mouth off again as he moves closer to the young lady he recognizes. "Hello again. It'd good to see you," he says, focusing all his attention on the young lady as opposed to what he doesn't want to have to look at again. It isn't something his stomach can handle, he's sure.

And he doesn't want to throw up in front of the ladies again either, when their stomachs seem more sturdy. The color remains out of his face, though, making him look even paler as his breath is visible.

"We'll stay with you until you get home, Cordy. I…" he looks around, then bends down and grabs his stick again. It won't be much use against a dragon, or whatever did that, but it makes him feel better. "We got two dogs to keep an ear open too," he says, looking toward both of the dogs. From the long look he gives to Mariah he's wanting to ask if she knows who it is, but— decides against it. "Think we can find the way back here? To— so they can see— the— " he waves his hand in the direction. He doesn't even want to call it a body. From the way his face seems to color, even thinking about it makes his stomach unsettle.

Cordie smiles shakily at Cas, and shrugs at his polite greeting — she’s pretty sure he’d rather not see her given the circumstances that brought him through the trees to her side. “Thanks,” she murmurs as she rises, reaching to push her hair out of her eyes.

Shielding those eyes from the sun, she turns to look toward her home, and back. “I can find it again. And Argyle can show them,” she says, looking for the dog who is examining the area, nose to the ground. She whistles to the hound to get his attention, but aside from a flick of an ear, he ignores her, much more interested in the scents to be found.

"I've never seen anything like that," Mariah says in reply to Cas, her tone just barelt above a whisper, "I couldn't begin to tell you." She reaches over to curl her fingers around his coat, hanging onto him like maybe, maybe she needs some steadying as well. But it's a brave face she gives to Cordelia, "Why don't you show us the way home? Hmm?"

She only breaks away from Cas to come over and slide an arm around the girl. And as she does, Masque comes trotting out of the trees as well. He steered clear of the body itself, far more concerned that whatever it is that did this might still be lingering about. But while Mariah stands with Cordelia, her familiar comes over to Cas' side with a sound woof.

Between the two dogs and the two young women, Cas has many things he can look at without thinking about the body laying not too far away. Part of him thinks he can still smell it, though. The smell of horse dung and soiled hay is a more welcome smell than what is over there. "Ey there," he says to Masque, ruffling the top of the dog's fluffy head as he moves away after the shaggy wolfhound.

"What you got there?" he asks, his voice hoarse and sore sounding, as he kneels down beside him, squinting through the underbrush. Lips pressed in a thin line, he looks over it and then straightens, as he moves back towards the two ladies. "I think— it may have been a wolf. Or a large dog maybe… There's— some tracks. They don't look like these guys'. And… less fresh." His lips compress toward one side of his mouth as he looks around again.

Argyle woofs as if in answer to Masque and then Cas, but Cordelia moves closer, brows knitting as she looks at the corpse. “I don’t know. Would a wolf do that to him?” She gestures at the ribcage. “A wolf or dog would probably eat him — especially a wolf — wouldn’t it? Not just kill and run? That seems not very wolflike. Or even doglike.” She glances at Argyle apologetically, before taking a few steps closer to kneel down and peer around the corpse — never mind she had her hands on him just moments before to try to administer first aid.

The corpse’s face is scratched, fur and blood beneath his finger nails when Cordelia lifts them and then places them gently back down. She stands, removing the capelet she wears to cover him.

“He fought, whatever it was. If it was a dog or a wolf… I don’t think it was a hungry one, though. Unless maybe he got scared off,” she says. The shock is worn off, and she has the air of a medical professional about her once again.

When not just Cas, but also Cordelia turn their attention back onto the dead person over there, Mariah sighs lightly and there is a lengthy hesitation before she turns around to follow after. Masque eyes the other dog for a moment himself before he follows after the others.

“I think the militia will be able to sort this all out, aye?” Mariah says when she’s back in speaking distance, her gaze falling anywhere but the corpse this time around. Mostly the tree trunks get her attention. They’re very interesting. “Cordelia, we should go rouse them. Aye?” She’s not actually saying please, but, you know, it’s pretty close.

Oh, Cas is still avoiding looking at the body as much as possible. The ground around it in some ways too. As Cordelia examines more closely he can't help but stare at her, which catches some of the sight in the edge of his vision… And he has to scrub his hand over his mouth more than once. At least he avoids retching behind a tree again. For the moment. "You're a tough girl," he admits quietly. "It could be a lot of things— we should listen to Mariah and let the professionals figure it out. I'm just a stable boy. If we want to know why a horse would do something then I could probably come up with a thought, but wolves…" He shakes his head.

Wolves aren't something he knows much of. But he knows he doesn't want to know if they do that.

He does agree with Mariah, though, from the way he steps away and turns to face her. Any hint of those smiles he was trying to force onto his face have disappeared for the moment. And he's looking up at the near trees, as if trying to judge which ones could be climbed up in an emergency. And he's fingering something around his neck under his shirt with the hand not grasping a stick.

“Yeah, I can,” Cordelia replies, not commenting on whether she’s “tough” or not. She’s spent a few too many nights crying to consider herself that, but if she wants to do what Aislinn does, she has to be strong enough to face death. It might take her a few moments to gather her composure, but then it’s just a body, just a set of symptoms.

Or at least she can lie to herself and tell herself that.

“This way,” she says, moving toward the manor, Argyle bounding toward his home ahead of them.

Mariah tries very hard not to look overly relieved when the girl starts to move in a much less bloody and disgusting direction, but there is a bit of it there, and she hops to and follows along. She doesn’t move to comfort the girl this time, she may just agree with Cas about her being tough. Tougher than Mariah anyway.

Masque only waits around to make sure Cas follows before he takes up the rear. He may just be playing the guard dog role just now, in making sure the wolf, or whatever it may be, doesn’t decide to add another corpse to the pile.

“It’s quite a profession you’ve chosen for yourself,” Mariah eventually says to the girl, however ironic the statement may be. Still, she is impressed, that much is clear, at least.

Before Cas moves to follow, they hear him spit a few times on the ground, likely trying to remove any remaining bile from his mouth. Unattractive, and he's likely going to be scrubbing his teeth as soon as possible, but his mood is somewhat diminished by the event. "It's a remarkable profession, just too bad you couldn't actually help that guy," he responds to Mariah's words, though seems to be speaking to the young lady as he moves to catch up, still carrying his stick. It must make him feel better, because he grips it tightly in his hands.

"But at least you found him, so we can warn people. Keep an eye out for… what did this…" He says quietly, as he casts his eyes about, certainly planning to do that while they walk. There's the beginning of another nervous few words, as talking probably helps his nerves, but it gets cut off as he stumbles over a rotted tree branch. The words turn into an "Ow" as he limps a few more steps until he walks straight again, expression sheepish. He's definitely the kind of guy women want to lead them through a dangerous wood, right?

“It has its moments,” Cordelia says quietly, hands shoving into the pockets of her trousers now that she’s given up her capelet.

“This isn’t one of them.”

Just in case they were wondering.