On to Petria!

So a handy personal account found from our Chantris neighbors has pointed our heroes in the direction of a shadow not too far Alhambra, while those following life trail might miss it as it seems nothing special the account given fortunately gives the navigators enough to know that this seemingly unremarkable dusty savannah is actually their destination. Fortunately it's less wild than the jungles of the last place but it's sun-baked and HOT! However that does mean that when a road appears on a distant hillside that it's easy to make out. A few hours of following that road and a they come across grain fields as far as the eye can see, the baked savannah given some relief from irrigation ditches which nourish the soil. Another hour of travel and they see a walls of what looks to be a massive city and caravans of camels and mules now regularly pass back and forth.

Chase rides along, sweat upon his brow, "Why is it the Path of life cannot seem to manage a course where the climate is bearable...I understand the jungle, teaming with life all that...but this place..." he huffs, and takes a deep drink from his water bottle.

The sun-baked desert heat had found Lucian not choosing the form of a man but the form of a dragon. His wings tucked to his side as he kept pack with Lady Izett's mount. His tongue flickering out to taste the desert air. "The desert teams with life. It's just harder to see than a jungle. You just didn't choose the right form." He looks to the Countess, "How do you fare, my love?"

Given following an ancient life trail is by no means an exact science, Quina was pleased to have some clue from Chantris as to which direction to take. Of course, it's not the more pleasant climate, but she seems to handle the heat very well. Of course, along the way people have come and gone, trumping to and from Amber as other duties needed them. The road is mostly uninteresting, though the flora-inclined Duchess Mandrake collects samples along the way because that's the kind of thing she does. She smiles a little to Chase's comment, and says "Each place represents an aspect of Mandrake, I think. At least, I see an aspect of us in each."

When they reach the irrigated fields, Quina's eyebrows rise in appreciation. "Fields such as these, in a climate such as this, represents an impressive amount of effort by the people." She studies those ditches as they pass, then her attention shifts towards the city they approach. "Hm." She pauses to consider, then says to those in dragon form "Human, please. Let's save the dragons for a delightful surprise should it be needed."

Izett rides along the path. Her leather vest slipped off to be tucked into her packs. She has instead opted for a large silk scarf draped over her head and down about her shoulders to ward off the blaze of the sun. She smiles warmly to her husband, "Melting, certainly not like home but adapting." she nods in agreement to Quina's observation but, keeps the thoughts of it all to herself.

Wulf rides astride Uruz -- the yak, much the same way as he had been in the jungle, is bedecked with a good amount of icicles on his long hair, where it hasn't been braided. The bull looks considerably like a small child went to town braiding all his long hair though, holding it in clumps to allow some circulation. His rider though, has stripped down to his trews, sat there in the saddle, regularly spritzing himself with ice particles to evaporate on his skin. At this rate, he might even get a sun tan. "Clever with water flow. Some old places Wulf has seen, where old cleverness shows through." He muses. No wolves this time, but he did bring the pigs and a raven high in the sky wings along.

Quina says that none too soon as a caravan crests a hear, come a face to face with a dragon, and all hell breaks loose as humans panic and camels lope and kick, going off in their own ways each leaving a trail of dust. The rest of the way into the city is uneventful. Wagons laden with grains, produce, and textiles come and go from the large gate leading through most intimidating stone walls. The streets are narrow and given that the thick stone walls contain the city the streets are narrow and the traffic in some places is shoulder to shoulder. There loud calls of vendors, men on stands ranting about the end, or how to achieve...happiness, romance, etc. the strange thing is in spite of the bustling city there are arches, and bald, tattooed men just about at EVERY intersection, rooftop, and public establishment. It's not long until someone suggesting a conspiracy concerning the validity of a public official is seized, shackled, and carted off. It's about then that there's both the ringing of a bell and the blowing of many horns announce something and everything just STOPS. The whole city-save for those tattooed guards suddenly lock down their businesses or stop their toiling and all begin to shuffle into the heart of the city.

Chase looks though he is about to say something smart-ass to Luc, but all hell seems to break loose. He brings his horse to a halt and raises his fist to stop the groups progress, "this does not bode well." he says and glances to Quina, "I think we should exercise some caution here..." he pauses and frowns "what the hell is wrong with me...I would never say anything like that..."

Disaster adverted for the most part, Lucian has returned to his human form. He rides next to Izett his own face and head hidden by a linen shawl to prevent dust from blowing into his face. "I still say they need to learn to lighten up." Though he frowns as people close shop all but the guards. He looks to Chase, "I agree."

Not really a surprise, when the dragon presence spooks locals. Proof that switching to human before they reach the city is a good idea. She can't help smiling to Chase, when he says something so remarkably un-Chase-like. The terrible things responsibility does to a man...

Once through the gates and inside the walls, of course, Quina's senses take in all they can about the place and the people. It's not at all hard to get the sense of oppression here, and her lips purse. When that bell rings, she looks to the others for a moment, then says "Shall we see what's about to happen? Perhaps get some better sense of the place?"

Izett continues to ride along as if all the shops closing up around them is of no significance. Her movements very lady like, very proper. The scarves draped about her continue to protect her from the rays of the sun, the dust of the road. Her gaze traveling around her watching, listening, the proverbial tourist mannerisms watching some unusual custom.

Wulf lifts his attention high to the lonely figure of the single raven in the sky, whistling sharp to her, then giving a few ca'kaw calls, directing her eyes when she drops them to look at the party, to the center of the city, with a gesture of his arm in a straight line. Arrow! Go look! He quiets afterwards, the pigs milling about the yak's flank and his attention unfocusing. He's a million miles away. Or rather, up there, in a birdbrain.

Ruby lopes along with the group. Barefoot and relying on her own two feet. Giving horses and mounts a wide berth and soaking up the desert climate fine and dandy. Avoiding encumbering clothes and displaying a large amount of tattoos for anyone watching. She breathes a little easier when human forms predominate, though steers clear of the animals, wrinkling her noses at them.

Most citizens are carrying baskets, chests, some push wheelbarrows or packed livestock. Everyone seems to be filing into a large arena Most women and children file into the stands and bleachers which are lined with shaded boxes for the catered elite while the rest sit in the sun-baked mud and wood of the shelves that make up the benches. Most of the men but also some women and children file into the main arena, all those who have livestock, baskets, chests, etc. There are many armed guards and what looks like a stage is just before the luxury boxes with what looks like a handful of officials and scribes. There's carefully controlled chaos, people filing in looking for seats, people filing into a long line that wraps into the arena, and in the center are a handful of armed guards and one official who has a servant holding a shade up seems to be accepting and notating the goods that people deliver while the guards load up wagons. The stage? Seems to be a trial. Or rather the official motions of trials which seems to be arbitrary and where everyone seems to be found guilty with most lasting only a few minutes. Wulf's bird can see the entire city seems to be filing towards the stadium, only those stern-faced guards remaining-and a few finding those who didn't move to attend quickly enough, pulled out of buildings-and shoved on their way.

Chase again pauses, "this does not look good at all..." he murmurs, "I am not sure we should follow your Grace, this whole thing smacks of religious persecution..." he frowns looking toward the stage, "my bet is the guilty will be beheaded...let me beat the truth from one of the guards?"

Lucian says "I'm not so sure about that Chase. It looks like they're fined what ever they bring with them. I don't like it. But I'm not seeing any beheadings. The problem is if they try to put one of us on trial."

Quina considers Chase's words. "We should not start by assaulting the authorities, no. I have great faith in our collective ability to handle the situation." Uh huh. It's like she's never met House Mandrake. She leads the group towards the center with all the rest, to watch the proceedings. Of course, they probably can't help but stand out. Quina's dressed for her station as Duchess Mandrake, and really, they all stand out in their own ways. Especially Wulf and Ruby, being so large. She does ask someone nearby, very quietly so to not interrupt what's going on, "Pardon, but we're new to this place. What city is this?"

Izett watches, listens to the others in the group. She remains perched upon her horse following the decisions of the others with her features shadowed beneath the silk scarf draped over her head and shoulders. She glances toward Lucian for a moment before going back to people watching, green eyes taking on a hint of the light with the tilts of her head.

Wulf seems like an invalid of brain at the moment, lolling in the saddle, guided on by uruz following the directives of the lead horse and such. The giant's face is impassive, vacant -- Meanwhile, elsewhere, that raven lands on one of the highest spires around the arena, looking about and about, then flitting to a few different spots until she's found the best view of the action down below, to watch people, trials, trails, wagons, offerings, and all, counting heads. Bald tattooed heads, that is and she can count to twenty! When it gets higher than that, there tends to be twenty-many, which is not so helpful.

Ruby tries to meander her way over towards Chase's position. Being tall has some viewing advantages. She brushes at her face with a calloused hand to remove travel grit and sand, following up with a healthy squirt of water in her mouth via a water skin. Precious spillage runs down the corners of her mouth and onto her torso where it can evaporate all in good time. The tattoo bedecked souls garner a lot of her interest. Where it should perhaps engender some amicable feelings, there's instead a dollop of suspicion. Stranger Danger.

The lean, thin farmer with a basket full of carefully packed eggs looks down and frowns. New? That seems to surprise him but he answers, "Petria. Tithes wait in line." he points to the growing line winding around the inside of the heart of the colosseum. He notices the fancy attire but had she been important she would have surely been met by an official. The guards are watching them with interest because, yup. They do stand out.
All those found guilty are lead off by armed guards to where cages are built into the wall of the colosseum, those cages are filling up fast.

Chase has dismounted before entering the arena, he glances to Ruby, then turns his attention to the guards, "I'll follow your lead your Grace...I do not like any part of this." he looks to the farmer "What is Petrina?" he asks.

Lucian looks to Chase, "I take it back what with the cages." He leans close to Izett. "You seeing much in the way of spirits?" His voice low and meant only for her or at least not for outsiders. He didn't need yells of witch witch aimed at the misses.

Quina eyes linger briefly on each of the others, as though taking in what they are doing and how they might be prepping in case there is trouble. One thing there isn't in her expression is any doubt of their capabilities. When the farmer replies, she nods slowly to him. The name seems to be familiar to her. "The right place, then. We have come to consult with the Family, not to tithe." she says then. "With whom should we speak, for that?" She turns then to Chase, and says "Petria is city mentioned in an account found by Chantris. Mandrake once was tied to this place." Then Lucian asks Izett about spirits, and she looks interested.

Izett continues to keep very quiet, though normally rather pale she becomes all the more so looking around. Her head tilting as if she is listening to Lucian, leaning over and whispering as if whispering to him but for any watching just her gaze it is likely not the case. Her posture grows more straight, more noticeably ready to go into action. Her hand reaches out to slip into that of Lucian's leaning over to whisper to him for she doesn't seem to dare to speak loudly. A look is given to Quina, then Chase and then back to Lucian while a hand slips the scarf she is wearing.

Wulf shakes his head a few times as he comes back to his senses, "Twenty many-many-many. That not good," he murmurs, looking down and around at the people about the party, over at Quina as she begins to speak again, grinding his jaw lightly. He slips off of Uruz' back standing to his full height, to hunt in his saddlebags for a clean shirt. Presenting to family, one should not be bare chested and brawny, right? He also checks his weaponry tied to the saddle with the same attention, looking down on humans half his size with jovial nods. He murmurs to the party "There are many many of the tattooed ones. Enough for problem, if they get organized."

Izett mutters to Lucian, "... a... are... safe.... do... bring..."

Privately, to Quina, Izett glances toward you, it is very definitely a look of warning. Her complexion has grown pale, as though she's just seen something utterly awful even for a Feldane. She flickers her glance toward something valuable you are carrying, that looks obviously valuable anyway and then toward the offers of others seeming to indicate that is what they are seeking in the tithes. Very definitely she gives off a warning of danger, a lot of danger.

Ruby provides a little extra elbow room via her anti-cuddly personality that radiates from her in a focused sphere. She adds a glance packed with promises to the inhabitants that challenge her. Sniffing, she peers over heads at the cages and seems quite interested. "Ooooo, loike livestock."

Privately, to Izett, Quina nods slowly, accepting her experience in the matter.

The air around Chase grows a little cooler, but little more in the form of a display of raw power, subtlety maybe? Chase drops his hand to the sword at his hip, the muscles of his arm and neck growing tense "Beware Your Grace...I stand by my first impression of this place..."

The gray-haired heavily wrinkled woman next to the tall farmer squints, "The family? You came here for a children's tale?" Another voice pipes in, "Shhhh, Shhh, they'll HEAR you!" And yet another, "I hear it's no children's take." Another SHHHH "You'll get us thrown in with the rest to be tested by the gods!"

Meanwhile the wagons are overloaded, and led out, replaced with empty wagons which are then loaded up. Each family seems to give up a very generous portion-what for many amounts to a whole month's worth of food or income.

Also. The Mandrake Clan are being nudged forward, apparently the line for Tithes is pushing them along.

Lucian frowns and nods to Chase and then he looks to Quina, "Your Grace.... We should leave and leave now. This is not where we want to be." He says bluntly. "Our it's going to become one of those situations." His fingers intertwine with Izett's. He gives it a squeeze. "Be prepared for a fight. If we stay."

Quina eyes move to Izett, and she nods slowly to whatever she sees in the other woman's expression. "Perhaps... we will offer something." she decides. "It is the respectful thing to do in a new land." From under the neckline of her dress she draws out the large gold pendant she wears there for some occasions. It is gold, and the image of the Mandrake Dragon. She's had several commissioned, for occasions like this one. It's both a convenient gift, and a good way to see whether someone's seen it before. Perhaps on a banner or in a history book. Her eyes shift towards Chase, and she says "I share the opinion, but we need more information, and the opportunity to learn slows significantly once hostility begins." Then there's reactions to her mention of the Family, and she replies quietly "I see things have gone wrong here, too..." She lets them follow the line, her gift ready. To Lucian, she says "We are prepared for a fight." Her lips purse though, and she looks around for another sense of how deep they are in it... and reaches into a pouch for a trump. Gerard's.

Izett glances over toward Quina as she tucks something away at her side reaching over to tuck something away from Lucian. Her hand squeezing his tightly. When her gaze falls upon what Quina intends to offer up she cringes and her grip on Lucian's hand tightens in warning. Swallowing she looks around quickly shaking her head slightly at Quina but certain it is too late for all of these people not to see the glint of gold.

Wulf gazes on around the cages, the situation and with his head upon one side, looks at Quina. "Give me," he says, with a shrug. "Wulf is impressive enough, your worker and big man. Perhaps demonstrate use, then will present demand to speak to big hat?" Nodding over at the tither, then peering up the hill. "Wulf does not mind. They cannot hold him for all that long." Quite cheerful about the notion of being given up as a slave, it seems.

Ruby wads up precious moisture in her mouth and sends it to the ground when the G-word is uttered. She reaches up and literally thumbs at the edge of her nose. She leans in to mutter something colourful to Chase when she notes his tension. It raises her eyebrows and she indulges in some unselfish attempts at empathy to guess the cause. She passes a hand through the cooler climate near him. "What's rubbin your scales tha wrong way? Seems...Orderly...enough. Busy-ness is busy-ness. Customs, roight?"

Chase leans in to whisper to Ruby.
Chase mutters to Ruby, "... senses something,... has... sees... off."

They are not up just yet but they are getting near the front of the line. This family who gave three barrels of beer are all escorted to the cages - in spite of pleas for mercy and claiming that was all that they produced. The stadium is about full and nobles and wealthy are being entertained by private entertainers while the common-folk bake in the midday head on stone benches or waiting in line.

The mandrake clan are next, however.

Chase cracks his neck, one might expect this to be the beginning of a full threat display from Dragon Chase, sadly his human form lacks the impressive crest and frills, still a low rumble escapes his throat, "Now?" he asks Quina as the family is led off, "I think order needs to be restored..."

Lucian stands ready. His hand slipping from his wife's hand and going to rest on the handle of his sword. He's ready to fight. He glances at Izett. "If need to go. Go. I will follow as soon as I can." He not happy about any of this.

Quina eyes drop to the trump in her hand. When Gerard answers, she says quietly "Our present situation looks to become violent very soon." She offers him her hand to join them. "A show of force is needed." To Chase and Lucian, she nods for them to shift as it becomes their turn. Time to show who and what they all are. Her pendant, more suited at the moment as a badge of office, is left where it is for the moment, about her neck.

Izett slowly slips her hand from her husbands and reaches for one of the pouches on her saddle shaking her head to Lucian if he's staying, clearly so is she at least for now. Her hand slipping into a pouch of her horse and pulling out what looks to be a heap of rags odd though the rags may appear if the Mandrakes are showing their true nature, it is clear she's likely about to show hers as well.

Gerard is drawn through the mystical communion of the trumps, stepping through and leaving a rainbow afterimage that lingers on him for a few seconds. It is not the most grand of entrances, certainly, but neither is it the most subtle. He looks down to Quina with an arched brow before gazing about the grand stadium and the lines of sacrifices. "Huh."

Wulf blinks, looking a little perplexed, but then simply shrugs and goes with the flow, cracking his spine as he stands to his full height, then quite quietly mounts up on his yak again, glancing down at the pigs that came with them all and murmuring in kitezhka to Uruz. The yak lifts his head, lows long and heavy. No weapon in Wulf's hand though, not just yet.

Ruby raises up onto her balls of her feet. A little stretching and bobbing as she catches some of the tension and adopts it for herself. She shows her teeth and looks from Chase to Quina. Gerard's appearance has her cringing back some and her lips come together in an overbite. She turns away from the leaders of the expedition and eyes routes in and out of the stadium.

There's a gasp and skittering away from the sudden appearance of a prince most epic. The guards notice this but they didn't seem to see the entrance so they eye the Mandrake clan suspiciously but make no motion. Yet. An impatient official beckons them and points to the ground, "Your offerings." is demanded.

Chase smiles his form blurring, when he comes into focus, a white Dragon stands where a moment before a man was. His crest rises fully, his frills flex as the ice drake puffs up to his full impressive self. His wings flap sending an icy gust of wind across the tithe takers stage, his slit pupiled eyes rest upon them. Still Chase is nothing if not friendly, his lips curl back to offer them a dagger toothed smile. (it might look a bit more like a snarl then a smile)

Lucian nods to Izett as she reaches for her cloak. There's even a slight chuckle. His form shifting rippling and where a man stood is now a horned flying lizard. His tongue flickers. He stands defensively next to Izett his tongue lashing out to taste the air.

While Quina's eyes are in Gerard as he appears, she is certainly as aware as possible of the reactions around them. Both to his appearance and the shifting of two of their company from human to dragon. And seeing as they are going for confrontational rather than placating, she then looks at the official and says loudly enough for her voice to carry "We are Mandrake, at last returned. You may do us the honor of presenting us." Oh, this won't end well. On the plus side, Celeste will have occasion to lecture her. Who doesn't love that?

Izett slips down from her horse as her husband moves to shift. With that she swirls out with the movement to drape about her shoulders. The flowing fabric takes on a life of its own, legends speak of Banshees and she becomes the living embodiment of it. The hoods drawn up she takes on the pallor of death. Within her hand a very evil looking bone kris. As it if to add just that little extra something green eyes glow brightly as though catching the sun within her gaze with a soft whisper, "If you can now would be good my friends."

Gerard turns at the official's voice, one hand rising to rub at his lantern jaw. The many putting on their war faces contrast with his amicability, though that is only in comparison to those around him. Izett's necromancy draws an idle chewing of thought though.

Wulf remains in the saddle, huge hands on his knees, swine arranging themselves around him with their tusky snouts lowered and ruffles the top-knot on the giant yak's head. No weapon to be seen, just a lot of very big animals and a giant smurf.

Ruby draws in a sharp arid breath as things shift from the perfectly acceptable, to the rather horrific. And not just drakes. Whatever new nightmare has taken hold of the Lady Izett deserves a portion of any future bad dreams. She raises her palms to muff her ears and backs away from the throng of Mandrakes and Company. Tendons and veins appearing along her visible skin like worms trying to burrow out of her flesh.

The official squints and looks to Chase then the Jotun, then Ruby. He hrrrms, "The dragon hunters. IS this your offering for His Eternal Light?" And then suddenly there's a sudden distinct chill in the air in spite of the heat and guards seem briefly ill at ease for some reason.

While Quina feels that chill, she makes an effort not to show it. "It is not." she says to him, giving her best look and sense of being a person of authority. "You will present us to His Eternal Light, who has replaced the Family that represented and served all the people of Petria."

Izett lets the bone blade catch the light. She tilts her head slowly eyeing up the guards, "That's it my friends. Let them know who all is waiting for them on the other side. I'm sure they'd love to extend greetings to all that they've sacrificed." watching the guard with those glowing green eyes. Her voice but a whisper to those of the spirits, but certainly loud enough for the guards that feel that chill to know the cause.

Wulf doesn't have anything to say. His yak though, snorts noisily, the swine milling. He seems to be counting though, the number of guards easily visible and -- eyes go unfocused again, swimming black as his pupils dilate... counting guards more easily seen from that vantage point on high.

The press around Quina's group is enough that makes running off difficult to pull off. And while she's not someone you'd bar the way for, Ruby's not as fantastic a distraction as two fabulous Dragons and the Femme-of-death. Two scaled things flanking something that chills her heart. Three definite things. Omens can't be any clearer than that. Ruby backs away further, trodding upon feet, holding her breath so she doesn't breath in the dire fog or have what's in her lungs stolen. It keeps her from offering forth what would be a poor facsimile of a shriek.