Sleeping Giants

Ford's Investigation

What a couple of days it’s been. You doze off almost the instant your head hits the pillow, and it’s not long before you’re dreaming of a mission that took place several months ago.

You’re standing before a modest home on Small Street, a – you guessed it – rather short and narrow street close to the center of Riverlake. It doesn’t seem to fit the bill, but you know the address is correct. You would have expected a local politician to have more wealth to their name. That’s not what you’re here to deduce, though. Somewhere inside this house is incriminating evidence, and it’s your job to extract it.

You’ve cased the joint thoroughly, and have identified 2 possible entrances. Back door, locked but poorly. Or second floor window, slightly ajar. You choose to enter through the second floor window.

A set of stairs leads down and there are a few small sitting chairs and tables. Several portraits of serious looking men hang on the walls, from their features you would guess they’re gnomes. A single door, already ajar, leads out of this room, which you slink into.

Two small windows on either side of an unlit fireplace shed some moonlight into this room, which appears to be a master bedroom. A small table next to the fireplace holds a dog leash. You quickly scan the room and – bingo. A small, sealed note sits on a bedside table. These politicians never think to hide their secrets very well. You move to grab the note and immediately break the seal in order to read it – you can always reseal it later.

After you’re finished, you return to the previous room and walk down the stairs, which have a nice, clean carpet leading down them. They open into a kitchen, with an opening that leads to another room. You can’t hear anyone, but can see light dancing on the walls beyond the doorway. There must be a fire lit. The kitchen is well-organized and clean. You sneak over to the doorway to investigate.

A lit fireplace illuminates this room. There are a few sitting chairs in front of the fire, and a dining table on the opposite wall. The sitting chairs are all facing a small coffee table, which has a few books on it but nothing of importance. An open hallway leads out of the room. You can see 2 doors in the hallway, both closed.

You move through the room silently and listen at the left door. You hear deep breathing coming from the other side of it, and decide it’s best not to enter. You slip over to the other door and peek your head in.

This small study is illuminated by moonlight. Hundreds of books line the walls, and a small desk with a chair built for a child sits in the middle of the room. Halfling or gnome you’d guess, most children don’t read this much. Sitting on the front edge of the desk are 3 small contraptions. You can’t make out the details from here, you’d have to get closer. So you do.

The contraptions are attached to the desk, to remove them would take some tinkering – no time for that. They are each identical, but made out of different materials. It is a small metal cage with a mechanical bird inside. One is made of copper, one is made of silver, and one of electrum. The desk otherwise holds nothing noteworthy.

Having exhausted everywhere there is to search, you make your way out of the house and slink away. A few back alleys and jumped fences later and you have completely evacuated the area. You finally have some time to catch your breath before returning to your client with the letter in hand.

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Nil's Diary, Jan 5th
Lounge Lizards

Translation from draconic can be found here.

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Jordan's Letter to Skyhammer
Partial mission debrief

High Paladin Jostan Steingard, Cardinal of Skyhammer

May this letter reach you well,

Erki Timbers has been found in the depths of a goblin hole, alive but missing significant memory of her movements before imprisonment. She recalls fragments of her mission here, but not the whole fabric of the past. I sense no demonic or Infernal influence upon cursory examination of her, but our own priests may divine more with greater spells upon our return. She has yet to complete her task, as we are resting in Oakhurst to regain our collective strength before entering upon the hole yet again to cleanse it in totality.

The hole of which I speak is an ancient ruin overtaken by once-warring clans of goblinoids and kobolds whom have taken up residence following some unknown catastrophe of the previous dwellers. I say “once-warring” due to their near-eradication upon my entry. Both clans have been laid to waste and the floor entire is now littered with their bodies. I have laid low the hobgoblin leader of the goblin clan, called “Durnn” in the wretched goblin tongue, and will continue ever deeper into the basement of the ruin to do the same to the ultimate leader, a humanoid by the name of “Belak,” who has been in control of the Goblin tribe. The possibility exists that “Belak” is in command of necromantic magic, and is using it to unknown ends. It is my intent to take him alive and return his mortal frame to Skyhammer, for penance in the mines.

Deep beneath this dungeon is an entrance to the Underdark. Upon my return to Skyhammer I humbly request a contingent of Thalosian guardians to come and establish ongoing reconnaissance, for fear that the denizens of the deep will continue to poison the surface world through their dark influence. It would seem the blight of the Underdark has already seeped its way into the flesh and minds of the goblinoids here, as their bodies are black and pustule with unknown magical influence. With the door to the Underdark ajar, there may be no end to this influence. It has likewise seeped all the way into Oakhurst, by way of economic trade between coin and magical trinkets from goblins to mayor Vurnor Leng. He requires questioning. This entire area may indeed require sanctification, but that is for greater guardians than me to ascertain.

Furthermore, I travel through this place with five others in tow, all of varying temperaments and reasons for descent into the ruins. Collectively, our travel has proven effective in pushing through the onslaught of filth that lay in wait for me. These temporary companions are, in order of suspicion:

A. Lyla Hellebore
Young human girl;
adolescent;
arcane talents;
likely godless;
searching for brother lost in Oakhurst area;
low immediate threat – low future threat

B. Stratton
Young gnome male;
hedonistic;
arcane or divine talents;
possible divine framework, likely aloof and aimless god;
goals unknown, perhaps even to himself;
low immediate threat – low future threat

C. Ford
Adult human man;
hedonistic heathen;
impressive athletic talents;
likely godless;
unknown goals, likely mercenary for hire;
average immediate threat – average future threat

D. Nil
Young human girl;
significant arcane talents;
impressive draconic talents, possible dragon lineage;
unknown divine framework;
leadership and power-hungry tendencies;
works with and likely leads Stratton and Ford in mercenarial work;
goals unknown;
average immediate threat – high future threat

E. Ana
Female, unknown age, unknown race but likely TIefling;
hedonistic heathen;
introverted;
impressive athletic talents;
unknown divine framework;
no obvious demonic or infernal influence;
extreme violent physical and verbal tendencies;
keeps constructs as “pets”;
commands some control over products of shadow and darkness;
goals unknown;
high immediate threat – high future threat

Erki and myself are resting now in the Oakhurst tavern, in rooms paid for by the town coffers as partial payment for ridding them of the dungeon’s denizens. We return to the dungeon and move ever-deeper in the morning. I am sending this debrief in good faith with the messenger service of Oakhurst, for the sum of 8 gold and a round-trip of 3 days. I have sealed it with the waxen noble patent of the Steingard family crest.

I hope it finds you well.

Paladin Jordan Steingard, Acolyte of Skyhammer

Psalm 1, 4: "Erathis looked down at the chaos and knew it was not Good. She said unto the First General Thalos, “go, General, the strongest of my legion, and beat back the throngs of the damned. For the seed of life must be planted in the earth, and the lines of civilization drawn.”"

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Nil's Vision

After making quick work of the hobgoblin leader and his companions, you set out to count up and distribute the post-combat rewards. You stand up after emptying the pockets of the second hobgoblin, only to realize that the entire room has grown dark, and all of your companions are completely motionless.

The violet light emanating from the circular shaft in the middle of the room grows brighter, and then begins to flicker as it follows a familiar voice, that you hear directly in your mind. “Excellent work, young one. You are making quick work of this fortress, and I always mean to reward efficiency. Tell me, which of these 3 would you prefer to see: something that was, something that is, or something that has not yet come to pass?”

After a ponderous moment, you respond. “The future.”

The room around you goes completely dark, even to your magical sight. It then brightens suddenly, and the area around you has completely changed.

You stand in a circular room, with well-polished stone walls and floors. The ceiling is a tall dome that disappears into a fog, and the entire room is lit but not a candle or torch is within sight. In the middle of the room sits a wooden table, with five seats surrounding it. Atop the table is a large map; from your vantage point you can see that it is the entire land of Dormia, and is covered in a series of differently colored symbols and runes.

Each of the five seats currently holds a person, but most of their faces are not visible, blocked out by whatever magic is providing this vision. From their body types, you would judge it to be one human woman, a dark-skinned elven man, a gnomish lady, a small cloaked figure that you cannot discern, and a gaunt, yellow-skinned humanoid the likes of which you’ve never seen before.

There is one face you can see, however. And that is the face of the dark-skinned elven man. He has the sharp features that elves are typically known for, and long white hair that flows over his shoulders and down his back. He is wearing intricately woven, dark blue robes, and has a long golden staff leaning against the table next to him.

He is mid-sentence when the scene begins, and you hear him say “…first bridge was closed, so I’ll go to investigate. Gaerzith, can you ensure-”, he is cut off by a sudden ringing noise, as if a bell is being shaken. He immediately begins looking around the room hurriedly, until he makes direct eye contact with you. He stands from his seat and clutches his staff. You hear him mutter the word, “No” and the top of the staff erupts in a blindingly bright blue light. You shield your eyes from it, and when you finally come to, you are surrounded once more by your companions, fully in motion.

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Ana's Induction Ceremony

The day is September 13th, the year 507. It was nearly 6 years ago, but you still remember it like it was yesterday.

You awoke early that morning, much like any other. You preferred to spend as much of your time in the darkness as possible, though you were still expected to join the others at dawn. Today, however, you wouldn’t be training with the others. Nor would you get to spend the day meditating inside, with the curtains drawn. Today, you’d be attending your very own Induction Ceremony.

You were trained well ahead of time so you knew what to expect. The ceremony itself would be completely silent, save for the three gong strikes and the one spoken word from you. Other than yourself, the only people in attendance were Monks of the Order. The white marble of the room made it difficult for you to see at first, and while you quickly adjusted, you still needed to squint ever so slightly the entire time.

Bwong. The first gong strike, and you receive your robes. They are draped over your head by two of the monks, and the bright white fabric stands in stark contrast to your dark skin. On the back of the robes is the intricate embroidery of the mark of the Order. Both monks take a step back, bow to you, and then silently walk to the back of the room.

Bwong. The second gong strike, and you receive your gift. A new monk approaches you, holding both hands forward, one on top of the other, with an unknown object shrouded in golden silk. You take the object from his hands, and it almost feels as if there is nothing at all hiding in the silk. You slowly unwrap it, and reach in to pull out your gift: a small, seemingly mundane needle, that you would later learn is completely unable to be bent.

Bwong. The third, and final, gong strike, and you receive your moniker. Though you have been referred to as Ana during your training, for security purposes – both for yourself and the Order – you would have to shed that name and instead adopt a moniker that the other top-tier students would refer to you as. A monk stands before you, his hands raised as if to help funnel your spoken word to the rest of the room.

You take a deep breath before saying the moniker you spent so much time coming up with. “Keras.”

The name echoes throughout the room, and with that the ceremony draws to a close. You did use your moniker for a long while, but – for reasons you already know and need not recall – you have since reverted back to your original name. Likely for good.

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Jordan's Journal - Eighth Entry
Dungeon Day Two - fifth entry

- I wane. My spirit fades with every hour. For now I sit on grass kissed by the light of the sun, having emerged from the dark dank of the citadel’s halls. We have chosen to rest atop the ravine that leads down into the sunken building, but we have only an hour to absorb the dry air. We must press on. We have been fighting for so long that the layers of blood caked into my vestments have long dried into the fabric, staining the once brilliant whites, blues and golds into a mess of brown. I long to bathe this stink from my skin, and to lather the lye to clean my cloth. I can taste the copper of these creatures’ blood and bile in my mouth, under my tongue and between my teeth. It tastes of acid. The sting of vinegar and sulphur is trapped in my beard and assaults my nose constantly now. There is no escaping the evil of this place. My return to Skyhammer will bring with it an appeal to send a contingent of paladins to raze it to the ground. It must be destroyed. It must be sanctified. It is a blight on the face of the world. Whatever and whoever I find in the depths of this place, by whoever’s hand pulls the strings of these marionettes, they will spend the remainder of their life in the deepest tunnel of Skyhammer mine, separating blue ore from stone by hand.
- The thought of the mine’s depths brings with it memories of my introduction into its tunnels. I was a boy, scarcely ten, edging my way up the rungs of the clerical ladder. Having just begun seminary I was transitioning from the violence of the agoge into the plaintive meditation of the Descent of Thalos. The embattled life still ringing in my ears, my father led me down a flight of stone steps into a tunnel of black earth. The light of the sun blotted out, our only guide was the orange flicker of torchlight. The smell of sulphur was strong and burnt the inside of my nose. “That is the stench of brimstone,” he said to me, “wafting from the middle circles of Hell where the sepulchers are mortared with the blood of titans.” We descended for what felt like hours, sometimes turning down large open stairwells, but often moving through straight corridors reaching miles beyond the edge of our light. Lining the walls, plunging their axes and shovels into the black earth, were countless creatures from the world. There must have been thousands. Uncountable numbers. Elves, dwarves, men. All smeared with soot and skin turned black with the stuff, save their white eyes piercing my torchlight. They moved around us, giving my father a wide berth as they went, heaving massive rocks and barrels of ore toward the surface where the tunnels breached into Skyhammer cathedral’s lower basement. Their hammers and breathing were loud and labored, but no one spoke, and their verbal silence reminded me of the vow of Thalosian monks. But there was something else about them… something that betrayed their silence. I looked to my father but dared not ask him a question for fear that the answer would come with a beating. As if sensing my trepidation, he answered me, “these are the filth of the world, digging through the filth of the world. Criminals. Sinners. Heathens. Their souls are damned to the Abyss and the walls of Dis, as Erathis sees fit and Thalos’ Will commands, to serve their astral sentence for eternity. But for now, in life, their mortal coil belongs to Skyhammer.” He spoke to me and his bearded visage fixated on my tiny form. I know now that what he saw was himself. “Learn this well,” he said, “and lock my words in the vault of your mind. There is more at work here than you can see or comprehend, for the war between heaven and hell is ancient and its tide unyielding to the mortal bodies of men. Reaching the highest circle of the church will unlock knowledge that you cannot fathom. Prepare yourself in the years ahead.” He spoke those words that I have not forgotten, and as if a lever were pulled the silence of the penitent around us was broken with a shriek. A banshee scream erupted from the horde of filthy workers and the instinct pounded into me from the agoge took hold of my legs, spinning me on my heels to face the source. From the moving wall of dirty faces came one face contorted in a mask of seething rage. One of them had gone mad, running toward my father like a jungle cat, its thin frame exposing sinew and rib cage and in its dirty hands it clutched a pickaxe. It shrieked in what sounded like a language but I could not understand it, and it raised the axe above its head as it neared us. Toward my father it ran, and he stepped before me to shield my body from it. He said nothing to the charging prisoner, only awaiting the violent meeting. As it neared close enough to bring the axe down, my father raised his own hand in time to catch the handle and tear it away from the feeble hold. The momentum was too great and the charging prisoner stumbled into my father’s other hand. He clutched the creature around its neck and followed the arc of its run by turning the entire mass of his body, flinging it headfirst into the wall across the tunnel’s expanse. And like that the confrontation was ended. The wall, though black and dark, glistened in the torchlight with wet blood. The penitent creature lay unconscious beneath it, breathing shallowly. I said to my father, “is he dead?” He reprimanded me with a look, “it is alive for a while longer.” He turned to the others who had stopped working and watched the attack. “Take it to the Conduit,” he commanded in a voice that carried through the mine. The creature was carried further down the tunnels into the darkness and out of my life forever. My father looked at me, “come. Back to your studies.” For the first time in my life I felt it… Pride.
- We press on. There remains no mercy for who awaits us in the deep.

Psalm 2, 25: “The water of Styx was full of drowning souls reaching to the boat, clinging to its wood for life, and Charon rebuked them with strikes of the oar. The damned of Styx tumbled in the waters of blood and fire, to emerge by their heads and reach out again and again, each time rebuked and stricken.”
Psalm 2, 26: "And Thalos asked unto Virgil, “what is the madness in the minds of these drowning souls?” And Virgil replied, “they are those wretched who drank from the waters of Life in Heaven and turned their backs on Erathis on the eve of the Angelic Rebellion. They are damned to tumble in these waters, forever drowning.”

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Lyla's Last Encounter

This place is scary. You’ve seen things in the past 24 hours that you’ve only ever read about before. Animated trees, kobolds, goblins, even a dragon. You’ve seen countless creatures die, and even been responsible for some of those deaths yourself. You’ve seen your newfound companions do some incredible things as well. Who would have thought that life outside of Kittiwake would be so… fantastical?

And as you sit on the cold stone floor of this place, you can’t help but wonder if Elliot went through all of the same things on his journey. If he truly did come the same way as you, how did he deal with the kobolds, and the goblins? What kind of companions did he have with him? You already found the remains of one other adventurer. You and your brother may not have always gotten along, but he deserves better than to end up dead in a rat’s nest. And truth be told, if roles were reversed, Elliot would have gone to the ends of Dormia to find you. He would have done so for anyone in Kittiwake’s Edge. That’s just what kind of person he was.

You look around at the piles of bones in the room surrounding you, and start to think back to the last time you saw your brother. It was the night before he left town, only a few months ago. You were walking home from the library, taking your usual shortcut. You were reading through the book you just checked out, a brand new and very heavy hardcover titled “The Panthera Sovereign”, glancing up every now and then to make sure you wouldn’t run into anyone. You made a left, then a right, then a left again, cutting through the alleyways you came to know like the back of your hand.

Just as you were finishing the first chapter, you did the unthinkable: you bumped into someone, and the book landed straight on the ground, bending and dirtying the pages instantly. You stare down at the book, worry coming across your face as you realize how upset Librarian Lily will be when you tell her you ruined the only copy. You bend down hastily to pick up the book, then stand and look at the person you ran into. It’s certainly nobody you’ve ever seen before, it must be an out-of-towner. And he looks pretty seedy, to boot.

He looks down at you, grinning, and says, “You look lost, little lady. Why don’t I help you find your way?” He takes a step toward you, and you start to back up but bump into someone else behind you. You turn to see who it is and it’s yet another unsavory looking man. He grabs hold of your arm as a third man emerges from the shadows and grabs the book out of your hand. “Don’t think you’ll be needin’ this any time soon, heh heh heh,” he says, and tosses it to the side. If he was paying any attention at all, however, he would have realized that the book never hit the ground.

Within a moment of the book being thrown, it is immediately launched directly back at the third ruffian. It hits him with full force in the face, blood spraying from his nose as he doubles over in pain. You turn to see where it came from, just in time for the man holding you to be bum-rushed, losing his grip on you as he goes tumbling to the ground. In the chaos and flurry of blood, dirt, and punches, one thing stands out like a sore thumb: the bright, golden locks of Kittiwake’s Golden Boy, your brother Elliot.

The main ruffian, now clearly realizing what a mistake this was, backs up suddenly and takes off down the alley. “Lyla!” Elliot calls out to you. You turn, and he tosses you the book. “Get him!”

You throw the book with all your might, and your aim is true. You strike the ruffian directly in the back, and the weight and momentum of the book knock him out cold. You turn back to your brother, who is lifting himself up off the unconscious body of the third ruffian, and he gives you a nod of approval and a dashing smile. He puts his hand on your shoulder and pulls you close. “C’mon sis, let’s get you home.” And that’s the last thing you’re able to recall, as you are yanked back into reality by a loud knocking sound.

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Nil's Diary Jan 4th, pt 3
Adventures in the Dark

The translation from draconic can be found here.

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Jordan's Journal - Seventh Entry
Dungeon Day Two - fourth entry

- The time here grows longer with every minute I spend in this muck-infested hole. My patience grows thin as we make small steps for seemingly smaller gains. Every fight chips away more of our constitution, pitting us in a battle of attrition against Time. With every swing of a weapon or fling of a spell our candle melts an inch of its wax. Eventually our strength will wane completely and we will be overwhelmed by the darkness of this place. The power in my spirit is nearly gone, and I can only barely feel the pulse of Thalos in my veins. Soon only my body will be left to fight the hordes that inevitably still await us in the deep. I question whether Erki Timbers is even here, or if she ever was here, and if this excursion given to me by the Skyhammer Ordained was not it’s own kind of quest. To beat into me the application of the lessons I’ve learned in seminary and the agoge. To drill into me the importance of the phalanx, to drive me from the light of Thalos to the darkest corner of the known world here in this… sunless citadel. What can be colder than the shadow of a god? And who can be stronger than he who survives it?
- The group has split itself in two, with three of us going to re-investigate the fate of the kobolds in their chamber, and three others to investigate further into the depths. Perhaps it was a mistake, but we are battle-weary and it has helped to show us our weaknesses while apart. Before departing, my prediction of the outcome was right. The three thieves, Stratton, Ford and Nil, indeed returned as their instinct for self-preservation outweighs all others. Bloody and trodden, but alive. While Ana, although her red skin proves tough, nearly fell alongside the massive guardian she came upon on her own path. Lyla opted to follow me, and we moved several steps behind Ana to give her space in the blind darkness of which she is accustomed. We came upon her in her final throes against the muscled beast, and killed it before it could kill her. Tough she is, indeed, as she wrestled it down to a single remaining blow between the two of them.
- Now we sit all together, the six of us huddled in the altar room where we fell Undead evil only moments ago. We are discussing whether it is prudent to remain here until the next sunrise to gather the remainder of our strength, or to leave this place entirely and return to the outside town and rest completely. One way we lose tactical advantage. The other way we lose time. Either way, we rest here now in this room, eking out our strategy.

May Thalos protect me as Virgil protected Him.

Psalm 2, 4: "And Thalos replied to Virgil, “Virgil, Mapmaker of the stars, I am the leader of the armies of heaven and bearer of the sunfire of Erathis. I cannot be felled.”"
Psalm 2, 5: "And Virgil, in his wisdom, rebuked the First General of Erathis, “you are immortal, but Death is not the heaviest of your burdens. The formless void is a cosmic prison and will trap your soul for eternity, where your astral flesh will be rent forever by the claws and gnashing teeth of demons.”"
Psalm 2, 6: "And Virgil lifted his wings as an eagle before the flight, and they lit afire as the sun. And he said unto Thalos, “Follow me through the pitch, and huddle close as beneath a shelter in the storm.”"

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Stratton's Admirer

You sit on the cold stone floor of this fortress, catching your breath from the close call with Calcryx. Your adrenaline is still pumping, and your little kobold hands are shaking. You can’t let your group down though, they need your soothing voice to wash over them while they recuperate. But first, you’ve got to calm your own nerves.

You reach into your leather armor and grab hold of that gift given to you all those months ago. Your breathing starts to calm immediately, and your heart slows. You pull it from your vest and crumple it in your hand, as a sort of stress relief toy. You look down, and for a few moments your mind begins to wander, as you recall the story of how you came in possession of this small, deep blue silken handkerchief.

It was about a year ago. The Cirque DeLirium was finishing up its tour through the Sterile Sands, and it was your final night in one of the cities along the way. Together, you and Benedicht the Half-Elf delivered a near-perfect performance of “Short and Tall”, the comedic duet that served as the headliner of the show. The final verse was met with thunderous applause and a standing ovation. All eyes were on you, and you still cherish that feeling to this day. When you close your eyes, you can still see the smiles in the crowd, and the roses being tossed onto the stage.

It was upwards of an hour before you were able to catch your breath after that. As usual, you attended the after-party where you met some adoring fans and signed dozens of autographs. Every drink was on the house, and all of your hilarious fart jokes were met with the genuine laughter they deserved.

Things were finally settling down and people were trickling out when she approached, seemingly from nowhere. It was rare enough to see a fellow gnome on this side of the mountains, let alone one who was as star-struck as she was attractive. She smiled sheepishly as she approached you, practically averting her gaze behind her eyeglasses. As you took the sight of her in, you realized she was dressed very differently than most others in the city. She wore loose-fitting, almost robe-like clothing, with a deep blue silken scarf resting decoratively on her shoulders.

“Mr. Pipsquanchy?” she said as she approached, stopping a few feet in front of you. “Your performance tonight was spectacular, I was in awe from the moment you set foot on stage.” She takes a deep breath, clearly attempting to calm her nerves in front of you. “I.. don’t do this very often, and I know you are leaving soon, but I was wondering if you would be available for coffee, or breakfast, or lunch, or… well, any kind of food or drink I suppose? I know a great café right down the street from here.” She looks at you wide-eyed and smiling, awaiting your response.

You pause for a few brief moments before responding, “Do you have a name, or can I call you mine?” She blushes visibly before telling you her name is Misha, but that she’d be more than happy for you to call her yours. You ultimately agree to a date the following day, and she looks thrilled. She has to physically stop herself from hugging you right then and there. The two of you make some more small talk, setting up the exact plans before she excuses herself and lets you enjoy the rest of your evening by yourself.

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