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Shadows Chapter 7
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Shady Stoat

Joined: 02 Oct 2005
Posts: 2950
Location: England

Posted: Sat Dec 03, 2005 3:21 am    Post subject: Shadows Chapter 7  

The vote went with Keli finding an inn, then resting and talking/listening to the bar's patrons. Chapter seven follows on from that...

Chapter Seven

‘What should I do? What should I do?’

Keli fought against panic, unaware of the tears running down her face. She gazed blankly at the pack, and the dark rise of the bank beyond it. Her body was tingling with fatigue, yet simultaneously swamping her senses with urgent tales of its pain. It was bound to get worse as she tried to move. Not yet, then. Lie still, just a little while longer.

Shakal’s voice pounded through her memory.

‘Perhaps you should be spending more time on thoughts of your own survival…’

And her own answer.

‘I can take care of myself…’

Now, lying shivering with her toes still dragging in the river, she regretted her boast. Alone and exhausted, wet and cold; nothing to stand between her and Itharien but a few rags of possessions and a little money. Perhaps she should just give up now and save herself the bother.

Her eyelids fluttered, then jerked open again. What if Shakal had taken the money back? What if there was nothing left in the pack but her clothes? What if even they were gone? How would she survive in a hostile city, as a pauper?

The new fear motivated her as the old ones could not. She scrambled upright, biting her lips together as her hip blossomed into momentary agony. Shuddering with the cold, she waited for the pain to recede, praying that it would.

Finally, she felt like she could go on. Favouring her right leg, she lurch-hopped her way to the pack and picked it up. Black spots filled her vision as she bent over, and again she paused. Then she rifled through the bag with a feeling of dark foreboding.

First she found the cloak. Her teeth clattered together as she pulled it around her. The boots she left off, hoping that the streets weren’t gravel-paved. Then she felt the shape that she sought. A shuddering sigh of relief escaped her as she unearthed the money-pouch. She clutched it with fingers she could no longer feel and began her crippled march from the river again.

At first, her thoughts extended no further than coldness, pain and fatigue. Gradually, though, Keli began to notice that the streets were empty. Not just quiet, but entirely devoid of anyone else.

It was almost as if she were in a ghost city. Or a dream. Maybe it was just a dream. Maybe it was something worse. What if she had never got herself loose from the grille at the bottom of the river? What if she were floating down there, right now, unconscious and hallucinating the last moments of her life away? It could be true – there was nothing to…

She stumbled and caught the raw skin of her feet against a sharp cobble-edge. Crying out in pain, she tried to correct, leaned her weight into the bad hip and felt it give. The fresh wave of agony as her elbow hit the cobbles was proof enough that this was not a dream. Fresh tears streaked her face as she once again picked herself up and limped onward.

There was no destination in her mind. When she turned into a torch-lit street and saw the Inn-sign (a traveller with a pig at his side), it was like a revelation, sparkling through the dullness of her mind. No further thought ensued. She raised a weary arm and pushed at the door.

It was locked.

A tavern? Closed up for the night? Already? What was going on here?

Keli shivered as she stared at the door with grainy eyes. It had to be open. Why wasn’t it open? She had money. She could pay. It should be open!

She pushed again. Harder, this time. Still nothing. Tentatively, she knocked. No change. The lights were on, but the inn seemed deserted.

‘Another tavern?’ The thought seemed to come from a long way away. Keli swirled the notion around in her head for a moment or two. It finally sunk in. She gave a half-sob and lurched a couple of steps further down the street.

Suddenly there was the sound of a deep bell, or maybe a gong. She froze on the spot. A moment later, the silence of the city was broken further, by the sound of many voices. Laughing, chattering hordes of people; their voices distant at first, but getting louder with each passing second.

A survival instinct - one that she didn’t even know she possessed - kicked in. She limped into the shadows at the side of the inn and watched.

It didn’t take long. A crowd of men and women (maybe fifty in all) came into sight at the far end of the street. They seemed to know each other at least passably well, waiting for stragglers and waving goodbye to members of their group as they split away from the crowd. As they came up to the inn, a fair number of them parted company from the rest. Keli watched a solid-looking chap began to unlock the bar-room door. She held her breath and tried to stop her teeth chattering so loudly, pressing herself firmly into the darkest recesses of the wall.

She needn’t have bothered. No-one so much as glanced sideways. In less than a minute, they had surged through the doors and Keli could hear the banter of their voices as they ordered ale.

For a moment, she spared a thought for the danger of the unknown. It seemed comically insignificant compared to the welcome of a warm fire and a soft bed. Clutching her money-pouch in a death grip, she rounded the corner and made her way into The Pig & Pilgrim.

Her feet passed from chilled stone to smooth darkwood floors as she stepped through the doorway. Lanterns were pitched to a soft yellow glow, making the room look cosy and welcoming. There was a smell of yeast and beeswax that seemed ground into the woodwork. The hearth fire was a well-established orange-red, sending its stuffy heat into the recesses of the stone walls. Great wooden slabs of tables matched the dark polish of the bar. Nearly twenty patrons stood or sat, smoking and drinking as if they had been here all night.

There was a lull in the conversation as Keli limped stiffly to the bar. People watched her in silence. Then, slowly, the murmur of conversation rose again; not quite at its original level, but not far off.

The stout man was standing behind the bar, watching her as he pulled a pint of foaming ale. His gaze never wavered as he pushed the tankard towards his last customer and took the proffered coins in exchange. He raised his eyebrows inquiringly.

Keli swallowed. “A room? For the night?”

“Five silvers. Up front,” he answered. His tone was brusque, but his expression was not unkindly. “Come a long way, have you?”

She nodded, eyes locked on the floor as she started to fumble with the money-pouch.

“Eight silver’ll get you a hot meal and a tub to soak in,” he added, shrewdly. “You look like you could use it.”

His tone held a question. Keli didn’t want to answer, but she dreaded how he might interpret her silence.

“I fell in the river,” she said in a low voice.

The barkeep nodded. “Aye. Maybe so. Anything else you’ll be needing, Miss?”

Her chilled fingers finally dug out a gold coin. She handed it over, shaking her head.

“That’ll get you breakfast as well then,” he said, cheerfully pocketing the gold. He turned around and lifted one of the iron keys from a hook on the wall.

“Room nine.” He pointed at the winding wooden stairs next to the bar. “Do you want to eat down here or should I have something brought up for you?”

“Bring it up,” she managed. Though she wasn’t sure whether or not she wanted the food, the ‘hot’ part sounded appealing.

The stairs seemed to take forever. Keli leaned heavily on the rail and tried to take the pressure off her feet and hip. Aware that the people below were indulging their curiosity, she could only imagine how she looked right now. Dirt-encrusted, bushy-haired, dressed in stained and dripping clothes, bandages on her feet. She might as well have stood in the City Square and screamed her arrival to the guards.

Let them come. Just let her have her food and her bath and her sleep, then they could do what they liked to her. She couldn’t bring herself to care.

Room nine was straight ahead at the top of the stairs. She could see its little brass number beckoning as she hobbled along the planked corridors. It seemed to take forever, but eventually she made it to the solid wooden door. The key turned easily in a well oiled lock and Keli stumbled into a plain guest-room.

A home-woven rug covered much of the hard floor. It was a patched and muddy beige, obviously well used. On the far wall was a rather cloudy mirror, at eye-level. A chest-of-drawers stood on the floor beneath. It was bare and empty except for a small towel and a basin of cold water standing on top of it. Other than that, the only furniture was a low bed and a rocking chair.

Keli looked at the plain brown blankets on the bed. She nearly cried with relief. A few more torturous steps and she eased herself onto the mattress, wincing as old pains lessened and new ones asserted themselves. She leaned back against the headboard, taking a deep breath and closing her eyes.

Just one minute. Then she would wash her face and hands. Take a look at her blisters. Brush her hair. Eat her meal. Take off her wet clothes. Just one minute…


Half an hour later, she was shaken awake by a nervous looking barmaid. A plate of pie and a dish of potatoes stood cooling beside the water basin, along with a large, broad mug.

“You were resting when we brought your meal up, Miss,” said the serving girl, stepping back as Keli opened her eyes. “I can get it warmed up for you again if you like. I wouldn’t have woke you, but we’ve filled you a tub, and that won’t re-heat as easy, Miss.”

Keli rubbed at her face as she tried to focus. There was a bare second of disorientation as the ‘what’, ‘where’ and ‘who’ questions galloped through her head. Then, along with remembrance came the discomfort of bruises, blisters and still-damp clothes.

“I’ll take the bath,” she mumbled. Wincing anew, she walked gingerly after the maid, down the corridor. Another door was opened into a small room. It held nothing but another beige floor-rug, a handful of towels, a cake of soap and a large wooden tub filled with steaming water.

“You want me to get those clothes aired and dried, Miss?” asked the serving girl in a tentative voice.

“Uhh… I haven’t got any others.” Knowing how odd that sounded, Keli consciously stopped herself from saying any more. The more she fed the downstairs gossip, the more attention she would draw to herself.

“You’re about my size, aren’t you?” The serving girl tapped her lip as she fixed Keli with a measuring look. “I can find you something, for now. Just be gone a minute, Miss.”

With that, she left, closing the door behind her. Keli wasted no time in shedding her clothes and bandages. The feet were a mess. Raw, weeping wounds, and new blisters forming where she had tried to favour the old ones. Maybe a healer could take a look at them soon.

No. No healers, no magic. At most, she could find a herbalist to accelerate the natural recovery a little. Better still if she could keep off her feet for a few days and give the raw skin a chance to heal.

Her hip was already blossoming into a magnificent pattern of purple and black. Funnily enough, though, it wasn’t so bad after the sleep. She guessed she should count herself lucky. With the amount of battering she’d received in the river, it wouldn’t have been surprising if she’d come out with broken bones. Bruises may hurt for a while, but they would fade.

She lowered herself into the tub, screwing her face up as the water stung her feet. It was almost too hot for her chilled body to bear. It was also the most delicious, heavenly sensation she had experienced since she had left home.

Was it really only four days? It seemed like a lifetime! The days of being a prisoner in her own home seemed laughably simple and naïve now. Out here in the real world, existence was cruel and you had to take what you could get.

Well, right now she was going to take getting clean. She picked up the soap and began to scrub away four days of grime and dirt…

An hour later, something like the old Keli stared back at her from the mirror. Her long hair was wet and tied back in a ponytail. The face that used to be so pale was lightly wind-tanned with a spattering of freckles. She still looked haggard and thin. Her body was a mass of small cuts and bruises, but the borrowed nightdress hid the majority of the damage.

At her request, the barmaid had brought up clean bandages. No doubt the innkeeper would add it to the charge, she thought wryly. What he had taken for a single night’s keep would have quartered anyone in Great Lake for a week. At this rate, her money would go nowhere.

She wrapped her feet in soft dressings and sighed. Tomorrow she was going to have to decide a lot of things. Would she stay in Shift City a moment longer than she had to? If not, where was she going to go next? If so, how was she going to earn her keep – or stay alive long enough to enjoy her theoretical earnings? Would she stay here or find somewhere less expensive? Would it be worth hunting for Shakal again, and what good could it possibly do, even if she could be found?

There were too many questions. She was too tired to answer any of them. Keli flopped back onto the pillows, pulled the coarse blankets over her and let sleep take her again.


It was completely dark. Something thudded heavily against her door. Keli sat up in her bed, trembling. Her eyes tried to pierce the gloom and could not.

Another thump. A third, and the door crashed open. The torches in the corridor showed her more than she wanted to see.

Men in long robes with hoods stood framed in her doorway. Even as she watched, they came marching into her room. They took her from her bed. She tried to get away, but they were too many, too strong. Down the stairs and out of the tavern they went, dragging her along. She tried to talk to them, but her words made no sense, even to her. People lined the street in silence, watching with blank eyes as she screamed and sobbed and pleaded.

They took her through the streets, to the river. She could see another hooded form on the other side of the water. It was not like the others. It stared at her from deep brown eyes, in a face that seemed human and was not. Shakal’s teeth bared as she gave a predatory smile. Then she turned and walked away.

A moment later, the hooded men threw Keli down the bank and into the river. Time slowed so that she could see every wrinkle and ripple of the water. It frothed and foamed, oblivious to her flailing attempts to save herself. No matter what she did, the water came up to meet her.

Keli sank like a stone. The water closed its mouth and swallowed deep. She was drowning a thousand times over, caught in the brown murk of the river, struggling and getting nowhere. There was light overhead, she was reaching for it, but she was stuck and there was no air… no air… no air…


She awoke, wheezing, at dawn. Sweat bathed her body, though the room was cold. She looked around the room, her chest heaving as if she had run a race. A nightmare! Not even a premonition, just a plain, old-fashioned sleep-stalker. For all of its dark glory, it couldn’t hurt her. It couldn’t hurt her.

After a time, she managed to convince herself. She started to get up, her heart still thumping a little too hard.

Gods alive, she hurt! It felt like she had fallen down a steep flight of stairs. Every muscle seemed to have stiffened up overnight, she was as tense as a drawn bow-string. It took her over a minute to finally settle her weight onto her throbbing feet. Even then she was shuffling like an old lady as she went in search of her clothes.

Thoughts of exploring the city vanished. Until she had a chance to unkink, she would be lucky to explore the confines of the Pig & Pilgrim. Like it or not, she was stuck here for a while.

Curiously enough, she soon came to find that she did like it. The barkeep, John, seemed more interested in her money than in her. The breakfast made up in quantity what it could not match in quality. Sara, John’s daughter, seemed to enjoy the idea of having someone of about her own age and gender around. Soon she had been persuaded to drop the ‘Miss’ from the end of every sentence, and she was prattling to Keli at a head-spinning rate.

It was relaxing. After Shakal’s taciturn company, Keli found herself warming to this friendly chatterbox. For her own part, she was guarded, trying to say little about where she had come from, or why she was here.

Little by little, though, she began to learn a little about the city and the people in it.

“…and the price of boots has gone up dreadful since the leathersmith’s apprentice got taken in. I mean, there’s four of ‘em in town, but everyone went to Hinrik’s for boots. It stands to reason, don’t it? He’s the only one who can hammer a nail in straight. Taught his boy well too. Still, you never can tell, can you? Mark o’the beast, an’ all that. Da says it’s not right. All the young boys are trying to join the city guard or the priesthood now. None left to run the family business, or train up into a new trade. Good rates, though, the guards. You can see why everyone wants to enrol. Safer, isn’t it? I mean, these days, what with everything…”

“Sara!” came her father’s voice from the other side of the bar. “You got lunch on yet, girl? Hop to it, ya lazy scrag. I don’t pay you to sit and jibber-jabber with the guests all day!”

“You don’t hardly pay me at all,” came the impudent reply, but she rose from her seat and trotted into the kitchens. John turned his shrewd eyes on Keli.

“Are you staying another night, Miss?” he asked, cleaning glasses with his cloth. “Same rates. Could do you a better deal if you choose to stay longer? What’ll it be?”

Keli paused, still trying to drink in the last of Sara’s words. The idea of more guards – and more priests was a chilling one. All of her instincts cried out for her to be off, running far and hiding deep. Her muscles, though, were telling a different tale – and as for her feet…

She sighed. She was going to have to stay here for a while longer. It didn’t mean that she was going to let John fleece her a second time, though.

“I’ll give you twelve silver,” she replied. “Two more nights, meals and drink included.”

“Twelve silver?” The barman seemed astonished. “That’d barely cover the room alone. I just can’t do it!”

Keli rose from the table, hoping she was right. “There’s other inns.”


She shuffled towards the door. “Twelve.”

He sighed. “You’re nothing but a bandit, for all you look like a sweet child. Twelve – and don’t you go abusing my good nature, Miss.”

From the speed of his capitulation, Keli couldn’t help but wonder whether she was still paying too much. Nevertheless, she stumbled back to the table and sat down again. Counting another of her gold and two silver pieces out, she placed them on the table. A moment later, they had disappeared into John’s meaty hand.

The bar filled up a little at lunchtime. Not wanting to move any more than was necessary, Keli kept her seat and ate while she listened to the conversations around her. Much of it was simple day-to-day chatter, incomprehensible to anyone who didn’t share a background with the speaker. However, some of the snippets made her sit up and listen.

“…started takin’ protection money, they ‘ave. ‘f’you ask me, they’re naught better than brigands, for all they talk so holy.”

“Don’ say that, Yan. Lookit what they’ve done for the city already! None o’them damn Weres around any more. Less crime. More order on the streets. What’s wrong wi’ that, eh?”

“Yer foolin’ yerself, friend. There’s less of ‘em, true, but they’re still around. Blasted half-snakes are still runnin’ a healer’s temple, bold as you please. An’ what about the Oracle, eh? If that’s not flyin’ in the face of Itharien, I don’ know what is!”

“Aye, well, they’ll be gone before long. You mark my words. Hey, barkeep! Another pint, fer both of us. Yan’s payin’!”

There was coarse laughter, and the subject changed. A few minutes later, Keli tuned into another conversation.

“Haven’t seen you around here lately, Mack.”

“Nope. Been loggin’ on t’other side o’the city.”

“Did you tell the temple? They was askin’ about you.”

“Well, I’m back now. I’ll tell ‘em tonight.”

(A sucking in of breath) “You should ha’ told ‘em before you went.”

“Get off ridin’ me, y’old goat!”

“It’s not me as you ought be worried about, idjit. It’s them so-called holy men and their blasted Call O’ The Evenin’! They’ll ‘ave you before you even…”

“Shouldn’t you two be getting back to work?” John’s voice cut across them, in tones of sharp reprimand. There was a little muttering and the scrape of chairs being pushed back from the table. Then the voices were gone.

Keli sat, wondering what it all meant. In the middle of the afternoon, once the punters were gone and she was alone with Sara again, she found the courage to ask.

“Sara – what’s the Call of the Evening?”

The barmaid opened her eyes wide. “Gawd, you really are new here, ain’t you? Not joined one of the temples yet then? That’s all right, you can come along with me and Da. I got some slippers you can wear, if your feet are still sore. We’ll help you along, you can sit by us. It’ll be fun to have someone me own age to sit with. It’s usually only Da and his pals, and they’re always cross and grumpy. ‘Til they get out, o’course, then they’re back here, drinkin’ their soggy little hearts out for the night.”

She giggled, and Keli spoke while she could get a word in.

“But what is it?”

Sara frowned, puzzled. “It’s the six o’clock service at the Temple. Don’t you have ‘em where you come from?”

“I… no. If it’s all right, I’ll just stay here. I think my feet will be too…”

“Oh, you can’t,” interrupted Sara. “You really can’t. Everyone goes to the services, Miss. They notice when you’re not there, see, and they ask questions. No, you’re better off just comin’ along with me and Da. Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you.”

Keli tried not to show any of the panic that was creeping up on her. The one place that she wanted to avoid at all costs seemed to be the one place that she was being driven towards. Could she afford to show her face at a temple of Itharien? Could she afford not to? Was there any way out of this mess?

She only had a couple of hours to decide. She thought hard…


Hope you like it. The poll will be going up next weekend, or thereabouts. (I'm trying out a new 'organised' approach to this storygaming lark) :D
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Joined: 05 Sep 2005
Posts: 8881

Posted: Sat Dec 03, 2005 4:36 am    Post subject:  

Alrighty! Nice homely chapter Ms.Stoat!

Well, ah be thinking that she should mosey on* over there. Hopefully she can get hold of a hood to cover her face some. If she stays she will just attract more attention upon her self.


*Sorry, just watched the Dukes of Hazzard and filled myself with moonshine. Well, beer anyway.
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Joined: 16 Feb 2005
Posts: 2567
Location: USA

Posted: Sat Dec 03, 2005 6:19 am    Post subject:  

Ah think somethin's done bumped up in my undercarriage...

Ooops, sorry...had one of them Hazzard County moments too. :D

She'd be better off going to the temple with them, I'd think. Otherwise she'll draw unwanted attention- well, more than she already has.
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Posted: Sat Dec 03, 2005 7:44 am    Post subject:  

I agree with the above.
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Night Walker

Posted: Sat Dec 03, 2005 11:23 am    Post subject:  

Agreeing with the majority
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Joined: 21 Oct 2004
Posts: 4123
Location: Hollywood, USA

Posted: Sun Dec 04, 2005 10:58 am    Post subject:  

Yes, its obvious you should go. You earn the trust of the tavern keeper and his daughter, learn about the strange organization, and hide yourself among their rank. Its risky, but I don't think anything bad will happen.
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Joined: 12 Oct 2005
Posts: 287
Location: Australia

Posted: Mon Dec 05, 2005 3:06 am    Post subject:  

I agree that she should go to the temple. No point making herself stand out. I doubt very much that her description would have arrived at any of the churches, let alone make her recognisable by every priest in the city.
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Joined: 16 Oct 2004
Posts: 5215
Location: UK

Posted: Wed Dec 07, 2005 3:53 am    Post subject:  

Apologies Stoat. I read this ages ago, and didn't realise I hadn't commented.

A great chapter as always.

I agree with the others. She can't risk not going to the temple, especially if they have some way of discovering her if she doesn't go. Play along and blend in as best she can.

With her new maid friend, it'll also be worth picking her brains about any herb based jobs that might be available around the city. Surely she'd know of a herbalist somewhere. Or maybe she could spend her remaining money on some stock and offer her trade to the inn's patrons.

I look forward to the next part.

Happy Writing :)
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Shady Stoat

Joined: 02 Oct 2005
Posts: 2950
Location: England

Posted: Sat Dec 10, 2005 12:36 am    Post subject:  

Okay. Extremely simple poll this time.

I'm not expecting much dissent, after the comments posted. So, if it becomes clear that a landslide decision is inevitable, I might begin to write this before the three days are up.

Thanks everyone

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Joined: 05 Sep 2005
Posts: 8881

Posted: Sat Dec 10, 2005 1:25 am    Post subject:  

Okay, well I voted and realised I clicked the wrong button. I mean! Come on you made it so hard!

Two buttons! It's very confusing damn it. I wasn't going to say anything, but then I realised I was the first to vote. Oops.

So, let's justify. Ahem. Er. Okay... <thinks> Right!

She should stay behind, 'cos if everyone goes to the service she could perhaps rumage through the inn and try to find out something. And maybe when everyone is at service, 'something' spookly happens. :shock:

Plus, when everyone votes for something you don't expect, often a suprising twist in the story occurs, and they* don't call you Twist Stoat for nothing you know! :D

Ya! Everyone vote no! (Starts a new campaign)

Just vote no on proposition 7!

*Okay, me.
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Shady Stoat

Joined: 02 Oct 2005
Posts: 2950
Location: England

Posted: Sat Dec 10, 2005 2:34 am    Post subject:  


Go ahead punk! You feelin' lucky??
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Joined: 16 Oct 2004
Posts: 5215
Location: UK

Posted: Sat Dec 10, 2005 2:56 am    Post subject:  

Okay, well I voted and realised I clicked the wrong button. I mean! Come on you made it so hard!

Two buttons! It's very confusing damn it. I wasn't going to say anything, but then I realised I was the first to counter act Chinaren's vote. :shock:

So's what I said I would do. :)

Happy Writing. :)
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Joined: 16 Feb 2005
Posts: 2567
Location: USA

Posted: Sat Dec 10, 2005 3:22 am    Post subject:  

Meh, it must be because of the testosterone or something...

I voted and I realized that I got it right the first time. But then again I'm usually right. :cool:
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Shady Stoat

Joined: 02 Oct 2005
Posts: 2950
Location: England

Posted: Tue Dec 13, 2005 1:56 am    Post subject:  

Okay, since Chinaren's 'Just Vote No' campaign didn't work, I'll be taking Keli to church. *shudders*

Next chapter is being written...
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Shady Stoat

Joined: 02 Oct 2005
Posts: 2950
Location: England

Posted: Wed Dec 14, 2005 11:27 am    Post subject:  

Okay, chapter 8 is up. (Hope it's easier to read than it was to write. Phew!)

This chapter is getting locked :)
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