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Willow River: Day One

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The room is an empty black space. There is a light coming from above, but there is no visible source. It is casting a wide circle on the floor, which is also black, and scuffed, like a theater floor. There are people around the circle, but far enough in the shadows that they cannot be seen.

It is silent for several moments, before the sharp footsteps of a solidly heeled dress shoe ring out. A tall, lanky person in a long beige duster, a matching fedora, and dark brown Italian dress shoes walks into the center of the circle. They stop, take their hands out of the pockets of the duster, and turn once around the circle. It is a woman, rather sharp of feature: a large aquiline nose and a jawline to match, deep-set eyes and thick eyebrows. Her hair is cropped short, but the colour is not visible, because what isn't under the hat is in the shadow of its brim.

She smiles, and it's warm in an ironic sort of way. She speaks, and her voice is soft, low-pitched, and strikes you as dangerous. "Hello. My name is Cecilia Tinsley, and I suspect you will all get to know me rather well soon enough. I'm here to get this party started. I live in Willow River, and have for just over a year and a half. I'm a private eye by trade, but my day job is running a little newspaper that circulates in Willow River, Giscome, and even a few places in Prince George. I'm the gal you talk to when you want to know what's really going on. Before I moved here, I lived in Vancouver, but ... well, the rent was too damn high, and my partner ... " She pulls the brim of her hat down. "My partner and I split." She pauses for a moment, then looks back up and around the circle. "Who'd like to introduce themselves next?"  She steps back into the shadows.

A petite Asian gal steps forward. She’s about 5’5”, with shoulder-length black hair and kind, dark brown eyes. There's a small mischievous smile playing on her face, but her fidgeting feet betray her nervousness. She gives a small wave before quickly shoving her hand back into the pocket of her hoodie. She can already feel her face start to go red with embarrassment. “Uh, hi! I’m Chen Xiaolian. But you can call me Lillian if that’s easier for you guys. Or girls!” She rushes to correct herself. “Or whatever! I don’t judge!” She takes a deep breath to calm herself down. “I guess some things to know about me are that I’ve grown up in Willow River, I’m 18, I like dogs and jokes, and I hate assholes and bugs. Um, I can bake so if anyone wants cookies, I’m your gal.” She chuckles nervously. She lets her next sentence comes out in one rushed breath. “Also I have this super cool sword and magic powers that make my eyes glow gold and a spirit dragon but whatever ya know?

A man of roughly average height steps into the light, across from the girl. He has dark brown skin and brown eyes. He is wearing a dark fedora - Indiana Jones style - that covers most of his black hair. His face is very kind, but his eyes hold a deep-seated suspicion and distrust. All that is visible of his outfit is a dark trench coat, the color matching his fedora. He eyes where Cecilia disappeared into the shadows, then where Xiaolian stands, and finally his gaze flicks to where he can feel the presence of other people. He clears his throat and begins speaking. "My name is James Finn. I travel the world to continue my fam- my duty to document the legends and monsters of this world. I go from city to city, usually small towns, and research their myths. I record all my findings and have filled several books worth of valuable information. During my trips, I advise any hunters I come across with how to best deal with the monsters that infest their area." James pauses, then says, "I guess we are explaining our weapons as well."

He reaches behind his head, pushing back the collar of his coat to reveal an intricate handle. He grabs it and pulls a yard-long iron sword from its sheath. "This is a kaskara, forged in the country of Chad in the 16th century." He holds the blade in the light for a minute, showing the designs incorporated into the handle and double-edged blade. He returns the sword to its position before continuing. "I also use a 357 Magnum with a six-inch barrel." He pulls the silver gun, with the safety on, from his side holster with one hand. "And a blessed knife." He holds up the knife, usually hidden in a secret pocket of his trench coat. After a moment, he returns the weapons to their places, and puts both of his hands into his pockets. His stance is relaxed but his eyes are darting around the dark space, awaiting the next speaker.

Xiaolian’s eyes widen at the sword. “Oh wow, that is so cool!” She tugs the strap wrapped around her chest off, holding the sheath containing a sword with a deep blue and gold handle towards James. “We can be sword buddies!”

James eyes the excitable girl wielding a dangerous weapon. It has been a long time since he has seen such open excitement and joy. "Sword... buddies." He nods and sighs, not trying to crush the girl's spirit. He smiles awkwardly at her. "Sure."

"Well, now I feel underdressed," a voice to the left of the girl says. A woman in her late 20s steps into the light. Average height, combat boots, a navy-blue button-up shirt. She is average in more ways than one, and the only two things that stand out, especially under the bright lights, are her hair - long, tamed into a single braid, the color of rust - and her freckles, all over her cheeks. She takes something from the front pocket of her jeans, and flicks open a pocket knife. "Really, really underdressed."

She smiles, and with a flick of her wrist the knife is in her pocket again.  "I'm Cassandra. Cassandra Wojtek. This is my second time in Willow River. The first time was in December, when this place was buzzing with tourists and reporters. I'm a sociologist and a researcher currently based in Vancouver, where I'm doing my PhD. I'm interested in how the people of Willow River and those passing through town react to the... events unfolding here. Not gonna lie, after what I've heard from witnesses here in December, I'd love to see something for myself, too," she grins, but her smile falters when she says, "But I know what that entails. I know the risks. I've been studying the world through books long enough. About time I put myself out there, I should say."  And with that, she nods towards the other two and takes a step back until she's in the shadows again, her shape barely discernible beyond the circle of light.

The last thing Owen wants to do is step forward in front of a room full of humans with blades drawn. Especially when one was an apparent expert on 'monsters', which would include him. But he had no idea what would happen if he didn't introduce himself, either. He hesitantly steps forward just enough to be seen, the shadows of the room making his already hollow face look even more gaunt. He lets his dark hair fall in his face, hoping the less of him was visible, the more alive he would look. His voice is soft, and a bit raspy. He doesn't even remember the last time he had to speak with someone. "...I'm Owen. I... don't have a sword or a knife or anything." It wasn't the most eloquent thing he could have said, but he leaves it at that, shoving his hands in his pockets.

Mikaere steps forward, eyes down, scuffing the floor with their shoe. They're of average height, skinny, and wearing torn-up jeans and a sweater a couple sizes too big. They glance around the circle from behind the shoulder-length, greasy black hair that spills from the ragged grey beanie on their head, then tuck it behind their ear, revealing an intricate tattoo that curls down from their mouth and around their chin.  "I'm, uh, I'm Mikaere. Mikey for short." They speak with a mish-mash Polynesian accent that gets stronger the faster they're talking: "I dunno what this is about but I was just on break at the store and I swear I didn't fall asleep, and this, this feels pretty real, so if anyone knows what the hell's goin' on I wanna hear it."  They take a half-step back, then pause. "Also I guess if we're doing this, I've got, um. I've got my dad's shotgun in the back of the ute, but that's for emergencies. And also he doesn't know. So probably keep that one on the down low."

Roan joins the rest of the room in stepping into the light. Their short, turquoise pixie cut glows under the light. They shiver slightly, feeling cold in just a black and white plaid shirt, jeans, and beat up vans. They give an almost shy smile before speaking. "I'm Roan. I'm mostly here for the aliens. I'm taking a year out of college to drive about the continent in a beat-up minivan and visit various hotspots for weird activity." They smile again, hoping their half-truth comes across well. "And if we're doing weapons, I have a revolver in the van. It's....a family heirloom. Oh! And I have a big knife." They bounce slightly on the balls of their feet, betraying their nervousness, before forcing themselves to still, hands shoved in the pockets of their jeans, eyes flicking to everyone else in the circle.

The light overhead widens, showing everyone in the room. Cecilia opens her arms to get everyone’s attention; she then puts her hands back in her pockets once she is satisfied everyone is looking at her.  "Welcome to Willow River. I hope you enjoy your stay." She pulls one hand out of a pocket and flicks a lighter on. "One aspect of the world we have not discussed is that of magic." She extinguishes the lighter and looks around the circle. "Magic is just as real as monsters are. Some of you may already know that, and some of you may suspect it. That being said ... magic is not accepted. The terror that led to witch burnings? Still strongly ingrained in the hearts and minds of the general populace."

She puts the lighter back in her pocket. "Be careful. This is not a friendly world. There is so much fear, and so much distrust. Use your brains above all, your magic cautiously, and your weapons even more so. Life is fragile here, and it is not easy - nor, frequently, wise - to play at being gods. You are here to solve mysteries. You may or may not be here to save the world ... but you are certainly here to change it."

The light is suddenly extinguished, and everyone is plunged into darkness. In that darkness, the voice of Cecilia Tinsley rings out one last time: "Good luck."