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THE UNEXPECTED INTELLIGENCE

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Nestled within deep woodland, the bright red tile and white brick of Von Ruthro House glows faintly as the sun touches and warms it. People bustle about the grounds, going about their daily work routines. Amongst them strolls Claus Von Ruthro – a dapper, suited man with a cane of living wood at his side. His deep complexion glows with kindness as he stops to talk with each of the people working for him. He comes to a stable hand who busies herself unhitching a magnificent horse from its cart. Claus pauses to stroke the beast which whinnies in appreciation and nuzzles its master. The stable hand reaches up to unbridle the horse and deftly slips something into Claus’ pocket. He clears his throat and mutters a comment about the weather to the woman, she responds quickly and he nods, heading back towards the house.

From the upmost window, Claus looks out across the forest to the dim blackening which marks Curdle Village. His fingers explore the jagged edges of a brightly coloured stone as he frowns wistfully toward a beautiful day he doesn’t see. ‘Delilah...’ he mutters, shaking his head sadly.

Behind him, a beautiful young woman with her luxuriant brown hair in a side ponytail approaches. She hesitates at his side but soon lays a delicate hand upon his shoulder. Claus, startled by her appearance, first pockets the stone, then smiles with relief. ‘Arabella.’ He whispers, pressing his lips gently to her cheek. ‘I need you.’ Claus shows her the stone and Arabella nods, glancing behind them at her lady-in-waiting who gives a small smile at her mistress before scurrying off. Arabella’s cheeks flush as she draws Claus toward the staircase. Smiling graciously as they descend, the Von Ruthro’s talk politely to one another until at last they reach a locked door. Claus taps it with his staff and shivering tendrils reach out from it to make contact with it. With a click, the door swings open and Claus ushers his wife inside.

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