At first, it had been a mistake coming to the Isle of Thorns.

That had been his initial thought at least. Desperation and a need to lay low for a while had led him to this place. But he had quickly discovered that opportunities to satisfy his other needs in safety were dangerously few and far between. In such an isolated area, eventually, he would slip. Eventually, he would be caught -- or worse.

But that was before he discovered the grotto near the northeastern coast. Before he discovered it.

By rights, Hans had actually found it first. Stumbling over the rocks as he came across the hidden crevasse, Hans had eagerly descended into the dark, thinking that perhaps the rumours of the Von Gunthers' lost treasures had some truth to it. Blinded by greed, the Eisen failed to realize the full impact of what was found -- awakened. Hans barely lasted two seconds before he had been torn apart, but the echoes of his strangled screams throughout the grotto seemed to last an eternity.

He, however, stood firm where Hans had failed. It encircled him, touching him carefully and investigating every dark impulse and thought he possessed. It found a kindred spirit in him. A fellow parasite willing to do whatever it took to survive. It was pleased.

And it understood, too, how limiting the small isle really was for both of them. That wouldn't do at all; that would have to change. Now that it had broken free from the long slumber, appetites would have to be sated. Fortunately, he already had a plan. And, as a gesture of goodwill, offered it the services of the minion he had managed to ensnare since arriving on the Isle.

It was doubly pleased. And so was he. Soon -- very soon -- both their needs would finally be satiated.

***

"Eisen. Theus Almighty, why do we still have to be in Eisen?" Fortunato Valeri sniffed disdainfully as the rain lightly spattered on him. Shaking his head, the Vodacce looked over the rail of the small ferry towards the rocky island they were heading.

"I like Eisen. Hard working people who don't mince words. Unlike you, Vodacce..." Behind Fortunato, Ulf Pedersen's voice rumbled. Biting back a curse, Fortunato looked behind him to see the large Vesten warrior staring back at him grimly, arms folded across his massive chest.

"'Unlike me'?! Listen, you bear-skinned buffoon, I don't mince words...I tell things as they are!" The Vodacce rolled his eyes. "I just choose to do it with tact, something most of these mud-sucking peasants seem incapable of doing!"

The Vesten growled, "I meant the 'hard-working' part. Or have you forgotten what happened in Buche with the carriage at the Jenny house AGAIN?"

"That was not my fault! I keep telling you, I got sidetracked when the Musketeers showed up. How was I supposed to know about the powder keg they had next door? Oh wait, that was YOUR job to tell me! But you got distracted by those sailors!"

"Gentlemen!" A woman's sharp voice rang out, silencing both men. Lady Grace MacKenzie stepped onto the deck, digger's coat keeping off most of the rain. The Highlander sighed. "It's far too wet to be havin' such scintillatin' conversation. Or need I remind you both where we're goin' is supposed to be a place o' peace?"

"...he started it..." Both Ulf and Fortunato muttered at the same time. The Vodacce grimaced slightly, nodding towards their destination. "The Isle of Thorns...doesn't sound very peaceful, Grace."

"Well, it used to be a prison for the Eisen Imperators back in the day..." The Explorer nodded. "Anyone the crown thought it'd be too dangerous to execute was sent there in exile. The Von Gunthers served faithfully as its wardens. After the War o' the Cross ended, Baron Adelbert decided it might better serve Eisen as a place o' sanctuary an' diplomacy. Somewhere where the workers o' the Vaticines an' Objectionists could retreat to an' hold open dialogue. Even a priest or two o' the Church o' Avalon has been here. No Ussuran Orthodoxs yet, though the invite has always been open."

"Diplomacy..." Fortunato offered a weak, though honest, smile instead of his usual cynicism. "Theus knows this country could use the healing after the War. Diplomacy is a welcome change of pace."

"Even if it comes from 'mud-sucking peasants'?" asked Ulf, not-so-innocently.

The Vodacce opened his mouth to snap at the Vesten, then immediately shut it. "Point," he said instead, chagrin on his face.

"Who is this Baron Adelbert?" Ulf turned to Grace. "Is he a good man?"

"Baron Adelbert Von Gunther...I've not had the pleasure o' meetin' with the man myself, but he's made a few monetary donations to the Explorers' Chapterhouse in Freiburg. Made a few monetary donations to some o' the universities an' academies throughout Eisen actually. Never married, never had children. He's gettin' on in years from what I've been told. I don't know what'll happen to the title once he passes on."

At that, the trio grew quiet for a while, all of them looking towards the isle they were approaching. Finally, Fortunato spoke "Any idea what exactly was found?"

"Not sure yet," Grace frowned. "The evidence the Society was given definitely leads us to believe it's Syrneth, whatever it is. We're to do a preliminary search o' the isle an' see what's up. No sense in endangerin' the excavators all willy-nilly, you know."

"Just us," said Ulf, teeth gritted.

"Isn't that always the way?" Grace offered the Vesten an apologetic smile. "One more thing, Baron Adelbert is hostin' a few important guests right now. None o' them are willin' to leave just yet, so we got to be careful here. Not step on too many toes."

"Diplomacy?" Ulf arched a brow, then shot a look towards the Vodacce, who was staring back at him with a smirk.

"Aye..." Grace sighed. Worry was already creasing her face. "...diplomacy."