A Taste of Paradise (Closed Freestyle RP)

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A Taste of Paradise (Closed Freestyle RP)

Unread postby Archmage » Thu Jan 10, 2008 1:27 am

Hakaril Silvar, General of the Doman army’s magician’s regiment and battle-hardened adventurer, reached up to wipe a bit of sweat off his brow. His current situation was overwhelming him with tension, but unlike typical confrontations, this war could never be won by simply unleashing a torrent of overwhelming arcane energy at his opponent. No, he had to outthink the enemy, and he saw no opening to exploit. The wizard gritted his teeth, considering his options. One misstep would result in his total destruction. The thought was unpleasant enough, but being wiped out by this particular opponent would be particularly humiliating. His foe was an old rival, one whom he had met on the field of battle many times, and while their struggle was eternal, Hakaril usually prevailed. Today, however, he was losing ground with no apparent means of recovery.

Unfortunately for the General, he was also committing a remarkable strategic blunder by letting all of this frustration creep into his facial expression. It was painfully clear to his enemy that the mage considered this battle all but lost.

“Are you…alright, Gen…er, Hakaril?” questioned his adversary. “You seem like you…might need to take a break. We can…play again later, when you feel better.”

The magician glared across the chessboard at his opponent. “Darin, you’re just trying to give me an excuse to resign without actually recording this game as a loss.” It was just the sort of ploy that the half-celestial would devise to attempt to let Hakaril walk away with dignity. He wasn’t ashamed at the idea of losing to Darin, exactly. It just seemed to Hakaril as though a General losing at a game that amounted to a war simulation against a semi-pacifist was a somewhat bizarre scenario. “Anyway, don’t patronize me. Highly disrespectful, patronizing your equals. I’ll find a way out of this one yet.”

Darin nodded wordlessly as Hakaril scratched idly at his neck before moving a piece on the board. That’ll have to do, thought Hakaril. Darin frowned.

“That’s looking better, isn’t it?” remarked Hakaril. “What’re you going to do about that, hmm?”

Darin just looked at the board for a moment before calmly sliding his empress across the checkered marble playing surface. “Checkmate,” he murmured quietly.

How incredibly stupid. Hakaril smacked himself in the face, groaning slightly. “Some tactical genius I am,” he quipped.

“If…it makes you feel any better,” replied Darin apologetically, “my…father…did lead an army against the prismatic dragons. Maybe I…inherited my grasp of strategy from him.”

Hakaril laughed. “Darin, I thought you’d gotten it by now. Never apologize for winning.”

Hakaril and Darin’s chess games were something of an oddity, given Hakaril’s competitive spirit and Darin’s diametrically opposed meekness, but they had been playing games against one another since the good old days when they were roommates at the Gunnir Academy for the Arcane Arts and Sciences. It was the best way to get Darin to loosen up a little, Hakaril reasoned. They had known each other for nearly a decade now and it hadn’t occurred to Darin on their reunion a few years back that it wasn’t necessary for the half-celestial to address Hakaril by his formal title. It was the kind of thing that Darin would do, calling his roommate from the academy “General Silvar.” He wondered idly if Darin had stopped calling his girlfriend “Miss Tassi” yet.

Despite the fact that his old friend had bested him, the chess match gave Hakaril something infinitely more interesting to do than mundane clerical duties. A guard had delivered a report that morning about having to arrest a crowd of rowdy tavern-goers who were all apparently simultaneously banging on the door to a little shack on the edge of the marketplace. This was the sort of thing that Hakaril had absolutely no patience for. Why the hell should he care about petty public disturbances? And why did the guard always have to be so self-important about doing things like throwing cutpurses in the castle dungeon?

He supposed it was a matter of perspective. Hakaril himself had done too much adventuring to consider local law enforcement to be worthy of mention. Both his job and his wanderlust had carried him to half the known continents on Gaera and nearly a dozen higher planes of existence. His role as a General and his desire to protect the material realms from obsessive necromancers and astral-stealing other-planar beings pushed Hakaril into some remarkable situations, not to mention his travels to the elemental realms or the more obscure trash-heap planes hashed together by bored gods or powerful sorcerers for the purpose of storing bits and pieces of miscellany. He had died, murdered by the currents of an elaborate conspiracy to permit a pit lord to conquer Doma, and been resurrected by the goddess of justice herself. He had been the personal servant of the lord of hate due to petty ideas about vengeance that he had finally managed to all but purge from his thoughts.

Anyone who knew anything at all about Hakaril Silvar’s history generally had no difficulty understanding why he felt that tax evaders were completely irrelevant.

The chronoscope on Hakaril’s desk beeped dutifully. It was one o’ clock. One o’ clock was Hakaril’s preferred time to start putting off any work that he hadn’t already done to do tomorrow, which meant that he usually accomplished almost absolutely no bureaucratic duties at all on a given day, seeing as how he typically rose at around eight or nine and usually took a break to meet with Darin or have lunch and tea at around eleven or noon. And the hours between nine and ten were usually spent working on cataloguing his collection of magical oddities, devising new means to improve the self-polishing charms on his cabinets, reading pornographic illusion-magazines, or imagining needlessly-complicated-but-aesthetically pleasing trick-shot setups in wizard’s billiards.

The last of these was arguably his favorite. He had gotten into wizard’s billiards during his recent time spent teaching at Gunnir as a means of compensating for his tuition, which, as he was a runaway at the time, he had no money to pay for. It was a curious game, played with long sticks and balls on a green cloth table with pockets on the sides and in the corners. It was apparently modified from a mundane game played by some excruciatingly boring nobility. Innovative Gunnir students, mostly from the enchanting department, saw fit to outfit the table with a randomly shifting landscape of teleporters, accelerators, inertial dampeners, anti-gravity zones, friction-free areas, and, perhaps most excitingly, balls that periodically exploded if hit with too much force, scattering other objects on the table and occasionally flinging them into nearby students. It was helpful to have someone skilled in healing magic on hand when playing wizard’s billiards, but that was part of the charm. No good game should be completely safe. It just wouldn’t be the Gunnir way.

One o’ clock was an excellent time to head to the local tavern. Hakaril had technically sworn off drinking years ago on account of some issues with his wife’s alcohol tolerance, but that particular vow rarely stopped him as long as he was sure she would never find out. However, the real reason for the General to visit the inn in the middle of the day was never to get an early start on the evening’s barflies. No, he usually stopped into the Jade Dragon for a cup of tea or two, not so much for the drinks as for the company. The bar owner was an old friend of his, and while she frequently went on vacation and left the establishment in the hands of one of her partners, he couldn’t think of many people he didn’t like who spent a great deal of time at the Jade Dragon. It was a good place to soak up the local rumors, if nothing else, and it was sure as hell more interesting than doing paperwork, not that he was going to accomplish very much of that even if he stayed at the castle. Since he wasn’t being productive anyway, the obvious solution was to go goof off.

It occurred to Hakaril then--as it usually did at least once a day--that the king really ought to fire him and pick up someone who would actually deal with filling out forms all the time. He knew it would never happen. The kingdom would’ve been reduced to ashes long ago if it weren’t for him and various adventurers he’d had the good fortune to recruit for missions where the fate of the known world was at stake. He was the keystone of the Doman arch, and King Charles knew it.

Hakaril knew that King Charles knew it, too, which was the main reason he figured he could get away with just about anything.

Off to the bar, then, he decided. Every time I’ve ever been responsible for saving the world, it all started in a bar anyway. I think I could make a pretty good case that I do more important work in bars than I do in my office.

Darin hoped Hakaril wouldn’t be sore at him about losing their chess game. He was never sure, really, how he felt about these sorts of things. Hakaril always seemed so serious whenever he was playing games, and he always seemed thoroughly frustrated by the very idea of losing.

One of these days, thought Darin, I’m going to win and he’ll decide he doesn’t want to play anymore, that he never wants to see me again. It was certain to be the outcome eventually. He knew how competitive the General could get. He says he’s my friend, and that I should never be ashamed to win, he mused. But is it worth hurting him by making him lose?

Hakaril had done a lot for Darin. The half-celestial was only living at Doma Castle because the General had pulled a few strings to get his former roommate a place to stay. He could just as easily live in the city now, but at the time that he had returned to Doma from his home country he was a fugitive, wanted for murder, treason, and desertion of the Prandian army. If it weren’t for Hakaril, Darin might’ve been running from the Prandians for the rest of his likely long life. He might’ve outlived every officer who’d ever commanded him, but he was sure they would’ve continued to chase him. If it weren’t for Hakaril, Darin would never have found out why the Prandians wanted him. What they had done to recruit him. What they did to his mother.

Who his father was.

Darin shuddered a little at the last thought. His father was a subject that always filled him with apprehension. They had met face-to-face only a few times, and he was always unsure how his only living parent really felt about him. He supposed that his father probably judged him with a different sort of eye than anyone else. His father was, after all, an archangel, a servant of the ideal of justice who had given his heart to a mortal woman. Not just any archangel, but one of the leaders of the celestial armies, an entity whose name had appeared in many legends throughout history as a defender of the weak. The archangel Christopher.

It was unfortunate that his father had apparently gone insane. His failure to protect the one mortal woman he had ever had a personal attachment to was evidently more than a little damaging to the archangel’s emotional state.

The first time the two had ever met, Christopher had tried to kill him. It was clearly a decision that the archangel had given a great deal of thought. It would’ve been premeditated spilling of family blood. Not terribly just. Arguably out-of-character for a celestial that prided himself on being the embodiment of all that was right and fair in the universe. Totally against the professed impartiality of Christopher’s ideal, in fact. Without question, the archangel would have joined the ranks of the fallen had he slain his son. Darin trusted his father’s judgment. If an archangel of justice believed he deserved to die, what right did he have to argue? Surely this emissary of the divine had a better grasp of fairness than he did. Half of Darin belonged to another world, whether he liked it or not, and the celestial world was bound up in its own rules that had little or nothing to do with the law of mortal kingdoms. They were superior rules, by definition, crafted by the wisest of the gods, or so it was believed.

As things stood, Hakaril came between the two of them. Hakaril spat in the archangel’s face. He had interposed himself between the hammer of justice and the innocent-judged-guilty, sword pointed at Darin’s self-appointed executioner, and swore that he would rip Christopher’s soul to shreds if he so much as glanced at Darin in a threatening manner. It was a futile gesture, in one sense. Hakaril could never hope to win that battle, and he knew it. Darin knew it. But his willingness to sacrifice himself had triggered something in Christopher’s heart. Hakaril had turned the injustice of the situation back on Christopher with full force, and the archangel vanished.
Darin later learned that his father had relocated to a remote corner of the celestial plane, self-exiled, until several years later when the sword his father wielded was needed to repel an invasion by nightmare creatures from the black and repugnant planes of hatred, realm of Nikumu, the sadist god. It was good that Christopher seemed willing to help a group of adventurers opposing the forces of a deity whose only apparent goals were to create as much suffering as possible and to encourage living creatures to torment each other. That was real justice, or so Darin figured.

It was time for Darin to return to the room in the castle that he and Tassi shared. Tassi had come into his life only recently, in a relative sense, and now he wondered how he had ever lived without her. It was difficult for him to articulate precisely what it was that she did for him, but he thought he understood his father a little better, having met the healer and gotten to know her better than he had ever come to know any human being. He understood, now, why his father would’ve given himself to a human woman.

And, when he dared to think about it, he understood why his father reacted the way he did when he lost her.

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Unread postby Kai » Thu Jan 10, 2008 6:07 pm

While her half-celestial lover was off pitting his tactical skills against his friend, Tassi Wells was curled up in bed with the covers over her head. It had been a long night, and for whatever reason she'd been the only female healer on duty when the call came for a midwife. The men tried to help, but sometimes it was a bit much for them. She'd spent the last eighteen hours or so up to her elbows in a stranger's bloodied nether regions, and when she was finally relieved near dawn all she'd wanted to do was bathe and sleep for the next hundred years.

The Baronian healer noticed Darin leaving, but was far too fuzzy on the details to give it much thought until she was more awake. When she finally untangled herself from the bedsheets and stumbled away from the bed, she wondered if he'd gone somewhere with Hakaril. Little enough to wonder about there, she thought. Darin seldom went anywhere without her unless it was with Hakaril or at the archmage's behest.

Tassi hadn't immediately understood Darin's relationship with Hakaril, nor why Hakaril was allowed to have such a prominent role in their lives. For months she only tolerated the archmage because Darin was so attached to him. Personally she'd found him incredibly arrogant, reckless, and irritating. Darin himself was so meek and unassuming that Tassi wondered what use he could have for Hakaril at all. Of course, it also didn't help that right from the start Hakaril had been meddling in her relationship with Darin.

In this Tassi had met her match. If there was one thing Tassi knew she could be, it was a meddling old gossip. If she hadn't been pushy and sufficiently determined to steal a little time with him, she'd never have been able to get Darin's attention at all. Poor Darin occasionally had to be cajoled and bullied into accepting his own wishes as valid, and it had taken Tassi some work simply to make Darin understand why another person might be happier with him nearby. Every step of the way she'd had to corral him into acknowledging her advances, and Tassi could not have imagined what a shameless flirt she could be until she faced the rather weighty task of reaching out to a lonely and introverted former soldier. However, Darin's pace was more tentative and hesitant than most people's, and Tassi understood that.

Hakaril had not. From the start he'd been shoving them together in the only way he understood: teaching Darin pickup lines by rote, insisting to all and sundry how well-equipped Darin was, and asking daily if she'd slept with him yet. Quite intrusive, and Darin was allowing it! If Silvar had simply left her alone she and Darin would have been fine and Darin wouldn't have to worry about the constant pressure to live up to the expectations of his insane former roommate. It was some time until she came to understand this invasive and annoying behavior.

Yes, it was condescending and unhelpful, but there was genuine concern there. Sometimes the only way to remind Darin that his friends were still there for him was to corner him into accepting their interest in him. At least half of her first conversation with Darin had been explaining in rather brazen terms that she thought he was a nice man, enjoyed his company, and would like to see him again. It was a delicate task sometimes to respect his timidness even when he couldn't understand why the confusing social habits of humans should have anything to do with him. Furthermore, Darin wasn't talking about mortals anymore like he wasn't one. Tassi had to count that as a success. He even called people by their first names--at least half the time--and even expressed an opinion in public now and again. On a good day he might brighten enough to tell a joke.

Tassi hadn't taken up with Darin in the hopes that he'd change from the gentle and mild man who'd caught her eye, but there was something wonderful about watching the difference in him as he learned what it meant to be happy, to be loved. Tassi credited her willingness to follow him around like a lovesick teenager, bullying and harassing him into enjoying himself.

Hakaril's bullying and harassment took a different form than Tassi's, but they weren't working at cross purposes. This hadn't hit home until she'd had opportunity to work with Hakaril away from the subject of their mutual friend. When both of them had faced the prospect of dying in an extraplanar war for the sake of strangers, Tassi had gotten to know a side beneath the brash and obnoxious mage's cocky facade. His priorities weren't as skewed as she'd originally assumed, and when she was forced to depend on Hakaril, he hadn't let her down. Their relationship changed somewhat after that, at least on Tassi's end.

She still referred to him as "Darin's insane archmage friend," but there was some affection there born of the realization that, in his way, Hakaril was just trying to look out for a friend who had really never had anyone else. If Darin appreciated it, Tassi could too. She and Hakaril finally settled into a relationship of friendly banter and pranking. After Tassi had moved in with Darin, Hakaril had spent the next few days sending tea and crumpets to their room at all hours of the night. She retaliated by sending him haddock, tripe, and other oddities. Tassi found that once she started playing along, the archmage eased up a bit. Perhaps he just wanted to make sure that Darin's lady friend had what it took to save him from a life of quiet research.

After a while, Tassi stopped considering Hakaril an unavoidable nuisance that must be allowed around for Darin's happiness. Crude and annoying as he tried to be Hakaril had no love for hiding his feelings or opinions, including his steadfast devotion to those he considered friends. Now that Tassi was among that number she finally had patience enough to tolerate his shenanigans. Or I'm simply not hearing anymore about how essential it is that I sleep with Hakaril's best friend, she noted.

Ever since Hakaril had noticed that Tassi now lived in the castle, his sacred masculine duty to see his friend getting laid had been satisfied. As long as things seemed to be going well, Hakaril seemed content to leave them in peace. The end result of this was that she and Darin's friend had never really had much chance to have a serious conversation about him. For now it was enough that a temporary alliance for Darin's sake had turned into an easier acquaintance.

Stepping over the blanket she'd kicked to the floor in her struggle to free herself from the bedsheets, Tassi reached back and tied her hair behind her head. Darin might not be back for a while, which meant that Tassi would have some time to tidy up the room. Darin would never actually ask her to take special care with his living space, since the man seemed to minimize his impact on the world wherever he went--including his own chambers. However, Tassi was living here and just couldn't abide seeing her own mess all over. Darin was good enough to let her swan in and take up residence, so the least she could do was avoid trashing the place.

The healer began yanking the blankets from the bed and making a pile of sheets to send down to one of the castle charladies. She threw some of her socks and underthings onto the pile, absently repeating an old bawdy song she'd learned from an elderly herbalist.

"Well you never seen a girl so sad and sorry as I was.
The boys in town are all my kin and my father is the cause.
If life should thus continue I shall die a single miss
so I go to my mother and complain to her of this."

Tassi put on a good show of being a proper prim Baronian woman, but underneath she was a rural woman far too old to deal with any such pretenses. Much of the time her conversations with Hakaril's wife turned into startlingly frank discussions that could never be shared with their men. Darin probably still hadn't gotten used to her occasional forwardness--especially after a whiskey or two--so Tassi tried to rein herself in a bit when word might get back to him. Tassi suspected Darin wouldn't really care, but she'd never hear the end of it from Hakaril.

"Oh daughter didn't I teach you to forgive and to forget.
Your father might have sowed his oats but still you needn't fret.
Your father may be father to all the boys in town but still....
He's not the one who sired you so marry who you will."

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Unread postby Archmage » Fri Jan 11, 2008 5:37 pm

“What kind of weird stuff are we talking about?”

The bartender shrugged. “Not the usual drunkards, I’ll say. Weirder than that, yessir. Livelier, I s’pose.”

Domans acting weird. Hardly news. The ice cubes in Hakaril’s glass of tea clinked softly as he set the vessel down. Nothing of particular interest appeared to be happening in the Jade Dragon today, much to his disappointment. Hakaril never explicitly wished for catastrophes, but he knew that they were inevitable, and bar-hopping to pick up bits and pieces of information swept downstream from the rumor mill was, if nothing else, a way to keep his mind occupied.

“Didn’t have the gait of drunkards, no sir,” continued the barman. “Trust me on that. I can spot a boozer’s walk from a quarter mile off and tell you their preferred spirit by the scent of their breath from across the room. ‘specially if they always drink the cheap stuff.”

Drunks that a bartender didn’t think were drunk. Somebody alert the town crier, thought Hakaril. Go and tell it on the mountain. I’ll relay this directly to King Charles.

“Are you telling me this because you want me to send someone to look into it?”

“No, sir, not especially, though y’could post another guard here if’n y’like. Just in case they get too rowdy. Hate to get caught in a riot.”

This was excruciatingly boring. Local barkeeps requesting the presence of law enforcement were not high on Hakaril’s list of priorities for the afternoon. “I’ll check in at the nearest station and get you a couple watchmen,” replied the mage, sipping at his tea idly. If nothing else, the gesture would keep the barman from worrying too much. He could focus on serving drinks that way.

“As a random aside,” Hakaril continued, “where’s Riss’ar? I haven’t seen him in here lately, and last I checked he wasn’t the type to skip out on work. Is he on vacation?”

The barkeep shrugged again. “Dunno. Haven’t seen him in a coupl’a weeks now. Kinda worried, actually.”

It was dark and quiet in Riss’ar’s cell. His eyesight was good, normally, and he could see twice as far as a human in the same lighting conditions, but either way, there was nothing here worth seeing. Even calling his residence a cell was generous. It was more of an oubliette, a covered vertical shaft just slightly longer than he was tall when he was sitting down. It was barely wide enough to accommodate his wings, forcing him to fold them together, curling their feathered framework around his body just to fit into the chamber. An inverted pyramid, flat black and sharply pointed at the end, occupied most of the center space of the cell. Riss’ar had to sit curled up in the corner with his legs spread out to either side of the spike. The spike had no apparent function other than to reduce the size of the chamber.

No one ever spoke to him. For some time after his arrival, he had called out for help, praying that someone would hear him. No answer ever came. It was impossible to measure time; he had no idea how long he had been in the cell. It could as easily have been months as days. He had forgotten how he had come here.

Some foul and twisted scream reached the angel’s ears, and he shivered against the cold metal of the cell. He was afraid. An angel of innocence, and the only emotion he could manage was fear. He was worried that he might die here.

Or worse, that he might not.

Darin permitted himself to smile. Tassi was singing again, and even if he occasionally found the bawdy Baronian tavern songs that she so enjoyed to be about bafflingly impolite subjects for public conversation, her voice was definitely pleasant to the ear. He knocked briefly at the door to their chamber before entering. Tassi had given him a very hard time about Darin knocking before entering his own room, even if she was in it. They had settled on a compromise. He would knock, but not worry about waiting for a response before entering.

"Good afternoon, Tassi," said Darin, bowing his head slightly.

Tassi heard a polite knock on the door and sighed. She'd been hoping to have this taken care of before he got back, but as it was she was knee-deep in bedding and laundry. She looked down at the mess around her feet and laughed. "I guess it is afternoon, isn't it," she replied. "Took me long enough to get started." Picking her way carefully over the laundry-strewn floor, Tassi made her way closer to the door. "But then I got in late. Hope I didn't wake you up."

Darin shook his head. She had, but only for a moment. He'd fallen right back asleep without difficulty. It was nothing worth troubling her about. He knew that whatever Tassi had been doing it was clearly necessary, probably part of her responsibilities as a healer. There was no need to make her feel guilty for slightly interfering with his sleep when she was probably saving lives.

"I...beat Gen...Hakaril...at chess today." Darin grinned, just slightly. Hakaril was always telling him that he should take pride in his successes.

"Ha!" she exclaimed. "Good for you. He needs it now and again; keep him on his toes." It didn't even register anymore that Darin had nearly called him General Silvar instead of Hakaril. It wasn't worth chiding him about when he was clearly in a good mood. "What else have you been up to while I was sleeping the day away?"

"Oh, very little," replied Darin. "I did...a little reading...ate breakfast...you know. No...big plans. Not until I had a chance...to talk to you about what...you wanted to do."

Tassi looked down again at the clothes she was still wearing from yesterday and the mess of laundry. "Well, I was hoping to get these put in the wash at some point, and after that I wasn't sure."

This of course wasn't going to be good enough. Tassi was accustomed by now to the fact that if left to his own devices Darin would do very little all day, and unless she suggested something interesting Darin would spend his day refusing to impose on anyone by ...doing anything. "Well, the bookseller is having a sale, and yesterday he told me that he might have a couple of blank volumes at a good price. Let's see," she mused aloud, gazing up at the ceiling. "And I'll probably need to pick up some new linens for the temple. They gave me a few gil for that." Something else. Something... besides shopping and errands. Something he could take part in that didn't entail simply following her around and watching her haggle. "Oh, and I think I heard something about a new restaurant downtown. Live music and everything. Perhaps we could catch dinner or something. Take a chance to get out of the castle for a bit. What do you think?"

Darin nodded. "That...sounds lovely. I...would enjoy that very much." He and Tassi had been a couple for some time now, and the very idea was still a little foreign to him at times that she would want to do something like go sit and listen to music with him in a restaurant for hours.

He stepped toward Tassi and embraced her briefly before hooking his arm through hers affectionately. "Shall we...go, then?"

Meanwhile, Hakaril pored over the wares offered on a small cart in the Doman marketplace, trying to decide if he really needed another bottle of basilisk saliva.

“Where do you get this stuff, anyway?” asked the wizard as he held up a small flask of pale gray liquid. “Do you keep a basilisk in a cellar somewhere and collect its drool?”

The salesman laughed. Hakaril had never seen this particular salesman on this corner before, but no matter. Doma’s market was like that. Sometimes you would get bargains on goods that wouldn’t be there the next day—or even the next hour. He was well-dressed, thought Hakaril, and probably made a good deal of money. At the very least, he spent a fair bit of it maintaining his appearance; his hair was combed and slicked back, his beard was neatly trimmed, and he was wearing fancy green robes. Not your typical grimy alchemist. Hakaril doubted that the man did any alchemy himself, for that matter. He was too clean, too professional-looking. Most real wizards didn’t have time for that kind of practical nonsense. They preferred to do quality magic and leave dressing up the product to someone who cared about such mundane matters.

Buy from wherever you can get a good product, thought Hakaril, but don’t commission anything from an alchemist with a clean shirt.

“No, no. I get a lot of this stuff from elsewhere. Don’t really know where my sources get it. I just buy low and sell high.”

“That’s good business practice,” remarked Hakaril. It was the kind of painfully obvious statement he was prone to make if small talk was proving to be uninteresting.

“I pick up alchemical components all over the place,” continued the man. “I travel a lot. Just stopping on this corner today before moving onto another one, so if you see something you like, don’t hesitate to make an offer. I’ll cut you a deal, better than you can get elsewhere, and tomorrow I’ll be gone.”

Just as Hakaril figured. A fly-by-night alchemy vendor. Just an opportunistic trader, really.

“I’ve got some rarer stuff under the cart, if you’ve got the gold on hand to talk more serious business,” continued the salesman in a stage whisper. Hakaril quirked an eyebrow. It was worth a look. Who knew how far this fellow had been travelling? Maybe he’d picked up something in the south wood, or perhaps some Argovian plant cuttings that he could use to cultivate his own small crop of a useful species or two.

“Yeah, sure,” Hakaril replied with a nod. “Let’s do business.”

Ambrosia, the salesman had called it. Not the most creative name. Nectar of the gods. Hakaril doubted he was actually holding any beverage fit for a deity. For one thing, the vial was too small, barely the size of his index finger. It contained enough fluid to wet the tip of his tongue. Maybe it was intended to be mixed into a cocktail, like a dash of bitters.

It was a potion of some sort, he reasoned. He wasn’t sure if the salesman had realized the magical nature of his goods aside from the fact that someone, somewhere, must’ve told him that they had arcane properties. It was doubtful that the merchant had enough magical blood in his veins to tell the difference between a bona fide magical elixir and a well-mixed gin sour. Both were magical in their own right, at least as far as the potential effect on the mind.

It occurred to Hakaril that all these alcohol-related metaphors were a subtle hint from deep within his consciousness that he was sore about not having a real drink at the pub. He poked his head out into the hallway, called for a servant, and requested that someone send up a decanter of whisky.

Perhaps he should send for Darin and Tassi, too, while he was thinking about it. The woman had a real appreciation for fine whisky and had gotten him into it in the first place. Apparently she’d even been involved in the development of spirit from a particular distillery up in northern Riva a while ago, or at the very least, she’d been staying in the area at the time. Those northern Rivans, whatever the explanation, could produce some damn fine whisky. It was arguably the best thing the country had ever given to the rest of the world. Hakaril had gradually come to associate Riva less with bigoted backwater bastards with an unfortunately straight family tree and more with delightful spirits. Having a reputation for good booze was certainly better than having a reputation for xenophobic dragoon fanatics.

The ambrosia was yellowish in color, like liquid dandelions. But it shone faintly with its own luminescence, and the nature of the glow was apparently unrelated to its shade. Now that he was really thinking about it, there was more magic in the tiny vial than Hakaril had anticipated. The merchant seemed to think that he was giving Hakaril the hard sell, but it was difficult to fool a magician regarding the worth of arcane goods. Whatever the salesman thought about the value of this flask’s contents, he was pretty sure that he had ripped off the merchant. There was quite a bit of magic packed into those few drops of potion. He had purchased it on a hunch, but a thorough analysis was proving that he had made a good buy.

The only problem was that he had no idea what the potion was for.

There were two good ways to figure out the function of any magical elixir. The first, and more technically difficult way, was to perform all manner of alchemical tests on small samples, sometimes integrating astral vision and divination spells into the procedure. This was the way that Hakaril had been taught to work with potion samples at Gunnir, and he knew he could devise a way to figure out what it was he was holding, even though he barely had enough of it to take proper samples. He could probably determine the nature of the fluid’s magic without using up more than a quarter of the sample in the process. This would be the proper, cautious way to go about things in this situation. Hakaril scratched his chin, thinking about the best apparatus to set up to do the necessary experiments.

The second, and more reckless way, was to drink it and see what happened.

Throwing back the contents of the vial like a shot of Inustani tequila was sounding pretty good right about now.

Someone knocked at the door to Hakaril’s office. “Sir? Your whisky. May I come in?”

Whisky first, thought Hakaril. If I still think it’s a good idea after a whisky or two, then by Kazeros I’m going to find out what the nectar of the gods tastes like.

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Unread postby Kai » Fri Jan 11, 2008 7:35 pm

The Villa Pascha, one of Doma capital's most high-profile bordellos, ticked along smoothly under the iron hand of its dutiful administrator. She was a woman of rather unassuming appearance, wearing nothing more revealing than a modest suit and heels. She kept her blonde hair tightly bound behind her head, and seldom spoke to anyone who was not either a customer or one of her girls. It was whispered among the prostitutes of the Villa Pascha that Jeri used magical means to keep tabs on her business, but little was known of her abilities, her past, or even a surname. She was just Jeri, and the Villa Pascha was Jeri's house.

Zesvyll the Quarnilëe, born Jadvyga and called Jeri by all, laid her pen down on her ledger. Business wasn't good. She'd had to lay off three girls this month, and not for lack of customers. They seemed to come as often as ever. The problem was with the girls themselves.

It must have been going on for weeks before any of them slipped up within the walls of the Villa Pascha. All of the senior girls knew better; nothing escaped Jeri's notice. Any misconduct in this house, any crime or unprofessional behavior, came to her attention. It was for their own safety, and most of them understood that. Patrons sometimes wanted to get more for their money than they were allowed, and often didn't care what the cost was to the girl tending them. Only a new girl, a virtual novice, could fail to understand this simple need.

She cursed under her breath. So stupid. Of course it would have seemed perfectly natural to bring something like that here, if this were a common cathouse. Jeri ran a tight shift here, and she was responsible for these girls. Callie had been the one this time, and Jeri'd about had enough. A report had already been filed to the Doman Guard; Jeri's bouncer and assistant had seen to it. The Guard had recently renewed its affirmation that the guild-licensed prostitutes of the city were under their protection and not merely gutter-crawling vagrants to be ignored. However, their willingness to expend their resources in Jeri's jurisdiction was questionable, and she was not satisfied.

She stepped away from her desk and locked the front door. The house was closed for now. Jeri headed off to take care of the last bit of business, her heels clicking as she walked up the stairs to the girls' hall. The sound echoed through the house, and in each occupied room a girl froze to wonder what Jeri was doing up here. She rapped sharply on Callie's door.

There was no answer at first, and Jeri took a deep breath. "Callie. Open the door." She tilted her head. "Now."

Movement inside, stumbling. Jeri'd been too late. The employee who opened the door was a nervous girl of seventeen, pale at the prospect of facing her boss but far too disoriented to display the proper poise that had gotten her hired in the first place. "Hey, I... uh, look. We're just.... having... having--"

A man's voice interrupted. "Having a little brandy."

Jeri tilted her head to gaze blandly at the gentleman in question. "Senator Ivanson," she said. "I was not asking you." His mouth snapped shut, his teeth clicking audibly. He hadn't given her his name. He'd never given his name, on any visit. "But since you're involving yourself, tell me this. Is a proprietor of such a house as mine obligated under the law to see to the safety of her girls?"

"Well, of course. It'll all part of the unioniz--"

"And under the law, in exchange for the services I offer, am I not permitted to keep the confidentiality of our trusted patrons?"

He wasn't certain anymore where this was going, but he was a politician. He knew when opinion was turning against him. "Yes! Yes, thankfully you are gracious enough to--"

"Can I trust you, Senator?" She grabbed Callie's arm and dragged her around so that she and Ivanson were facing each other. "When you leave my girls like this!" Callie blinked a few times, slowly. This wasn't good. There had to be something she could do to--

"What the hell business is it of mine what she does?" Ivanson answered haughtily. "The care and keeping of streetwalkers is your concern, not mine. I've come to entertain myself, and obviously the girl has a better grasp of customer service than her supervisor."

Jeri released her employee's arm, and nodded slowly. "I'm sorry," she said quietly. "I'm afraid that was the wrong answer."

Fuck, thought the tanned, silk-clad woman who paced the Villa Pascha's foyer. FUCK. There was going to be trouble over this. Shakti had never seen Jeri so angry. Shakti seldom saw Jeri angry at all, and now things were getting way out of hand. The last time anyone had died within these walls, there'd been a Guard presence to verify that an attack had occurred and Jeri was simply defending her home. Shakti wasn't sure how Jeri was going to get them off the hook this time, or if that was even part of the plan at all.

She started as she heard a woman's scream, and a prostitute Shakti recognized as Callie bolted down the stairs in a panic. It was beginning, and as the official guard of this house, now these affairs were Shakti's business, too. She passed Callie on the stairs and arrived in her chamber door in time to see a grown man on his knees, staring upward in abject horror as Jeri knelt over him with her palms against his cheeks. The madame whispered something in a harsh and hissing tongue Shakti had never heard before, repeating it over and over. The senator closed his eyes and screamed as his skin began to dry and become as loose and translucent as an old man's. The flesh of his hands withered where they gripped Jeri's arms, and the strength ran out of him like water from a sieve.

Shakti just gaped. She'd never seen Jeri do this before, and apparently neither had any of the other women gathered in the main hallway behind her. Shakti stepped in and closed the door behind her, waiting with a somewhat squeamish expression on her face. All that terrible screaming.

Jeri stepped away from the withered remains of Senator Ivanson, a fresher and more youthful version of herself. Men came and went, but she was the madame of this house. She would always be mistress here. "I'm headed to the Guardhouse. Contact the guild," she told Shakti. "Tell them we've drawn first blood."

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Unread postby Archmage » Fri Jan 11, 2008 11:06 pm

Hakaril Silvar had traveled to many planes of existence, but this one was entirely new. He felt completely relaxed, as though he were drifting through clear skies, but he also felt vitalized, energetic, capable of taking on the world. If an angry bear had smashed through his office door and roared threateningly at him, he was under the impression that his mind and body would have trouble coming to an agreement about what course of action to take. Sitting around unperturbed and wrestling the beast to the ground with his bare hands before sinking his teeth into its neck sounded like equally good options. He was pretty sure he could handle two bears.

His insides were electrically charged while his mind was totally at peace. It was like receiving a full-body massage while holding the line against a cavalry charge. The paradoxical nature of his mental state generally escaped him unless he took time to really focus on how weird the situation was.

It was a drug, he realized. And he found himself not minding the discovery at all.

“General! A report!” Someone was shouting in his hallway about something. Something that he probably didn’t care about. He wouldn’t have cared before, either, but recreational drug use was rarely good for responsibility, and Hakaril was bad about duty in the first place. He cared less than usual, which is to say that he was about to tell the guard to go do something both highly inappropriate and anatomically challenging.

The guard opened his door. Hakaril simultaneously felt the urge to leap up and punch him in the face and the equally powerful desire to just sit and stare blankly at the guard as though the man would realize that intruding on Hakaril while he was in his current mental state was probably the stupidest idea ever. Maybe he would get it and go away. Probably not. Guards tended to be very single-minded people. Hakaril was still trying to reconcile the fact that his mind and body saw no contradiction in simultaneously craving virile acts of violence and a drug-assisted nap. Both ideas sounded totally awesome.

Hakaril stayed in his chair as the guard marched in. “Sir? Are you alright?”

I must look terribly odd, thought Hakaril. Perhaps a bit too relaxed. He needed a mirror. The state of his hair was suddenly very important.

The guard shook his head and continued, dutifully determined not to notice anything unusual. He clearly just wanted to do his job and leave. “Sir, we’ve imprisoned several citizens for…observation. Their behavior is most unusual. They are alternately very violent and docile to the point where they cannot be escorted without being carried.”

“Ah,” replied Hakaril lazily.

“More to the point, the healers are saying that detoxification spells are having no effect. These people aren’t simply drunk, nor are they affected by any identifiable poison,” continued the guard. “But most of them have committed no crime. Requesting permission to keep them overnight to determine the cause of their behavior, if possible, and to prevent them from harming themselves or others.”

“Granted.” Hakaril waved his hand dismissively. “If that’s all you needed, I’d appreciate it if you left me alone. I’m…doing a very important…experiment.” He turned his head to face the guard, attempting to return his salute, but wound up smacking himself in the nose instead.

Motor functions, too, then, thought Hakaril. I’m totally lucid when I can put aside all the weird ideas about bear wrestling, but I’m not sure about other things. Can I walk like this?

The next thought in his mind was does it matter?

The guard was gone. Hakaril hadn’t seen him leave. Surely he would return to his assigned post and not question his superior’s somewhat strange behavior. From the sound of things, the guard had been dealing with strange people all day. Hakaril doubted that he would think too hard about one more.

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Unread postby Kai » Fri Jan 11, 2008 11:18 pm

The Guardsman behind the front desk normally felt quite safe there. Such a large and forbiddingly official position, behind a desk. Now he just felt small and nervous and lost, because it was all that stood between him and this girl.

"No. You hear this, and you relay it. I have made my reports, and I have been patient. I have done my part to fulfil my bargains with this government. We are law-abiding citizens here, and always have been. We cooperate with your investigations, we keep ourselves licensed, clean, healthy, and safe for the sake of everyone in this city. All we ask in return is that the Guard extend some basic protections."

Jeri took a breath and he saw an opening to interject. "Listen, miss--"

"Don't call me 'miss,' I was running this house when your parents were born and I'll be here when your children are dust."

That deflated him somewhat. No one in Doma was what they seemed, and he could never tell what honorifics to use. "I--I-- sorry. Ma'am. Sorry. But really, there's only so much we can do! There's an ongoing investigation into the recent string of drug-related--"

"No. There isn't. Not from the Guard. Not that we see down in the red-light district. So you file your little report to your superiors, and you tell them that the Escort and Entertainer's Guild is withdrawing from all agreements with this government until further notice. From now on we will protect ourselves, and Ashura preserve your soul if any man or woman comes to our doorstep as an enemy."

Then she was gone, and nothing left of her but the clicking of her heels as she left the Guardhouse. Stunned into continuing silence, it took the poor man nearly a minute to realize he needed to grab a pen.

The higher-ups weren't going to like this one.

Jeri was fuming. Those stiletto heels click-clicked their way to the castle gates, and from the inside of her jacket she pulled a castle pass that was fifty or so years old, but still. Good enough for government work.

"Excuse me," she inquired of the gatekeepers. "Is General Silvar here? I need a word."

"Is he expecting you?"

"So he's here. Good. Now check my pass and let me in. I don't have time to fiddle around with passcards and rubber stamps and things, whatever you're using now."

"All right, all right. Mithra." He handed Jeri's passback to her, and as she left them behind she heard him mutter, "Must be someone's time of the month."

The brothel madame spun on her heel and pointed commandingly straight at the Guardsman's face. He started, expecting rightly that anyone he met in Doma could be a mage or a god or a demon with strange powers activated through index fingers. "You're lucky we're both on the clock, boy."

Some distance down the hall from General Silvar's office came the hurried murmurings of castle staff in a fluttering courteous panic. As each was brushed off, they joined an anxious protesting caravan in Jeri's wake as the woman--girl, now--made a straight path to her destination.

Hakaril heard the same sharp rapping on his door that Callie had heard earlier. "General Silvar, I need a word. It's Jeri, and I don't care if you're busy or naked or half-dead or all three." She gave no last name; as far as she was concerned there were no other Jeris in the universe but her, and Silvar damned well knew who she was. "Open up."

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Unread postby Archmage » Sun Jan 13, 2008 10:57 pm

Hakaril turned around to face the door. Oh, he thought. Someone named Jeri. I know at least one Jeri. What in the world could she want from me? The mage snapped his fingers and the door swung open to reveal the cross-looking woman standing in the hallway.

”Ahh. Er. Jeri. Yeah. What?"

Of course he wouldn't be paying attention. Jeri restrained any especially unkind assessments with the memory that last time her house needed anything, General Silvar had been the one to come help. He had a history of making himself useful, and that was more than she could say for most of the city.

"We're having a problem in our area of town. We've filed reports with the Guard, and despite past assurances that things had changed, we're not seeing it. So, because you've been involved with us before in an official capacity, I'm coming to you before you hear it from this next round of reports."

What was wrong with him? He looked-- Jeri blinked. He must have done something. Of course it was possible he'd just gotten tired of it, and he was a powerful and influential mage. If anyone could afford a bit of cosmetic magic, it was General Silvar. Still... she hadn't pegged him for the type to care. Dismissing that odd little observation, Jeri pressed on with the brazen resolve of a woman not accustomed to being questioned.

"On behalf of the Escort and Entertainer's Guild, I'm putting you on notice. If we can't depend on the government, a stance that you should understand well given your history, we will be taking things into our own hands. We will cooperate with the Guard insofar as it benefits us, but beyond that I've got no use for you. Bear this in mind in your future dealings with us. Do you have any questions?"

Hakaril blinked. This was unexpected. He'd interacted with Jeri only a few times in the past, namely during some ridiculous escapade in which Shakti, his editor, had tried to martyr herself on behalf of some pregnant streetwalker. Granted, it was a noble gesture, but it had been a totally unnecessary one. Jeri, if memory served, was the owner of one of the more prominent brothels in Doma. It wouldn't do to upset her, but at the same time, it was unclear what was bothering her.

"Yeah," replied Hakaril, head lazily tilting to the side. "Uh. What is the problem, exactly?"

"The problem is that my girls are--" She stopped. A realization so stark had hit her so hard that her brain couldn't even properly realize it at all. "Khar," she growled. "So that's it."

With one last flicker of annoyance, all of the hardness and anger dropped away from Jeri's expression. She straightened her shoulders, relaxed her jaw, and clasped her hands behind her back. A paragon of courtesy and composure, Jeri was livid. "The problem is that my girls and I are being surrounded by a drug problem that's going largely uninvestigated. I'm glad I came to you, because now I know why. Is there anything else before I go?"

"Huh," remarked Hakaril. Jeri was being remarkably rude, storming into his office and complaining at him about something that he clearly had no control over. It occurred briefly to him that she might be angry. On one hand, he was quite happy sitting in his office by himself. Had he been doing something important before she interrupted?

Probably not, he decided, glancing at the decanter of whisky on his desk. Maybe he could defuse her anger with a little hospitality. Why was she so upset?

"Ah, but you've just come. What a waste of a trip that would be, if you left in such a hurry! Please, tell me all about it. Sit, sit, have a whisky with me, I'm completely willing to listen to your problem."

Jeri remained blandly silent for a second or two, considering her options. The part of her that was bitter about the Guard's inaction was echoing the sentiment of the part that was utterly disgusted with Silvar. Get out. Get done with these people until they were no longer a threat due to sheer apathy.

"I've already gone through the proper channels this time, and you should know as well as I do that sometimes the official channels aren't enough." However, a chance to play the game was a chance to play the game. Better still, he was potentially impaired. Who knew what she could get out of him?

"I have held the Guard to agreements that my area is in their jurisdiction, and that the safety of my girls is their responsibility as well as mine. I've had a few reports handwaved away. The red light district acting up again. Residents too low and depraved to worry about. But my girls are my girls, and I worry about them. I don't want them being forced to live and work in a city that won't keep them safe from--" She flicked her fingers toward Hakaril dismissively. "--this. My girls are under a lot of pressure and when customers bring drugs in, there's good incentive to play along. I can't watch them every moment, and I certainly can't watch a whole sector of the city."

"Okay," remarked Hakaril. Jeri was talking a lot. "Okay. Drugs. Right."

There was something familiar about all this. Oh, right. He had purchased some sort of drug recently himself, albeit inadvertently. It was working out pretty well, actually. The effects were still noticeable, albeit different from earlier. His mind was clearer than it had been. Fewer surges of adrenaline, for starters. He supposed that, perhaps, Jeri didn't like drugs. That's what he thought she was trying to tell him, anyway.

"Hmm. So...drugs are causing a problem on your side of town?" It was hard to imagine anyone in Hakaril's current state of mind causing anyone any problems. Maybe Jeri's women were less good about controlling their bear-mauling impulses. Or perhaps she was talking about a different drug.

Not sure what to say next, Hakaril squinted a little, shifting the spectrum of his vision into an overlapping realm of existence. He hadn't really closely examined Jeri's aura before, though he picked up a few faint whiffs of magic that suggested she was capable of casting spells on her own. His eyes widened a bit as he scanned her through the astral.

"Oh," he said quietly. It suddenly occurred to Hakaril that it would be in his best interests to make sure Jeri calmed down before she left.

"Alright, right, drug problem. You want me to launch an investigation? I'll...I'll see to it. Handle the matter personally, should it become necessary. Yeah. I think I might have a few leads already."

"I'll cooperate with you," she agreed. "And anyone else I know personally. But the first Guard who comes to my doorstep without the deference due to my house will be treated only with as much respect as he brings."

Something had changed. Jeri wasn't certain what. She ordinarily prided herself on being a good judge of people's feelings and motivations, but he was harder to read when he wasn't... himself. Still. He was suggesting that he had some information and either she'd determine he was a liar, or she'd have the information for herself. Best perhaps to play the pacified and cooperative citizen for now.

"What leads do you have? I wasn't under the impression that any serious investigation was ongoing."

Hakaril's eyes flickered with uncertainty. What should he tell her?

"Uh," Hakaril started, stumbling on the words, "I think I might've found someone selling the drug. If we're thinking of the same drug. A street vendor. May not be there anymore, but it's worth a look. I'm not even sure he knew what it was worth. Or where it came from, exactly. Told me it was called 'ambrosia.'"

That would do. Everything he had said was true. It was more information than Jeri had, even if a few details were missing, like the fact that he had purchased the substance without realizing its nature and that he hadn't done so in anything even vaguely resembling the manner of an official investigation. Official investigations of drug problems didn't usually end with the investigators purchasing samples for personal use and then retiring to their offices to get high. At least he could plead ignorance.

A completely unrelated tangent was running through Hakaril's mind. There was something different about Jeri. She looked younger than she was the last time he had seen her. Hakaril was positive that couldn't be right. People aged forward, not backward. Not without the intervention of the gods, that is, or perhaps just powerful sorcery.

Oh, thought Hakaril, echoing his earlier statement after he had examined the woman's aura. Somehow he had caught the fact that she had a remarkable innate capacity for magic without noticing what kind.

"Ambrosia," she repeated. "Sounds fun. Though obviously I can't speak from personal experience."

So he knew there was some street vendor out there peddling drugs that were highly... unmanageable and potentially dangerous, and he wasn't sure if the man was still there. Spoken with him and not kept him for questioning. And the General was high. Fantastic. She was interrogating a government employee about his drug connections. It was a conflict of interest if ever Jeri'd encountered one.

"Well, what can you tell me about this vendor of yours?" Jeri asked. "Perhaps I've seen him. I run a busy house, and I'm sure he's spending his money somewhere."

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Unread postby Archmage » Fri Jan 18, 2008 6:32 pm

For the first time since his imprisonment, Riss’ar thought that he heard coherent voices instead of the screams of the damned. Granted, they were distant, and he couldn’t make out the particulars of what was being said. But there was someone else here who could communicate. He couldn’t figure out why he was being held captive here, and if he could speak with someone, he might be able to find out.

Footsteps. Someone was approaching his cell. Several someones, in fact. They sounded very heavy. Clanking noises echoed through the walls around him. Riss’ar was sure he’d heard the same clanking noises before.
Someone pulled the grating covering Riss’ar’s shaft free, but no additional light streamed in. It was proof that the outside world was just as dark and forbidding as his cell.

“You didn’t think I’d forgotten about you, did you?” Riss’ar quivered a little at the sound of this new voice. It was the first time that anyone had spoken to him in an indeterminate period of time. But this voice dripped with malice. It was not intended to be a comfort or a reassurance. The angel knew that his visitor was not here to free him. The voice, he knew, was twisted by the sneer of a torturer who greatly enjoyed his work.

“I’m not going to lie to you. This,” continued the voice, “is going to hurt.”

Hakaril had more or less sobered up from his little bout with drug experimentation. According to his chronoscope, the euphoric effects of the drug had only lasted for a few hours, and so far he felt fine. If he were going to have any sort of hangover, it hadn’t kicked in yet. He could see why ambrosia might be preferable to a night of solid drinking.

Jeri had seemed dreadfully concerned about the effect that this drug might be having on her girls. Frankly, Hakaril wasn’t sure he saw the problem. How could this be any worse than offering patrons alcohol? He knew that upscale brothels like the Villa Pascha generally had a full bar. Many of Jeri’s girls were likely skilled bartenders, to boot; it was the sort of skill that came in handy when entertaining company.

It was entirely possible that Hakaril had not yet experienced the full spectrum of the effects of ambrosia. Jeri’s irritation suggested that something serious was afoot. He thought about this for a moment. How would he find out what the long-term effects of using the drug were? He supposed it might be possible to continue taking it himself, but there was always the risk that he might be permanently debilitated. There was also the fact that he didn’t have any more ambrosia, though he figured it couldn’t be too hard to get if Jeri’s girls had a problem with it.

Something then occurred to Hakaril that should’ve been painfully obvious earlier.

I have a large number of prisoners being held for observation, he realized. The mage slapped himself in the face. How stupid! Why hadn’t he realized that the “intoxicated” people everyone had been trying to tell him about were probably using ambrosia? Hakaril shrugged. He blamed a lack of information, mostly. He had no reason to take discussion of the matter seriously before, and by the time it should’ve been obvious, he was too high to care. Go figure.

He knew that none of the castle’s healers had been able to reverse the effects of the drug, but he needed to do some tests of his own, and he needed the assistance of someone far more knowledgeable about poisons than he was. The first step, then, was to find an unusually skilled healer, preferably someone with a solid background in toxicology. He wasn’t sure about the toxicology, but he definitely knew at least one very skilled healer.
The obvious thing to do was to go sit in her bedroom until she came back.

"I think you may be right about that," Tassi answered. "But the second number was probably my favorite." Still talking about her dinner out with Darin, Tassi headed toward the room they shared. "And if you watched the flautist, his eyes were closed the entire time. Either he really did have it memorized, or the man was bl--" Her sentence was cut off by a brief yelp of surprise to find Hakaril sitting in their room.

"...ah... Did you need something?" she asked.

“No, I just thought I’d warm your chair,” replied Hakaril with a smirk. “Yeah, I need something. I have a large number of temporary prisoners in the castle jail. They’ve been thrown in there for creating a public disturbance. Disorderly intoxicated people. I was wondering if you’d come down with me and see if you couldn’t throw a little healing magic at them. Purge the poisons from their system.”

She blinked, and glanced over at Darin. Looked like her work was going to interfere with their evening. She knew Darin would understand this as one of the perils of seeing a healer, but it didn't mean Tassi was any happier about it.

"Well, if you haven't got anyone else to take care of it, I suppose I could see what I can do. Haven't done much today, so I'll be all right to work a while."

"Excellent," said the mage. "Darin, you want to come? This might ultimately be more interesting than it sounds. I've been getting a lot of complaints lately from the citizenry and the guard alike, and I have a few leads I need to follow up on." Hakaril reached idly up to scratch his head, sweeping aside locks of light blue hair.

Darin cocked his head to the side a little. "Hakaril? You..."

"I what?"

The half-angel gestured at the side of his own face. "Your face...it looks...different."

Hakaril raised an eyebrow. "What?" He knew his hair was a bit disheveled, but he still hadn't taken a minute to look at himself in a mirror. Maybe he had something embarrassing on his nose and Darin was just being excessively polite as usual. "Tassi, you have a mirror?"

Tassi frowned over at Darin, wondering what he was talking about. Recovering enough from the surprise of seeing Hakaril in her room, Tassi realized what Darin was talking about and did a double-take. "...gracious, Hakaril!"

She leaned down to dig through the drawer of the bedside table she'd appropriated for her use. She held a little hand-sized polished silver mirror out to Hakaril. She was certain Hakaril had done this intentionally, but she couldn't see what exactly he intended to accomplish by putting them on about it. "You really mean to tell me you didn't know," she said dubiously. Knowing Hakaril, he was just fooling around to get a reaction out of them. Tassi hadn't noticed immediately, but it wasn't her face.

"Know what?" Hakaril frowned deeply as he peered into the hand-mirror, his expression changing from concern to dumbstruck confusion as his eyes focused on his own face.

For years, it had been impossible for him to look in the mirror without giving thought to the long scar that paralleled the curve of his cheekbone, starting just outside his left eye and heading straight for the spot just above the corner of his mouth. Like most facial scars, it was highly noticeable, although most people felt no need to bring it up in conversation. It was arguably an unattractive feature, but for Hakaril it was more than an old wound.

There were days when he wished he didn't have the scar. He had done it to himself, as a reminder that once he had made a mistake that resulted in the death of someone he cared about. He had taken a blade to his flesh so that when he looked in the mirror that he would never forget that no matter what he accomplished that he wasn't perfect. It was the proudest day of his life--his graduation as an archmage--and his best friend wasn't there to share it.

He didn't blame himself for Masahiro's murder. He wanted revenge, and since he couldn't have it, he marked himself, a sign of a covenant. He wet a knife with his own blood to solidify his resolve to avenge Masahiro's foul betrayal. And now, years later, he had everything he had wanted. Masahiro's murderer was dead, but the scar on Hakaril's face remained. He would always grieve his friend's death, he decided, and the scar was physical proof. But now it was gone.

Maybe this was alright. He could abandon the scar as a sign that he had moved on. But why had the scar disappeared?

The drug, he realized.

"No," murmured Hakaril quietly. "I didn't know."

Tassi watched the archmage, the realization slowly dawning that Hakaril really hadn't simply hidden or erased the scar. He hadn't done anything intentionally. It was just gone. He didn't even look particularly happy about it, not like a man who'd lost a conspicuous disfiguring scar.

"Hakaril," Tassi began slowly, her voice soft and worried. "What's going on?"

"I have...theories," the mage haltingly replied. "We'll worry about it later. For now, let's get down to the prison block. We've got some junkies to cleanse."

"Right," she replied, shaking off her concerns. "That's fine. Lead on, then."

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Unread postby Kai » Fri Jan 18, 2008 9:06 pm

Following Hakaril to the guardhouse, Tassi couldn't help but wonder why she specifically was being asked to help sober up a lot of common drunks. It didn't seem like the kind of thing Hakaril would care enough about to bother her with, particularly since he was such a dedicated lazeabout himself half the time. In fact now that Tassi was thinking about it, he wasn't just asking her to do it. He was coming with her, and Hakaril wouldn't bother himself about these drunks unless something was seriously wrong.

All in all, she was quite concerned on the way over. When they reached the guardhouse, Tassi found that the intoxicated Domans had simply been shoved into a cell together. She hoped this meant they weren't actually a danger to themselves or anyone else. "Well, all right then," she told the guard at the gate. "Let me in; I'll take a look."

Ordinarily Tassi might have thought twice about allowing herself to be locked in with a mob of rowdy rum-soaked rabblerousers, but she felt safe enough with both Darin and Hakaril here that she wasn't too worried about being dragged down and murdered. When Tassi turned to investigate the other people in the cell with her, she found a rather mixed assortment of people. There was of course the usual disheveled-looking vagrant, but there were several well-groomed people who were alternately stretched out together on the floor and quietly fuming. Presumably they were more than a little put out by being thrown in here when a night of carousing had been the original plan.

A grinning man a bit older than Tassi laid a hand on her shoulder. Refusing to be startled by a bit of overfamiliarity from a common drunk, Tassi turned to him with her eyebrows raised. "Yes?"

He leaned closer to her, and there was something in his smile that made Tassi feel just a little greasy. "You know I'm seventy-five years old?"

"Ah..." This was not a normal way to begin conversation. Okay, fine. So the man wasn't human. Why was that her business? "That's... How wonderful. You look good," she answered.

"Yeah," he whispered. "Should have seen me an hour ago." At Tassi's confused sidelong glance he continued, his tone quieter and more confidential. "But I'm telling you even a man half my age couldn't do what I can, y'understand?"

Tassi wished she didn't, but it was the sort of drunken bravado that was... common enough. "I do. But I'm actually here to see if I can't get some of you sober enough to go home. So if you'll excuse me, I'll--" This was apparently the wrong answer.

"Now you listen to me, kid," he whispered. Tassi was momentarily distracted by being called kid by a man who was by his own admission only a little older than she really was. Otherwise he'd have lined himself up for some appropriately snippy retort. "I'll make a deal with you, but I'm not going back to being some limp and pathetic helpless old man. You'll get me out of here. I'll get my dose, and everything will be fine." With his hand still on her shoulder, he shoved Tassi backward into the bars of the cell.

Tassi looked up and realized she could see grey hairs spreading across his scalp, faster and faster. "Gods," she whispered, too stunned to do anything but stare. "What have you done to yourself?"

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Unread postby Archmage » Thu Jan 24, 2008 11:25 pm

“Tassi!” Darin started forward, reaching inside his robe. “Don’t you dare touch her!”

“Hold it, Darin,” said Hakaril, holding up a hand. “Look at his hair. He’s…aging. And rapidly.” The man’s skin was changing, too, wrinkling and drying out, liver spots returning to his hands and knees bending from arthritis. “That doesn’t even begin to make sense.”

The man stopped suddenly, joints becoming stiff, and his back cracked audibly. He winced, no words accompanying the gesture, and stepped back away from the blonde healer, cursing under his breath. A pained expression twisted his facial features. Being old had apparently slapped him in the face abruptly. Aging was typically a good deal more gradual.

“It’s the drug,” Hakaril noted, astonishment creeping into his voice. “It…reverses aging, somehow. Turns back the clock. It isn’t just for recreation. It’s a draught from the fountain of youth. These people are all on ambrosia.”

Darin glanced back toward his friend. “Who could…create such a thing? How…how did they do it? Is…is it based on time magic? An alchemical brew that…duplicates a spell?”

The time mage shook his head. This was the kind of thing that he and Hakaril had been researching together for a while now. Hakaril…well, Hakaril had his own reasons for being interested in a way to stave off the reaper. But were these people really any younger? Or did they just appear younger? The two had performed many experiments together in secret, trying to discover a way to extend human life. But each attempt had been a failure. Time magic could do many things, but it couldn’t create time, not in the sense that Hakaril wanted. It seemed as though immortality was impossible, short of giving one’s self over to dark forces and entering the realm of unlife. But Hakaril found lichdom an unsavory notion, and Darin couldn’t blame him. The idea of existing forever as an undead creature was an unacceptable alternative to real immortality.

Time magic, they both realized, could not give Hakaril the everlasting life he wanted. Or at least, Hakaril had said, I’d like to be able to live until I get tired of it. I’m jealous of you, Darin, he’d gone on, you’re going to outlive me by centuries. You’re going to have so much more time than I am. The half-celestial hadn’t really thought of it that way. He never considered his own longevity, not the way his friend did. Hakaril was a man all-too-aware of his mortality. He had died once before. He was determined not to let it happen again except on his own terms.

They had discovered something during the course of their research. It was possible to extend a mortal’s life with time magic, but at a cost. They were experimenting with animals, mice and rabbits. Short-lived enough that it was easy to see the outcomes of their research.

It was possible, Darin had discovered, to transfer the life force of one organism to another. But the years of a rabbit or a mouse weren’t the same as the years of a human being. Extending human life would require human sacrifices. He could steal the years from another mortal and donate them to his friend, should he so desire, but he didn’t want to think about it. The idea was too horrible. He couldn’t take other people’s lives—he couldn’t murder—just so that Hakaril would live longer.

So Darin had destroyed the results of his research, all his written records, and set free all of the animals he and Hakaril had been working with. At first, Hakaril had been confused, even upset, apparently uncertain as to why his friend had done something so radical as to abandon their most promising work. But the half-angel refused to talk about it, and eventually the archmage stopped pestering him for details. He would never tell Hakaril what he had learned. Darin had absolute trust in his friend as far as his loyalty to others went, but he didn’t believe Hakaril’s sense of ethics would extend to strangers. Hakaril was the kind of person who just might decide that random slum-dwellers ought to donate a few years to a "higher" cause. And Darin didn’t want to risk it. He would find another way.

“No,“ Hakaril responded, pulling Darin back to the present, “there’s no spell like this. You and I both know that. Cosmetics, sure. Illusion magic, glamours. But this is real, as far as I can discern. I don’t pick up on a whiff of illusion here. No enchantments whatsoever. These people really have become younger.”

Darin nodded. “Except that…it’s temporary.”

“Yeah.” Hakaril scratched his head. “They stop taking the drug, they revert back.”

“You…keep talking about…a drug,” Darin broke in. “What drug? How…do you know about it?”

“Jeri told me,” responded the archmage. “Brothel owner. Said they’d been having some problems with it on her side of town. I think I can see what she meant. Very odd.”

Darin motioned to Tassi. “Come…out of there, please.” He was almost begging. “These people…I…doubt you can help them right now. We can…figure out more later.”

Hakaril grimaced. “Sorry I brought you down here. You bastards stay back! Anybody who touches the blonde woman is getting sent to maximum, you hear me? That means you, gramps,” he spat, glaring at the old man who had shoved Tassi. “You put a fucking hand on her again and I’ll throw you in an oubliette, or worse. Maybe gut you right here, slowly, without touching you.” As if to make his point, Hakaril snapped his fingers, and a thin cut appeared across the old man’s cheek, as though an invisible knife had slashed his skin. “You guys are staying in here until you’re all sobered up. You can go home tomorrow morning. Cause trouble, and you’ll regret it. You hear me?”

“Hakaril,” Darin interjected, “that’s…that’s enough. You…there’s no reason to threaten them. They…they mean no harm…they…are just having difficulty with their situation.”

“I don’t have time for junkies creating trouble on my watch,” snapped Hakaril. “If they can’t be responsible with their habits, I’ll see to it that they’re never on the streets again.”

Darin was silent.

“I’ve got some ideas as to where this stuff is coming from,” continued Hakaril. “I think we’re going to have to go rough up a few thugs.”

Half an hour later, the three were back in Hakaril’s office.

“Tassi, Darin,” started the magician, “we’re going to need a few more samples of that drug to analyze. And we’re going to need to figure out where it’s coming from. I need Darin here to help me do analysis. Honestly, I don’t trust your average guardsman to be able to handle this sort of investigation. So, Tassi, Darin and I are going to go see if we can find a supplier, get our hands on some samples. But I need more information. I need someone to go into the slums and poke around, see if we can’t figure out who’s making it, where the distributors are getting their goods.”

“I’m going to give you some money,” continued Hakaril. “I want you to hire a bodyguard. Somebody you can trust to keep an eye on your back. I’m not sending you with a guard escort because you’re not officially under my employ. Besides, we all know you can get better muscle in the taverns around here. Get somebody respectable, someone who really knows the streets. My men are good, but I don’t think they’re necessarily as acquainted with the city’s underbelly as they’re going to need to be for this task. Find somebody professional. Darin’ll kill me if you get hurt doing odd jobs at my behest,” he added with a smirk.

Hakaril thumbed idly through a book on his desk. “We’re dealing with some serious magic here. Ambrosia isn’t the product of your garden-variety alchemist’s lab. You can’t make this shit in your basement.”

“Pardon me,” Darin remarked, “but…how do you know it’s called ambrosia for certain? Did...Jeri tell you?”

Hakaril bit his lip. “Er. Someone tried to sell me some earlier. I have a hunch that it’s the same stuff.”

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Unread postby Kai » Fri Jan 25, 2008 12:20 am

Tassi was too rattled at first to listen to the conversation between Hakaril and Darin. There was something wrong with that man. He seemed human enough, but the answer to her question was still too immense for her to comfortably absorb.

What had he done to himself?

Temporary youth... No wonder he was so adamant that I find him another dose of... of whatever did this for him. Even as Hakaril intimidated the desperate junkies and Tassi recoiled from them, she was too preoccupied to notice how aggressive, how cruel, Hakaril was being.

She rejoined Darin and wondered where this sense of loathing was coming from. Perhaps it was because these people seemed weak, so afraid of the natural rhythm of life that they were willing to hinge their fates on a drug. But that wasn't all, was it? Did Tassi really have any room to judge? She had the mind of a woman more than twice her age, but had never lived in a body older than forty. What did she know about aging? About feeling her body rot and sag and wither and break and die with her still trapped inside. How did she know what she would do? How did she know how far she would go?

Not that far, she told herself. Slow death is still death, and death isn't frightening enough to do that to me. It was taking her a while to reassure herself. The truth was she really didn't know.

Several minutes had passed before Tassi had unravelled enough from her own thoughts to check on the others. Darin was all right, if characteristically anxious for her safety. The fact that he seemed to have faith in her didn't always stop him from reacting as though she could be murdered by marauding soldiers at any moment. Hakaril didn't seem worried about her at all. Something was obviously on his mind, but with that man who could tell? It could be anything from the state of the Doman lower class to a pair of misfitted trousers. As she did so often with Hakaril, Tassi simply took a deep breath and counseled herself to be patient.

"I'd hardly be my first choice for an investigation of this kind, but I suppose I could try and get hold of some of this unholy rubbish. If there's one thing I can manage, it's acting like a stuffy old lady," she quipped.

Truth be told, she didn't particularly like the idea of going out with a stranger who had nothing but professional pride in the way of simply running her through and stealing whatever she carried. It never used to bother her, but things had changed when she'd learned the difference between having allies who'd defend her and having someone around who loved her. It was the difference between getting by and feeling safe.

Yet at the same time... perhaps Hakaril's plan was a good one. She couldn't escape the thought that he might need Darin around more than Tassi needed him. She couldn't escape it because she couldn't evade the nagging suspicion that Hakaril wasn't being truthful. Hakaril rarely said less than he knew, generally preferring to parade his intelligence and education around as often as he could manage. Why then would he be withholding information? There was no good reason that Hakaril would have for lying to his best friend, and none of the bad reasons sat well with Tassi at all.

"All right, I suppose," she nodded, finally actually agreeing. "I'll go find someone to assist, and see what I can find out. I'll come back as soon as I can." Pushing her chair back, she stood and slung her bag over her shoulder. This night had started as a date with her lover, and now she was slumming around hunting after drug suppliers. On her way to the door, she passed where Darin was sitting and hugged him from behind, dodging under one wing to kiss him on the cheek. "Hopefully I won't be long."

Please keep an eye on him, Darin, she finished silently.

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Unread postby Archmage » Mon Jan 28, 2008 10:54 pm

“Another stout, barkeep!”

Zeke Mazuo flipped a coin across the counter at the barman by way of a tip for his services. As he was so many other evenings, given a choice, Zeke was sitting on a stool in the Jade Dragon, drinking heavily and flirting with the local ladies, race or even species be damned. He was on his fifth pint. A good night, all in all.

His appearance stood out, even in Doma. Valthi features often made one stick out in a crowd, or at least, in a crowd of predominantly human people, unless of course one was hanging around a bunch of eccentric wizards. Waist-length blue hair and violet eyes were the kind of thing that would get enough notice on their own, but Zeke was the kind of person who went out of his way to make sure people were staring at him. Adding a black leather jacket and pants adorned with silver chains was certain to get the attention of the rest of the eyes in almost any room. The crimson military beret topping the mercenary’s head, which he wore even when indoors, further aided him in his eternal mission to stick out from the crowd.

Today Zeke was wearing his favorite tunic, a lightweight black shirt with stylized yellow letters that read “BLITZKRIEG.” It was the name of his favorite Valthi music group. They specialized in being so loud that occasionally Rivans living on the border had to stuff their ears with candle wax to avoid going deaf whenever a Blitzkrieg concert was being held in Kalmiahtiden.

It annoyed Zeke that he was occasionally confused for one this country’s political figures, General Hakaril Silvar to be precise. He had met Silvar on several occasions, but he had no particular respect for the man. He paid well, but beyond that, he was useless to Zeke. It was an unfortunate coincidence that they both had blue hair and wore red hats, and the occasional commoner knew nothing more than that and felt it was necessary to ask Zeke about his identity, or worse, complain about some minor issue that was hardly worthy of military attention.

Zeke generally answered these queries by producing a white business card from within his jacket that read simply “Zeke Mazuo, Mercenary for Hire.”

The Valthi took another deep drink from his beer. He hadn’t slept with a woman whose name he barely knew in at least thirty-six hours. Too long. This needed to be rectified. Alternately, he could kill someone, though his aim was generally better when he was sober, and he was well on his way toward the land of inebriation. Killing someone would probably require more effort than picking up some fellow barfly. It would also be against his personal code.

Zeke never killed anyone for free if he could help it.

It was then that he spotted the blonde in the pink coat. Damn, she was cute. Soft features, narrow waist, great lips. He could tell from all the way across the bar that she was a passionate kisser, the kind of girl who wanted a guy to wrap his arms around her waist and take command while she responded with equal enthusiasm. Zeke’s intuition about women was generally fairly good. The only thing he ever failed to anticipate was a woman who wasn’t interested in sleeping with him, and that flaw in his otherwise amazing powers of prediction could be attributed to his ego.

He decided to approach her, beer stein in his off hand, grinning like a loon as he produced a business card for his new client. “Hey, sexy,” he started, bowing slightly, “you lookin’ for a nice guy to buy you a drink? ‘cause I sure as hell ain’t a nice guy, but I’ll buy you drinks ‘til you can’t walk.”

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Unread postby Kai » Mon Feb 04, 2008 1:02 pm

Oddly enough for a healer (though less odd perhaps in Doma), Tassi had some idea of where the most notable mercenaries tended to congregate. When it came to hiring someone to protect her, Tassi was much more comfortable employing someone she'd seen around and that meant checking back into some of her usual haunts. They were familiar territory, and hopefully held some familiar people tonight.

Once inside the door of the Jade Dragon, Tassi was unsurprised to find that several citizens were already well on their way to drowning their evenings in liquor. On another night, Tassi might have appreciated a chance to do the same. Tonight she was unfortunately obligated to do a favor for a friend, and that meant staying sober.

She recognized several patrons, and one in particular caught her eye as he swaggered closer to her. Zeke Mazuo. Kamos Mazuo's cousin, which was a mark in his favor. Of course, her chief concern with this Mazuo was his previous association with Darin. Tassi had little patience with any creature on the plane that could wish Darin harm, and as a result she had little patience with Zeke.

"My name," she said, snatching the card from Zeke's fingers, "is Tassi. I know right well who you are, and I can see that I'll have to catch you on another night. If you'll excuse me," she finished with a smile. "I need to find someone who isn't too busy sharking to be of use to me." With that little barb, she sidestepped him and headed over to the bar.

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Unread postby Archmage » Wed Feb 06, 2008 10:29 pm

Whoa, hey, we were getting along so well!” Zeke slipped back in front of Tassi, moving rather nimbly for someone so inebriated. “What kind of use’re we talking about here?” The mercenary grinned casually, leaning back against a nearby chair. “If you want to hire me, I’m always on duty.”

It had been a good night for Zeke so far, but not so good that he was beyond steeling himself back to sobriety if an opportunity knocked. This woman wasn’t just some buzz-kill. She was a potential employer. And that was worth the price of more than a few drinks. Besides, she seemed deadly serious, one of those real focused types. If he let her slip away for even a second, she’d hire somebody else to do her dirty work.

She was pretty stunning-looking. Blonde hair, fair complexion, slender waist. Not anything exotic, but Zeke could handle that. Sometimes vanilla was a tasty flavor. It would be too bad if he couldn’t at least work for her.

Hakaril and Darin had acquired several more samples of ambrosia, but it had taken a while. None of the detainees in the jail seemed interested in giving up their sources until pressed with threats.

It wasn’t exactly unusual for Hakaril to use threats of violence to get what he wanted, Darin noted, or even violence itself, but the General usually reserved extreme displays of rage for people who deserved it. Interfering with an investigation, or even simply being a criminal, was rarely enough to send Hakaril into the frenzy that he had unleashed on these poor men and women.

“You’ll tell me where you get your ambrosia,” Hakaril had spat, “or I’ll fill every inch of your flesh with needles. I’ll imprison you in a cell where every other living creature will forget you’ve ever existed. I’ll hack up an enchantment that covers you in burns to the point of death and then heals you only to sear your flesh again.”

Darin had never known Hakaril to use such grisly interrogation methods against anyone except those who had mortally wronged him. What in the world was the archmage thinking, cursing at his fellow men with such rancor? Why was he so angry? Hakaril never became this agitated unless he had a personal stake in a problem.

It was then that Darin realized something that hadn’t occurred to him before.

Is Hakaril using ambrosia?

Their experiments had thus far proven largely unproductive. Neither mage had figured out the root of the power of the drug. It was apparent that the drug’s energy was primarily life-based as opposed to time-based, which gave them a place to start, but not one that either of them liked.

“Someone,” Hakaril noted grimly, “is absorbing life energy from powerful beings and distilling it into an elixir.” The mage swirled the tiny vial of yellowish fluid and peered at it closely. “But who? And what…raw materials, for lack of a better word, are they using?”

Darin swallowed. “Long-lived species…or maybe powerful mages…could it be elves?”

“Don’t know,” Hakaril replied with a shrug. “And I’m not even sure how you would do that. It makes sense, but we’re talking about highly theoretical magery here. The production process might give us some clues to the identity of the alchemist behind this stuff. None of the people we talked to seemed to know anything. It could be one mage in a shack with a bunch of prisoners in his basement, or it could be a cartel of wizards in a haphazardly-constructed ivory tower.”

“That’s…a terrible thought. Someone…locking a family of elves in a dungeon…slowly siphoning their life force.”

“You said it, Darin. I really hope we’re wrong this time.”

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Unread postby Kai » Wed Feb 27, 2008 6:36 pm

This was precisely the kind of shameless bravado that Tassi found annoying. Did he think that if he flashed a charming smile at Tassi she'd hand over some money and her knickers as well?

With a sigh she listened to him promising his availability. A real go-getter this one, which was a note in his favor. Still, if he thought he was in control of this conversation he was wrong. In fact, he was the one who needed her, and that meant he could be wrong whenever it suited her.

Some part of Tassi took perverse pleasure in the notion of having Zeke Mazuo answer to her.

She whirled on her heel and leaned back with her elbows on the bar behind her. "On duty he says. Do you always drink on duty?" she asked.

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Unread postby Archmage » Wed Feb 27, 2008 7:30 pm

"Since I'm always on duty," Zeke quipped, "you might as well ask if I'm on duty even when I'm drinking. And the answer, which I already told'ya, is yes. ‘course, the caveat," he continued, “is that I’m only really on duty if you hire me. So if y’want to pick me up, and the terms of the deal are that I stop carousing this instant, then you’ve gotta deal, if your price is fair.”

“Promise you this,” the mercenary said with a sly grin, “at the moment y’won’t find a better shot in the city, ‘cept maybe my cousin, and right now he’d only come out ahead ‘cause I’ve had more beers than he has.”

"Your cousin," Tassi answered, "While I don't know his reputation nearly so well as I know yours, has nonetheless made a decent impression." Tassi didn't choose to clarify what she thought of Zeke's reputation, assuming he would supply a sufficiently self-aggrandizing narrative on his own. However, she was amused enough at the idea of hiring this man that Zeke was much closer to being hired than he probably thought he was. Didn't mean she had to make it easy on him, however. "How many good shots with a gun I'll find in this city might well have less to do with your skill and more to do with a lack of gunmen," she retorted. "So what else can you do?"

“Urban investigation, mostly,” replied Zeke, taking another gulp of stout. She hadn’t told him to stop drinking yet. No reason to jump the gun. “Tracking people. Sometimes without being seen, if need-be. Do a little magic. Used to be a Valthi mage hunter. Good at taking out wizards. And,” he finished, “I can go all night, if you’re one of those types who takes a while.”

"You have no idea," she replied drily. The corollary, and you never will, didn't need to be said.

The skills Zeke cited were well-supported enough. He'd managed to track down a well-connected Prandian migrant, after all. The fact that Tassi disapproved mightily of Zeke's employment choices didn't necessarily forbid her from using him herself when necessary.

"I am, however, looking to do some investigating connected to the Doman Guard. As I don't enjoy wandering about the slums alone, I thought to recruit some assistance. Honestly I don't care what we pay you, and since I'm working through General Silvar I strongly suspect they wouldn't even find out until you already had your money anyway."

"For my part, my name is Tassi Wells, and I work here as a healer. Ordinarily I'd request Darin come with me, but he's currently working with another arm of the investigation." She just couldn't resist dropping Darin's name, just to see Zeke's reaction. Let him infer from that how she'd heard of him. "I've no desire to look after a drunk, so I would insist that you be sober. Am I understood?"

Zeke shrugged and put down his beer. "Clear as angel's panties." He raised an eyebrow. "You say Darin? As in, Darin Prentiss? That fugitive? 'least, when I first met him, he was a fugitive. Not so much now. Ran into him a while back, actually. Guy really helped me out. I have to assume we're square, no hard feelings about trying to put a bullet or two between those sad, sparkling eyes of his."

"Bein' drunk throws off my aim, anyway," he muttered. "Don't 'spose you've got some healer's trick up your sleeve that'll sober a guy." He could come back and drink later. These bars were always full of alcohol. Women, too. No shortage of either in Doma. Work now and he could afford to pay later. Besides, it wasn't like you were putting your life on the line working for a healer. Anything went wrong, they'd fix you right up. Bad investment if their hired help died on them.

Tassi rolled her eyes at Zeke's snide description of her half-celestial lover. "Darin has a history of being more charitable with people than I might be in his place," she told the Valthi mercenary. "And that coming from a woman who doesn't kill. But," she shrugged. "He wouldn't be Darin if he did otherwise, and if not for my love of irony I wouldn't be here either."

She pushed herself off the bar and took a few steps toward the door, turning to beckon to Zeke. "Come on. Pay for whatever you've had and then we'll go clear it out of you. Then we can talk more business."

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Unread postby Archmage » Sun Jun 29, 2008 8:44 pm

Zeke shoved a piece of charred wood aside with his foot, hardly concerned about the integrity of what a trained investigator probably would’ve regarded as a crime scene. Bit of metal were strewn about in the alley where he and Tassi stood, some of them recognizable as parts of a humanoid figure. Here and there one could spot a hand, or a helmet-like visage, or a leg with a stone-reinforced kneecap. Someone, or something, had torn half a dozen or so of these things apart and left the remains to rot, apparently unconcerned. Pale yellow fluid seeped out of a few of the cracks in the destroyed golems.

“Dunno who did this,” Zeke quipped, shrugging. “But they weren’t local. How many slum-dwellers have the firepower to accomplish this sort of thing?”

“Hey! You there!”

Tassi had turned her head to see a young man pointing in her direction just in time to see Zeke interpose himself between the healer and the boy. “She’s not a streetwalker, kid, so back off. Way out of your league.”

“No, no!” sputtered the boy. “I didn’t mean it like that! I just recognized her, that’s all. You’re a healer, aren’t you? You were there when…those children were disappearing. You helped us find them, right?”

It had been a spectacle, to say the least, especially considering the number of guardsmen who showed up more or less at the last minute. One of the officers in particular had given Tassi a hard time about getting involved in things that “weren’t her business” until the healer wound up pulling rank and making herself known as an official representative of the king.

“There was a fight over that way a while ago,” continued the boy, “really flashy, lots of explosions. A man and a woman were attacked by a bunch of knights, I think, but the woman took care of it all, somehow. Blew them all to pieces. I didn’t get to look until it was over, but I don’t think they were knights. They weren’t people, really. They were made of metal, I think. You don’t see metal men in this part of the city every day. You should check it out. Maybe it’s important!”

“I dunno who made these, either,” noted Zeke. “Maybe some wizard. Golems, right? Mechanical servants, animated with spells. And what’s this weird fluid?” He ran his finger along some of the splits in a fallen golem’s torso and sniffed curiously at the substance. It wasn’t grease or oil or anything. In fact, it smelled kind of sweet, like a mixture of honey and jasmine flowers.

Zeke licked his finger, and his eyes widened.

“Kazeros!” he exclaimed. “It’s like nursing at the breast of Ishtar herself!”

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Unread postby Kai » Sun Jun 29, 2008 8:53 pm

Something in Tassi's fussy aged mind reacted reflexively to Zeke putting that ooze in his mouth. One little surprised gasp was all she could get in before he described the mysterious fluid. From watching it, Tassi could see the still-glimmering residue of life energy pulsing from it. Whatever this was, it wasn't like anything she'd ever seen in her admittedly limited experience with constructs, and it was holding onto entirely too much magic for her to be comfortable with anyone putting it in his mouth.

Without thinking about who he was or what his occupation was or that he was a grown adult man, Tassi reached out and swatted his hand away. "Stop that! You have no idea where that's been."

"Would you like some tea?" asked a calm female voice.

"No, you stupid bitch. I don't need any fucking tea." a man growled.

She sighed. "Don't be crude, Malcolm." It sent a little thrill over the surface of the mazoku's mind when she condescended to him, because she knew he hated it. It didn't hurt that he was already frightened and annoyed, and now he was resentful of her for being the one to save him. He may have been a twisted monstrous excuse for a man, but if he was a monster he was her monster, and she was his. "I am just trying to help."

"Shut up. What the hell was that shit. Nothing I did worked on it. Fuck!" He growled, hurling his delicate porcelain teacup across the room to shatter on a stone wall.

Ordinarily the petite green-haired girl would have thrown him out the window by his shirt collar for that, but she was willing to forgive her pet sociopath his little rages. He'd had quite a night, after all. She settled for curling her fingers in his hair and yanking his head back to force his gaze back to her vivid green eyes. "I worked on them," she hissed. "And that's all you need. I don't know why they wanted you in particular..." She loosened her grip and traced her fingertips around the edge of his jaw. "...but they can't have you."

"Who were they?" Malcolm asked quietly. "I don't think they were sent by the... you know. The Powers That Be. Wasn't their style."

She shook her head. "I don't know. But I handled them once, and I can do it again. We'll just lay low here, and if they come to us... we'll know that they're after you specifically."

The two of them had been out cruising for some poor streetwalker to play with when they'd been accosted by... what seemed to be golems. They had more of a charge to them than most Dawn had seen, but they weren't putting off any true emotion, so the mazoku couldn't believe they were really living beings. The stupid girl they were chatting up had disappeared, more concerned with saving her own skin than her potential employers. It was just as well. She'd saved her own life that night in more ways than she knew.

Initially Dawn had thought that they were enemies of her sister, harassing her instead. She had been wearing Eve's visage for about a year. The attack had been so sudden and so random Dawn couldn't even imagine that they'd been after either of them. But it had rapidly become clear that they didn't even care about her. It was Malcolm they wanted, and that was simply unacceptable.

"After all..." She stepped back and shrugged lightly, running a hand over her pinned-up hair. "I highly doubt anyone would peg you as a fallen celestial just by looking. There must be something else going on."

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Unread postby Archmage » Sun Jun 29, 2008 9:46 pm

“A man and a woman? Attacked by golems in the middle of the streets?” Hakaril scratched at his neck, not quite sure what to make of this report.

“Yeah,” Zeke replied with a shrug. “Got a description of them, as well. A well-dressed man with snow-white hair and his female companion. Sassy-looking, but too well-groomed to be his hired help for the evening. Black hair, bobbed, smoking a cigarette, oddly masculine clothing. Collared shirt and slacks. Suspenders, too, I think.”

The archmagus frowned. “That’s odd. The woman sounds like someone I know. Just an acquaintance, really, but we’ve met, I think. A psionicist, to be precise. The sister of a really irritating adversary, one of the subordinates of Elaith Thenswick who went on to cause her own set of problems. Eve, that was her name. But I haven’t seen her in forever. I didn’t even think she was in Doma, much less walking around the streets of its capitol city.”

"Except that it didn't... it didn't feel like psionics, if you know what I mean. I'm not that familiar with that particular way of using magic, but I... I didn't think you could blast things apart with it that way." She chewed her bottom lip for a moment. "It definitely felt arcane. But it...I don't know. It made me uncomfortable. It was very...deeply destructive. Chaotic. It's hard to pin it down in words, but I do know I've never seen anything like it."

“Chaotic? That’s…odd. She was a nomad, I think they’re called. Teleportation was her specialty, not wanton destruction. Sure, she struck me as a bit of a loose cannon, but…wait a minute.” Hakaril raised an eyebrow. “Chaos magic. Destructive chaos magic. Sounds like mazoku, perhaps.”

“Mazoku?” Zeke interjected. “That’s screwed up. I think my cousin was into a mazoku for a while. Some freak. Clone of the queen’s sister, or something. Guy’s got the weirdest taste in women.”

Hakaril waved a hand. “No, no. Arnast was killed some time ago. There’re only a few mazoku on Gaera, and even fewer in Doma. I think I know most of them, to be honest. There’s Taiar, and there’s…” The archmage abruptly stood up, smacking himself in the face. “There’s Eve. That's weird. Karis told me that she'd apparently become a mazoku, somehow. I wonder where she's been all this time?"

“Holding her own in the slums, it would seem,” smirked Zeke. “Did a real number on those golems. Even outnumbering their enemy, I don’t think those things stood a chance.”

“Yeah, but who would send golems to attack Eve Valerian? That doesn’t make any sense at all.” Hakaril paced back and forth behind his desk for a moment, visibly disturbed. “Maybe they weren’t. Maybe they were attacking the guy she was with.”

Zeke shrugged. “Doesn’t do us a lot of good. Unless you know how to find them both so we can interrogate them.”

“No, I don’t think…hold on a second. Maybe I can.”

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Unread postby Kai » Sun Jun 29, 2008 10:26 pm

In the early morning, Dawn rose early and gathered up the latest lot of potentially-ruined bedding. Things had gotten particularly messy the night before, what with all the pent-up stress.

Poor Malcolm. I do hope he's feeling better, Dawn thought, dumping the bloodied sheets into a tub of hot water and lye. The water turned a sickly shade of pink as the blood leeched out into the water, and then there was a knock at the door. She wasn't even entirely certain she'd heard it at first, but then it came again.

She was not accustomed to visitors. Granted, the little cottage where she and her fallen celestial plaything lived was immaculately kept, with lush gardens and trellises covered in flowering vines. But that was for her benefit, not to impress visitors. Dawn wondered who wanted her, and whether she could get away with keeping them in the basement for later. Her sister was down there, but the real Eve was hardly in a position to notice the world around her. She only woke every few months, after all. She'd sleep right through it as always, leaving Dawn and Malcolm to do as they pleased.

Dawn took a moment to revise her physical manifestation, long green hair drawing back into a tightly-trimmed black bob. A couple of inches of added height and a slightly more full shape. And, Dawn's favorite touch, a fake cigarette. Neither it nor the smoke it made was any more "real" than the clothes she wore, but Dawn found she liked gesturing with it from time to time.

She opened the door to find a handsome Valthi and some variety of little blonde white mage. Dawn didn't find either of them particularly interesting, but the girl seemed like she might be Malcolm's type. Might have to keep her in mind as an option, depending on what she wanted.

That idea vanished as Dawn took more careful appraisal of them. The woman was nervous, and she was nervous about Dawn herself.

She knows what I am. Now isn't that odd.

"Good morning," she greeted them. "Is there... something I can help you with?"

The woman spoke up. "Yes, ah... my name is Tassi Wells. This is Zeke Mazuo. We're here to investigate an... incident that occurred the other night. There was a report of a woman matching your description being... assaulted by some variety of golem. Was that you?"

"Why yes it was," Dawn replied with a smile that was at once welcoming and... a little too welcoming, like the proverbial spider in her parlour. "But I'm forgetting my manners. My name is Eva Valerian. Please, come in, both of you."

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Unread postby Archmage » Sun Jun 29, 2008 11:03 pm

Zeke glanced at Tassi. There was something weird about this woman, and not just the fact that she was a mazoku. She reeked of death to the point where even with his minimal sensitivity to magic the woman was throwing off waves of unpleasant energy, just enough to make the mercenary shiver a little at the thought of entering her home. Somehow he got the impression that she the sort of woman more likely to invest in building a torture chamber than a nice sofa.

“Sure, we can come in,” Zeke replied, hoping his voice didn’t betray his suspicions.

Zeke almost thought he would’ve preferred to find out that Eva Valerian’s idea of entertaining guests was to strap them into a rack. The coffee table, the lounge chair, the fine porcelain tea set…it was all disturbingly normal for a woman who drew strength from others’ pain and sorrow. Perhaps Eve Valerian had been made a mazoku against her will, and this was her way of maintaining a sense of humanity. Or maybe she just had a sick sense of humor.

“You were with a man last night when you were attacked in the slums, right? Looks like you handled things pretty neatly. Bunch of golems, yeah? Weird thing to see in the slum, golems. Nobody else reported being attacked by them. What’d they want with you?”

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Unread postby Kai » Sun Jun 29, 2008 11:12 pm

"Hm," the mazoku thought for a moment. "I don't know. I do know that they weren't after me. They seemed much more interested in my companion. I can retrieve him for you if you like. Give me a moment." She stood and nodded down at Tassi's half-empty cup of tea. "Do you want a refill while I'm up?"

This was all too eerily normal. Tassi knew right well that she was speaking to someone who derived a degree of pleasure from sadism that Tassi would never understand. And yet here she was being as courteous as any proper Baronian hostess, and it all just felt horribly wrong.

But then again... perhaps that was intentional. Tassi wouldn't put it past a mazoku to keep her guests ill at ease on purpose.

"No, thank you," Tassi replied. "I'm quite all right still."

"Very well," Dawn answered smoothly. "Be right back. And please." She smiled. "Make yourselves at home."

She didn't wait for a reply before she slipped back into the kitchen and sent a rough telepathic burst to Malcolm. She could feel his annoyance even from downstairs, and smiled.

Malcolm, there are people from the guard here to investigate that bit of business with the golems. Come down here, and for the gods' sake be normal.

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Unread postby Archmage » Sun Jun 29, 2008 11:21 pm

Zeke sipped at his tea wordlessly. He figured that Tassi could do the talking. All he needed to do was protect her if something went wrong. If Eve was trying to lull him into a false sense of security by being hospitable, it wasn’t going to work. Then again, he wasn’t sure what he would do if she tried to harm Tassi. Mazoku were practically incorporeal, in a sense, if his memory served him correctly. Even the cigarette Eve was smoking wasn’t real. It had no scent. Surely Tassi had noticed as well. It was all part of some perverse façade, an attempt to appear human despite her monstrous nature.

Somehow it didn’t surprise Zeke that this was an acquaintance of General Silvar’s.

Their hostess wasn't gone long, and she returned with a tall man who carried the same aura of refined subdued menace that "Eva" did, like a pair of beautiful maneating jungle predators. From the shock of white hair that hung down to his shoulders, past his shirtless chest down to his feet he was... perfect. And yet somehow terribly terribly wrong. In contrast to the concentrated darkness of the mazoku, he reeked of holy magic, his aura shining far too brightly for most humans. He'd brought a real cigarette, and casually lifted it to his lips as he stood in the doorway with his demure lady friend. He didn't wait for her to introduce them.

"Morning. Name's Malcolm." He lifted an eyebrow and smiled at Tassi. "What's yours?"

The healer's lips tightened in mild disapproval, but she was Baronian, and saw no reason to express such things openly. "Tassi Wells. This is Zeke Mazuo. Pleased to meet you," she said, gesturing toward the mercenary to try and divert Malcolm's attention. It didn't work.

"Well," he answered, sounding almost smug. "Pleasure's all mine, miss. Now what can I do for you?"

Business. Best to get his mind on something important if she could, so that he'd stop looking at her like that. "We wanted to know why you were targeted the other night by those golems. Do you have any enemies that might have been targeting you? If we know, we might be able to find out who they are and stop this."

Malcolm grinned lazily. "Enemies? Us? Maybe a few."

Tassi was beginning to become annoyed, and Dawn savored a little sip of the emotion. "Well?" The healer prodded. "Who?"

The white-haired man sat down across from Tassi and Zeke, leaning back into the tastefully-upholstered chair while their hostess stood next to him. He took a deep draw of the cigarette and let the smoke roll out past his lips. "Well, there's no law against being a fallen in this city. But not everyone takes too kindly to it."

He leaned forward and flicked ash into a glass dish on the table. "Don't know how it would become an issue, though. Not like I'm walking around with great fluffy black wings or whatever," he added, his voice turning hard and bitter. The lady of the house almost completely but not entirely successfully held back a smile. "So that's probably not it."

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