The Tools We Have

A prospective venture with a mysterious contact in pursuit of a rare book yields unexpected hurdles.

The capital city of Anaxas and the seat of the government.
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Tom Cooke
Posts: 253
Joined: Fri Dec 21, 2018 3:15 pm
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Location: Vienda, but also hell
Race: Raen
: "disturbingly unheimlich individual"
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Thu Aug 08, 2019 1:25 pm

Hollow Street The Dives
Morning on the 9th of Roalis, 2719
That’s unfortunate.” Without moving his finger half a centimeter away from the trigger, the kov – had to be Binder, Tom thought – pushed a tangle of blond curls out of his face, running his hand through his hair. His face still looked pinched, stretched thin; his eyes were narrow as they flicked back and forth between Tom and Ava, eventually settling on Ava, like he’d decided something. The revolver, however, didn’t move. “I suppose we’ll just have to be uncomfortable, for now. Won’t we?”

If Tom knew to do anything, it was to keep his mouth shut. He wouldn’t’ve known what to do, anyhow. Even if he’d been himself, a gun was the great leveller. You could put a bullet in the biggest kov you’d ever seen just the same as someone like Anatole, just as easy. Didn’t matter who you were: as a general rule, when you had a gun pointed at you, you kept still and did whatever the kov holding it said to do.

Still, he reckoned he’d’ve had more options than this. He’d disarmed men before, given patience and cunning, brute strength and a little luck. Binder would’ve been easy to overpower, before. Now, though, he’d’ve put his money on Binder in a wrestling match, and that was sad.

So sad that Tom put it out of his head. He didn’t want that to be the last thing on his mind. Well, not this time.

He dared to shift a little, still showing Binder his palms – dared to glance toward Ava. He recognized her posture, the look on her face, her tone of voice. He’d never seen her with a regular customer, not really, but he remembered how she’d acted around Diana, and he remembered how she’d been the first time he set foot in the shop. Put-together, in-the-know, oes, but still demure, like you weren’t supposed to be sure what it was she knew, exactly. All ladylike, shifting her weight so she was all subtle curves, subtle enough not to say anything direct about what she might (or might not) be playing at. It was all mights and might-nots.

There were some differences. This time, though Tom wasn’t sure how, the way she talked implied she was the one in charge. That was good. If Binder thought he was tekaa, it made plenty of sense; it might very well save his erse. He was thinking about how best to play along when Binder spoke again.

He sucked at a crooked tooth with a loud click. “Wherever you got your recommendation,” he said in a low voice, careful-like, with plenty of thoughts in the pauses between his words, “I’m not here to do business. There’s been a change of plans. You and your friend are going to stand right there, very quietly, while I collect what I came for. If I hear so much as a peep out of the galdor, I will shoot him and then you. In case you haven’t already been acquainted, there is a dead body in that room, and I’m sure you can imagine I have no compunctions about adding two more.”

The floorboards creaked, popping worrisomely, as Binder took a slow step toward the shut door.

As he went through, Tom thought, he’d have to turn his back at some point, and he’d be close enough to – no. But if he was quick, if he got – no, Tom thought again. Ne, ne.

Where did that leave him? Binder wasn’t mung; by now, he knew he wasn’t a wick. He didn’t think he’d get the chance to talk, but if he had to, he didn’t know what he’d do. He was trying to keep calm, but his heart felt like a hummingbird’s. He tried to grasp at threads in his head, fumbling through the fog.

Just keep quiet, he thought, keep still. Even if he’d been himself, this wasn’t the Rose, and this wasn’t Hawke’s work, where the job was more important than the lives you could give for it. He wasn’t going to do something idiotic and get both of them killed. Besides, if Binder left them alive, it was possible he’d leave the accounts anyway; flipping through to the back, Ava’d looked like she might’ve found something. Or could find something, given time and cleaner air. Gods damn it, but he was holding in another sneeze.

Then, suddenly, Binder paused. He turned his blue eyes on Ava again, this time quizzical.

“Hold on,” he said, taking a step back. He seemed to struggle with something in his head; he raised a brow, licked his lips, opened his mouth, frowned – shut his mouth again. Then, with slight edge of reluctance, he started, “I’ve sought my love in the wide-paved streets…”
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Ava Weaver
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Thu Aug 08, 2019 5:29 pm

Morning, 9th Roalis, 2719
Hollow Street, The Dives
Ava’s expression was still calm and almost thoughtful as Binder replied. She smiled, a little wider, and raised an eyebrow at his question-that-wasn’t-a-question. “If that’s what you need, of course,” Ava said, hands still folded in front of her. Her attitude was as if he had made a slightly unreasonable request; she didn’t look at the gun again, her gaze settled back on Binder’s face. She smiled a little more when he finally stopped twitching towards Tom and focused on her again, a faint note of approval in it.

It wasn’t that Ava wasn’t afraid. She was, very deeply; the gun scared her, and more than that the twitchy look in Binder’s eyes. He had, she thought, very likely killed that man in the other room. He had walked in on the two of them casually looking through his things, and might well have thought he’d found them setting up an ambush, or something along those lines. She didn’t blame him for his fear either – but she also felt as if it wouldn’t help to address it directly. It was very hard to say something non-threatening without coming across – well – threateningly, not unless one wanted to act very much terrified.

And, if they were to have any hope of doing business, terror wasn’t the right approach.

So Ava kept the fear locked away in her pounding heart, and watched Binder, for all the world as if he was making some mistake in etiquette, and not threatening Tom’s (un)life with his gun. Tom – sensibly, Ava felt – stayed silent.

Ava focused the whole of her attention on Binder when he spoke again, looking at him with her dark, wide eyes. She thought Tom was likely looking at her, but she didn’t look back at him; better Binder not think any secret messages were being conveyed between them.

Ava inclined her head in a gentle nod at Binder’s instructions to stand still. She was still smiling, a little faintly, as if she thought at any moment he might realize how foolish he was being. The smells, all of the rest of it, faded away to nothing; for all that she looked calm, Ava was wholly focused on the moment, the interaction. She looked half-away as Binder took a step towards the room, again acting almost as if she was embarrassed for him.

If, Ava thought, he went and got whatever it was he came for, and then left – that would be all right. It wasn’t as if this book was something they would die without; it had been a hope, a faint shot in the dark, to think that he might even have it, that it might even be in Vienda. Perhaps, if he didn’t take the ledger, there would be something they could learn; perhaps not. It wasn’t worth anything like either of their lives for the chance to ask him a question, not remotely.

It was desperately hard not to jerk her gaze back to him when Binder spoke again. Ava managed not to stiffen either; she kept her loose posture, kept her eyes off to the side, and – slowly, very slowly, as if there was no reason to hurry, brought her gaze back over to Binder and raised a delicate, inquiring eyebrow, holding still and patient as he spoke, as polite as ever.

Ava let her smile broaden and deepen when he began the line of poetry, her head inclining gently in a faint nod, soft black curls bobbing softly against her dress, almost like a faint echo of a curtsy. She cleared her throat, hands still in front of her – looked down, then back up, with something like humor in her eyes and a faint, wry twist to her lips.

“For he to me is the most fragrant spice,” Ava answered. “And I’ve sought my love where the cobra sleeps…” Now it was her turn to look faintly reluctant, and almost apologetic. She didn’t look at Tom – she couldn’t bring herself to – and she very much hoped he wouldn’t start laughing. It was, she thought, suitably hard to maintain the tension of the moment when quoting Mugrobi love poetry; for the briefest moment, she almost wondered if Archive had chosen it deliberately, for that very reason.

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Tom Cooke
Posts: 253
Joined: Fri Dec 21, 2018 3:15 pm
Topics: 29
Location: Vienda, but also hell
Race: Raen
: "disturbingly unheimlich individual"
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Writer: Graf
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Thu Aug 08, 2019 8:20 pm

Hollow Street The Dives
Morning on the 9th of Roalis, 2719
Tom’d thought it over, and now it was coming together in his head. Soon as Ava’d taken that polite, embarrassed tone, soon as she’d put that faint edge of reprimand in her voice, he’d recognized the dynamic she was trying to suggest, but he hadn’t known how to play along. Not like this. Now, for the first time in his life, he realized that he’d do best to look afraid. Fair afraid.

So he leaned into it, ’course, leaned into some of what he was already feeling. The kind of shit it would’ve usually been his job to hide. He let the pounding in his heart give his hands a little tremble, subtle-like; it wasn’t a violent, over-the-top shake, wasn’t a caricature of a scared toffin, but it wasn’t hard for a raen to summon up a slight tremor. It was his first instinct to narrow his eyes, to lift his chin and give his face a faint sneer, like he’d’ve done if he was intimidating some dobber for Hawke, but – instead, he let his eyes go a little wide, let his face get a little slack, like he didn’t know what was going to happen.

’Cause he didn’t. Not really.

The gun didn’t move, but Tom could feel Binder’s attention shifting more completely toward Ava. He couldn’t see her face when he started talking; he couldn’t tell if she was as baffled as him. Who’d come up with this? After a pause, he heard her voice, smoothly throwing out another couple of lines. Tom blinked, trying hard not to raise an eyebrow.

(Being honest, he didn’t think he disliked it, but that was an interest he’d have to explore later.)

Binder was staring at Ava, his mouth set in a thin line, and Tom thought it was over, that they’d got through it, but then –

“For the sight of his lovely eyes is worth the ache of its venom.” Binder was all but husking through his teeth. He sighed, then reached up and rubbed his eyes. “So this is the client?” His grip on the revolver had relaxed; he gestured at Tom with it, and Tom, without missing a beat, jumped a little.

The motion seemed to draw Binder’s glance over. When he met his eye, Tom pouted a little, like he was offended at all this gun-pointing chroveshit, like he thought he ought to be treated better. Then, he dared to sniff.

Binder raised his brows. “Well?” This time, he nodded at Tom. There was still a reserved wariness in his eyes, but Tom thought there was a funny slant to his voice, an exasperated lean to the way he purred out the word, almost like Tom was a boch.

There was a pause while Tom collected his thoughts. His mouth moved, but nothing came out. It felt funny, too, being talked to like that. There was some offense, oes, some part of him that wanted to lay the pina, bookish fuck out flat, but what surprised him was the wave of satisfaction that flooded through him. Sneaky-like, almost. Like he’d got away with something. He’d wanted to make something happen, and he’d made it happen.

It was that, maybe, gave him the confidence to do what he did next, and he tried to pull out some of that offense, too. Carve it into a different shape, like the one she’d started to teach him. “By the Circle,” he replied, lifting both red brows very high, “do you treat all of your potential patrons so rudely?”

“Only when they’re going through my things,” Binder bit off, “and there’s a corpse in the next room. Consider yourself lucky, sir.” But then he lowered the revolver, first a little and then a lot. If Tom didn’t know any better, there was the faint impression of a wry smile on his face. He turned to Ava. “Suppose I owe you an apology for all that, but given how I caught you, I think we’re even.”

His expression soured.

Tom lowered his hands, sniffing loudly and shaking with another suppressed cough. “I was told that you knew this – man,” he put in, pursing his lips. He tried to intone it like she’d taught him, but with a nervous edge underneath, like he was a fish trying to assert authority over a fisherman’s net. His spectacles rattled a little in his shaky hand, and he fumbled to tuck them away in his jacket.

This time, Binder didn’t even waste a glance on him. “I’ll go ahead and apologize again, because the deal’s off.” Matter-of-fact; clipped. “What I said stands: I shouldn’t even be here. I’m only here to collect a few things. In case you’re disappointed, I’ll remind you I’m still armed.”
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Ava Weaver
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Thu Aug 08, 2019 10:28 pm

Morning, 9th Roalis, 2719
Hollow Street, The Dives
Ava managed to keep her face smooth through Binder’s repetition of the last line of the poem, but it was something of an effort. The whole thing felt faintly surreal. When he glanced at Tom, this time Ava followed. She kept her body facing towards Binder, but turned her head, glancing over her shoulder at Tom.

And saw Anatole.

He was dressed like a wick still - dressed for the Dives, scruffy and unkempt, but his lips were pressed together in a pout, and he sniffed, offended. It took all of Ava’s control not to flinch - but she held, still, more than a little grateful that her face was towards him. The faint smile on her lips had smoothed to something serious, but that was intentional, and if it was a bit more genuine than she had meant it to be, it wasn’t hard to play off.

Not too still, Ava reminded herself. She couldn’t even let her shoulders tense; she couldn’t give any sign of how much this disturbed her. Binder had his gun. She had hoped Tom would find his cue, but she hadn’t expected at all that he would find it so well.

Tom spoke, and Ava realized that he must have been practicing. She didn’t - couldn’t - look at him, but that too she could play off, and she turned her gaze back to Binder. The smile was harder it, but she managed it, striking that same faintly wry look, something a little amused in her faintly lowered eyelid. There was amusement there, wasn’t there, in seeing Tom play Anatole so well? Hadn’t that been what she had wanted to teach him?

Ava’s smile smoothed into something friendlier - for Binder, very deliberately. She inclined her head, faintly, at his lack of apology, accepting the exchange. Tom spoke again, and Ava let a flicker of annoyance cross her face, smoothed over into a polite smile and another look over her shoulder, her body shifting into it ever so slightly. “That’s right, sir. I meant to say that we understand each other,” she said, patient, respectful, lowering her chin ever so slightly. There was the faintest echo of the tone she had offered Diana, respectful, demure - not familiar. There was no humor for him in her eyes, none at all; she didn’t dare.

Ava turned back to Binder, and smiled again. “As, I hope, we do.” Her words were still polite and respectful, but there was the faintest glint in her eye, of some secret shared between the two of them.

Ava smiled wider at Binder when he reminded her he was still armed, as if he had made a very funny joke indeed. The deal was off. He was here; they were here. There being a deal at all was, frankly, more than Ava had dared hoped for. It meant that Archive and his whispers had been right - that Binder knew something. Maybe better than knew? But, then - both having and knowing could change. He might be implying he no longer had something in his possession; he might be implying knowledge he still had was worthless now. There was no way to know - and no way to ask, not without giving away how little she knew.

Should she let it go? Let him go? They would be assured of their lives, at least. But - she couldn’t, Ava realized. She had committed to a role; the role she had stepped into wouldn’t let him leave. Not when there might still be something to be salvaged. She had to make him think she had a stake in this - that they both still might.

“You drive a hard bargain,” Ava said, letting one eyebrow lift slightly - the one further from Tom, as if to ensure he couldn’t see it. “Or...” Ava let the word trail off, slowly, suggestively.

Ava leaned forward, very slightly. One hand reached across the desk, and took the letter that Tom had found. She slid it back to the center of the desk, and tapped it gently with black-lacquered nails. “Is it something to do with this?”

It was a gamble; Ava knew that. But - from what Binder had said, something had changed with the Tzcks book. And that letter, not to mention the body next door - he was involved in, Ava thought, something of a mess. How many messes could one man be wrapped up in? Ava didn’t let herself look at Tom.

None of those thoughts showed on her face; Ava couldn’t let them. Instead, she waited, still standing behind the desk, ignoring Binder’s barely controlled impatience with all the grace and elegance she possessed.

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Tom Cooke
Posts: 253
Joined: Fri Dec 21, 2018 3:15 pm
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Location: Vienda, but also hell
Race: Raen
: "disturbingly unheimlich individual"
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Fri Aug 09, 2019 7:28 pm

Hollow Street The Dives
Morning on the 9th of Roalis, 2719
He wasn’t going to condescend, he thought, by worrying about Ava. He didn’t think she’d like that. When she turned to look at him, it was brief, but he saw something in the evening-out of her lips that made him feel a funny weight in the bottom of his gut. Her mask didn’t slip a fraction, and everything she did went with the act, but she’d been so still for a moment. He couldn’t think too hard about it, because then he’d get to worrying, and he didn’t think she’d like that at all. For both of their sakes, he needed to stop thinking, to keep on taking cues from her, figuring out his place in the tapestry she was spinning. She didn’t need his worry, and he respected that. You give me a job, he thought. A job.

Maybe he was getting soft. Was he getting soft? Tom wasn’t getting soft.

When she looked over again, he met her eye with the irritated twitch of an eyebrow. A faint, disdainful frown tugged at his lip, a subtle sneer, like he didn’t much like the way she said we understand each other, like the sir wasn’t enough. He let his eyes linger, suspicious, after she looked back toward Binder.

But if he suspected something, he knew – though he didn’t like it, golly that he was – who had the upper hand, and he was prepared to let a little human conniving go. He wasn’t getting what he wanted, and he was confused, but there was a revolver in the room, and this was not one of those circumstances where a little Monite went a long way.

When Ava slid the note forward on the desk, presented it like she was presenting silk, Tom tried to read Binder’s eye. He pushed down the thrill of discomfort that he felt, the burning misgivings. Playing rooks with a hatcher, she was.

To his surprise, Binder laughed. Wasn’t a nice noise; it was like a bark. “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said brusquely, though there might’ve been a hint of suspicion in his blue eyes, too.

“If,” began Tom, pausing thoughtfully, “if you are in danger, Mr., ah, Binder –” Knowing he was juggling his own set of hatchers, he took one careful (but presumptuous) step forward. Binder’s grip on the gun tightened, and he raised a thin hand. “You would do well to tell me. I can offer you –”

“I don’t have the book.” Binder cut him off, but he was looking at Ava, staring steadily into her dark eyes. He only broke eye contact to glance down at the ledger, then back up. “Then again, you probably already know that,” he said softly. “But I can’t help you get it. There’s no bargain. The deal is off, and by the time word gets out, I’ll be out of reach. You’re both out of luck.”

Something about the way the kov said both, the way he glanced down – at the note, maybe – gave Tom pause, though he didn’t let it show. Binder was responding to something he’d seen on Ava’s face, something Tom hadn’t (and hadn’t dared to look for). Either way, he was looking at her with a funny look in his eye, and, if he’d heard him right, he’d put special weight on that word. Tom didn’t like it none.

But the way he’d said he didn’t have the book, the way he’d looked at that book on the desk like he assumed Ava knew what she was looking for – he felt another thrill, and it wasn’t all misgivings.

Binder frowned deeper. Keeping his eye on Ava and the gun pointed in Tom’s general direction, he started moving, slow and careful-like, toward the shut door. Tom knew he was taking a gamble, but Binder’s path was going to take him in range of his porven; he took a shuffling step back in Ava’s direction, trying to play it off as skittishness around the gun. He raised both hands when Binder looked at him sharply.

They stared at each other for a moment.

When Binder reached the door, he hesitated, fingertips brushing the knob; for the first time, he winced, like he was noticing that laoso stench, bracing himself for the sight. “Stay where I can see you,” he snapped, then looked at Ava, brow furrowing. “Out from behind the desk. Now.”

If she complied, he’d open the door and edge inside, taking his eyes off of the front room briefly as he glanced over the shelves, pinching his nose.
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Ava Weaver
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Fri Aug 09, 2019 9:38 pm

Morning, 9th Roalis, 2719
Hollow Street, The Dives
Ava didn’t react out loud to Binder’s accusation (true, of course, utterly true) that she didn’t know what she was talking about. She let her body language speak for her; she let her smile curve up ever so slightly more, let something faintly satisfied creep into her posture, as if with that little laugh Binder had given himself away entirely. She didn’t over-commit, but she met those blue eyes of his as nonchalantly as she had before.

This time, Ava didn’t look over at Tom as he spoke; Binder was still holding her gaze, and it wasn’t the right move. Instead, she let that slight curve to her mouth creep up a little higher – not a sneer, never a sneer, but slightly knowing. There wasn’t a flicker of a change – not even more smugness – at the implication that she already knew. She didn’t look down at the ledger either, as if she didn’t even need to.

Ava repeated the words over in her head, holding them tightly. There’s no bargain. The deal is off, and by the time word gets out, I’ll be out of reach. You’re both out of luck. With the faintest flicker of his gaze towards the note, the slightest telegraph – subtle enough that Binder would think Anatole might not catch it, because what galdor watched a human so closely? What galdor thought them capable of thought or subtlety?

Ava let her chin tilt slightly sideways and settle back. She didn’t shrug – it wasn’t her style – but she managed to convey something like it with that delicate little motion of her head, the faintest pressing together of her lips. If they were out of luck, she supposed – if she and the mysterious CM were out of luck – then so be it.

What word? What word was going to get out? To Archive, perhaps? What had Binder done – or who had he done it with?

Ava didn’t dare look at Tom as Binder began to move, but she saw it immediately – saw how close Binder would need to get to Tom. Her heart beat a little harder, and it was a tremendous effort to stay cool and calm. That field of his! The moment Binder felt it – what would he think? Would he think something was wrong with Tom? Would he think it was a part of casting?

Tom skittered towards her instead, and Ava had never been so grateful for her practice keeping calm at the edges of his frazzled mess. It scraped at her skin, and Ava held cool and nonchalant, because no one who worked with galdori could react strongly every time their fields came close enough to brush.

“Of course,” Ava inclined her head at Binder’s request. She shifted around the desk on the other side of Tom, leaving him a little more room to move back from Binder without seeming to pay it any more, carefully grasping her skirt in one hand to keep it from brushing against the wall. She clasped her hands loosely in front of her, still smiling faintly.

The temptation to look at Tom was enormous; Ava could feel it like a weight, pulling her gaze towards him. She didn’t yield; instead, keeping her body relaxed and casual, keeping a gentle smile on her face, she watched Binder’s back as he made his way into the side room, curious. Why did he want her out in front of the desk? Really just to keep an eye on her? Concern she had a gun of her own? Was there something else in the desk she wasn’t meant to find?

Better, Ava thought, not to spook him. And what was he looking for in that room? What had been worth coming back for? Ava didn’t think it could be the Tcks’ book, but… no, she thought. It wasn’t worth anything like heroics, not to either of them. Binder had a gun; there could be no arguing with that.

Ava slowly, casually, reached back to the stack of papers near Tom. Carefully, as quietly and subtly as she could, she slid Binder’s writ of literacy where Tom had set it on the desk, eased it across the wood, and shifted it behind her. It smelled – terribly, Ava thought, although she managed to keep it off her face. If she were Binder – if she were coming back for one thing and one thing only, and that thing were a book – then she would want that writ to protect her while transporting it. Writs of literacy might be rarely enforced, but if you were a human transporting an expensive book while under worried the Seventen would come after you for murder… It was a long shot, Ava thought, but – perhaps he didn’t want money, he didn’t want protection of the sort of a galdor could offer.

So, Ava kept the little writ tucked behind her cloak, and held, calm and patient in front of the desk, her eyes still on Binder, that polite, pleasant smile never straying from her face.

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Tom Cooke
Posts: 253
Joined: Fri Dec 21, 2018 3:15 pm
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Location: Vienda, but also hell
Race: Raen
: "disturbingly unheimlich individual"
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Sat Aug 10, 2019 11:08 pm

Hollow Street The Dives
Morning on the 9th of Roalis, 2719
Ava moved out from behind the desk, and Tom slid back just a bit more. He couldn’t help the sinking feeling that it wouldn’t do much good; Binder was bound to come within field-range at some point, and then it’d be over.

Leastways, he thought so. He didn’t know how Binder’d take it, not really. On the one hand, he’d met humans who thought he was sick, tsuter sick; in the Dives, when he’d looked fair bad, certain folk’d given him a berth. Sick, maybe, or moony, or just plain dangerous. Maybe Binder’d think it meant he was casting, and Tom couldn’t think of a surer way to earn a bullet to the head. On the other hand, being who he was, Binder might know his shit: he might feel that porven and realize immediately that Tom was harmless. He didn’t know if he wanted that, either. The gun was pointed at him and not Ava, and that was how he liked it.

But he stood still, swallowing bitter bile, watching Binder in the side room. Tsuter, he thought again. The kov was just stepping round the bobber like he wasn’t there; he glanced down once, edging around the boot of a splayed-out leg, but otherwise, his eyes were married to those books.

He knew what he was looking for, too. Tom couldn’t make out much in the dimness, but he saw Binder move toward a shelf at the back of the room. He reached up, finger hovering over one spine, then the one next to it, then – without hesitation, he snatched the book he was looking for and slid it into his satchel. With a dark glance back at Ava and Tom, he turned, moving to a shelf that was almost out of sight on the wall next to the door. For a perilous moment, all that could be seen of him was his elbow.

Tom heard a hiss, a shuffle, from behind him. It was quiet, but he heard it. He was standing close enough to Ava, and they both had their backs to that desk; he thought she was doing something with the papers behind them.

Another little scuffle, and he saw her cloak twitch in the corner of his eye.

Distress bubbled up in him. What the fuck’re you doing? he wanted to ask, though he didn’t dare. He wanted to look over at Ava, wanted to meet her eye, but he could see Binder sliding another book into his satchel, and knew he’d have his eyes back on the two of them in no time at all. Above all, he wanted to trust her, and he reckoned he was going to have to.

It sounded almost like Ava had taken one of the papers from off the table, he thought, like she was holding it in her cloak. But what? Why? Gods damn it, but that note wasn’t worth the trouble. He didn’t think it was, anyway. What else had there been? A notice about the rent, he remembered, but it was a little late for that. Nothing loose in the ledger, nothing…

The writ. Tom swallowed again, and this time, it was dry and sore. Why? Oes, he thought, it’d be valuable to somebody like Binder, somebody who was flexing his neck, somebody who wasn’t well-lit and needed to get out of Vienda fast, carting a bunch of books. But why take it? Ava was unarmed, far as he knew, and he was a functional passive, and Binder could scrag them both and just take the damn thing in half a second. He couldn’t –

But he’d never been the sort of kov, he reminded himself, that needed to know the whys. Ava knew what she was doing, he was sure. When the time came, he just hoped he’d be able to catch his cue.

Binder came back in, hobbling on that stiff leg, pointing his revolver somewhere at Tom’s feet. He took his eyes off them for just another few seconds, checking his bag. Then he looked back up, glance flicking between Ava and Tom. “Away from the desk,” he said neatly, sharply, gesturing with his free hand over to the far side of the room. “Further away.”

If Ava complied, so would Tom, and quick-like. Somehow, even with Binder approaching, he managed to keep his field just out of range – or, at any rate, he thought he did. Binder didn’t give him a second glance.

Instead, Binder clucked with irritation at the papers spread out over the desk, at the still-open ledger. Almost impulsively, he shut the ledger, but he didn’t take it. He sorted through the other papers, then, shuffling the note and its envelope to one side, the other letters, the stack of loose notes. His eyes skimmed them, flicking here and there. His expression grew more pinched. He opened the ledger back up, then, flipping through it again, forward then backward, feeling inside the cover.

Binder’s eyes came up, slowly, from the desk. They fell squarely on Ava. He tapped the desk three times with his fingernail. “What are you playing at?”

“What is the problem?”

“Shut your head.”

Tom pursed his lips, indignant.
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Ava Weaver
Posts: 118
Joined: Fri Jun 07, 2019 11:17 am
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Race: Human
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Sun Aug 11, 2019 4:11 pm

Morning, 9th Roalis, 2719
Hollow Street, The Dives
Ava watched, and waited. She let her smile broaden the faintest bit more when Binder glanced back at her, and didn’t hesitate to take her moment when he was out of sight. He knew what he had come for – not just one book, either, Ava thought. Something deep in Ava’s chest ached at the thought of the ones he was leaving behind. Could she? Her eyes dropped to the bloody corpse at his feet for a half-second; had she been anyone else, the dilemma might have weighed on her face as it did at her heart.

If she had the slightest chance, Ava promised herself. If there was any way – if they were left alive with Binder gone – she would find something for those books. She wouldn’t – she couldn’t – leave them to rot with that man’s corpse. She knew what such moisture in the air would do to cloth as the days grew hotter; she knew all too well. Books, with all their lovely, sensitive paper – books – Ava knew she could bear the thought of it, if she had to. She knew very well she could bear considerably worse. But she hoped, this time at least, she wouldn’t have to.

There were other things to think of now. Ava kept the writ tucked in the folds of her cloak as Binder re-emerged. She stepped further from the desk, over towards the far side of the room, although she didn’t go – perhaps – quite as far as Binder might have imagined. As she did with almost everything, she gauged the distance carefully – far enough to show him she had heard, she was listening, she was going – close enough that she would still be easily able to get back to the desk in a long step or two.

Ava smiled at Binder. “It’s here.” The writ was in her hands – not hidden or disguised in any way, no more damaged than it had been before - and, it was true that - apart from the mildew and the slow aging of the paper, the faint yellowness and the soft curl at the edges, it was unharmed. She took a slow step forward – another, if Binder didn’t object – and lay the writ down gently in front of him on the desk, lifting her hands back up. “No games," she promised, smiling still.

Ava glanced down at the paper, then back up at Binder. She was close to him now, closer than she had been at any point – but she kept strictly from touching him, not the slightest bit of physical contact – nor, even, in truth, the appearance of the careful avoidance of physical contact. She kept away from him, but as naturally as if they weren’t crowded or cramped in the slight space of the office, never drawing attention to it.

“It is a shame it’s so old,” Ava said, casually, looking down at the little slip of paper, then back at Binder. She folded her hands in front of herself, and took a deliberate step back – far enough that he would easily be able to block her from reaching it. “But, then, I’m sure no Seventen officer would ever be careless in the handling of it,” Ava raised an eyebrow, gently. “They are, of course, always professional.” She kept herself entirely turned towards Binder – but, whenever he would next look at her, a faint smile would flicker over her lips, and her eyes would slide sideways towards Tom, playing the uncomfortable, irritated galdor in the corner. Ava let her eyebrows lift slightly, as if to encourage Binder to think – to put the pieces together. See the possibilities, her look seemed to say.

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Tom Cooke
Posts: 253
Joined: Fri Dec 21, 2018 3:15 pm
Topics: 29
Location: Vienda, but also hell
Race: Raen
: "disturbingly unheimlich individual"
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Writer: Graf
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Mon Aug 12, 2019 3:25 pm

Hollow Street The Dives
Morning on the 9th of Roalis, 2719
When Ava started to get close, Binder tensed, and his grip on that revolver shifted, and Tom thought he could see him considering who he ought to point it at. The next few moments, he could scarce keep his breath: now, the only thing between them was the desk, and he saw her cloak shift, saw her draw that slip of aged, curling paper out from underneath it and lay it down gently in the middle of the desk, facing him.

The first thing Binder did was snatch the writ off the table, tucking it inside his patchy jacket. Then he stared at Ava, his jaw set in a hard line. Tom thought his face couldn’t get much more pinched than this.

It’d taken Tom awhile to figure out what Ava was driving at, and even when he had, he wasn’t sure he liked it much. It was getting harder and harder to keep up that act – it’d got harder with each step she’d taken toward the desk, each subtle movement, each fraction of a gesture. Each new risk. This was the boldest she’d been so far, and clever as he reckoned it was – hell, it was brilliant – she was, he thought again, playing Rooks with the hatchers. With a hatcher, more like.

Binder licked his lips; then, his eyes moved from Ava to Tom. Must’ve been something on her face, Tom thought, something he couldn’t see. But he looked like he was considering the possibilities. For the first time, Binder was looking at him like he had some use for him. Binder was looking at him expectantly, and not wryly.

Tom met his eye. He tried to look confused. Then, he let realization dawn across his face.

Careful-like himself, he took a few steps toward the desk, heel to toe, back straight. Tried to look like he knew what he was doing, without casting off any of that act: Anatole was still out of his element, a galdor disguised in the Dives for a seedy deal, but now, he thought, he’d figured something out, seized upon something. This was his element, he thought. The world of resources, whatever they might’ve been. He was a man who knew a man who knew a man who could get things done quickly. Covertly.

Problem was, Tom didn’t. But he thought back to what Ava’d said a week and a half ago, Try to sound like you think you’re smarter than everyone, the way she’d imbued his words (his admittance that he was half-literate, even!) with a confidence that made it sound like she was in control no matter what she said. If you could do that, he thought, careful with his posture, careful with the set of his face and the way he clasped his hands behind his back – if you could do that, it didn’t matter if you didn’t know what you were doing. And then, he thought, the details could be sorted out later. It was just right now that mattered, and she’d given him his cue.

So he got closer to the desk, but he didn’t quite draw even with Ava. The edges of his field were just out of Binder’s range; he hoped it looked natural, but it wasn’t quite Ava’s practiced, maybe-maybe-not balance of personal space and body language. Still, he knew he couldn’t go any further.

“We needn’t question the professionalism of the Seventen,” he started with an air of reproach. He cleared his throat, smiling thinly. “Your writ is quite outdated. They would be well within their rights to seize whatever – dubious materials you might be carrying.”

Binder narrowed his eyes. “And?”

Tom hesitated. “This book is very important to me.”

“I don’t compromise my clients. I wouldn’t get the business I get if I did. And I don’t think either of you are in a position to bargain with me.”

“Mr. Binder, you would do well to consider –”

“I’ll bite. No, I like this. I’ll offer you both a deal.” Binder glanced back at Ava, clicking his tooth again. The frown was carved deep into his face. “The golly gets me what I need and ensures my safe departure, and I let you both live. That sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Considering the circumstances.” There was a strange little nervousness in his voice, just barely chapping the edges of it.

Was he thinking this through? Tom paled, blinking. He still couldn’t see Ava’s face, and he didn’t dare look over. He tried to keep himself ramrod-straight, dignified. In control, he kept reminding himself.
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Ava Weaver
Posts: 118
Joined: Fri Jun 07, 2019 11:17 am
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Race: Human
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Writer: moralhazard
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Mon Aug 12, 2019 8:05 pm

Morning, 9th Roalis, 2719
Hollow Street, The Dives
Ava watched Binder turn his attention to Tom. She imagined she could see him thinking, and as she watched, she knew that she saw the moment when he understood what it was she had suggested. Ava didn’t let an inch of the satisfied smile in her her heart into her face; it wasn’t over yet. Binder was strained so badly it was a wonder he hadn’t flown apart at the seams - and he still had that gun.

Ava could see it in Binder when Tom began to move; she could read it into the shift of his body, the subtle twitch of his hand.

Ava thought she could feel him behind her; if she turned her head, she thought, she would see Anatole out of the corner of her eye. When Tom spoke, it was Anatole Ava heard. But it was less of a shock this time, and Ava wasn’t distracted by the queasy feeling it sent through her, the prickle on the back of her neck. At least, she told herself, not much.

Tom had gotten there, though. Ava ducked her head and lifted her shoulders in a modest show of chastisement at his correction about the Seventen. At the same time, deliberately, she let Binder see a trace of amusement on her face. A delicate performance: the human, seemingly subdued by the superior galdor, letting her fellow lower race know she felt no remorse. Ava’s pulse was racing now, pounding beneath her skin, but the deep breaths it would take to control the faint flutter of it on the skin of her neck would be too obvious. Instead, she shifted her head slightly as she rose, letting a few of her long strands of hair fall against her neck, hiding the jumping fear beneath a flutter of feminine curls.

Tom-as-Anatole made the offer, in his way - hesitated, a little, stopping short of saying what he wanted. He was clever; Ava felt a brief pulse of gratitude for him, for how quickly and well he had followed her lead, for the fact that he had been willing to at all. You give me a job, he had promised, and I get it done. Ava wasn’t sure this was what Tom had had in mind, but she was grateful nonetheless; she would do her best not to get them both killed. Well, Ava thought, at least she would die - or so she hoped.

Ava was careful to shift towards Tom as he spoke, as if looking at Anatole. At the same time, she never fully turned her attention away from Binder, and she let him see it. You and I, she told him with the edge of her gaze, we are still in charge here. You deal with me.

Binder shook his head - jumped a little more. There was a vein twitching against his jaw, and he had didn’t have enough hair to hide it. He wasn’t thinking - it was an utterly foolish plan - but he still had that gun.

“Very reasonable,” Ava promised. “Considering the circumstances.” Her tone was soothing. Her gaze flicked down to the gun, soft, considering; she let Binder see it.

“My client will go,” Ava kept Anatole’s name out of it; if the writ came off, Binder would learn it, but there was no sense in giving it to him otherwise. Instead, she indicated Anatole’s body with a graceful flick of her hand. “I am sure it won’t take him more than a few hours to go to the Hall of Records, collect the writ, and then naturally he will return for me. You and I will stay... here, I suppose?” Ava let the faintest questioning tone ease into her sentence, as if nothing before then had struck her as off.

Ava had done her best to spell out the plan without the faintest hint of sarcasm, and she thought she had succeeded. She was sure she hadn’t let it show on her face either - nothing mocking. Binder had to realize it for himself; he had to, himself, come up with a plan that would give Anatole Vauquelin a reason to come and meet him again. She couldn’t take the other human there; she could only shake out the plan he had suggested and let him see its flaws in the ugly, mildew-stained air of his office.

After all, what galdor would come back for a human? Ironically, Ava thought, she had told the truth; Tom Cooke, in the body of Anatole Vauquelin, would come back for her. But there was no way that Binder could know that; there was no way, as a hostage, Ava was anything but useless to him. Less than useless, because waiting with her might get him killed, but would surely profit him nothing.

Ava waited again, patient, as if letting Binder suggest where he would hold her hostage, if he didn’t want to stay here. Another gamble; a bluff to call his bluff. But she thought Binder knew he was bluffing; no man who had achieved this little empire of books could be as stupid as he was acting now. He was bluffing, and now it all depended on how badly he wanted that writ.

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