Souls and Silk

Ava visits the Vauquelins to display some fine fabrics, and Tom discovers that he's wearing a familiar face.

The capital city of Anaxas and the seat of the government.
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Tom Cooke
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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 Jun 13, 2019 4:57 pm

the vauquelin house 🙫 uptown
during the late morning of the 15th of loshis, 2719
It’d been spitting rain all weekend, the wind driving it sideways and rattling at the panes of the windows. Loshis had started like Tom remembered it, with the earth-reek of petrichor and the thick, humid cling of the air. The season hadn’t found its warmth yet, but he reckoned that was on its way, too. The rain made him ache in a way it never had in life, but this was still his favorite season – how it’d toss the waters of the Mahogany, make them patchwork-green and veined with foam. How the warm breeze carried the smell of fish and salt and spices up from the wharf, all the way to that alleyway in the Fords where he’d smoke and talk to the threadbare cats.

Used to be, he’d take long walks in the heavy rain, coming back to hama sopping wet and trying not to track mud into their house; cleaned his soul, he always said.

Today, the fog was so thick you could barely see a foot in front of you. From the big window of Anatole’s study, it looked like a blanket of mist and silence had settled over the city, broken only by the occasional carriage rattling through; the sky was like worn porcelain, shot through with dark cloudbanks. He knew it’d rain again, by the ache if not by the smell and the weight of the air.

Fine time for the Vyrdag to descend on Vienda like a flock of vultures in suits and robes. So far, he’d managed to avoid a mant manna the whole business, though he’d had to sign a handful of papers – gods knew what they were for, being as he could barely read them. Tom didn’t much care. With the thought of Dorhaven looming over Loshis and Hamis like a guillotine that could drop at any time, old men fussing over trade agreements felt like the last thing he ought to be attentive about. This morning, if only to distract himself, Anatole’s desk was spread out with first-year books on Monite; he was copying from one in particular, careful in his shaky hand, trying not to bear down too hard with the pen.

“Anatole—? Do you have a moment?”

He pushed his journal aside and snapped the old book shut, folding his hands over the cover. “Uh – why not?” He’d meant it friendly-like, but as soon as it came out of his mouth, he knew it wasn’t something Anatole’d have said.

Diana’s mouth pulled down in that tired, dull frown – more exasperation, at this point, than anger or surprise. “Ms. Weaver will be here shortly with the samples.” He didn’t know who Ms. Weaver was or what in the clocking hell they were sampling, but Diana didn’t seem keen on explaining. “You’ve come a long way, love,” she continued more softly, moving into the study, “but perhaps it would be best if, this time…”

Even as controlled as Diana was, the mona in her field fussed and grew tight as she came into range of his frazzled mess; she smoothed it in a moment’s time, turquoise-shift and welcoming, but he still caprised that undercurrent of discomfort. “I stay up here, out of sight,” he finished for her, smiling neatly.

“I wouldn’t have put it that way. You do have so much on your plate right now—”

“I promise not to bother you,” he replied. “Plenty of work to do.” He cleared his throat, glancing at the window. The glass was all fogged-up now – nothing to look at.

Diana laughed, practicedly warm. “Feel free to bother us,” she said, meaning the opposite, “but I doubt it will interest you.” Her eyes swept over the title of the book, which Tom quickly covered with his fingers; she raised an eyebrow. Then, with a barely-perceptible shrug, she moved silently to the door.

With her gone, the only sound was the ticking of the floor clock. He opened the book back up, but his hand was tired from the strain of all that delicate motion, and he couldn’t seem to focus on the words. He heaved a deep sigh, sitting back and wilting in Anatole’s cushioned chair. Then he glanced at the empty doorway. The clock ticked.


🙫
“—you see, we hear that the Symvoulio will turn to Mugroba next year,” came Diana’s soft voice, “and so it’s all Mugrobi fashions, everywhere. I’m thinking of having a new gown made, and it absolutely must be in the Mugrobi style, but I do not even know where to begin. Masoumeh pezre Soheila is having a party in Hamis, and I’ve heard that Maryam pezre Atefeh will be present – that is, the heiress of the Qadir family. I’m sure I’ve impressed upon you the importance, then, of making the correct choice.”

Fabric, thought Tom, feeling like a dolt. He peered into the parlor from the short, dimly-lit side hall.

It was a fine, well-appointed room, spacious and richly-papered in floral green; if the parlor was supposed to be the best room in the house, Tom would’ve rather nominated the study – the parlor chairs were too damned soft – but he reckoned it was the most impressive. The fancy floor clock had been saved for this room, tall and imposing, polished and beautifully-carved, pendulum glinting as it swung back and forth behind the glass. Coals glowed in the hearth, and above it, a painting of a woman who looked suspiciously like an elderly Anatole peered out from a gilt frame.

There were two women in the room, Diana and – Ms. Weaver? Something was laid out on the mahogany table, though he couldn’t see it from here.

“The rainy season is hectic,” continued Diana, smiling and reaching to touch the other woman on the arm. Condescendingly, if with a warm smile. “I’m sure you can imagine the stress of being a politician’s wife with all the eyes of the Six Kingdoms focused on Vienda right now.”

Clasping his hands behind his back, Tom moved a little sheepishly into the room, sparing the other woman a brief, awkward glance before looking more lingeringly at the table. He’d thought that both women were galdori, but as he moved into range, he felt the absence of a field and raised an eyebrow. The name Weaver suddenly made more sense.

As his porven mess brushed the edges of her coiffed field, Diana jumped, turning. “Oh,” she laughed. She turned to the human woman, smile brightening. “Ms. Weaver, this is my husband, Incumbent Anatole Vauquelin. Anatole, this is Ava Weaver – a purveyor of textiles from the Painted Ladies.” There was a hint of condescension in the description, too.

With a little hesitation, Tom bowed, then smiled. “Don’t mind me,” he said.
word count: 1220
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Ava Weaver
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Fri Jun 14, 2019 5:45 am

Early Afternoon, 13th Loshis 2719
Woven Delights, Painted Ladies
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"Ms.Weaver, message f’ you!” The bell at the door tinkled, and a young boy burst into the shop, stopping neatly on the mat just inside the door and wiping his feet, one then the other, before bolting ahead, dodging sideways around a woman admiring a bolt of fabric on the wall and catching himself against the back counter.

“Thank you, Will,” Ava smiled at him. She reached beneath the counter and emerged with a coin, extending it to the boy.

“Oh, I don’t need it,” there was a faint hint of red on Will’s face, and his eyes lingered, boldly, for just a moment before he extended a heavy piece of paper. “The jent what gave me this paid prop’rly.”

“Really!” Ava raised her eyebrows, grinning conspiratorially now. “It must be a very important message, then.” She took the paper, setting it down on the counter before her.

“Yeah, figure so,” Will nodded, self-importantly. “Anyway – I gots to run but – have a nice day, Ms. Weaver!” He lingered a moment longer, shifting, then turned and dashed back out of the shop, bursting into quick, agile motion.

“Benea light your path, Will,” Ava watched him go, still smiling. She looked down at the paper, unfolding it to read as the customer approached the counter with a bolt of cotton patterned with cherries. The world swam about her for a moment, and Ava’s face went pale, the red color on her lips stark against suddenly drawn skin. The flicker lasted only a moment, and then she was smooth control again, smiling at the woman with the cherry-patterned cloth.

“A lovely choice for your granddaughter’s dress, Mrs. Wright. Shall I cut it for you?” Ava’s hands were shaking, and she folded the letter and set it away in the drawer. She forced them to still, taking out her rulers and heavy fabric scissors, the work familiar and easy enough to steady the nerves jangling sharply in her chest.

Ava had thought to go the rest of her life without hearing from Anatole Vauquelin again. It had been almost exactly two years since he had come into the apartment where he had kept her and told her, with a smile as pleasant as if they were discussing the weather, that he could keep her no longer, and that, while he would help her, she would need to make her own arrangements. She knew him, all too well, to think he would go back on that. She would have said it was nearly impossible. She had never thought about the likelihood of receiving a note from his wife, because that was leagues further into the realm of impossibilities. And yet, the thick paper she’d just put away was exactly that: an invitation to show fabrics to Diana Vauquelin at her home, in just two days’ time.

Late Morning, 15th Loshis 2719
The Vauquelin House, Uptown

Ava spread another length of silk over the rich mahogany table, elegant hands with black-lacquered nails smoothing the citrine-colored fabric. The room dripped with wealth, an elegant tapestry of privilege and style both, from the slow glinting swing of the pendulum to the elegant, smiling, condescending woman explaining her importance to Ava.

“Of course, madam,” Ava’s smile was carefully pitched, warm and friendly but not familiar, with an air of deference. It was an expression she’d practiced, watching herself in the mirror and smiling again and again until the smile reached her eyes. There was a trick to it, and a point in her life when Ava’s choice had been to learn that trick to survive. Now, it was only a matter of applying it again and again. “I am grateful you’ve chosen to consider these fabrics,” Ava had curtsied when she met Mrs. Vauquelin, low and deep as befitted a human to a galdor; now she bowed her head in a gentle echo of that motion.

“Might I ask if you have considered using Mugrobi-produced fabrics?” Ava began to ask, gesturing with a smooth movement of her hand towards the fabric arranged along the table. The Mugrobi citrine silk was as bright and vivid as anything produced in Anaxis, but lighter, softer somehow. She had chosen the citrine carefully from the fabrics she had brought in a too-expensive carriage, the rains outside forcing her hand if she didn’t want her expensive stock to spoil.

Diana jerked, and Ava’s hand still, hovering over the fabric, and she turned as well, kohl-rimmed eyes wide. Anatole stood, looking at her, a polite but somewhat distant smile on his face, for all the world as if they hadn’t met before. She hadn’t thought him such a skilled actor, but – then, Ava had never held any illusions about how little she had meant to him. She had never been more than a comfortable thing, like a well-worn, familiar jacket, one he had enjoyed until it became out of fashion.

“It’s an honor to meet you, Incumbent Vauquelin,” Ava dipped a low, flawless curtsy, the same depth she’d given to Diana.

Ava had dressed carefully for the day; she wore a gown of sapphire colored silk, expensive and lovely, but carefully cut in a style too plain and simple for a galdor. The sleeves tapered close to her slender arms, a rich enough color that there was no need for anything else to compliment it at her wrists. The top of the dress was a smooth but high scoop neck, modest but revealing the slender column of her throat, rather than the more traditional high collar of galdori fashion. The dress tapered closely in to her trim waist, sewn to look like a bodice, with small fabric-colored buttons slightly angled across her front, then flowed out over her hips, the underskirt flowing nearly straight down to the ground. An overskirt draped in a more traditional wide point over the front of the silk, creating two shifting layers that swished softly as she moved. Her full black curls tumbled loose over her shoulders, setting off the dress, and her lips were carefully painted made up pale, not the rich dark red that Anatole had always so professed to admire.

Ava rose smoothly from the curtsy, without the slightest wobble despite the tight constraints of the skirt. She focused all of her effort, all of her energy, on keeping anything from showing on her face. She certainly had enough practice hiding herself from Anatole. Perhaps ironically, it was curiosity that broke her; it was new, and dreadfully frightening, not knowing what he wanted from her. Could it have been coincidence, the merest chance that his wife had called her here, without knowing? Ava couldn’t believe it. If Anatole didn’t want her here, she wouldn’t be here.

Ava couldn’t control the flash of familiarity in her eyes, grateful that she was turned far away enough from Diana that she doubted the other woman could see anything unusual about her expression. She could, and did, control how long she looked at Anatole, and the open look on her face, as if there were no secrets between them. She turned back to Diana Vauquelin without the faintest pause or hesitation, hands folding gently in front of herself, and waited for the woman to return her attention to the fabric, not presuming to interrupt her business with her husband.

It was a shock, seeing him again. Ava had wondered, abstractedly, in quiet moments when the shop was slow, late at night when there was nothing to do, when she opened her wardrobe and looked at the few gowns left, how she would feel if she ever saw him again. It would be better, she knew, to feel nothing. She had hoped she might. The raw stab of hatred in her chest was familiar, and easily managed; it sent a comforting pulse of anger through her, warming her and helping the soft smile on her lips stay in place. Anger was better than fear, at least – but no mistake, Ava was afraid. She had clawed and fought and carved a place for herself these last two years, in her shop and the Resistance both – and now here was Anatole, playing a game Ava didn’t understand, and didn’t want to.

These thoughts and more flashed through Ava’s mind, and not a whisper showed on her face. None of the seething emotion in her chest showed on her face or in her bearing; other than that brief flicker in her eyes, there was no sign at all of how deeply she felt this encounter. She waited, patient and silent and demure, as if she had no thoughts at all but how best to serve Diana Vauquelin.

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Tom Cooke
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Joined: Fri Dec 21, 2018 3:15 pm
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Location: Vienda, but also hell
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: (disturbingly unheimlich individual)
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Sat Jun 15, 2019 1:54 am

the vauquelin house 🙫 uptown
during the late morning of the 15th of loshis, 2719
Tom was a decent hand at hiding his feelings behind Anatole’s face. If you wanted to stay safe, he reckoned, it was part and parcel of being raen. Whether you liked your new face or not, you got fair used to seeing it in the mirror, trying out all your old expressions and quashing the panic that flipped your stomach when you saw how different they looked. Trying out new ones until something fit – until the lift of an eyebrow or the quirk of a lip looked at home on the unfamiliar map of somebody else’s face.

He’d long since stopped wondering why the raen had found their secret safe haven in Hox, where having a public face – rhakor, they called it – was a matter of importance for just about everybody. In a rough and haphazard sort of way, enough to get him through most days, he’d learned the bare minimum of what the people around him expected from him-as-Anatole; in this way, he scraped by.

Still, there was chance in Rooks. Eventually, something would catch you off-guard. Tom’d had a good face for Rooks, but it hadn’t been that good: at that point, given enough whisky, it’d all fall to pieces, and out would come the knives.

For that flicker of a second, Tom had seen something in Ava Weaver’s dark, kohl-rimmed eyes that he hadn’t expected to see there: familiarity. It was only a single piece of a much larger puzzle, though, and as soon as he saw it, it was gone; it was so fleeting that he wondered if it’d been there in earnest, or if he’d imagined it. He did his damnedest to keep that bland, faint smile on Anatole’s face, but failed. His own eyes widened by a fraction, his left eyelid giving the slightest flutter.

Curious woman, this, even aside from that inscrutable look. All opposites, subtle cues. She dressed well, expensively – well enough that his inexpert eye might’ve taken her from a golly, from afar – but she dressed human; it was easy now to contrast her bare neck with the lace that encased Diana’s, the point of her overskirt with the Uptown-fashionable, asymmetrical cascade of ruffles that adorned the galdor woman’s. Her manner was all practiced grace, but deferential, by contrast. That deference somehow made her even more graceful. Like she knew something nobody else did, maybe. He remembered that sweep of her hand, the way it brought attention to her lacquered nails.

Something about her elegantly-painted face reminded him of somebody he’d known when he was young, somebody he’d grown up around – somebody like Meggie had known. Somebodies, maybe. A lot of faces went by the wayside lately. Despite himself, though, he liked her. Because he liked her, he didn’t want to know how Vauquelin might’ve known her. He told himself he’d only imagined the look.

He blinked, then blinked again, then glanced away from Ms. Weaver. Brushing Diana’s shoulder lightly with a hand, he wove around her and toward the table. He clicked his tongue as he drank in the sight of the fabric, for a moment drawn in by the light, glossy silk. It was the color of the inside of an orange, maybe, or—

Tom felt an awful pang. He reached out, unfamiliar hand hovering over the fabric.

“It is quite fetching.” Diana sighed, plucking at the pendant that nestled in the lacy white flowers that crept across her collarbones. “Anatole, what do you think?”

His fingertips had just skimmed the silk before they twitched back, hesitant. “I, ah – hmm.” His brow furrowed. He was beginning to think he ought to’ve stayed upstairs. As he turned back to Diana, he stole a quick glance at Ms. Weaver: she stood there, demure as a quiet day, her face impossible to read. Diana, on the other hand, leveled her expectant blue gaze at him. She was still fiddling with the jewels at her throat, her chin lifted.

“It’s beautiful, my dear,” he replied, feeling thick-tongued. “And appropriate…”

“I was thinking so, myself. For Loshis and Hamis, I mean, with all this dreadful rain. Of late, dark blue is all the rage. It’s meant to be sensational, I suppose, but I’m still of the opinion that it’s too close to the servants’ color.” She tapped her chin with a fingertip, eyes wandering back to the silk. A smile tugged at her lips. “A ray of sunshine in amongst the rain. Isn’t that so? Like a sunshower.”

“Like a sunshower,” he agreed quietly. It ain’t dreadful, he thought, heart sinking like an anchor. Still, he liked the silk well enough. It was light and airy, like the sun in the springtime. Like maybe you could float away on it. He’d never touched such silk in life.

After a quiet lull, he suddenly looked up.

“Ms. Weaver, do you have anything in a dark green color? Something—” He struggled with words. “Something like a storm at sea in the summer, when you can’t tell the water from the sky. A color like that.” The smile he offered her was oddly genuine, verging on apologetic.

Diana turned to look at him, her brow furrowing.
🙫
Last edited by Tom Cooke on Sat Jun 15, 2019 10:04 pm, edited 1 time in total. word count: 941
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Ava Weaver
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Sat Jun 15, 2019 1:41 pm

Late Morning, 15th Loshis 2719
The Vauquelin House, Uptown
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Ava didn’t miss the faint flicker of an eyelid on Anatole’s face. There had been a time when reading his every expression had been her livelihood, and beyond that her means of survival. She had thought that time was past, had thought it ended a few years ago. Perhaps for the first time, Ava realized how wrong she had been. Anatole was still alive, and evidently he had not forgotten her.

And so here Ava was, in a new game of his devising, one in which she did not know the rules and one in which the stakes were – everything. Before she had played for her life, and she had though that more than enough to bargain with. She hadn’t known, not really, what it meant to have something more on the line. Now she did.

All the same, Anatole was an opponent she had had for years, even if he had never known it. She would figure him out again, as she always had, and find her way out of this trouble. Perhaps it really was just a coincidence – perhaps that flicker of an eyelid was just a conspiratorial wink – but Ava didn’t believe it. She doubted Anatole would bother to share a joke with her, not with nothing for him to gain at the end of it.

Ava waited, patient and smiling, eyes demurely lowered, as Diana admired the vivid orange silk, somehow pale and bright all at once. She knew better than to interrupt; she was neither a fashion consultant nor a friend, but a vehicle through which Diana would choose her cloth. She imagined that she ranked somewhere above the bag that the cloth would be held in while it was carried to the tailor’s, but perhaps not much. The tailor, were he human or wick, would be little more than a machine to carry out Diana’s wishes, whoever they came from.

It wouldn’t do to let her attention wander, though, and so although she was still and polite and smiling, Ava kept the focus of her attention on the two galdor. She didn’t miss Anatole’s quick glance in her direction, but she dared not give an indication of it, not while facing both him and Diana so evenly.

When Anatole spoke to her, it caught Ava thoroughly off-guard. She lifted her head, eyes wide once more. The mask didn’t slip, but her lips parted, slightly, losing their easy smile. She had never, never heard Anatole speak so, and never seen a smile like that on his lips. The Anatole she had known was confident, bold and demanding; she had never heard him remotely uncertain. Poetic, perhaps, but not uncertain, not hesitant, and never apologetic.

Was this how he had always been around his wife? Or just another part of his game? Ava couldn’t hope to guess.

“It sounds like a lovely color,” Ava did her best to make it look as if she had been thinking, letting her brow wrinkle softly. In her experience, galdor always believed that humans needed a long time to process, that not having a connection to the mona made one particularly stupid. In fact, it did sound like a lovely color; it made her think of summers in Old Rose Harbor, in watching storms brewing off at sea before they swept in over the land, of roiling seas and hot stinging skies.

“Perhaps…” Ava bowed her head in another gentle motion and stepped back. She was careful not to turn her backs on the galdor as she crossed the room, managing to find a careful line between backing up and turning away, and walking it as delicately as she did all the rest. The rest of what she had brought was set towards the back of the room, out of sight behind a screen that Diana had had brought in. Ava imagined it was to keep the fabrics from spoiling the color scheme of the room, or making it look cluttered. She was grateful for it now; stepping behind the screen offered her a moment of privacy. She wasn’t such a fool as to let her smile slip even there, to let the confusion show in her eyes, but it felt as if she could fortify herself there.

But only for a moment.

This was Anatole’s game. Ava would play; she had no more choice than she ever had. But to be a human in the galdor’s world was to be always playing, and Ava had never expected less, or at least not since she had left the last vestiges of childhood behind.

Ava emerged carrying a folded length of dark green silk. She smiled at Anatole and Diana both, the fabric draped over her arm. Carefully, she refolded the citrine silk, setting it off to the side of the table, and spread out the dark green in its place, soft hands spreading the fabric across the table without any calluses to catch against it.

“Sir, perhaps something like this?” Ava couldn’t find a way to avoid looking at him again; it would be too obvious. Her eyes met his, and her smile never flickered an inch, but she couldn’t keep entirely from thinking of all the questions she had, the uncertainties he’d raised from the dead in her chest, and she didn’t know whether it showed in her gaze. She hoped not.

“I believe this color would look lovely on you, madam,” Ava offered the compliment with a smile for Diana, turning her attention back to the galdor woman and staying on her, mastering herself once more. The silk was like sea-green drenched in water, darkened to a liquid flowing state. It was too green to be blue, too green even to clash with a ball of blue gowns, but still there were echoes of blue in it, seething beneath the surface.

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Tom Cooke
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Joined: Fri Dec 21, 2018 3:15 pm
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Location: Vienda, but also hell
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: (disturbingly unheimlich individual)
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Sun Jun 16, 2019 12:41 am

the vauquelin house 🙫 uptown
during the late morning of the 15th of loshis, 2719
In life, Tom had never been much good at deference. As he watched Ms. Weaver move toward the screen – that strange, graceful walk, where she managed never to turn her back – he wondered what it was like. If he’d learned one thing about Vienda since he’d picked up the thread of Anatole’s life, it was that the capital was a different world from Old Rose. In the Rose, birds were sovereign, and if you were Hawke’s man, you didn’t bow or scrape. He wondered what it would’ve been like, coming of age in Vienda, learning how to behave around the Uptown gollies. Circle, but the discipline it took just to be human in a place like this. And discipline, he reckoned, was something this woman had in spades. He had to wonder why.

It made him think of that Spencer kov, being honest, all smiles and clever flattery, casual as he needed to be. Tom’d felt betrayed – angry, even – at being played by him, but also fascinated; he’d never been a galdor before, after all. Never been on that side of it. There was something thrilling about it, even now, even as awful as it was. A window into somebody else’s experience.

The sight of the cloth tore him from his reverie. He watched her bring it back to the table, folding up the pale, bright silk and setting it aside; he noticed the care in her motions and the softness of her hands, uncalloused and delicate as any galdor’s. Once she had spread the cloth out, he took a step forward, looking at it for awhile.

“Ah, this, murmured Tom, and for awhile, genuine warmth crept into his expression – into his voice, into his body language, into the way he looked up (briefly) to meet Ms. Weaver’s gaze with a smile that touched his eyes. He lowered his head again, smoothing the fabric. “This is rainy season on the Tincta Basta. This is the right green; it’s just right. Hulali’s waters, eh?” He ran the backs of his fingers over the silk.

As he often did, he was losing his train of thought. In his mind’s eye, he was seeing Ishma’s green eyes, and he was thinking how a silk scarf might bring them out. He was thinking how he hadn’t done anything for hama’s birthday in years; before the gods had snatched him out of the Cycle, he’d never had the money, and now, since that fortunate-unfortunate day in Bethas, he felt that they were drifting further and further apart.

Diana stood looking at the silk, confused. Her eyes darted from her husband to the textile to the merchant, her face blank except for the slight downward tug of one side of her mouth. Looking back at him, she started to say something, brows drawing together – and then Ms. Weaver spoke again, diffusing the tension.

For her part, she smiled faintly. “Yes, I think it would,” she replied. “It’s not quite the color of my eyes, though.”

For his own, Tom seemed to withdraw. The warmth dropped slowly off his face, but, turning to Diana, he managed to retain his thin smile. He touched her arm and said, “Either color would look fetching on you, love. Now that I think about it, I’m partial to the yellow. You’re right: it’s a bit drab for the rainy season, isn’t it? It suits you more to be a ray of light than a stormy sea.”

Diana looked at him for a few seconds, then laughed, tapping her chin. “Oh, I agree” – and she turned to Ava, smiling suddenly – “it’s always been the citrine, Ms. Weaver. Your instincts were impeccable. I shall be recommending you. You are a wonderful woman.”

With her eyes off of him, Tom swallowed thickly, glancing down and away. He didn’t look back at Ava; his head was a soup, full of conflicting thoughts about hama, full of so many knotted threads that wouldn’t come untied enough for him to look at them clearly. Ava Weaver was just one of them, but something about her manner made him feel like she was symbolic of all of them. He couldn’t shake the feeling that they were both play-acting, he and her, both navigating something unbearably complicated and only half-understood. Less than half: he felt completely lost.

Clasping his hands behind his back, he meandered away from the table. He found himself over by the window, brushing the heavy brocade curtain aside with a hand. He twitched with irritation, seeing the glass all fogged-over. Nothing to look at.

Diana was still beaming expectantly at Ms. Weaver. “It simply must be the Mugrobi silk.”
🙫
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Ava Weaver
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Sun Jun 16, 2019 4:01 pm

Early Afternoon, 13th Loshis 2719
Woven Delights, Painted Ladies
Anatole looked down at the cloth, and a rich, familiar pleasure filled his voice as he admired it. Ava looked at him, and when his gaze lifted to her, there was tenderness in his smile and his eyes, unexpected and unwelcome. A wink was one thing, but that softness scared Ava, more than a little. Had the passage of a few years softened Anatole? She couldn’t imagine it, but she hoped not. Once, perhaps, she would have been glad of it, or at least grateful that it would make her life easier.

Now? Now it was dangerous to respond, to encourage him, and infinitely more dangerous not to. So be it.

Ava let a hint of the sort of desire she knew how to sell creep into her eyes, like a soft, yielding warmth. It was just a flicker of an expression, and she kept the rest of her face as still as she could, the soft, shopkeeper’s smile held with iron control - as if she knew better but couldn’t resist the desire to reveal herself.

Anatole looked down, gently tracing the backs of his fingers over the fabric, as if lost in the dark blue-green. Ava wondered what he was thinking of; she couldn’t imagine Anatole contemplating a fabric, any fabric, with such devoted attention, and she’d never known him to be particularly fond of the sea before, although she supposed that didn’t mean very much.

Ava turned her attention back to Diana instead, offering her gentle compliment. For better or worse, whatever Anatole’s plans - Ava’s couldn’t wait. The wife of an incumbent was a good customer, and she needed her business. The trip here had cost her dearly, and without a sale – she would make do. She always had. If Anatole hadn’t been who he was, if not for the second layer of meaning and innuendo that dripped from him, she would have stayed more focused on Diana - and so that was how she needed to behave. A reputation for making eyes at galdori would kill her, in more ways than one.

To Ava’s relief, Diana responded, with an odd relief to her tone. It was clear to Ava she preferred the citrine, and just as clear that something was wrong. Anatole’s behavior, perhaps? It was a bad sign if he wanted whatever this was from Ava more than he wanted harmony with his wife; it left an unpleasant taste in her mouth, but not sour enough to show.

Ava just stood and watched – and the last of the tension broke with Diana’s smile, the room smoothing back into normalcy. She smiled as if she had noticed nothing, as if she were no more than instinct and access to fabric, as if Anatole’s twitching presence at the curtain didn’t send a faint stab of fear through her heart. With an easy motion, Ava folded the blue-green silk back, and spread the citrine out again, giving it a flick so it lay straight, letting Diana take another look at it.

Ava’s smile grew at Diana’s compliment, and she bowed her head, delicately, dipping it ever so slightly, again echoing her earlier curtsy. “I am beyond honored,” Ava replied, gratitude and enthusiasm thick in her tone. “You are too kind, madam,” Ava’s smile was bright with pride now. She did need this sale, badly, and it wasn’t hard at all to summon gratitude or pleasure at her success. Diana’s recommendation wouldn’t be the first she had had among the galdori, but it would be her highest profile by far.

Did Anatole mean to support her? For a moment, Ava – wondered. Had he kept tabs on her, and somehow brought her with the thought that she would impress Diana? He had been kind to her, much in the way of a child might behave towards a beloved pet, saving food scraps from the table or fashioning a careful collar from strips of fabric. It was only that Anatole had much more than scraps to give, and Ava had never believed that he would be truly willing to give anything that might cost him. She didn’t really believe that that might have changed. His odd behavior, and the tension he’d brought into the room, spoke against it.

“It will be ready this afternoon,” Ava promised, still not shy about showing her pleasure. Deliberately, she didn’t hold back, aware that she might sound just a little too eager, but worried it would read as false otherwise. There were plenty of arrangements to be made – details of the exact amount of fabric needed, what Diana’s house would pay for it, whether the fabric would be sent here or to the tailor – but Ava doubted that Diana would make those herself. The other galdori she had done showings for had had housekeepers and butlers who handled such mundane things, and Ava had no reason to think Diana would be any different. As such, she only made the offer, and didn’t press forward into any of the details, assuming Diana would bring them up if she wished to think on such things.

The thought of the work to come was pleasant; Ava had weights that she used to hold silk still while cutting, small things she’d made herself, and special scissors with small teeth. She would cut the silk, take it to be pressed, fold it specially, and have it sent where ever Diana wanted. It would be, if not easy, then at least pleasant; cutting silk took a good deal of focus. The thoughts of the future steadied her, brought her back to the present, and smoothed the smile on her face as she gazed over the silks on the table at Diana. What would come would come; Ava had long since learned that there was nothing she could do to prevent it.

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Tom Cooke
Posts: 140
Joined: Fri Dec 21, 2018 3:15 pm
Topics: 24
Location: Vienda, but also hell
Race: Raen
: (disturbingly unheimlich individual)
Character Sheet: Character Sheet
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Plot Notes: Plot Notes
Writer: Graf
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Sun Jun 16, 2019 11:43 pm

the vauquelin house 🙫 uptown
during the late morning of the 15th of loshis, 2719
Gods damn it, but Tom couldn’t get his eye to stop twitching. Standing there at the window, pretending to look out – at what? at the fog-caked glass? – he tried to wrangle himself under control, and he only half-succeeded. He massaged his left eye with his fingertips, taking a deep, shuddering breath; he hid it behind a cough.

He hadn’t imagined that, had he? Surely not. Still, it couldn’t possibly’ve meant what he thought it had. It’d just been a look, he kept thinking, just a look— Just a look, my clockin’ erse. This chip was subtle, and she was good at what she did; giving him a sensual look like that – and that’d been a sensual look, if he’d ever seen one – couldn’t have been an accident or a coincidence. Especially given how quick she’d turned her attention to Anatole’s wife, how reluctant she’d been to meet his eye in the first place. He shut his eyes and replayed that handful of seconds in his head, skimming it over and over again for details. He tried to remember what he’d been doing with his face, but he hadn’t been paying attention.

Tom reckoned he’d smiled at her, was all. Just a regular smile, friendly-like and warm, the kind he didn’t much get to share anymore. Just friendly-like, nothing else. Couldn’t find fault with that kind of smile, you couldn’t. Yet, in that moment, something’d passed between them, something knowing and strange. Something secret and intimate. It’d made the back of his neck prickle. Couldn’t be this chip had a thing for old galdori rambling about the sea, could it? Mung idea, that.

The more he lived like this, the more of an inkling he had of what kind of man Anatole’d been. There was one other option for what that look had meant, compounded with all that deference and elegance. He didn’t like it none; as a matter of fact, he preferred not to think about it. The more he thought about it, the likelier it seemed, and the likelier it seemed, the worse Tom felt.

He stole another glance over his shoulder as Ms. Weaver put away the sea silk, distracted by a momentary flare of irritation. Letting his gaze linger for awhile on the two women, he drummed two fingers on the window sill, frowning.

Diana’s expression got even brighter as Weaver laid out the Mugrobi silk again. She clasped her hands in front of her, inclining her head and smiling indulgently as if to say, Of course you’re honored, and of course I’m kind. “Just wonderful,” she repeated, “wonderful. I shall expect it by then, and no later.” She raised her eyebrows. “Now, I have some business to attend to: Marie Perrault is having a soiree this afternoon, and I mustn’t be late. Cecily will be here momentarily to finish arranging the details.”

Tom turned away from the window, clasping his hands behind his back again and wandering back toward the table. Much as he tried to hide it, he looked more than a little jarred. Distracted, maybe. He met Diana’s smile with a faint one of his own, barely a twitch of his lip. He didn’t look back at Ms. Weaver, didn’t dare. Instead, he studied the citrine silk, then gave the folded green an oddly longing look.

In a way, he was glad Diana’d gone with the citrine, but he wished he could’ve arranged something himself. He thought about waiting until Diana left the room – and then shuddered at the thought. Whatever had just happened, the last thing he wanted, for now, was to be alone in Anatole’s sumptuous parlor with Ava Weaver.

“I’ll excuse myself, then,” he said, avoiding Weaver with his eyes. He beamed that uncomfortable smile at Diana again. “Upstairs. Plenty of work to do, eh? Rainy season and all.”

Turning away from the other woman, Diana stepped to his side, touching his arm with a thin, pale hand. “Of course, love,” she replied.

“Mmm.” Without another word, he turned and stalked away, a kick in his step as if a fire had been lit at his heels. He’d passed the floor clock and disappeared into the shadows of the hallway just before it chimed fourteen.

Diana watched him go, taking a deep breath herself. It was as if she were alone in the room. She had nothing more to say to Ava, and so the human woman seemed to have disappeared. After making sure her hairpin was still in place, she moved wordlessly for the doorway to the foyer, not even sparing Weaver a final glance.
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word count: 848
Ψυχάριον εἶ βαστάζον νεκρόν.
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Ava Weaver
Posts: 22
Joined: Fri Jun 07, 2019 11:17 am
Topics: 5
Race: Human
Character Sheet: Character Sheet
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Writer: moralhazard
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Mon Jun 17, 2019 3:45 am

Early Afternoon, 13th Loshis 2719
Woven Delights, Painted Ladies
"Thank you, madam,” Diana was already turning her body and her mind away from the fabric. Ava kept her focus wholly on the woman, still smiling, hands folded gently over her front.

Anatole turned back from the window. There was a faint, familiar frown on his face, a crease to his eyes and lips that meant he was thinking about something unpleasant. Ava knew he was more than capable of something like kindness – or what passed for it between a galdor and a human – in one moment, followed swiftly by a focus on his work in the next. At first that shift had always frightened her; later she had come to accept it. Part of the service she had provided to him was not to be demanding.

Yet, in this moment, she felt that frisson of fear again. It was such an abrupt shift. Was it only that Anatole had already had whatever he wanted from her – perhaps the acknowledgement that she was still his for the taking? Funny that he would think he had to ask for it. Ava had always kept up her front for Anatole, with eager greetings and longing glances, and she had never known how much he really believed it. Enough, she supposed; enough that he had taken her for himself, enough that he had given her more than he had to when he cut her loose. But, then, she would have thought he felt it his due, owed to him, and not needed any reassurance that it was still there.

So either she had misinterpreted and made a terrible mistake, or it was nothing at all to do with her. Well, she had faced that uncertainty before, and while she had hoped not to again, Ava would weather it as she had before. Anatole left, back to his work and his study, giving Ava no more clues as to his state of mind. Ava stood, as still and demure as the furniture, and just as ignored by both of the galdori. She expected no less, and did nothing to call attention to herself, looking down at the fabrics as Anatole had. Did he even see them?

Diana left, and Ava finally moved, slowly, shifting across the room to look out the window herself. There was nothing there, only the fog of warm breaths on the glass. Ava kept her hands folded in front of herself, gazing at the tempered glass. She could see the vague outlines of her reflection, a hint of color on her face, darkness that was hair at the edges of her head, a faint color just below where the dress began, nothing more substantial than that.

The door opened across the room, and Ava turned back, smile bright and cheerful. This would be Cecily, then; she stepped forward, ready to make the arrangements, every inch the pleased shopkeeper who had just made an important sale. There were no choices left to her, not any more. She would play her part, all her parts, with every inch of skill she had. There was nothing else she could do.

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