Like Clockwork

The capital city of Anaxas and the seat of the government.
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Oisin Ocasta
Posts: 39
Joined: Thu Jun 27, 2019 7:00 pm
Topics: 9
Race: Wick
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Writer: Amphion
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Thu Jul 04, 2019 9:30 pm

Midday - 11th of Hamis
Image
And there it was: the fettid stench of the Kingsway Post there to fill everyone's nostrils and distract their attention, allowing the truth to hide itself behind a stinkscreen of moral indignance.

"Because reputable newspapers are so progressive in their hiring policies," he cut back, the sharp arch of his brow a perfect match for the razor's edge of his tongue. But the ire did not belong to Anatole Vauquelin: at least, not in any meaningful fraction. The Galdori were the architects of the society into which they had both been born, but Vauquelin was so far removed those progenitors that he was no more responsible for its creation than Oisin was for the invention of the wheel. His guilt, should he have the moral awareness to perceive it, was of a different sort: he was complicit, part of the crew that repainted the facade, and repaired the cracks in the plaster and the masonry of Galdori-ruled society. It was hard to gauge which was worse, the preservers or the progenitors: those with whom the ideas first began, or those who'd failed across several generations to comprehend the error of their ways.

Or, perhaps there was no error. Oisin would be lying if he tried to claim that the notion had ever occurred to him. That the Galdori possessed magic was undeniable; that the Humans did not, and that Wicks fell somewhere in between, was equally true. Perhaps magic truly was the metric by which social value should be judged. Perhaps that really was the way that the mona wished for things to be. Perhaps they had all earned their fates, through past lives and past deeds. Perhaps in a past life, Anatole Vauquelin had been a better man: perhaps life as a Galdori was as much a challenge as a reward, and one that so many Galdori frequently failed.

Oisin reached for his glass, a sip of cheap whisky washing those notions away. "As a Wick in Vienda, I was of course spoiled for choice in where I chose to work."

A heavier sip preceded a sigh. There was a question that his Sergeant often asked: is this the hill you want to die upon? If it referenced a specific idiom or fable, Oisin was unfamiliar, but he understood the gist. Some battles were worth fighting; some were not. Understanding the difference between the two was an important skill for a mercenary, the Sergeant had explained: it's how you know to tell your employers that they aren't paying you enough for this shit. Somehow, Oisin doubted the same strategy would help with his current source of income.

"You're right," Oisin conceded, allowing the conversation to settle back into the wheel ruts that Vauquelin's verbal cart had carved. "The Kingsway Post is garbage. Unrepentant, unbridled, unadulterated chroveshit. Our content is trash, our standards are trash. None of that matters, because people actually read it."

An arm fell to his side, glass still gripped within his fingers, the almost depleted contents sloshing from side as the tumbler idly swirled. Oisin's eyes found Vauquelin's and held them intently. There was a gentle sincerity to his words, but none of his earlier bullishness: no clever remarks, no provocations or scathing critique, just simple words, as if somehow his voice escaped his lips in the same plain-as-day typeface as the printed word.

"No one particularly cares where a Galdor sticks his dick. Men, women, horses, expensive shoes - it doesn't matter. People stick their dicks in things: that's life. If anything, the gossip and scandals in the Kingsway Post are the great equaliser: it makes you less distant, less removed, more like us and less of a them; and frankly, we need more of that in troubled times like this. What makes people care is the fact that you don't want us to know. Gossip's only gossip when you aren't supposed to be talking about it."

The glass returned into view, grip shifted so that it could play a part in the casual gesticulations that emphasised Oisin's words.

"After Dorhaven, the government cut the newspapers out of the equation. I humbly submit that this was a mistake. You thought that releasing a statement through only the official channels would let you control the narrative. It did, but everyone knows that's why you did it. They know that's your chosen story. You aren't swaying any opinions: those who blame Humans would have done so anyway, and those who are sceptics are still sceptics. But what if the Kingsway Post had broken the story? We tell them what you don't want them to hear. Think about how valuable that specific voice could potentially be, in a situation such as this."

Oisin shrugged, downing the last of his drink, and setting the glass onto the table with a thunk.

"I'm not here to antagonise you, Mr. Vauquelin. We don't have to be enemies. In fact, I'd much rather we were friends."
word count: 868

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Tom Cooke
Posts: 190
Joined: Fri Dec 21, 2018 3:15 pm
Topics: 26
Location: Vienda, but also hell
Race: Raen
: "disturbingly unheimlich individual"
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Writer: Graf
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Fri Jul 05, 2019 9:16 pm

The Clockwork Stag The Dives
during midday on the 11th of hamis, 2719
Tom studied Oisin’s face as he drank; his frown deepened, and his eyes softened. “Of course,” was all he said. Again, he couldn’t help but wonder what’d led Oisin to this unlikeliest of posts, what’d made him trade in his bayonet for a pen and the sandstorms of Mugroba for the smog-screened heart of his birth country. For a godsdamn writ. For the life of a tsat working for a tabloid.

But Oisin’s sharp – precise, now impeccably polite and now wickedly crude – tongue was engaging him.

When the wick addressed him – you, as if he were speaking to the Anaxi government itself, as if Tom fucking Cooke, day-drinking in the slums, were the face of galdor domination – he almost seemed to bristle. As if I had anythin’ to do with it, he might’ve said. He’d never been ought but a tough; if you called on Cooke, it wasn’t because you wanted anybody to do any thinking for you, and gods help you if you expected him to talk. As far as he’d ever been concerned, the chain was rust and rot all the way up, and there was no changing that. You kept your head down and stuck to the job you were given. Was that still who he was, though?

There was something almost cruel in the way his lip twitched, something mean, something not out of place on the lines of Anatole’s face. He wanted to accuse Oisin of naivete. He wanted to tell him to stop digging for stories where he’d never find them; he’d make enough of a living hounding the aforementioned incumbents about their proclivities, or, better yet, just making up licentious stories off the top of his head. He wanted to ask him if all that mercenary work hadn’t taught him not to stick his nose where it didn’t belong.

Then, with an awful pang that didn’t show in his expression, he wanted to warn his old friend just how deep the waters he was toeing were.

What if— There were a thousand ‘what ifs’. The worst of them: what if it’d been Incumbent Vauquelin sitting there instead of Tom? The same Vauquelin that was in bed with d’Arthe and Megiro and the rest of them, as far as Tom knew – the Vauquelin that would’ve had answers to all the questions Oisin could possibly ask, and wouldn’t have appreciated Oisin asking them. In this business, that was how you wound up at the bottom of the Arova.

The thunk of Oisin’s tumbler against the wood roused Tom from his troubled thoughts, and he looked up at him again. For a handful of seconds, there was nothing but silence between them. Then he nodded, letting out a deep sigh.

“You’ve made your point, Mr. Ocasta. And very well,” he added with a weak, reluctant smile. “You want a friend on the Vyrdag. I might appreciate a friend in the Post. It’s mutually beneficial, and beneficial to, ah” – he gestured vaguely with a hand – “the people, or trust, or something. All right. But my point still stands: in these times, you’d do better to chase your ribald tales of prominent galdori sticking their dicks in expensive shoes. Better than asking said prominent galdori too many questions about sensitive matters. In public places.” One eyebrow shot up, and he cast a demonstrative glance around the room.

He paused for a long time, staring intently at the wick, as if there were a dozen things he wanted to say and couldn’t. He pressed his lips to a thin line. This time, there was plenty of unease in his expression.

He spoke again, much more quietly. “You’re interested in the truth. Maybe I’m interested in the truth, too. What would you do to get it? You’re playing Rooks with a hatcher, but maybe I could use a truthseeking friend. Provided I can trust him.”

Can I still trust you, Oisin Ocasta?
Last edited by Tom Cooke on Tue Jul 09, 2019 2:46 pm, edited 4 times in total. word count: 724
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Oisin Ocasta
Posts: 39
Joined: Thu Jun 27, 2019 7:00 pm
Topics: 9
Race: Wick
Character Sheet: Character Sheet
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Plot Notes: Plot Notes
Writer: Amphion
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Sat Jul 06, 2019 2:58 pm

Midday - 11th of Hamis
Image
What would he do for the truth? The most honest answer seemed to be: it depends. Different truths were worth different things, after all: what he might do to satisfy a passing curiosity would no doubt be far less than the lengths he might go to for deeper or more significant truths.

But that wasn't really the question, was it? A friend on the Vyrdag: that was how Mr. Vauquelin had phrased it. Such a friendship, such an alliance, implied certain boundaries and connotations. Mutually beneficial. That was just another way of saying that anything Vauquelin offered, anything he gave, would come with a price attached. The question was, what sort of price was Oisin willing to pay, and what currencies and commodities was he willing to trade in? A man of Vauquelin's wealth was not someone who could be paid for such things conventionally, not with Oisin's meagre salary at any rate. So what then might Oisin have to offer in exchange that might capture the incumbent's interest? Would it be a trade of information, truths from Vauquelin in exchange for secrets about his political comrades and rivals? Would it be an exchange in opposites, a few truths for a few lies, misinformation in the pages of the Post to hide deliberate falsehoods among the alleged fabrications they were said to already publish? Or was there something more going on behind those oddly and unsettlingly familiar eyes, some woven conspiratorial thread attached to a baited hook, seeking to solicit nefarious deeds? After all, Oisin was a Wick, and if such deeds were part of Vauquelin's implication, it would hardly be the first time that someone had presumed that a criminal disposition was as much a facet of Oisin's story as any other Wick stereotype.

"I spent twelve years as a mercenary, Mr. Vauquelin."

It wasn't a boast, or a threat: merely a fact, merely context, but one that carefully wrapped around an implication of his own. There were other meanings to 'mercenary' beyond the literal: certain presumptions, certain mindsets, certain ambiguities that people assumed existed for anyone who shouldered that description. Like Wick, like journalist, like Kingsway Post, it too was both a simple fact, and a supposed description of his character. If Vauquelin's intentions were on the level, then it was merely a fact, and not one that would likely lower himself in the incumbent's estimation. If Vauquelin's intent was on the shadier side, however, perhaps it would seem like a passive invitation, a lure for the incumbent to expand upon exactly what it was he had in mind.

"You and I both know that everything has a price, if your pockets are deep enough. Even the truth."

He leaned back a little in his chair, easing away from the hushed conspiratorial discussion for a moment. Following Vauquelin's earlier prompting, he cast his gaze across their surroundings: a half-empty tavern full of dejected and downcast shift workers who couldn't care less who the two men at this particular table were, or what it was they were talking about. He took the incumbent's point: certainly, the kinds of topics they were brushing up against were not those that should be spoken about freely, openly, or loudly: but this was hardly some covert exchange of information. This was a first attempt at contact. This was Oisin walking up and poking a hive with a stick to see if there were bees inside. Sometimes, you'd wind up getting stung. If you weren't careful, you might stir up a nest of wasps or hornets instead. But everything short of a fatal sting would heal eventually, and sometimes it was the best - sometimes the only - way to get your hands on the honey you were after. The alternative was to rely on the beekeepers and their engineered apiaries, dealing out honey at their own pace in portions and at prices of their choosing. Just as Mr. Vauquelin had been when he chose this particular establishment for his attempt at drunken solitude, Oisin was fairly confident he was safe among these particular bees.

But was he safe with Anatole Vauquelin? That was the deeper question. His cocktail of cavalier and cautious was an interesting one. Confident that he wouldn't be recognised, but concerned they might be overheard. Seeking to lose himself in the Soot District, concealed from where his peers might find him, almost sounded like the opening premise of a crime novel: yet the man seemed strangely at ease here, and from the things he almost said, Oisin almost found himself with the sense that Vauquelin felt comfortable here - more comfortable than among his peers. Certainly, there seemed to be no love lost between Vauquelin and the Kingsway Post's victims, yet harshness towards Humans and the Resistance had been conspicuously absent. He'd not even said anything insulting about Oisin being a Wick - or at least, nothing particularly memorable. It didn't track, didn't fit, and that was something Oisin always found a little unnerving. Where exactly was this story trying to take him?

Of course, this could all have been a ploy, some performance from the incumbent for his benefit. Perhaps he was just trying to avoid fuelling a potential Post scandal of his own. Perhaps it was a carefully constructed plan to lure him somewhere private and introduce him to his collection of sex shoes. Trust: at the end of the day, that was the only currency that mattered between the two of them, in this exchange and any potential ones in the future. Could they trust each other, and if so, how far?

"I'm not averse to a little danger, if that's what you're asking. Provided the risk balances out with the reward, of course."
word count: 997
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Tom Cooke
Posts: 190
Joined: Fri Dec 21, 2018 3:15 pm
Topics: 26
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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Mon Jul 08, 2019 7:57 pm

The Clockwork Stag The Dives
during midday on the 11th of hamis, 2719
And what a twelve years those must’ve been.

Tom stared levelly at him, leaned back in his chair, arms crossed and brows raised. Still as a statue. He drank in everything Oisin said, then nodded slowly. “I can’t promise that anything balances out,” he replied, “but I’m sure you can weigh risk and reward on your own. You’ve been doing it for a decade and more.”

He paused, looking away.

The sandy-haired kov in the corner’d started playing something coherent, and the Stag’s precious few other patrons’d lulled to a relative quiet. That handful of dockers perched round the bar had stopped laughing, just deep enough in their cups to appreciate a distraction. Burns, who’d finished wiping down the tables and retreated behind the bar, paused in his chat with an old tsat woman – a regular; Tom recognized her from the last time he’d been here – to poke his head round and watch the guitarist. His long, nimble fingers crept over the strings like spiders’ legs. The light of a nearby lamp limned his face, long and rough and pockmarked all over, knotted with concentration.

Tom blinked, watching him play for the moment. He wasn’t bad, but every off-tune fumble reminded him of hama’s clear, practiced hand at the oud. His brow knit, and he sucked at a tooth, frowning. Enough fumbles and the guitarist’d lost the attention of the dockers and the tsat and the bartender, and the conversation boiled back up from its lull, bubbling softly in the background. The occasional plucked melody edged around it, dull and frustrated.

Without so much as a sidelong glance at Oisin, Tom began speaking again in a low voice. “Earlier this week, an incumbent from Fen Kierden – Étienne de Vries, I think his name is – passed out during talks with Mugroba about a new tariff. One minute, he was red as his hair and ranting; the next, he’d gone white as a sheet – and down he went. Was like a thunderclap across the hall. He’s still in hospital, I believe.” A faint, wicked smile. “There’s plenty of that during rainy season this year, quiet as they’re trying to keep it. We’re passing off the Symvoul next year, and nobody’s ready. And they’re more worried about the Resistance than they’ve ever been. Why d’you think they were so quick to pin the massacre on them?”

The words were soft, but they were offhand, casual; he said it like he was speculating about temperatures in the Dry Season, or trying to guess how long the rains’d last. His tone was cynical, but carefully neutral. Whether it was meaningless speculation or he knew something, he reckoned words like those – at best, the words of a sympathizer – could ruin Anatole.

It was the closest Tom was willing to get to a gesture of trust. The wick was right: everything had a price. Tom thought that maybe the price of trust was the highest; you usually won it in blood. The Oisin of a decade ago had won Tom’s trust that way, and there was still a little of it left in his heart, even after the wear and tear of years and foreign sands. Just enough to make that little gamble feel worth it.

Suddenly, he shifted in his seat. With a rattle and a creak, he sat up and leaned forward a little over the table. He met Oisin’s eye, unblinking; he frowned deeply.

“If I get any leads that might interest you, I’ll be in touch. For a price,” he said, letting his tone get all serious-like, putting weight behind his words. Wasn’t hard; in Anatole’s deep orator’s voice, just raspy enough, you could make nearly anything sound grave and important. “You’ve got to leave me the hell alone today, so I can get nice and guttered before I have to think again. Understand?”

His mouth twitched in the tiniest of smiles.
Last edited by Tom Cooke on Sat Jul 13, 2019 2:39 pm, edited 1 time in total. word count: 725
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Oisin Ocasta
Posts: 39
Joined: Thu Jun 27, 2019 7:00 pm
Topics: 9
Race: Wick
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Writer: Amphion
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Wed Jul 10, 2019 4:18 pm

Midday - 11th of Hamis
Image
Oisin hung upon Vauquelin's words carefully, analysing not just their content, but the intent that lay behind them. There were all kinds of motivations that could have driven the gesture of information that the incumbent provided. Most likely it was a sign - or perhaps a test - of trust. A health scare in the Vyrdag was exactly the kind of scandal that the Kingsway Post thrived upon. Oisin could take the information and run with it, providing instant value to the time Oisin had invested in today. But of course, there would be the question of sources, and no doubt Mr. Vauquelin would sit in judgement of how Oisin handled or mishandled the information. If Oisin cashed in early, going for the easy money, and Vauquelin's suspicions would be confirmed, and vindicated: Oisin would be no better than any of the other scandal hounds at the Kingsway Post.

If Oisin didn't cash in his information, that would tell Vauquelin a different story; perhaps one of many. It could paint him as someone patient, someone considerate, someone willing to sit on a potential story and wait for a better one to come along. It might make him seem cunning, as if he'd seen through whatever motives and machinations had driven Mr. Vauquelin's revelation, and was engaging in a patient deception in the hopes that Vauquelin would reveal something more incriminating about his fellows, or even about himself: after all, a scandal over an incumbent from Fen Kierden held less value to the Post than a scandal about one of Vienda's local representatives. The incumbent might also interpret him as someone arming himself, storing the revelation away as ammunition, an arrow to incriminate Vauquelin with as a stepping stone to better things: a weapon given to one of Vauquelin's rivals, perhaps, to earn Oisin a more valuable ally higher up the food chain.

Oisin Ocasta was none of those things, and held none of those intentions. Being and proving were two different things, of course; but did Oisin even care? How could someone who had preached about the importance of honesty mere moments ago justify holding back, whatever the justification? At what point did diligence become deception? When did silence become secrecy?

But then, the hospitalisation of Étienne de Vries was only part of the information that Vauquelin had provided. Arguably the greater revelation was the cause: a government so behind schedule in its preparations to hand over the Symvoul that the stress and the workload seemed to be taking its toll on the politicians. Of course Oisin understood what the Vyrdag did, what the Symvoul was, and what it meant to pass that power off to another kingdom. By this time next year, governance of the Six Kingdoms would be steered by another nation, the fate of Anaxas once again written by a quill held in foreign hands. It was the kind of something important that sounded unimportant, especially to the kind of people who chose to read the Post rather than the Weekly. The poor would still be poor, the rich would still be rich, and the politicians would still be politicians, providing the same salacious scandals and shoe-based misadventures for the entertainment of the masses. The us would still be us, and the them would still be them. But did it always have to be that way? Did the Tsats and the Humans, the common folk of Vienda, always need to be unaware and uncaring? What different might be made if their oblivious oblivion was punctured from time to time by knowledge worth knowing?

Thoughts and notions fired through Oisin's mind: sources, angles, lines of inquiry. He'd need to build a story out of almost nothing, bury Vauquelin's contribution so deep that it became lost in the crowd, find a reason for the man on the street to have any opinion other than 'good riddance' when it came to the politicians; but people working themselves half to death, drinking away their sorrows, struggling towards a looming deadline that seemed impossible to achieve? What person alive couldn't empathise with those situations? Perhaps, with the right presentation and the right words, Oisin could turn the them into us for a few fleeting seconds.

Oisin's head nodded along to his own thoughts, though to Vauquelin is must have seemed like agreement with his words. "Right, right," Oisin uttered, leaning forward across the table to snag Anatole's glass from his hands, and quickly down the remainder of the contents. The receptacle was set down upon the table with the same confident determination as Oisin's own had been, and then the man was on his feet, a flick of an arm liberating the length of his coat from potential entanglement with his chair. "Enjoy your afternoon, Mr. Vauquelin. And for what it's worth?"

A small flicker of a smile tugged at the corner of his mouth.

"Do try to be safe around these dangerous parts of the city, won't you? It'd be a terrible inconvenience for me if you didn't."
word count: 874
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