Weary But Able [M]

A rendezvous.

The capital city of Anaxas and the seat of the government.
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Tom Cooke
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Location: Vienda, but also hell
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: "disturbingly unheimlich individual"
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Wed Sep 11, 2019 11:12 pm

Woven Delights The Painted Ladies
Late Evening on the 45th of Roalis, 2719
He had expected it to be different, somehow.

Himself. His face. Everything. It was like this every time he came back from the Rose, but this time, it was worse. Tom had done magic, and maybe he’d expected the Rose to do some of its own; maybe he’d expected the salt breath of the Tincta to erode him into a more familiar shape.

Or maybe he hadn’t thought about it at all – maybe that was the problem – maybe he’d stopped thinking about it. A few precious weeks cooped up in that pina room, his knuckles wrapped in bloodied gauze. A few days in the cabin of an airship, sitting in the newfound company of clairvoyant mona. Not a mirror in sight.

Tom had been sick for a day after he’d disembarked. The house, of course, was empty. Soon as he’d got upstairs, he’d collapsed into the window seat, and the side of his head had been nailed to the glass for at least three house. Then the sun had peeked over the rooftops, shafted through his aching skull, and he’d drawn the drapes tight. He’d nestled his head in his arms on Anatole’s desk and breathed there in the dark for five more house, drifting in and out.

Then, suddenly, it was the morning of the forty-third, and he woke to a sound like the sea-breeze buffeting canvas sails: the stirring of the drapes. A chill morning breeze, only just edged with Roalis’ warmth. Tom woke up swathed in somebody else’s housecoat, all thick, heavy green brocade. But it fit, and it was warm, and he pulled it tighter about him as he dragged himself to the washstand.

And when he saw it, he remembered everything. Did those scattered few mona in his field shiver with it? The ones that were his, now – did they grow heavy when his guts sank? He shaved first, slow and careful with the razor. He ran his fingertips over the weak jaw, the thin, upturned nose.

So maybe his imagination had run away with him. He couldn’t see any of himself there. He thought there was more silvery-grey, threading its way through the red hair; he thought maybe that sneering, crooked line at one side of his lip was a little deeper, darker. The hand that held the razor was clean, unmarked, uncalloused. There was no sign that it had ever broken anybody’s nose, that it had ever gone days smudged with chalk and blood.

“Yes,” he muttered, shaking his hands off in the basin. Somebody’s hands. “Of course.” And his scattered thoughts wound round and round, and they converged on something. Something he’d almost forgot in the midst of all that poetry and drink.

Almost, but not quite.


Ms W –
Coming night after tomorow night
Back door at 25 oclock
Send word if not good

The streets were rolling with fog, thick like the laoso in the Soots; it clung to you, clung to your skin, clung to your coat. Clung like a ghost, or like a glamour. Underneath a sheath of clouds, the sun couldn’t warm the stones, and they were cold underneath your boots. It was warm, oes, warmer than it’d been in months, but cold, too, all at once. It was a kind of cold you couldn’t quantify. It was like rainy season’d wormed its way inside you, and you wouldn’t be rid of it proper ’til Yaris.

So Tom thought, anyway. He huddled deeper into Anatole’s coat, stuck his hands deep in its pockets. He could feel a chill sweat beading on the back of his neck, and he kept peering round, even though he knew he wouldn’t see a damn thing. Not with the sun fallen back behind the rooftops. Not in these back streets.

It didn’t do to waltz in the front door. Not this time. He didn’t reckon he had much of an excuse anymore; he didn’t reckon sending her incumbent husband after silk was something Diana’d do, and his toffin face’d got recognized in the strangest of places. Ne, ne: instead, he did it like they all did it. It was less weird by far if somebody like Anatole was just slumming it; scandalous, oes, but normal. Funny, how much scandal was normal Uptown.

So he’d dressed simple enough. He’d taken the back way out of the Egret. In the darkening light, he’d found his way through a maze of alleyways, back streets, connecting streets. Even in the Painted Ladies, the stray cats had to have someplace to go; the rats they caught had to have shadows to flit to and from, laoso and secret.

He saw plenty of cats on his way. Perched on rooftops, peering from the steps of back doors. Shadows in windows. In the thick fog, he just saw the mirror-flash of eyes, the flick of a tail. Not all of them ran away, this time. He wondered if one of them was hers. He kept an eye out for it.

Tom was worried he’d get lost, but it was a mung worry. He’d’ve recognized the alleyway where Caina nearly killed him anywhere – he’d’ve recognized in in an upside-down dream. He recognized the old pipes, the brick, the swarm of ivy that crawled up to the roof. The thicket of shadows behind that ivy.

A pina early. So, taking his hat off and tucking it under his arm, he leaned up against the wall opposite. He shot glances up and down; whenever a carriage’d go rattling by, he’d swallow a lump of panic. He scratched at his jaw, rolled his shoulders, felt around in his coat for a flask he didn’t have. Godsdamn, but his head always hurt.

Finally, he rested his head back against the brick and shut his eyes, breathing in deep.
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Last edited by Tom Cooke on Thu Sep 12, 2019 12:18 pm, edited 1 time in total. word count: 1067

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Ava Weaver
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Thu Sep 12, 2019 2:30 am

Late Afternoon, 45th Roalis, 2719
Woven Delights, the Painted Ladies
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A soft cool breeze wound its way through the shop - trickled in the open door, through the main room, and weaved into the small back room, ruffling the curtains against the wall. 

“Have you ever thought of leaving Vienda?” Rosie asked. Tiredness creased her face; her red-rimmed eyes lowered, pale lashes brushing puffy cheeks. 

“Leaving?” Ava asked. Her hand tightened gently against the other woman’s, a soft firm squeeze, and she did not let her go.

“We could go,” Rosie looked at her, pale hair hanging loose around her face, ridged where her headband had held it tight, left limp by the day’s heat. “We could go anywhere! The Rose, Brunnhold. No - no! Some little village where no one has even heard of Vienda, let alone been here. We’ll raise chickens, grow peas and tomatoes. It’ll be the highlight of the year, watching the tomatoes turn red.”

Ava has thought to laugh, but she could not. She did not let it show on her face; beneath a soft, easy smile, she tried to find her balance, tried to find the narrow ledge where she could still stand. “You’d be bored in a house,” she said, gently, as if she might laugh at Rosie's joke at any moment, as if there was something funny.

“It’s this godsdamned city,” Rosie said, staring past Ava, across the back room. She shuddered. “It sucks the life from you, Ava. It takes and takes, and when you’ve nothing left, it takes more.”

“Rosie,” Ava whispered.

The bell chimed at the front of the shop, a distant tinkle, and Ava glanced back over her shoulder, frozen. She looked back at the other woman, and let her shoulders sink, ever so slightly, knowing dismay was writ large on her face.

“Go,” Rosie’s faced creased in something like a smile, heavy enough to break a heart. “Go on.”

Ava gave the other woman’s hand a last squeeze. She rose, slowly, and held on a moment too long - and then she was too far, already, not to let go. By the time she had closed the shop and come back Rosie was already gone, leaving only a soft impression in the couch, lingering warmth and sorrow. Ludicrous, Ava thought, but still she wished. But still she wept.


Late Evening, 45th Roalis, 2719
Woven Delights, the Painted Ladies
At 25 o’clock, the small secret door into the alley eased open, soft light spilling from Ava’s back room. It shone through the heavy colored curtains, glittering yellow against the floor of the alley, the edge tracing itself onto the building beyond, a sharp corner against the darkness.

Ava did not emerge; no dark head of black hair came into view, but the door held, open and beckoning, and there was a soft rustle of fabric, as if she had only just stepped away.

Inside, Ava was already sitting on one of her couches, straight backed and comfortable. “Good evening, Mr. Cooke,” she smiled at Tom, friendly and welcoming, as easily as she had bid him good bye nearly two scorenights ago. A pot of tea sat on the table between the couches, and Ava bent forward at the waist, an easy elegant motion that seemed not even to crease her dress. She settled her hand on the handle, dark lacquered fingers curling into place and lifting the teapot, pouring steaming dark liquid into two sturdy metal cups. Just black for Tom, and a lump of sugar for her, just one. Milk was an indulgence for the small gray cat, these days, not Ava. A pastry sat on a little plate next to the cups, cut into four even quarters.

Ava sat back, slowly. Steam curled from the cups, lifting up into the room. She didn’t take her cup, not yet, her hands settling back into her lap as she waited for him to sit.

Ava was still dressed for the day; she wore a dress the rich dark of purple delphiniums, with long loose sleeves, flared wide at her wrists. The soft, high scoop next bared the faintest hint of her throat, a tiny glimpse of the hollow at the base of it, and the dress folded across the front, the two sides joined together with a long, diagonal pale gray stripe, crisp and neat even at the end of the day. It slid down across the bodice of the dress, and tucked into a soft sash at Ava’s waist, tied in a soft, looping bow at the back. The skirt tumbled low, with deep points at the front and back, long scoops that stared just below Ava’s knees and narrowed until they nearly brushed her ankles. The sides were filled in with the same pale gray, softening the curve of it, but leaving a faint point at the bottom nonetheless. Her lips were done in pale color, soft and fresh, and her eyes rimmed with kohl, soft wings extending out from the corners of them. 

“It’s good to see you,” Ava said, smiling still. “How have you been?”

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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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Thu Sep 12, 2019 1:45 pm

Woven Delights The Painted Ladies
Late Evening on the 45th of Roalis, 2719
A rustle of ivy and Tom raised his head. A little light leaked out into the alleyway, riding a waft of fog. He didn’t know what he expected; he stared at that sliver of lamplight, waiting for movement, waiting for a shadow. Instead, the cloth swished, and the door stayed ajar. He smiled warmly. Feeling like a scraggly stray let in after a long day on the streets, he tucked himself inside. Only he was a man, not a cat – so he clicked the door shut soft behind him, and he didn’t linger, skittish and watchful, behind the hanging.

By the time he’d ducked inside, Ava was already sitting on the couch. Leaving the hanging shivering slightly in his wake, he took off his coat. It was warmer in here, the air full of the welcoming, dark tang of black tea; steam wisped up from the mouth of a teapot on the table. Tom drank in the sight of it, and the two cups, and the plate with its quartered pastry.

As he came in, she poured the tea with the easy grace of experience. A lump of sugar for her, and nothing for him; she’d remembered. No milk, he noticed. Then she sat straight, with her hands in her lap: she didn’t make a move to take her cup.

He smiled at her, laying his bundled coat over the arm of the other sofa. “Good to see you, too,” he replied, and he hoped she knew he meant it.

It was true. Even still, even despite. Seemed like her company took the pressure off in some places, doubled it in others. He’d never stopped feeling the weight of her gaze, ’course – never stopped being conscious of her eyes in particular on him, never stopped feeling the nagging wonder what she saw – how could he? He hadn’t thought much about it, this time, not in the front of his mind, but he still felt it. He felt it as he took off his jacket and laid it with the coat, felt it as he sat down opposite her.

But the sight of her was a relief beyond words. Familiar, now, in her way. Her dress was unruffled, uncreased, like she’d just put it on, but he knew better than that; he didn’t think he’d ever seen it before, and then he realized – for the first time, maybe – that he didn’t think he’d ever seen her in the same dress twice. Her kohl was just the same on both sides, a trick he’d never managed to get right. He realized he was fair fond of that cultivated grace.

Deliberate, he put on his accustomed ease. He rolled up his sleeves, crossed his legs loosely; then he reached for the cup of tea nearest him on the table.

For a moment, he looked as concentrated as he’d ever been on anything, poetry or politics: he looked like his sole purpose was the study of taking a cuppa and sitting back with it. When he’d got himself arranged, he cast a glance at the plate, flickered a bemused eyebrow back up at Ava. As if to say he had an eye on the bottom-right corner, but he was waiting ’til his tea cooled just enough.

“Thank you, Ms. Weaver,” he said. “I’ve been well enough. Out of the city. I’ve to leave again, soon enough. Business in Brunnhold.” A worried crease between his brows deepened. He threaded his fingers through the handle of the cup, cradling the warm metal. It was hot enough to sting. “I never set foot on an airship, before – and now…”

Tom’s voice was raspy with weariness; he cleared his throat. Like he must’ve done a thousand times before, he brought the cup to his lips too soon. A sharp intake of breath, a muttered, “Wo chet,” and he lowered it back to his lap.

He offered Ava another tired smile. “Yourself? Enjoying the fine summer weather?”

There was a question underneath his question, ’course, woven into the rumble of humor. It wasn’t one he’d ask directly; it wasn’t one he could. Like always, he was conscious of the swathes of fabric all around, gauzy silk and cotton printed with flowers – stirring as a midsummer night’s breeze crept in from somewhere, but giving no sign of what lay beneath. He wasn’t going to tear them aside. She’d poured the tea, cut the pastry; she’d give him what she thought he needed to know.

That, and he was curious, too. He really did want to know how Roalis was treating her.
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Ava Weaver
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Thu Sep 12, 2019 4:15 pm

Late Evening, 45th Roalis, 2719
Woven Delights, the Painted Ladies
T
om padded into the room with slow, even steps. He stopped, just past the curtain, and took his coat off, folding it carefully over his arm. What surprised Ava most was how glad she was to see him – how truly, genuinely glad. She had not known how long it would take him to return; she had left him to his business, uninterrupted, to take whatever time he needed. She had set no expectations; she had made no plans. It had always been up to Tom, this time, as if had been up to her once before.

But still the warmth that went through her at the sight of him was unexpected, the depth of it most of all. She was oddly grateful for him, this familiar-unfamiliar man in a too-familiar body. He looked tired, she thought, but she had seen him worse; he must have shaved recently, but he looked –

Was it a trick of the light, or the setting? Would she see him differently, if ever she stepped into the Vauquelin townhouse again and he came once more down the stairs? If, somehow, she had wound up back in that prison of an apartment, and he came through the door – would she feel that same warmth, or would circumstances make what had become pleasurable painful once more?

He looked like himself, tonight, as if all his selves had settled together, however briefly. Ava couldn’t think of a better way to express it. He settled onto the couch, then rolled his sleeves up and crossed his legs with all his purposeful carelessness, and Ava’s smile widened a little more. She gave her tea a few more moments to cool; the china cups one could take nearly right away, but it was best to leave the hot metal a few moments, to let the heat of it dissipate. Too much heat was never comfortable.

Ava nodded, accepting that Tom had been gone; accepting that he would go again. “I’ve never found airships comfortable,” she offered, and then – a tiny flicker of a grin, something peeking through the careful pleasant mask. “But I suppose it’s the price one pays to fly.”

“I’m well,” Ava said, in response to his question, and was somewhat surprised to find how easy it was to say, how close it was to the truth. She picked up her cup, gently, cradled the still-too-warm metal in her hands; she swirled it, slowly and gently, sending little ripples through the hot tea. She watched it, watched the distant lamplights flicker across the surface, then lifted her gaze back to Tom, and smiled, something a little crooked at the edges of it. “It was a long day,” Ava acknowledged, softly. “Heat is always a double-edged sword, I think.”

She wondered what Tom would make of it – all of it. For a moment, the idea of telling him was tempting. She thought – perhaps – from what he had said of his life, perhaps he would understand. Perhaps he could understand. But these secrets were too tangled with all the rest, and already she had given him so much of herself, so much more than she wanted him to have. The habit of secrecy was carefully, sensibly cultivated; she knew better than to turn her back on it now, when she had come so far already – when she had so much further still to go.

And, too, Ava was conscious of Tom’s comfort; she remembered those early, awkward, stammering moments, his blushing, embarrassed insistence that he wasn’t capable, not with her. It was already so easy to make him uncomfortable; so easy to be uncomfortable. She had been selfish enough so far; she didn’t wish to make it worse.

And there was business to discuss. There was plenty of business. There was Binder’s ledger, for a start, but Ava was not sure that Tom wanted to discuss that. He had come back, yes, but – with time to think, she wasn’t so sure he still wanted the Tzcks book. He had set the meeting, and Ava intended to let him set the pace of it as well, the content, to draw out the map he wished her to follow. She had been patient thus far; she would wait a little longer.

But she had a surprise for him too, something she did want to discuss. She didn’t look at it, the small piece of paper face down on the side of the table – safely distant from the tea cups and the carefully quartered pastry – but it was there, waiting, ready.

But – not yet.

Ava drew out the small talk a little longer. “May I ask what takes you to Brunnhold?” She could feel the heat and the warmth of the cup in her hand, and she gauged it ready, at last, to drink, after another graceful swirl. Carefully, she lifted it to her mouth; she did not blow on the hot liquid, but tilted the cup up, very slowly, very gently, so that if she were wrong, it wouldn’t be too late. A small sip, then – just cool enough to drink – and Ava lowered the cup once more, settling it back into her lap.

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Last edited by Ava Weaver on Tue Sep 17, 2019 3:48 pm, edited 1 time in total. word count: 909
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Tom Cooke
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Thu Sep 12, 2019 7:57 pm

Woven Delights The Painted Ladies
Late Evening on the 45th of Roalis, 2719
The price you pay for flying, he thought. He wondered when Ava had flown. When she looked at him with that smile – with something he couldn’t explain tugging at the edges of her lips – he studied her face, but not for too long. Instead, he looked back down at the cup in his lap, tracing the rim with his fingertip. He didn’t think he’d get much out of it, anyway: you couldn’t study her like a prodigium, like an open grimoire. You certainly couldn’t go looking for tells.

“The heat’s different in Vienda,” he added, thoughtful. “On the coast, it’s not so bad, is it? It’s all these roads, and chimneys, and people. And the factories in the Soots.” He shrugged. “I don’t handle heat like I used to, either. Or cold. Or anything.”

He snorted, half wistful, half wry humor. Unlike Ava, he blew on his tea, whirling the steam. This time, when he took a sip, he didn’t curse or make a noise.

It was no more or less than he’d expected. He believed her, after a fashion, when she said she was well; she was as well as he was, at any rate. “Well” was a placeholder sort of word, a word that could mean a lot of things – a stand-in for the painfully complicated. And between the two of them, there was plenty of painful, and plenty of complicated.

Tom shouldn’t’ve wanted more. In the first place, he didn’t know what all that hanging cloth hid; he didn’t know where she got her connections, but he had plenty enough suspicions. That wasn’t what he wanted to hear about, though. Not exactly.

He’d seen her with the odd customer, smooth as silk. He’d seen the gray cat. He knew she had friends; he remembered the nattle who’d crept out of the back room in Loshis, before Ava’d known who he was. It’d been his presence drove her off, curtsying all quick-like and hurrying out, and he still felt bad about it. How did the other neighborhood ladies, the other shopkeepers, the washerwomen, know her? What did she think of her life here, in the past two years?

He didn’t know how to ask, or what to ask, but he couldn’t help wondering if she felt the way he did. A different name, a mask, a carefully-built life – and somebody inside that, somebody with feelings. It must’ve been different for her, oes. But he thought she’d understand, at least, feeling like an island. The things you missed out on, when you had to keep a foot on the ground.

Dze, well. There was business, and plenty of it. And she’d asked him a question.

He raised an eyebrow. “It’s not political. I got word from my young friend in Kzecka. He’s brought some old texts from the library there back to Brunnhold, but he can’t tell me anything about them in writing,” he went on, leaning to set the cup back down on the table, “and it’s, well…”

Tom paused on the edge of his seat, fingertips lingering on the handle of the cup. They were already teetering on the edge of serious talk, and it felt like a shame to break the spell. He pursed his lips. But he didn’t want her to find out from his field first.

“You should know. I cast. I warded. The mona listened.” He blinked, meeting Ava’s eye. “I think it’s important, if we’re doing this, any of this, if I can… There are universal counterspells, ways to prevent tampering. But I’m not a galdor, and it’s dangerous. What happened a scorenight ago – we don’t know who else is after that book.” He swallowed tightly, letting go of the cup. “I spent my life charging into shit, and look where it got me.”

And the people around me. He still remembered Ava baring her heart that night in Loshis, with him drunker than a kenser in Brayde County.

He could’ve told her about that, too. About what it’d been like, white-knuckling his way through the weeks, slipping and then climbing back again. He didn’t know she’d understand. He ached to tell somebody; he couldn’t.

Tom looked back down at the quartered pastry he’d been about to touch. There was a paper nearby, he noticed, blank or face-down; it was sitting a little ways from the tea things. It could’ve been there by accident, but he knew better. He met her eye again, and his brow furrowed. Curious.
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Ava Weaver
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Fri Sep 13, 2019 9:17 am

Late Evening, 45th Roalis, 2719
Woven Delights, the Painted Ladies
Ava didn’t know if he took her at face value; she supposed he didn’t. But he didn’t ask, not outright, not in the sort of way that would force her to dodge or to answer directly. She wondered what he would ask if she told him he could ask anything, if she convinced him she meant it, if she promised him truth. She wondered what she would ask him, and thought it better not to know.

“It’s the lack of a breeze, I think,” Ava said with a little smile, teasing out the conversation, steering them back away from his heavy sigh, the soft, tired sagging of his face, the faint deepening of the lines that marred it. Not his, she reminded herself, and wondered - not for the first time - if Tom would have had lines of his own. She wondered where they would have been; she could not picture them, those creases that would have been of his own familiar expressions. Smiles, not sneers, she thought, but - pulled to the side by his scars, too. “Breezes make everything better.”

His young friend in Kzecka - the galdor who had cast on him, Ava remembered, thinking of his words and his journal both. The one who thought he had touched Tom’s - Tom. There was a stillness that came over Tom as he continued, a heavy silence, before his words dropped through it like a stone, shattering and rippling outwards.

He had cast.

Ava had been in the middle of lifting her teacup to her face. Her expression never changed, but her hand paused - held, just a moment, then kept going. She took a sip of the tea, and lowered the cup back to the table, settling it back down. Tom was explaining; she could recognize it for what he was. He wanted her to understand his reasons. Did he want her to approve them?

Ava had given him a clairvoyant grimoire; she had known he was studying monite. The conclusion was obvious, wasn’t it? Ava settled her hands into her lap, feeling the warmth of the teacup lingering against her palms, curling one over the fingers of the other hand. In retrospect, there had been an obvious conclusion to draw. She ought not to have been surprised, and perhaps she was not.

But she was, just a little, sorry.

It wasn’t so different from using Anatole’s face, his name, his coins, his memberships. Was it? The thought of Tom - of Anatole’s lips moving, those odd, heavy syllables echoing through the air in his voice, of the air around him go tight and strange. Woobly, Ava thought, and then: etheric. She stifled the urge to shudder.

Part of Ava wanted to know more. She didn’t know - she couldn’t tell - if the knowledge would be a balm for her, if understanding might soothe the discomfort of it, or if it would make it worse. Would tugging at this thread pull it loose and leave the fabric of her whole? Or would she begin to unravel, dissolving, shapeless. She did not ask. She could not take the risk.

“Yes,” Ava said, after only a moment or two, and she was proud of the steady evenness of her voice when she spoke, the edge of a smile that somehow was left inside it. Did he want her to be proud of him? No, she thought; no. She thought he knew - the way he had said it, all his careful explanations. He knew. “You're right,” Ava smiled at him again. “Anything we can use, we should.” Her hands did not shake; her posture did not bend; there were no wrinkles in the soft, fine fabric of her skirt. She did not look away; she did not let herself imagine him casting again.

Tom’s gaze dropped to the paper and lingered, curious.

“This is something else,” Ava said, and she was suddenly beyond grateful for another direction to go, for another place to look. She reached forward, and took the paper, turning it over and sliding it gently towards Tom.

“Have you ever seen this before?” Ava asked, curiously. “I came across an old letter of – his,” Her eyes lifted to Tom’s face and held; she did not offer any further explanation. “From last Roalis, if I had to guess. It mentioned a secret group, of which he was a member. This symbol was on the back.”
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Last edited by Ava Weaver on Tue Sep 17, 2019 3:50 pm, edited 2 times in total. word count: 790
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Tom Cooke
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Fri Sep 13, 2019 2:38 pm

Woven Delights The Painted Ladies
Late Evening on the 45th of Roalis, 2719
It was out in the open, now, and Tom didn’t know if that helped. He tried not to look at her hands in her lap, the soft curl of her fingers. Her face hadn’t changed much, and she didn’t seem ruffled. When she spoke, her voice retained that controlled pleasantness; it warmed, in the way voices do, with the updraft of a smile. You do what you have to. Ne personal.

This way, he thought, the omission wouldn’t leave a gap where mistrust could fester. You couldn’t have that, in somebody you fought with. This way, she wouldn’t feel his porven give way, bit by bit, to something else, and – wonder what he hid.

Or Tom was a fool. Would they talk about it, then? Could they talk about it, pretending at being humans together, equally in the dark? Ne, he didn’t think they could. And with every fluctuation in his field, going forward, he’d look like he was hiding something. Less and less human.

But what if they could, some part of him whispered – what if he could – what would it mean, for her to know? If he could show her the way the syllables came together, explain the way the mona responded; if a human could practice recognizing, not just in the abstract, from dusty old books, but in the moment – the change clause of a particular spell…

He really was a godsdamn fool, but he didn’t know what in hell kind of fool he was turning into. He was grateful when Ava changed the subject. He reckoned they were both grateful to have something else to think about.

The pastry momentarily forgotten, he squinted down at the paper. Ava slid it across to him, lacquered nails glistening. It hissed softly, hollowly, against the wood.

“Huh.” At the word his, he flicked a sharp glance up at her, but it didn’t linger. Instead, he plucked the paper off the table. Squinting, squinting more. He turned it to one side, then the other, then – like that wasn’t the right way of doing it – tilted his head. “Godsdamn,” he muttered, “I swear I seen this before. Not long ago. I mean, I think I saw it fair recent, hey? Yesterday, the day before. But that don’t make sense.”

Tom trailed off, silent. Finally, he set it back down on the table, holding it there with a fingertip. He tapped it twice, then looked back up at Ava. She was staring at him intently.

His frown deepened.

He knew of secret groups, oes. He knew there had to be a reason why he’d got invited to that laoso shindig in Intas, and he knew there had to be something that connected him to those kov, something that wasn’t Damen d’Arthe’s fragrant personality. He knew Anatole’d been up to his knees in some chroveshit; he and Ava both knew that, for obvious reasons.

But a symbol? A letter? What the hell’d the letter been about? From Anatole, or to him? Had she held onto it from before, and just happened to find it now? Like hell. But Tom couldn’t think how one of Anatole’s letters’d just fallen into Ava’s lap.

Tom held her gaze. “Ms. Weaver, I can’t do much with a stick in a circle.” It came out a pina rougher than he’d meant it to, and there was an edge of exasperation. He scratched his head, taking the teacup back off the table. “I understand there’s shit you can’t – boemo, I get it. But whatever else you can tell me about this letter and how you got a hold of it, without compromising…” He fluttered his free hand, as if to say, Whatever it is.

“Was it from him? To him? Was there anybody else in it? You know it was last Roalis? ’Cause that would’ve been – right – right before. Before me.” A year already, came the thought to his mind, unbidden, and he pushed it down.
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Ava Weaver
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Fri Sep 13, 2019 6:56 pm

Late Evening, 45th Roalis, 2719
Woven Delights, the Painted Ladies
T
om squinted at the note; he muttered to himself. The symbol looked familiar to him; he thought he had seen it recently, but he didn’t know it. Ava watched and waited, still smiling faintly; not enough of a smile to be noticed as anything but background, not enough to call attention to it. She took another sip of tea, and set the cup back down.

Tom frowned, the lines carved deep into Anatole’s face. He stared at her for a long moment, and Ava met his gaze, waiting, holding calm with her hands in her lap.

You have secrets, Tom said. Ava’s face did not change; there was not a flicker of her eyelid, not a twitch of her lips. She held, not trying to feign surprise or dismay. Her smile didn’t soften or cool, and yet - there was something faintly disapproving in her eyes.

There was nothing one could say to something like that. A denial would ring false; agreement, any detail, was not safe. Ava looked across the room at Tom, and saw the man who had once as good as told her he had been a Bad Brother. How did he feel now? She thought - he had seemed, at times, like he regretted it, like he doubted Silas. But was he smart enough, clever enough, to play a double game?

A triple game?

She wanted to tell him, Ava thought. She thought - but she could not. He had offered himself to the service of her cause; he had said he wanted a purpose. But - it was one thing to reveal her secrets. They were hers and hers alone; if she wanted to bare them, she had the right. But there was much she knew that was not hers; if known - if known...

She wished he had not said it. It had not been necessary. He could have just asked what else she could tell him. Further still, she wished he had not sounded frustrated as he said it, even though she knew well such frustration might have many sources. She could not encourage him; she dared not.

So, instead, once she had let the air cool, Ava just smiled, very slowly, and raised one eyebrow. She held a moment longer there, and then that expression too, was gone from her face without warning.

“It was a letter from him,” she said, calmly, as if there had been no delay; as if she had not made him wait. “In it, he tells someone he knew he cannot get them made a member of a group which he does not name. He implies it is a society; he implies he is in high standing with them.”

Ava did not know what Tom would make of this, of all of it. If the society were not secret, why not name it in the letter? Why not even name it as a society? A secret was the only thing that made sense.

“The letter was not dated,” Ava added. “But he mentions a dinner soon to come in Roalis.” She did not bother to add that she knew it could not have been this year.

Ava did not think, really, that Tom would have occasion to chat with Blackthorn, or any interest in doing so if he did. She thought it highly unlikely the theft of the letter would be noticed. She thought, even if it were, that the odds they would blame Aodh were slim indeed. The chance that all three events might occur -

And yet she stopped there, implacable, waiting once more, holding Tom’s gaze with her own. She could tell him the other names in the letter, if he needed more. The less he knew, the fewer pieces there were to put together. Patience, Ava thought, calmly. Patience.

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Last edited by Ava Weaver on Tue Sep 17, 2019 3:50 pm, edited 1 time in total. word count: 667
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Tom Cooke
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: "disturbingly unheimlich individual"
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Fri Sep 13, 2019 9:20 pm

Woven Delights The Painted Ladies
Late Evening on the 45th of Roalis, 2719
Long silence. Damned long.

Tom’s hand had embarked on the endeavor of lifting his teacup to his lips, but it froze halfway. Ava hadn’t broken his gaze; she wasn’t going to. She was smiling, still. Some kind of disapproval in her eyes, he thought, hard to place: something about the set of her eyelids, maybe. A fraction of a centimeter. Or the measure of seconds between blinks, or the way she blinked only when she wanted to.

His own expression didn’t change, exactly. He kept looking at her with that slack tug of a frown. The furrow of his brows didn’t deepen. It wasn’t expectant or angry. Frustrated, maybe, but only a pina mant. It might’ve been a careless expression – he didn’t pay much heed to the occasional twitch of the muscles by his left eye. But the longer he looked, the more a cold, hard edge came into his gaze, and he held Ava’s dark eyes without looking away. It wasn’t angry; it was just hard. Heavy.

A smile spread the length of her lips by a little, and one eyebrow made an elegant arc.

Tom smiled back, slightly. The faint spiderweb of crow’s feet round his heavy-lidded eyes darkened. When the air lightened, she spoke again, and Tom finally took a sip of tea. He broke eye contact before she did, almost dutiful, staring down into the rippling-dark mirror of tea; the shadow of a smile bled from his expression.

Listening to her, he frowned again, but this one was thoughtful. He sucked at a tooth, bit his lip. Being honest, it still wasn’t enough, but he wasn’t going to ask again; he wasn’t going to bring attention to it again. Once was enough. So he turned to his mind to it: from Anatole, he thought. Couldn’t get them – them? – a membership. A membership in a group, a society, he couldn’t or wouldn’t name, otherwise Ava’d already know. A society in which Anatole was in high standing.

He glanced back up at her face, tipping his head. Tapped a fingertip silently on the rim of his cup. “Vrunta,” he sighed. “Damn me.” He broke off, setting the metal mug back down on the table and taking the paper again. This time, he turned it all the way round. Upside-down.

If Anatole was respected by some organization, wouldn’t Tom’ve known by now? Maybe, he thought again, he did. After a fashion.

He placed the paper back on the table, delicate and deliberate this time. Still perched on the edge of his seat, he swiveled it round. With two thin fingers, trembling, he slid it toward her, past the tea things – hsss against the wood. Once it was upside-down in front of her, he settled back.

“I don’t know. I got a guess.” He raised his brows. “Did he ever say anything to you about the Pendulum Club?” He looked at her a moment, then went on, “Thing is, it’s not a secret. Not some – secret society, like – like those folk in Hox, or something. It’s just another golly gentleman’s club, like Wormwood’s or the Starfly. A fort a dozen, Uptown. Wherever you got rich old toffins with time to kill, ye chen? Except…”

Tom squinted down at the teapot this time, like he could tease something out of the polished, embossed metal. Instead, he just saw the echoes of lamplight, his own wavering shadow.

He tapped the table again, shaking his head. “Far as I know, they’re floodin’ picky about membership, so that fits. You got to have a job, like a lawyer or – you can’t just be old money, which is what most of the clubs Uptown are made of. And you can’t just apply; you got to be recommended first. They’re fair private. The seal doesn’t look exactly like that, but I reckon it’s close. I get letters sometimes, which is why I knew.” He shifted in his seat, looking across at Ava. “You think it might be connected to…?”
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Ava Weaver
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Sun Sep 15, 2019 1:57 pm

Late Evening, 45th Roalis, 2719
Woven Delights, the Painted Ladies
T
om was not easy to read. Ava, with her gaze fixed firmly on his face, with too much unwelcome knowledge of the harsh lines of Anatole’s expressions, with years of practice making her living by gauging others - she still had to focus to tease apart the intricacies of that frown in his eyes, the not-quite-a-smile on his lips.

But he looked down first, yielding, and Ava held still as he thought, watched the little gestures he made with his face to tell her he was working on it.

He picked the paper up, spun it around. Ava could see something had click; he set it down and slid it back to her. Ava looked down at the upside down spoon, and still did not understand.

The Pendulum club. Ava stared at her drawing on that little scrap of paper, and let her eyes close for a long moment, embarrassment flitting over her face. Tom was explaining it to her; Ava was not sure if it was to help her think or to justify why he hadn’t come up with the answer sooner. She kept her eyes closed a little longer, listening to the way he had dropped back into that Old Rose brogue, more than a little embarrassed. A defense mechanism, she thought, and she felt a deep, slow surge of gratitude, enough to cut through her impatience, her lingering hurt.

“Yes,” Ava said, quietly, when Tom’s silence had stretched on long enough that she knew he didn’t mean to continue. She opened her eyes and shook her head, faintly, dark curls bouncing. “I should have...”

Ava looked down at the paper again, and settled a finger on the circle at the center of the image. She swung it side to side, slowly, imagining. A pendulum. How many hours had she stared at the thing and never seen it? She had turned it over before; she had, like Tom, tried it at a variety of angles. But she had not seen it, not until now. Ava sighed, and settled her hands back in her lap. She looked up at Tom, smooth and even.

“He never said anything about the Pendulum Club to me,” Ava said. “But I did hear of it - before. I suppose She is not a member, not precisely.” Ava was quiet, her hands very still in her lap, holding her shoulders as upright as she could manage, smoothing the fear and tension from her voice.

Except - Ava could not, quite, bear it. She looked away from Tom, then, because she did not think she could meet those gray eyes any longer. She did not want to say that she had known girls who had gone there; she did not want to say that at least one had not returned. She did not want to say that she had never dared to ask. She wondered what Tom knew about that kind of fear; she wondered if Tom remembered when ignorance was easier than knowledge. She thought he did; she suspected he remembered it very well indeed.

“I think it’s more than a place for rich old toffins to drink Twemlaugh,” Ava said, finally. “But I don’t know what it is.”

There was an ache in her chest, a tiredness. A loneliness, if she were to name it properly. Names mattered; to Ava they had always mattered. This feeling she acknowledged as loneliness, and she accepted it as her lot. Funny, to sit across from the one man who might understood things that could never be said, and yet be unable to tell him so much. To be so uncertain.

Loneliness. Ava let it be; she let herself feel it. She thought of a shattered mirror, reflecting bits and pieces back; an eye here, there. A flash of silk, the light glinting off fabric. Lips, without context. A hand, lacquered nails, waving gently through the air.

“I’m sorry,” Ava said, quietly. She thought Tom would understand. If he did not, then he would not understand why she could not give him more. If he did not, then he had not deserved the apology in the first place. She looked at him again, all smooth and soft control once more, and left the words there.

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Last edited by Ava Weaver on Tue Sep 17, 2019 3:48 pm, edited 1 time in total. word count: 747
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