[M] Playing with Fire (Tom)

The capital city of Anaxas and the seat of the government.
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Drezda Ecks
Posts: 110
Joined: Sun Jul 15, 2018 12:10 pm
Topics: 17
Race: Galdor
Character Sheet: Character Sheet
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Writer: Maximus
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Fri May 17, 2019 12:21 pm

Intas 18, 2719 | Mid-afternoon
Drez's Home
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This was potentially very stupid. This had the possibility of scandal. Drezda was having second thoughts about more than one thing this afternoon. The meeting she'd planned was sufficiently anxiety inducing in and of itself but the diplomat had managed to run into a predicament regarding something rather ridiculous: her appearance. It wasn't like she'd never dressed up for a man before, every little facet of her look carefully calculated but that was different. There was a motive behind such pageantry, an aim that she had to achieve that allowed her to plan her outfit accordingly. This time, she had no idea what to do with herself.

The Hoxian had invited Incumbent Anatole Vauquelin to her home, determining that a meeting in a public space would be inconvenient and restricting, while a meeting in his home guaranteed a forfeit of power, allowing the man to have dominion over her, which wasn't a thought that the raven-haired woman relished. So she'd settled for here, a rendezvous occurring early enough in the day that it was less likely to cause scandal and rumours of something clandestine. Doing things in the dark pointed at an attempt to hide and the last thing she needed was for anyone to think that the two politicians were engaging in some manner of affair, especially given that the man had a reputation; this certainly was no tryst.

That was the thing though, Drezda had invited the man here without any intention of appealing to him sexually, not intending to use her appearance as leverage, especially as this was in her house rather than near others. If things went south while she was out, there were usually people she could call on, other galdori but here... her passives wouldn't be much use against magic and if their mistress was surprised... But Anatole wasn't going to do anything like that, nothing untoward at any rate. He was different, she was sure he wasn't the same pervert she'd known, or at least she felt certain enough to risk meeting him alone. But given his past and the rather questionable state of their relationship, the Hoxian was struggling to decide what to wear. In the scheme of things it was trivial, ridiculous even, but it worried the woman nonetheless.

If she was incorrect about Anatole's change in personality, or the old him was merely buried and chose to resurface then certain outfits could be quite provocative and therefore highly problematic. At the same time, she did like to look good and a certain sort of appearance made her feel more confident. Thus, she was stuck in her room with Rosmilda, still puzzling over her predicament.

A number of dresses were strewn over her bed, simple attire like a skirt and blouse having been ruled out by the woman for the simple reason that she thought they either made her appear to vulnerable and innocent - the woman had some honestly worrying clothing choices in her wardrobe when she thought about them - or too professional. She didn't want to seem too formal or informal, too weak and vulnerable, or slutty or-

Gods, why must being a woman be so bloody complicated? Men could simply look good or look bad and if their appearance happened to be sexually appealing, it didn't reflect on their character.

"I need something attractive, powerful, not too revealing and yet... not entirely covered either. I don't want to seem like I'm trying to hide myself away but I don't want to seem as if I'm offering myself on a platter either," she said aloud, not for the first time, more to herself than the passive who was contemplating her wardrobe; the redhead simply hummed. The fire was roaring in the grate but there was still a little bit of a chill in the air so rather than wearing her underwear alone, the woman had opted for a silken robe which she tugged tightly about her thin form, arms crossed over her chest.

"What about... your blue high-collared dress? I know it's very Anaxi but it's not too much and... if I did something simple with your hair then I could use your new hair pin and the colours would match," the servant suggested, turning in time to catch Drezda's hard glare before the woman approached. Given the thunder in her dark eyes, she was plenty intimidating, even if she wasn't properly dressed yet. With that irritated field bearing down on her had Rosmilda cringing.

"Did I ask for your input? Did I ask for your interference in my life?" she asked softly, the acid in her tone unmistakable; it wasn't the dress she was talking about either, not really, and they both knew it. The young woman wasn't liable to let the passive forget that she'd crossed a line. Even though she was extremely pleased about Khymarah putting in an appearance on her birthday in Ophus, she didn't appreciate Rosmilda's interference. It was embarrassing, it was infuriating and she had been cooler with the girl again, doing her best to return some boundaries, jumping down her throat for more and more minor infractions.

Green eyes dropped, a murmur of apology from the sufficiently scolded girl. She moved past her, purposely banging her shoulder into the servant's own as she retrieved the dress in question. Holding it at arm's length, she frowned as her gaze swept over it. It was a dark blue with a high, tight collar giving way to blue tinted gauze down to the bust. The gauze bore fine applique and bead work that ran down to and along the bodice and wasn't too ostentatious. The tops of her shoulders would be left bare in it, as was befitting of Hoxian fashion, but the skirt was a tulle affair that was fitted at the hips but gradually widened to the hem, a modest A-line, not at the level of commoners but also not as thin as was expected of Anaxi galdori women. It was pretty though, she could feel confident in it and it covered enough flesh that it wouldn't be particularly provocative.

"I think I'll wear by high-collared blue dress. You'll put my hair up in a simple way - a tight twist at the back - and pin it with the hairpin with the blue and white flowers on it."

Shoving the dress at Rosmilda unceremoniously, she walked towards her bed, stripping off the robe that she wore and tossing it on the bed. "Right, come and lace me, not too tight now, it's really not necessary. There's only so much you can do to a womanly shape that isn't really there," she explained briskly, hearing a strangled sound from behind her that suggested that the servant disagreed with that statement but the youth held her tongue for a change. She stepped forward and set to work, tugging the corset laces until her mistress had a subtle hourglass shape, all business as she slipped the dress onto the Hoxian's frame.

Seating the galdor at her dressing table, the redhead worked with easy practice, brushing the dark locks smooth before gathering them and twisting them into a knot high on the woman's head. She used some plain pins that were similar to the Hoxian's hair colour to ensure that the hair would be properly secured before using the more noticeable gold pin that had been her birthday gift. The woman considered herself critically in the mirror.

"Cosmetics, Mistress?" Rosmilda asked demurely, carefully not meeting Drezda's eye, even in her reflection. The young woman made a clicking sound with her tongue, aware that there was no point going to great effort. Still, she turned her head from side to side, considering her complexion.

"I think a light layer of powder to make sure that my complexion is evenly pale and... line the eyes. A tiny bit of blue powder for the lids... no, I don't think that would go amiss. I think it'd look nice. I like to look nice, it's not for him."

The Anaxi nodded, prepping the necessary materials and getting to work, far quicker than Drezda would ever be doing the same thing and having an easier time of things because she was working on another person. Still, as the cosmetics were applied, the woman began to have her doubts. Maybe it was the way she was cinched in, the glitter of the light on the dress' beadwork or simply her brain catching up but she began to have her doubts about her choices. She was just about to say as much to the servant when the doorbell went.

"Damn it all! That'll be him!" the diplomat cursed, her maidservant pausing with brush poised over one partially decorated eye. "Right, better hurry up but that does not mean that you can make a mess of it," she added, remaining still while the passive finished things off. When she retreated, the raven-haired Hoxian had a chance to tilt her head from side to side, checking out the even pallor of her face, the light shadowing added to her cheeks to highlight the cheekbones, the thin black line along the edge of her upper eyelids that flicked out delicately at the corners, a thin smudging of a dark blue just above the black. She looked good, quite good. The problem was that she worried that she looked too good for this meeting.

"Heels to match his height or..." the woman mused aloud, trailing off with a sigh. "Heels that match this dress, Rosmilda. Be quick! Help me get them on and then dash down ahead of me, let him know that I had something to attend to but that I won't be more than a few moments."

With her heels on and the passive gone, the young woman took one last look at herself in the floor-length mirror in the corner of the room, taking a deep breath as she steeled herself and made her field calm and tranquil. She was ready.


***
The guest was expected but that didn't mean that there wasn't a moment of indecision and worry when the bell went. The mistress was still upstairs and thus, there was some awkwardness about what to do with the anticipated visitor who had arrived. The diplomat didn't entertain at home very often and men were even rarer guests than the few galdori who crossed into her domain from time to time. That he'd been invited at all said a great deal and yet he evidently wasn't someone of great importance. There had been no strict orders about being on their best behaviours, on taking the greatest pains that he should be well tended to and his whims indulged as had happened in the past. That they would behave was a given but the lack of special treatment implied that he was not somebody who it was important to impress and yet the mention of his visit definitely made the Hoxian edgy. It was all a great mystery.

Cora, the only human in the household left her work in the kitchen, removing a floured and stained apron on her way out, moving swiftly to the portal. She examined herself quickly in the mirror checking for any stains or marks from her work, ensuring that she was presentable and that her dark brunette hair was still neatly beneath the light scarf that she wore over it, tucking a few strands under the covering. The lines of her face betrayed her age as did the white and grey that was working its way into her hair but for a human she looked good and she knew it, she was lucky. If she left the man out in the cold on an Intas day though, she might not be lucky for much longer so with one last quick glance up the staircase to check for her mistress, she answered the door.

The woman opened the portal wide to give him access, succeeding in giving a little bob almost like a curtsy as she pulled it, even though her knees protested the swift bending. "Good day, sir. Please come in out of the cold," she greeted politely, voice loud enough that she'd be clearly heard and couldn't be accused of mumbling, but not so loud that she could be accused of disrespect. Her eyes were on his face briefly before dropping to a point on his chest so that her gaze was effectively downcast; she was a few inches taller than him.

"May I take your coat, sir?" she asked, brisk and professional, the query presented before she even had a chance to close the door behind him. Anything he gave her would be taken and put away neatly near at hand, a coat rack by the door serving coats, cloaks and hats that needed to be hung up and a stand there to hold umbrellas, canes and other accoutrements. The woman had served galdori for many years, aware of her place and how she ought to act around them, but feeling awkward and uncomfortable if she had to make small talk with them; that wasn't her place. It didn't help that this one didn't feel right, his field even to her supposedly unrefined secular senses. There were some safe subjects though.

"Sorry to have left you out in the cold so long, sir. I was working elsewhere and hadn't expected to be the one to let you in," she explained frankly, smoothing the skirt of her dress in a distracted fashion as she glanced up the stairs. "I'm sure that you must be chilled through. Can I get you some tea and a place by the fireside? I think my mistress will receive you in the parlour but she's upstairs at the moment, I'm sure she won't be long," she assured him, trying to stop herself from frowning in his direction as she heard the quick, noisy footsteps coming down the staircase, reserving her disapproving expression for when she had turned to face the passive.

Rosmilda hadn't been raised as a domestic, sometimes exhibiting the arrogance that came from one of galdori birth but without the humility of one who had fallen from grace. Cora sometimes resented her for her impudence, envious of the girl for being a servant and yet possessing some of the privilege of magical masters.

"My mistress sends her apologies but she won't be long, she had an important matter to attend to that took longer than expected. We shall make you comfortable in the meantime with some tea perhaps? Or something more warming?" the redhead suggested, the flick of her gaze to Cora seeming to carry some sense of expectation.

Upstart bitch. Why doesn't she make tea? She's more than capable, even if she is just here to see to the mistress, Cora thought although her expression remained impassive. Probably what the mistress had to 'attend to'.

"Of course, forgive me, sir. I didn't think to offer you anything stronger. The drawbacks of age, you understand," the human remarked, voice filled with suitable regret and a certain amount of wheedle on the age comment; she was not yet forty but life had not been as kind to her as her pampered superiors. She was still a damn handsome woman though and she knew it but she doubted that this failed galdor was likely to have the same charm at her age. Clocking pup wouldn't be so up herself when her looks starting going south and she wasn't even that pretty to begin with.

"Tea or alcohol, sir?" she quipped, acting as if she wasn't even aware that Rosmilda was there.

"Tea will be more than sufficient, Cora. A clear head is best," Drezda announced from the top of the stairs, manicured fingertips trailing along the top of the banister as she moved leisurely and gracefully down the steps. The human housekeeper turned, bowed and assured her that she'd see to it immediately before disappearing in the direction of the kitchens; Rosmilda grew rigid, gaze moving to her mistress and held there as if hypnotised. The heels landed softly on the stairs' runner, the material cushioning the potential click and providing the woman with better grip. In spite of the added height, heels raised in what ought to have been a precarious fashion, she seemed quite controlled, quite a contrast from when the man had seen her last.

"Good day, Anatole," she greeted softly, settling on a familiar tone, voice shifting to commanding as she switched to address the passive. "Fetch some paper and a pen to leave on the parlour table, Rosmilda and ensure the fire is well-stocked."

The teen was knocked rudely from her reverie, bowing low and a little stiffly towards the Hoxian before disappearing into the room in question. Drezda offered the Anaxi politician a thin smile as she touched down on the ground floor, on the level with him but quietly smug in the inch of height that she'd attained over him, her field took on a slightly warmer cast in his sense range. "I'm sorry to have kept you waiting. Unforgivable, I know but unavoidable I'm afraid. Thank you for coming, you didn't have to accept my invitation after all but... you've read my letter, you know what I intend. Shall we?"

The woman made a gesture towards the parlour door, inviting him to follow her.

"You mustn't think that I'm going to interrogate you about the matter, take down every word you say and pour over it later. I can assure you that I'm only going to jot down anything of particular note. Anything that might aid me in narrowing down my search for information. Obviously, the more I know, the better but I understand if there are things you don't feel that you can share," Drezda explained, voice carrying as she walked, skin of her back seeming to itch as she imagined him eyeing her up, perhaps lingering on the gentle sway of her hips. It was a relief to sit down on the sofa, to be able to see him again. He had his choice of seats, able to sit on the sofa beside her but with a seat's distance between them or to seat himself in one of the armchairs.

Her fingers brushed unthinkingly over the paper that the servant girl had left out, allowing her to do something with her hands before she settled herself to ensure that she was facing Anatole wherever he sat, onyx eyes flicking briefly to the bent figure of the girl in question who was busy dealing with the fire. The diplomat had to remind herself that now was not the time to enjoy the view.

"How has the new year treated you thus far, Anatole? You don't mind me calling you Anatole, do you? I should hope that we don't have need to be quite so... formal."
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Last edited by Drezda Ecks on Fri May 24, 2019 5:21 am, edited 2 times in total. word count: 3270

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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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Sat May 18, 2019 9:50 pm

drezda's home 🙫 uptown vienda
during the afternoon of the 18th of intas, 2719
Damnably early for an eighth. He understood the reasoning behind it – wouldn’t’ve had it any other way – but he didn’t have to like it.

Some days were worse than others. Much as he’d known last night that the agreed-upon time was earlier in the day, he hadn’t been able to keep away from the whiskey; everything that’d happened in the past two weeks had left his thoughts racing faster than he could parse them, and he reckoned not even the Circle could begrudge him getting a little help slowing them down.

That afternoon, he’d awoken late. It’d taken him a half an hour of groggy, dizzy searching – fumbling around in the study in his nightshirt, cursing when he banged his head on the desk looking in the compartments underneath it – to realize he’d depleted Anatole’s stock of liquor upstairs. He knew there was more elsewhere, but there wasn’t time; his meeting with the diplomat was barking and biting at his heels, and he was liable to be late as it was. The bell-clear, nervous chatter of his thoughts had started up, along with that icepick driving at the base of his skull. He didn’t want to call on Ecks without anything to fortify him, but he didn’t have much of a choice.

He’d spent the past few days in a haze, but that morning, he felt physically present. Unfamiliarity clung at his every movement. It was cold, and his hip hurt every time he put weight on it. He tried to shake off the feeling as he cleaned up, but when he met Anatole’s grey eyes in the mirror, he felt as if he were coming unraveled. Putting the razor down on the edge of the washstand, he studied the tired galdor’s face.

He drummed his fingers on the marble. “Why the hell did I agree to this?” he asked, but the Incumbent looked just as bewildered as Tom felt.


🙫🙫🙫
With a little help, he’d reconstituted the wreck of that morning into the shape of a respectable official. It was a well-combed, clean-shaven and sharply-dressed Incumbent Vauquelin that stood swaddled in his coat outside the diplomat’s house, shivering and bouncing on his heels. When a human servant let him in and took his coat, voice low and manner respectful, he thanked the whole clocking Circle he wasn’t late; he knew he wasn’t a minute too soon, either, but Tom reckoned sufficient was good enough. The diplomat wasn’t down yet, at least.

As he stood there in the foyer, he clasped his hands tightly behind his back, figuring it’d keep him from fiddling with his watch-chain or wringing his hands. He tried to keep a bland, aloof expression on his face.

The human servant was like a dozen others he’d met Uptown since Achtus; it still bothered him, looking up at somebody who wouldn’t meet your eye, but he’d gotten used to it by now. Her tired face, her thin, worn frame and her calloused hands, were fever-dream-clear through the hammering at the base of his skull. There were a handful of things he could’ve said, but he didn’t say any of them. By now, he knew better than to start small-talk. He found himself wondering absent-mindedly how old the woman was – not as old as Anatole, he thought, but more grey threaded through her hair than his. She looked worn, tired.

His hands had once been calloused, too. He pursed his lips, shutting his eyes momentarily.

He could’ve sighed in relief when the young passive came in, but he quickly realized that the two servants’ relationship was turbulent at best. He was praising Hulali’s waters when she suggested something a little stronger than tea. He’d opened his mouth to reply when a fourth voice cut smoothly across the silence.

The voice drew his eyes over and up the stairs.

The phosphor lights caught in the ripple of blue gauze, glistened in the little flowers that pinned up her hair. He watched her fingertips trace the bannister for a moment, feeling unsettled, though he couldn’t say why. He met her dark eyes and noticed the subtle blue smudge – all blue, all matching. As she descended off the last step, balanced admirably in those perilous heels, he realized he was looking up at her by just a hair.

This wasn’t, he thought, the Drezda he’d stumbled around in the cold with last month.

He bowed deeply; when he came up, he was smiling Anatole’s tepid smile. He took a step forward, the frazzled edges of his field passing into range of hers. The perceptive mona seemed to warm at his approach; the gesture all at once put him strangely at ease and disturbed him.

“No need to apologize, Ms. Ecks,” he replied evenly, glance flicking over to watch the passive scurry off. The mention of paper had put him on edge, but he did his best not to let on. “You’re looking very well this afternoon.”

He kept his hands clasped behind his back as he followed her into the parlor, inwardly wrangling with his irritation. What right had she to speak for him? Maybe she was right, though; dancing around her questions would be complicated enough sober. As he took a seat in one of the armchairs, he took a deep breath, trying to ease his nerves. His eyes wandered over to where the passive was tending to the fire, distracted momentarily by the warm glow.

Anatole, she was saying, somewhere in the blur of words, Anatole? Anatole— He blinked, tearing his eyes away from the hearth. Swallowing thickly, he crossed his legs and smoothed a wrinkle in his trousers. Ain’t my name. Ain’t my fuckin’ name.

“Of course. Anatole’s fine, yes. Shall I call you Drezda, then?” He knit his fingers over his knee and kept that tepid smile on his face, studying his host from afar. One eyelid gave the barest little flutter. “The new year’s – well, it’s treating me, eh? Good or bad, I can’t say. How have you been? Vienda's gearing up for rainy season, and I suspect both of us’ll be busy enough then.”

His eyes flicked over to the paper on the table, then back to Drezda’s face. That’s exactly what I think you’re going to do, as a matter of fact, he thought.

“I’ll do you the courtesy of being honest with you, as I have in the past.” His smile faltered. “I don’t know how much use this will be to you. I can’t tell you anything about what I was doing prior to the incident; I can’t even tell you what the incident was. I’ll be as honest as I can, but, ah – I’m afraid I’m in the dark.”
word count: 1239
Ψυχάριον εἶ βαστάζον νεκρόν.
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Drezda Ecks
Posts: 110
Joined: Sun Jul 15, 2018 12:10 pm
Topics: 17
Race: Galdor
Character Sheet: Character Sheet
Post Templates: Post Templates
Plot Notes: [url=http:/fullurl/]Plot Notes[/url]
Writer: Maximus
Contact:

Fri May 24, 2019 5:19 am

Intas 18, 2719 | Mid-afternoon
Drez's Home
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Image
Hooking a man's gaze was of no interest to the lesbian, attraction from the other sex hardly flattering to her. However, it was extremely gratifying to have his eyes on her when she descended the stairs because there was something more in his gaze, surprise, admiration, awe perhaps. There was a light in his eyes in any case and she approved. She knew how different she must look than when he'd last seen her a month ago and she was glad to have been able to effect such a transformation, even if it was somewhat superficial.

Drezda was doing better though. She was in control right now, wasn't she? Didn't she have this man in her grasp, under her thumb by virtue of being in her home? Didn't she have the potential to have him under thrall if she so chose? Yes, the woman was herself, as she ought to be. Enough like herself at least, or rather what she had been. Wrapping him around her finger and twisting him to political advantage was of less interest to her now. The fact was that she really did just want to help him - and indulge her curiosity a bit as well but where was the harm in that?

His bow to her was deep, perhaps a reflection of the effect her little display had wrought, while her own was shallow, casual in truth. The woman wasn't that interested in formalities at the moment and yet she was maintaining enough of them. Wasn't she exchanging pleasantries, conducting the little polite social dance instead of cutting out the niceties and speaking plainly? But he wasn't the enemy here, the small talk wasn't any harm, especially as that bit of familiarity was soothing. Maybe she wasn't the only one with frazzled nerves this afternoon if the dart of his gaze was anything to go by and... were his eyes very red or was she seeing things?

There was some puffiness around the orbs, some soft bruising and the whites were shot through with red. There were a few things that could explain such symptoms - sobbing, particularly limited and disjointed sleep, and excessive alcohol use. She'd seen the way he knocked back alcohol at Madden's party, had had a similar sight greet her in her reflection, knew what alcohol abuse could look like but... she didn't know what the man's personal life looked like really. Honestly, it could have been any of those three things alone, in combination or all together. It might not be any of them at all. The diplomat certainly wasn't going to ask.

His compliment was met with soft thanks and a gentle smile that didn't meet her eyes, the young woman's attention already turning to what she was going to ask him, worrying over it honestly. She could have done with a drop of alcohol to loosen her nerves and put her a bit at her ease. It was something that she perhaps shouldn't be allowed, too much potential temptation. It was probably a good thing that she'd spent so long dallying that she hadn't had a chance to drink anything.

They settled themselves, Anatole seeming somewhat spaced out as Drezda watched him, crossing her ankles gracefully and with the barest of frowns.

How unsettled he is... did I do that by inviting him here? she pondered.

"Yes, Drezda would be fine. Fair's fair after all," she responded with a small laugh. At his reciprocal query, her fingers found the pin in her hair, skimming over the enamelled flowers, corners of her mouth creasing upwards as a broad smile tried to fight its way to the surface against her will. The blush on her skin wasn't quite hidden beneath the pale makeup that Rosmilda had applied, onyx eyes briefly dropped to her own lap.

"The new year has been... different than I might have anticipated. There have been some... favourable signs for how it's likely to progress," the Hoxian admitted, thoughts firmly on Khymarah. "It's only midway through Intas but... I know what you mean. The rainy season will be here with surprising speed; it's amazing how fast days can slip away and how quickly a year can pass. No doubt the city will be a hive of activity when the weather improves."

The diplomat was already growing weary of small talk and so she was glad when he moved things over to the true topic at hand, even though the introduction he offered was rather frustrating. The woman sighed, unable to stop herself, a ruffling sensation going through her field.

"Well, you can only do your best. There could be something quite small, seemingly insignificant to you but which might allow me to narrow things down when I conduct my research. Every scrap of information is valuable if I'm going to help you."

She paused, thinking it over for a moment, waving Rosmilda out when the passive looked at her for direction. The servant left quietly while her mistress pondered how to approach this when he could provide such limited information - or perhaps he was choosing to provide little information on purpose; there was no guarantee that he was being honest after all.

"I think the most noticeable thing about this and one that still persists is to do with your field. Yes, I understand that there are plenty of other symptoms that are more impactful but the field... you must understand what a shock that is to anyone. It's the first thing you encounter, it was what made me find you in the Dives that night. If I hadn't been so close, I wouldn't have even caught its edge but it was sufficiently... off that I wanted to find out what it was and if I'm being honest, run in the opposite direction to get away from it as well. Your field is still..." she trailed off, this topic feeling almost rude.

"I know that it's quite a personal question, Anatole, but if you can answer me it might be invaluable. From what you can remember before the incident, the latest point you can remember before it happened, how was your relationship with the mona?" she questioned, fingers moving to caress the paper again as she considered firing another question at him that might lessen the awkwardness of this one. However, the handle turned before she had a chance and the human housekeeper pushed open the door with a hip as she righted the tray in her grasp.

Some annoyance and discomfort went through her field now that Cora was present but there was also a little relief. She needed something of a distraction. The servant glided to the table, light-footed and quite graceful for one of her kind, her movements quick and well-practised as she set the tray down and busied herself with the tea preparations. For a moment, Drezda saw something in the nearest cup, liquid that was amber in hue but then tea was poured in on top of it, deep mahogany drowning out what looked suspiciously like alcohol. A dash of snowberry syrup softened its colour and then the cup and saucer were presented to her, the woman suitably distracted. It meant that she didn't see that there was also amber in the other cup, items placed strategically to block her view.

Cora poured tea into the other cup, walking with it to Anatole. "I hope it won't be too bitter, sir. What I added should have cut the taste some and I suspect you could do with it," she murmured as she presented it to him, corner of her mouth twitching up as she did so and flashed him the quickest of winks, so fast that he might wonder if he'd imagined it. The human bowed to them both and was gone.

Drezda didn't notice the little exchange, suitably mollified by her own beverage, less liable to watch Anatole now she'd risked a sip of the beverage. It was a preferred blend of hers, Hoxian and exceedingly bitter, the snowberry syrup adding more of a sourness than a sweetness to it. But there was something else in there, altering the flavour of the tea that made it more palatable - by Anaxi standards - as it did bring a spicy sweetness to it. The tea succeeded in cutting the burn that the alcohol should have caused. Had Cora really used the Fireball Whisky for this? Judging by the taste... yes.

Oh well, the woman was good at sneaking her alcohol, certainly seeming to enjoy doing it under Rosmilda's pretty, freckled nose and while she hadn't been asked in this instance, she was familiar with the habits of her mistress. It was a nice little treat just for her and just knowing that it was present made her relax more, a warmth moving through her and easing tension.

"What was I saying before we were interrupted? Oh yes, monic relationship. Maybe before is... difficult or... well, if you don't want to share that I understand but... how do you find that the mona reacts to you now? I don't imagine that it's very um... comfortable."

Setting down her teacup, she found her fingers unconsciously touching the pin in her hair again before she plucked up her pen and started turning it idly in her hands.
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word count: 1615
User avatar
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
Post Templates: Post Templates
Plot Notes: Plot Notes
Writer: Graf
Contact:

Thu May 30, 2019 4:31 pm

drezda's home 🙫 uptown vienda
during the afternoon of the 18th of intas, 2719
Circle clock it, but he’d never cease to be confused by this woman. Was that a blush? He tried to hide his surprise, but he couldn’t help a slight widening of his eyes as he saw her brush her fingertips over that hairpin, all tender-like and fidgety. Like it was a gift from a suitor, or something. But she didn’t seem keen to share anything about these ‘favorable circumstances’ of hers, and Tom wasn’t fair keen to press. Not as she went on about rainy season, all the requisite small-talk rubbish.

Then she waved the passive girl out and started on a different topic of conversation.

Discomfort – much as he tried to keep that smile on his face, he couldn’t banish that rigidness in his shoulders, the tension in the way he folded his hands over his folded legs like he was willing himself not to run. It was subtle, but it haunted his every motion, from the way he met her eye like he was meeting a challenge to the way he cleared his throat and glanced toward the hearth. Kept looking at those writing materials. With his headache, all he wanted was to dim the lights; he was itching for something to take the edge off.

He met Drezda’s eye evenly, swallowing. The smile dropped off his face; his lips thinned to a line. “You needn’t dance around it,” he replied. “I am aware that the mona in my field are – less than cooperative. Not that there’s much I can do about it.” He studied her face. “As for my relationship with the mona before—”

The rattle of the door-handle stopped him in his tracks. His eyes wandered over. The human servant from before, the worn, mousy-haired woman, had come in with the tea. Tom forced another thin smile, but as she set the tray down and began to pour the tea, his smile turned a little more good-humored. As he took the teacup and saucer carefully, he raised an eyebrow at her.

“The bitterer the better, my dear,” he shot back. There was a playful glint in his eye, but the wry twist of his lip was warm and grateful. Even more softly, too softly (he reckoned) for the hostess to hear, he murmured, “Thank you.”

Then the servant was gone, the door clicking shut behind her. Holding the warm tea, the chill felt less biting, and he felt his nerves settling; with a deep breath, he shifted back in his seat, leaning against the arm of the chair. Again, he studied Drezda, looking at her long and hard as she continued. The tea was too hot to drink, and he reckoned pouring a little into the saucer wasn’t the way in an Uptown parlor.

His lip twitched at her stumbling last words; he looked bemused. “No. It’s not comfortable.” Forgetting himself, he took a sip of tea, then blinked irritatedly; he’d scalded his tongue. Still, the subtle, clean bite of whisky underneath the tea’s sourness steadied him. Not quite sharp enough for his tastes, but it was early in the afternoon, he was hungover in a stranger’s house (in another stranger’s body, no less), and beggars couldn’t be choosers.

Tom laughed suddenly, setting the saucer down on the nearby table.

“I don’t remember how it was – before. I’m told I was a skilled enough perceptive conversationalist; I’m told it was a surprise that somebody like me’d have a fumble. I’m also told it’s possible I was the target of a malicious perceptive spell. Whatever theory you like. When I told you that I don’t remember a whit, I was being honest.” He leaned forward, propping his head up and offering Drezda a tired smile. “But, ah—” His eyes wandered.

How honest was he planning on being? For better or worse, Tom was an experienced liar, and any experienced liar knows that the more convincing the lie, the closer to the truth – or rather, the more the liar believes it.

He glanced back at Drezda, making sure to hold her gaze and not look anywhere else. “The mona and I aren’t on the best of terms just now. I haven’t tried to cast since the accident, and I can’t do a damn thing with my field. The mona’s a closed door to me. I’m working on it – when I’m in Brunnhold in Bethas, I’ll be paying a few non-political visits – but they don’t want to communicate, and it’s not a pleasant, uh— sensation.

“Embarrassing, eh?”
He laughed again, running a hand through his hair and feigning self-consciousness.
word count: 843
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Drezda Ecks
Posts: 110
Joined: Sun Jul 15, 2018 12:10 pm
Topics: 17
Race: Galdor
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Fri Jun 07, 2019 12:21 pm

Intas 18, 2719| Mid-afternoon
Drez's Home
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They were both tense or at least ill at ease. Despite accepting her invitation, Anatole didn't look particularly comfortable to be here and she wasn't entirely sure that she could blame him. She could assure him all that she liked that this wasn't an interrogation but Drezda knew that she could be quite forthright when she was seeking answers and a lot of sympathetic feeling fled from her when she was having a difficult time herself, her fallback always stony and difficult. In the face of her attitude, it probably seemed impossible to reason with her, to have any sort of common ground and any sense of camaraderie - not that they were friends as such - would seem impossible. Unless she could make herself thaw, he was likely to remain tense and nervous. While he remained in the house, this disturbingly unheimlich individual was only going to make her edgy and thawing nigh on impossible. If she just knew how to handle him then this would be easier for her - for both of them. Being warm was difficult for her around most people and men did have a tendency of putting her more on her guard. Women were just... being around them could be like being in the midst of vipers more often than not but there was something attractive about that danger. A man like Anatole - or the man he had been - was a very different kind of danger and not the kind that she was liable to lower barriers around.

If only his face was different. If only it reflected what he was inside now or at least... didn't look like that. Any face would be better, any face that wasn't this one that she associated with bad things. It was more than a little frustrating.

There was no more that could be said once Cora came in but it gave her a chance to calm herself a little, the tea that she was given certainly helping her to unwind a little bit. The Hoxian was largely wrapped up in herself while the human was there but her onyx gaze did flick briefly to her guest at his tone, taking in his demeanour and finding herself... surprised.

The young woman looked away quickly, hoping that he hadn't spotted her glance and the shock that had surely flitted across her typically impassive features.

Was he really more comfortable with a human woman than with her? Did his depravity know no bounds that he wanted- But no, he didn't seem to be like that anymore and he was friendly, not flirtatious. The diplomat was willing to concede that Cora was a handsome woman but she was human and she was older. Some part of her had been attracted to the woman as a servant because she'd hoped that those qualities might put her off; although she'd be loathe to admit it, she sometimes found humans and wicks attractive. She had the decency not to allow such a thing to be aired in public, no one would ever have an inkling but this flirtation or friendliness, whatever was wholly unexpected from the Incumbent. Drezda wasn't his friend but she was a witness to this, a witness who could easily tell tales on him. She hadn't said anything about that time she encountered him in the Dives but-

Was that why he'd been in the Dives that night? To get overly friendly with humans? Had he lived with them? Bash bury her, the woman didn't know what possibility would be more distressing.

Cora moved off and Drezda clasped her hands together in her lap, briefly tight so that her nails bit into the skin and left crescents before she relaxed. She wasn't going to snap.

She didn't. Instead, she managed to sound exasperated.

"I'm not trying to dance around it, Anatole, but it feels rude to talk about what it's really like. Uncomfortable isn't the word I'd use. If you want me to be blunt, from my perspective it feels so unnaturally wrong that it makes my skin crawl. That's how the mona in your field feels."

She bit her lip before taking a cautious sip of her tea. Perhaps it had been a bit snappy, it had certainly carried a bit of sharpness to it, a bit of waspishness. Oops. The young woman took her time with her beverage, seeming to mull over the minute little sip. The diplomat was thinking though. A malicious spell? She hadn't thought of that but it possibly made sense. There was too much there for it to be mere chance, the mona surely not capable of removing so many layers on a whim. With direction though... but so complex and not something she knew of, something that seemed like it would have taken a lot of work to prepare and cast. But what did she know? It sounded like very advanced magic, beyond her own capability but she couldn't even imagine what. Honestly, a divine curse seemed more plausible than the magical skill a mortal could pull off.

But what did she know?

"I obviously don't know the full extent of the effects but they seem... very complex for a caster to pull off, very complex for the mona to pull off on its own. But we don't know everything about the mona and its capabilities so... it could be backlash. It'd have to be... a very, very serious bit of magic that you were doing at the time. I can't attest to your prowess before but I'd heard you were good. Better than good, perhaps but rumours... well you can't put faith in rumours, can you?" she commented with a thin-lipped smile, her gaze faraway as she considered the rumours floating around about her; many of them weren't wrong at all.

"I'm not a monic theorist but you might want to see one when you're in Brunnhold - assuming that that isn't your intention already. Magister Devlin would be a good bet, especially as he is involved in politics so if you didn't want anyone to grow suspicious or appear too conspicuous, I'd suggest him," the diplomat explained softly, setting down her cup so she could make a few little notes on the paper for herself. Malicious spellwork and monic behaviour were among the words jotted down and underlined as well as Devlin's name followed by a question mark.

"I don't think it's embarrassing. To be embarrassed... I think that suggests you thought you could do better or that... it's something that couldn't have happened to you. We're galdori, Anatole, not gods, we're not infallible. The mona are alive, they have their own mind. You can yoke a beast but it can still turn on you no matter how much control you normally have over it. The mona is more advanced than that. To think that we can hold full control over it that's arrogance. Whether you suffer backlash or a brail, or have your clocking erse handed to you in a duel, you should be humbled."

The Hoxian picked up her tea again and gazed at Anatole, giving him her full focus, her eyes wary and guarded but full of a sympathy of which he might have thought her incapable.

"Maybe you think that's easy for me to say, I'm not in your situation after all so maybe it is. But we aren't perfect, Anatole. None of us are. Some of us aren't even close." she finished quietly, a mournful shine to her black eyes.
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word count: 1320
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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)
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Writer: Graf
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Sun Jun 09, 2019 10:10 pm

drezda's home 🙫 uptown vienda
during the afternoon of the 18th of intas, 2719
Say what you will about bluntness, but it had always had a way of making Tom comfortable.

At Drezda’s exasperated reply, he let out a snort, then smiled wryly. “And there you are,” he replied, voice still edged with laughter. “Unnaturally wrong, eh? I’d have stuck the word aberration in there somewhere, but the bit about your skin crawling’s a good touch. You’re right: uncomfortable’s an understatement. It makes my skin crawl every single day.” He raised an eyebrow. “Serious bit of magic or no, I have to wonder what I did to make the mona hate me. At this point, you’d think the Circle had it out for me, wouldn’t you?”

His smile grew fainter; he reached for his tea. He hid his queasy look behind another long sip, shutting his eyes as that bitter, sour twist of flavors hit his tongue – relaxing a little more at the pleasant burn of whisky down his throat.

Of course, he had no way of knowing what conclusion Drezda was coming to, but it wasn’t a great leap of logic. His own mind had been there and back plenty of times before, and in earnest: he’d said it as a joke, but the truth of it hung dead in the air between them, quiet and ugly. There was no way of joking about something that lay so heavily at the bottom of his heart.

You wouldn’t just slip out of something like the Cycle, would you? Like it was – what – like it was a road you could turn off of, take some backwater, overgrown path, and end up someplace you’d never heard of? That wasn’t how these things worked. Couldn’t be. But the alternative was equally preposterous. Could it be true, then, that he’d done something to bring it on himself, that he’d been such a cruel and base creature that the gods had decided to punish him by shutting him out of eternal life?

At the name ‘Devlin’, he peered at Drezda over his teacup, setting it back down on the saucer with a little clink. His brow furrowing, he watched her scribble down a few more notes, squinting – when he thought she wasn’t looking, of course – to try and make out what she was writing. He didn’t have much luck.

“Funny,” he murmured, “I was already thinking of paying the Magister a visit. Suppose I’ll have to, now.” He offered her what he hoped was an easy smile, but he knew he’d gotten tense. He set his tea back down on the table again, crossed his legs.

When the diplomat spoke again, though, she stole Tom’s undivided attention.

He tried to hide his surprise, but he reckoned he didn’t do too good of a job; he blinked a few times, the smile dropping off his face. Well, steal the godsdamn moon, he thought, I do believe I’m hearing a galdor admit to imperfection. It was more than just that, though. Tom Cooke didn’t know much about the mona or about yoking beasts; he knew about hierarchy and respect, but he didn’t know much about control. He’d never had much of it for himself or his life, and he’d never much hoped for it, so having it torn away from him couldn’t be any more humbling than being born human already was. He knew chroveshit about backlash or brailing, duels or decorum.

But he knew, like any subject race, that galdor meant dominion. That was what all this clocking Uptown nonsense was for, all this excess, all the courses and forks and manners. The way Drezda Ecks painted her face, the dresses she wore, the heels she’d used to attain that extra inch over Anatole – like it mattered, like Tom cared. Rumors. Like anybody really fucking cared. But that was where power lived, so everybody cared.

But had he been any different in life, with all his posturing, with all his drinking and fighting? Different trappings for different arenas, maybe, but the game was the same. Maybe he knew more about pride than he wanted to acknowledge.

The look in her eyes was so rich with sympathy and melancholy that he almost couldn’t bear to meet them. Still, he held her gaze for a long moment. His heart beat a little faster.

“Being honest,” he said softly, “I’m not embarrassed.” He broke eye contact, looking over at the murmuring coals in the hearth. His hands, now folded in his lap, twitched; he drummed his fingers on his knee. “Not as such. Not like that. More like – confused. Worried. I wasn’t lying earlier. I wonder if I’ve been struck by something. Because of something I did, or because of something I am. Or maybe I am what I am because I was cursed. Cursed because of who I used to be, I mean.” However the hell you want to take that.

Shifting uncomfortably, he looked back at Drezda. “If the gods’re trying to tell me I’ve done wrong, then they’re not telling me how to right it. How to go back, be a part of—” He caught himself mid-sentence, clamping his mouth shut. For a moment, fear flickered in his expression. Then he let out an off-kilter laugh. “Don’t write that down, eh? Can you imagine if someone like Incumbent Madden heard me? He’d think I was planning on joining the Everine.”
word count: 974
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Drezda Ecks
Posts: 110
Joined: Sun Jul 15, 2018 12:10 pm
Topics: 17
Race: Galdor
Character Sheet: Character Sheet
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Writer: Maximus
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Fri Jun 14, 2019 5:04 pm

Intas 18, 2719 | Mid-afternoon
Drez's Home
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Drezda had been blunt with him and yet she hadn't been entirely truthful, hadn't fully conveyed how being near him and his porven field made her feel. In truth, part of her was scared to admit just how much it frightened her, especially how much it had terrified her during their initial meeting with him in that state. She'd been close enough to sense that wreck of an aura and strong enough to have a good range to boot. Of course, she'd been curious about it - that alien thing - but even before she'd gotten close enough to it to inspect it properly, a portion of the Hoxian had wanted her to run. Nothing that felt that way could be good, the monic anger within the field ominous and potentially contagious. It had been so bad that there had been a fear of it affecting her own sphere of influence, poisoning it through association. Even now, it was awful to be near but she'd had enough exposure now to know that it wasn't catching. Unless it was very slow...

The diplomat couldn't imagine living with it but then... the worst had already happened, right? It couldn't get any worse, could it? Honestly, she didn't know.

When he mentioned the possibility of the Circle having cursed him, seeming to ask her about it directly, the woman had the uncanny feeling that he'd seen straight into the contents of her cranium. She wasn't that transparent, she couldn't be. There was no external indication that she'd been considering such a thing but that didn't mean that it was any less unsettling. If he hadn't had a field in tatters and she hadn't been certain that there had been no intrusion into her mind then the young woman might have thought he'd used something Perceptive to gain better insight. Even then, that Conversation couldn't make you a mind reader. It was just uncanny really.

A little colour filtered into her cheeks, peeking though the layer of pale, gold-tinted powder that was meant to match her skin's natural hue. The heat of it felt like it might send the cosmetic trickling off her face but it wasn't hot enough to set her perspiring. The artificial layer helped diminish the glow but it was still an interesting thing to see on a Hoxian, that blush. It was a softener to a normally stiff expression and yet she wasn't as hard faced as she had been before that night of Incumbent Madden's party. For those who were familiar with the way she'd always been, her current appearance gave considerable clues that she was changed. There were things that she couldn't hide anymore, things that she seemed to allow to get to her.

Would she have been so perturbed before by Anatole touching on her line of thought by chance? No, probably not; she wouldn't have been so edgy and wouldn't have allowed it to control her quite so much. Drezda wondered if he realised how much she'd altered, if he could see it. It surprised her sometimes if she caught glimpse of her reflection, the sight familiar and yet odd in the context in which she glimpsed it. If she saw her own face now, she'd probably be left with that uncanny feeling again and be embarrassed further by how much it was broadcasting.

Did Anatole remember what she'd been like before? Admittedly, he had seen the way she'd always been that night in the Dives and early at Madden's party; her unravelling was quite recent and so he'd seen both sides of it. Funny that. Each had seen huge changes in the other, differences so marked that they could easily have been new people inhabiting older bodies, at least from the other's perspective.

The Hoxian picked up her teacup anew once her piece on galdori imperfection were completed. As her guest spoke, she peered into it, the vessel far from empty yet so if she was hoping to divine something there, she was too quick off the mark. It wasn't like the woman had any notion how to read tea leaves anyway; it was a ridiculously wickish practice in any case. Still, she stared into the liquid but what she was seeking there wasn't clear to her whether she let the surface remain calm or gently swilled the contents so that it rippled.

Her lips were pursed, the woman nodding in grim acknowledgement as he talked about being cursed. She supposed that she had to consider that it was an option, that it couldn't be ruled out no matter how far fetched it might seem.

"Yes, I can see how you might be confused. If you don't... Well, if you've no idea how something came about, it is rather bewildering, yes. If you can't remember doing something to cause it or deserve it, I'd imagine it also feels rather senseless, adding to the confusion," the diplomat commented rather sombrely.

Her gaze rose to the Incumbent's face, brows pulled briefly together although what she pondered, she kept to herself. Her eyebrows scaled her forehead though when he remarked on her notes and Incumbent Madden.

"You're reading too much into my note-taking," she quipped, a slight turn up of her lips as she heard the potential humour in the choice of words. "I'm just making note of one or two things that I should prioritise and focus on when I go to Brunnhold to conduct my research. I'm not collecting... I don't know, dirt? I certainly won't be sharing anything I find with anyone, least of all Incumbent Madden."

Her mouth twisted in distaste, a vain attempt made at covering it up by taking too large a gulp of hot tea and finding her mouth on fire and eyes watering for her impetuousness. The cup went down with too much force, clacking unpleasantly onto the saucer and sloshing some of its contents over the rim. Drezda didn't pay it much mind. Instead, she hesitantly marked down the word 'Curse' and etched several question marks after it.

"For the Circle to take such direct action... well, I don't know if it's something they do with adults although there are stories... We have something like the Everine in Hox, quite spiritual but then we are quite a spiritual people. An Anaxi might not thing so but we are, although I'm not sure what an outsider would make of our faith, it's different. Like the Everine, you find them in one place - for the most part. My mother grew up in it so I've heard things from her, stories really, the sort of thing meant to frighten and cajole children but..."

She chewed her lip, wondering why she was telling him this, wondering if she ought to do so.

"In Hox, we don't have passives, well... not many, not like here and even here their numbers are small. At home, they are a greater rarity and a greater shame - and a worry. Some think that if you bear a passive child then the Circle have passed judgement on you and it could be something that continues for generations, something you pass on, perhaps even unknowingly. We believe in curses that span generations but... it's always the children. It affects adults of course and there's a great horror in it because a child is meant to be your future but... you can have non-passive children and they could carry it. You're marked as tainted and there are some who... well, if they find out that you have a bloodline like that, that you've done something grievously wrong, they could choose to shun you. Even if it was the fault of an ancestor, you're of their blood. What they do wrong... it could just as easily be your sin, you might do the same thing."

As she spoke, her fingers laced together tightly, the raven-haired woman wringing them in her lap. She believed her mother all right on this matter, the sin of blood. If anyone had sinned then it was her mother and it was something that Ksjta vehemently believed. Tsia's curse was her fault, her punishment for turning her back on Hexxos way and marrying a man who worshipped deken more than the Circle. It also meant that Drezda was close to the source, the very fount of cursed blood. The diplomat felt certain that she was tainted, Rhozdr as well. How long had he been married now? How long had he remained childless and increased the necessity that his younger sister should marry? Better that the Ecks line died probably, better that no one else had to suffer because her parents loved to be greedy.

"Do you think... well, maybe it sounds ridiculous to you but is there a chance that you might have a history like that in your line? Have any... impurity in your bloodline? That one... that one really is rude but we're being truthful with each other, right?"
.
word count: 1579
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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)
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Plot Notes: Plot Notes
Writer: Graf
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Sat Jun 15, 2019 9:56 pm

drezda's home 🙫 uptown vienda
during the afternoon of the 18th of intas, 2719
Tom tried to relax himself, but sitting there in the diplomat’s parlor, it was damned hard. Some rational part of his brain knew she wasn’t concerned with getting the upper hand; with all the scandalous rumors about her that floated around Uptown Vienda, he reckoned they were on even footing. Still, every time he heard the scratching of her pen-tip against the parchment, a nerve in his face jumped and twitched. Couldn’t stand that noise. Couldn’t stand not knowing what she might be writing, how much she might be catching onto.

Once, Tom’s livelihood had been in playing with fire. Now that he’d been burned, he found himself shying away from the range.

Talk of curses had already put him in a grim mood, and as he listened to Drezda, he felt grimmer and grimmer. This was the first he’d heard of any Hoxian religious order; being honest, at all this talk of the Circle and children and blood, he wanted to dart home and stick his head in the proverbial sand. His headache was just getting nastier.

Then, he wondered – not for the first time – what Drezda’s stake in all this was. Without staring, he stole a glance at her hands in her lap, the way she wrung them and knit her fingers. Didn’t take a Perceptive Magister to figure out that this was hard for her to talk about. Even without that little tic, he heard the weight in her voice. Huh. She was a talented Perceptive sorceress in her own right, but he’d heard of such gollies having passive kin. Was this personal for her?

Still chewing on the thought, he took his tea from the table, half-listening and nursing it in his lap. He was surprised to find that the porcelain was only warm to the touch – had it been that long? As she fell silent, blood and ancestors’ sins lingering in the parlor like ghosts, he took a sip of tea.

Just as he put the cup to his lips, her question struck him like a backhand. He’d already sucked in some tea, and now he snorted it out, choking a little. Tears prickled at the edges of his eyes. He set the teacup back down on the saucer with a rattling little clink, hastily putting it down on the side-table so he could thump his chest a few times and cough. He didn’t look put-out, though; as he recovered his breath, it was clear he was on the edge of a laugh. He took a deep breath.

Face still a little flushed, he looked at Drezda squarely, forcing a deep frown. “It’s a secret that could threaten my entire career, Drezda Ecks, so it’s not to pass beyond this room. My mother” – his voice grew very hushed – “was a human woman from Old Rose, and my father was a Bastian sailor. I haven’t got a drop of galdor blood.”

Tom managed to keep his brow furrowed, keep that grim expression on his politician’s face, for just a half a second longer. Then he broke, snorting and settling back in his seat. He crossed his legs and shrugged. “Forgive me, but that really is rude, isn’t it? I’m not offended, Drezda, but I think you’re barking up the wrong tree with that one. I’m— ah, really. Listen.”

This time, his frown was genuine. He seemed to struggle with his words, squinting, then massaging his temples, then pinching the bridge of his nose as if warding off a headache. He waved his hand, pushing himself up in his seat.

“I’d believe that I was cursed because I was a kenser’s erse in life before I’d believe that.” A strange expression flickered across his face, quickly-staunched. Did I say it? he thought. In life? Fucking Circle. Did I? Hastily, maybe too hastily, he continued: “I only mean that I’d rather believe in direct action, being honest. People aren’t— That’s not how the Cycle works, is it? I was always taught that anybody’s soul can end up anywhere, once it’s passed into the antelife; our ancestors’ sins – they’re wiped clean. In my last life, I could’ve been anybody. My blood wasn’t my blood as it is now.”

The words hung in the air. Now that they were out of his mouth, he thought they sounded moony. That, or (and this made him prickle all the way down his spine) too damned close to the truth. Leaning forward, scooting himself to the edge of his seat, he fumbled for an explanation.

“I don’t know anything about Hox. It wasn’t my intent to disrespect you,” he said, more tentative, “or your faith. I don’t know anything about how the Cycle works, either, but it’s unbearable to think that’s true. Passivity isn’t— It’s just a genetic condition, for all anyone knows. In Anaxas, we believe we’re obligated to care for them. If you inherited your father’s sins in some – mystical, monic – way – then there’d be no end to it. There’d be no escape, no fresh start. I’d prefer to think I dug myself a hole, rather than that I’d been born in it. Wouldn’t you?”

Tom met her eyes again, something terribly earnest in his own.
word count: 960
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