Chapter IV - Earthly Delights

Completed chapters of the serial storyline are stored here after completion.

Chapter IV - Earthly Delights

Postby IamLEAM1983 » Tue Jun 13, 2017 5:12 pm

The kid looked a bit fidgety, a bit ragged around the edges. His hair had probably not been washed for a day or two, and he'd apparently stopped at the Chipotle a block south of here, before coming in. Bertram could smell quesadilla grease on the boy's breath. A slightly distressed GameStop shirt adorned his chest, complete with the nametag of Chet.

"Um, hey," he began, "Do you guys pack the Mists of Madness expansion for Pathfinder?"

Bertram checked his list of pre-orders, hidden as it was behind the counter. Some of it had Dave's handwriting, some of it was his. "It's coming out next month, actually," he precised. "We might be a little tight on the supplies, your own joint's moved into board games and RPG supplements, now that the used games market dried up. I might try and check with your supervisor if I were you, see if you can't place a pre-order there.
- Oh, right," the teen said, more mumbling the words than pronouncing them. He trundled away and deeper within the store, stopping in front of a large and Plexiglas-encased display of Star Wars figurines. Bertram warily eyed the youth for a few moments, sensing his tentacles twitch nervously behind his stem-cell Flesh Mask.

"Er, the X-wing set from Fantasy Flight's twenty percent off!" he called out, more to try and coax a more predictable pattern of behavior out of the teen than to prod for a purchase. Chet only issued a grunt, the fingers of one hand nervously toying with his lower lip. He seemed to be looking at Darth Vader's own TIE Fighter - complete with unique stats - as if it held some deeper meaning.

The Wizard's Nook didn't usually pack that kind of late-day awkwardness and tension. Bertram had spent some fifteen years on the surface now, and he'd gotten used to every nerd, geek and dweeb in town clumsily landing compliments or lifting sexist lines off of Warhammer 40K in the presence of female gamers. Plenty of his customers were perfectly adjusted for everyday life and wore their interest in Pop Culture and plastic minifigures like a cheerful afterthought shucked on after a day's work. Others, especially the kids, reminded him of how things used to be in the early days, before he met David. Back when daily tedium should've been realistically called the Daily Gauntlet, mastering the flimsiest of social cues had left him feeling like he could've gone straight back to Dalarath and schooled that fool Speaker and his Chamberlain.

Not that he had any chance of going back, of course. He'd been weak, the last of an egg clutch to mature, and had offered his mate an equally weak slurry of unfertilized eggs. His first husband, if you could've called him that, had long since caught on to his mate's more delicate persona. The Void Weavers liked to believe that exquisite forms of wickedness could be coaxed out of the reluctant ones, but Bertram had only ever been a bookseller at heart. Hating a world he'd never seen before required mental gymnastics he couldn't keep up with. It hadn't been a perfect love, but it had been something close - until their neighbor slit Karad's throat in a fit of ecstatic rage. They'd been making better sales than him for months, so Karad had prayed to Dar-Larath and been imbued with a shred of His cosmic wrath.

Bertram remembered picking Karad's congealed blood off of the floors and ceiling, even as primal fear crept in. He'd had no other choice but to leave - and leave he did.

Dave had been a stroke of luck the likes of which the Others had always warned against. George had pressured him about finding a hobby for weeks, and to see about finding something other than the stipend offered by his keeping the Order's books as a form of sustenance. Add a year spent floundering and 2007's ChtulhuCon here in Hope, and he'd found not only his new hook, but also someone to enjoy it with. As it turned out, David Ingram enjoyed long games of Call of Chtulhu, he participated in a few local LARP campaigns as a Paladin, thought Firefly deserved a remake long after all hopes of a reboot had faded away - and happened to be the kind of man Bertram didn't know he'd always dreamed of. As for Bertram Miles, he happened to be the exact kind of man Dave fell for: a little awkward, occasionally possessed of strokes of genius and of an acceptable level of aesthetic arrogance; baby-faced despite his advancing forties, a body just south of being roly-poly... A dorky cherub in beige plaid and brown slacks, too afraid to stand out even if he was the one rocking the Doctor Who mug on the apartment floor, upstairs and the discrete Triforce tattoo on his right bicep...

When Bertram had first removed his Flesh Mask in front of David and George, the anthro Labrador had responded by hugging him. He'd first cried his eyes out, and then finally discovered what it was the surface-dwellers meant when they talked about making love. Awakening to the true nature of his abuse in Dalarath had been painful, but the effortless acceptance of his prior suffering by David was a game-changer. From that one night in 2008, Bertram Miles had gone from a functional man-child to a ruthless entrepreneur in his own field, as he now helmed the one geek and gamer-oriented store in Hope that stubbornly refused to cave in to the pressure placed on it by Big Retail. Some people already likened it to Gammell's Toybox, if the elusive Mister Gammell had been the type to keep up with video game-related trade shows and comic book movie plot dumps at the San Diego Comic-Con.

Sure, you could've gone to Wal-Mart in Pickman's Sound to buy Destiny 4, but then you would've missed on the ambiance, on the feeling of the Nook serving as a gathering space, as something more than just a store where you stopped by to pick-up pre-orders.

Besides, Wal-Mart didn't pack a root beer fountain next to the games that had won last year's Spiel der Jähres, and GameStop didn't include tables inlaid with flashy little runes designed to visually augment your average Gwent tournament, your Magic: The Gathering face-off or whatever else involved anything between Pokémon cards and Upper Deck's 2025 NHL and NBA rosters...

That same impression was reflected in the rest of the store, from the supposedly "expensively commissioned" fiberglass dragon hanging from the ceiling, spitting a giant Mylar balloon of a fake plume of fire at the wizard's tower inlaid in the right-hand-facing wall from the entrance. The tower's door was always locked during business hours, and showed the same sign as the store proper, during closing time: Fighting Dragons, Please do not Disturb. Past the door waited the spiral staircase leading up to the couple's living space.

False stone appliqués on the walls otherwise coexisted with life-size cutouts of everything between Batman, the Penguin, Spider-Man and Bigby Wolf, and a number of 1080p displays along the walls displayed snippets from the DC Animated Universe's cartoons, the nineties' Spider-Man run on Fox Kids, episode rundowns for Game of Thrones or the latest Star Trek series. One corner of the store was slightly more Steampunk in its tone, brass plaques on the walls framing glass cases that displayed the Naughton Memorial line of action figures. Even Clanks could have geek-like penchants, evidently, the nearby walls showing minor body modifications that would allow more modern Automatons to temporarily display a bit of the old "hand-bolted rivets" charm.

Bertram sighed, turned to watch the store's single 4K screen as it aggressively hawked some new "extreme combat" board game based on "tactical polyhedrals" - or TACTICAL POLYHEDRALS!!! if you went by the sales pitch - as well as "spheroid war frames". He sniffed as the demo footage showed falsely-excited kids tossing LED-covered plastic dreidels into a rectangular arena. As far as he could tell, the tops' integrated accelerometer would make them stop on specific patterns of light for a few seconds, long enough to roll corresponding dice and determine the number of damage points incurred. Of course, that involved collectible spinning tops and a USB charging dongle that served as a means to improve your "war frame"'s overall statistics. The included NFC chip allowed children to import their oh-so-edgy spinning tops to a fighting game scheduled to come out for the Xbox Gemini, as a means to further improve their statistics before returning to their little plastic arenas.

"Tamagotchi for bored Elementary School kids jumping onto the fad long after their Millennial parents, I see," he muttered.

From the back, David groaned. "I know... Anki looked about poised to stick actual, genuine AI into our board games, and then they scrap their lead engineer's project and go for this shit. Betcha we'll still have to restock the frames like crazy over Christmas. Remember the Hatchimals?"

Bertram snickered. "I felt like ripping my tent - I mean, my goatee off by the time the 24th rolled around!"

The Labrador sent his husband a wary look. The day wasn't over until the last customer would've left and they'd have locked the doors and drawn the blinds. Then, they'd be ready for the evening's scheduled events. With that in mind, Dave started turning off a few screens, briefly jostling Chet in the process.

"Hey," he weakly said, "I was watching that!
- Sorry man," replied Dave. "Store's closing. You've got five more minutes to make up your mind, then it's out the door. We're open all week, anyway."

Chet looked like he lacked the mental capacity to figure out what to do with himself, now that he couldn't look at Paul Dini's angular version of Wonder Woman. He floundered in the back aisles for a while, could be heard groaning dejectedly, and then came into view clutching one of the usual suspects for someone who hadn't had a clear goal in coming here: a full set of cheap dice. Baby's First D&D Necessaries, Bertram thought.

Chet paid for his dice by debit, mumbled weak thanks, and made for the door. He stopped in front of its glass pane for an instant, frowned, and then looked back to Miles and Ingram.

"They're coming," he said, and pushed the door open, slipping into the early November night. Dave followed behind, locked the door, turned the red Closed neon strip on and then walked back to Bert.

"I didn't see anything," Dave said, frowning. "George and the others might need a few extra minutes to drop by, they need to use the back door."

Bertram retreated to a corner of the store that couldn't be seen from out front, and removed his Flesh Mask, sighing in obvious relief once he'd done so. His now almost shellfish-white skin reflected the LED strips above rather harshly. He unlocked the door to their apartment, his mask under one arm, and gave his mate a wary look.

"I don't think he was talking about George, Dave.
- Well, I sure as shit didn't see Drake or the Shieldies; they can't teleport either."

Bertram tsked. "Just one of these old bad feelings, I guess. That kid - I know I haven't seen anyone who's been touched in years, but I know it when I see it.
- Oh, come on - Chet? Kid's probably high off of hospital-strength pot he fleeced from his grandpa or something. Besides, he didn't do the shaky-eyes thing you told me to watch out for. Y'know, like they've got zero depth perception after getting their brains scrambled?"

Miles seemed uncertain. "We didn't all hit our slaves upside the head with a sledgehammer, sweetheart," he said. "Some of us were much more dangerous - used trepanning chisels instead. Really careful Words. It meant you were playing fast-and-loose with Her teachings, but it also meant you'd go neck-and-neck against Lulroth for the slaver business. There was money to be made with slaves who could string a sentence together."

Dave latched onto that last name. "Lulroth... You mean Lucian Rothchild, right?
- Yes. He's coming tonight. Him and a whole bunch of other people. I wouldn't be here if he hadn't loaned me ten thousand bucks, in the beginning."

Bertram gave the outside world one last wary look. "Anyway. I've gotta go hang my face, make sure it's hydrated. Give me five minutes - just answer the back door if anyone uses the service doorbell for deliveries."
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Re: Chapter IV - Earthly Delights

Postby TennyoCeres84 » Tue Jun 13, 2017 7:22 pm

It wasn't long before Dave would hear the doorbell of the rear service entrance ring. Matriel and his family had carpooled with Meris, George and Lucas, picking up a large order of pizzas, a few cartons of soda, water, and a bulk package of sea salt, for the Void Weavers in the group. Given the limited access to saltwater, the archmage figured Bertram, Lucian, and Helena could use a healthy pick-me-up.
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Re: Chapter IV - Earthly Delights

Postby IamLEAM1983 » Wed Jun 14, 2017 1:09 pm

Coming in from the back door, the group would see what would more than likely serve as their discussion table. As the store still occasionally hosted CCG competitions or board game nights, a number of "demo" tables manufactured by Geek Chic and their ilk were scattered across the store. The largest and priciest one, the Admiral, could have passed for a stately affair of carved mahogany. It was round and designed to seat at least eight people comfortably - which was inconvenient. Their group stood poised to be much larger. Bertram had planned ahead, however...

Seeing this, George's lips pursed thoughtfully. David, the rare case of a "normal" who'd gone accustomed to the Order's existence and proclivities, walked up to the group.

"Hey guys," he said, hand out. "For those that haven't met me the first time, I'm Dave - Dave Ingram. I'm Bert's husband."

Helena seemed a bit perplexed. "We barely talked, the first time around. There wasn't much time to really address more than the need to set this up. Aren't you a bit, you know, taken aback?"

Dave smirked. "Not for years, no. We didn't meet earlier because Bert didn't know what it might do to your resistance to have a Joe Normal around. I'm not so much as a supe or a mage - just a regular anthro. He thought I'd make for an exploitable weak point.
- What changed his mind?
- Your getting bigger, more organized. I don't know the specifics, but I do know mister Gammell here's working with other groups. Networking's gotten easier over time."

In the meantime, George removed his overcoat and hat. Off came the sunglasses and gloves, as well. "Is this the patient?" he asked, referring to the table. "It seems Bertram was right; it might be difficult for us to sit comfortably here, and there is little room to relocate more tables... I don't suppose you can afford to move some of your other tables, David?
- They were assembled in the store and the shelves were just put up around them. I can't really move them around without spending an hour per table disassembling them."

Gammell clicked his tongue. "Well, then. We'll simply have to redesign this game room of yours, I'm afraid. Best to wait until the Hall's party arrives; I wouldn't enjoy entering an impossible space without prior warning..."

A hairless pseudo-eyebrow twitched. "Er - have you paid for this table, by any chance?
- It's a demo. We got it at a discount from Geek Chic because one of the tables has a big scuff. Someone's woodcarving knife slipped. Twenty percent off of twenty-two hundred bucks. Bert was almost doing backflips."

The toymaker chuckled. "Then I suppose it is yours to leave in my capable hands."

The dog winced in a play for comedy. "Sure, let's go with that. Just don't go too far into the Non-Euclidian Spaces thing, I don't want to have to dust a football field's worth after this."

Still, as could be expected from a design and woodcarving nut such as Gammell, he did momentarily turn his attention to the table, marveling at the main board's hollow construction, which allowed for a recessed play area covered in green felt, currently covered by removable panels - for when the table had to function as your average surface. Seemingly aesthetic rails along the side could support clip-on cupholders or two small lecterns, and the felt panel could be removed for extra depth. Perfect for long sessions of strategy games involving tall play elements and a long period of investment. Turn the panel around, and you had more green felt, this time marked for handy card placements at a Poker or Blackjack dealer's convenience.
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Re: Chapter IV - Earthly Delights

Postby TennyoCeres84 » Wed Jun 14, 2017 9:21 pm

Eager at the idea of hanging with others outside of her family and Meris' associates, Nami ran her hand over the wooden table's surface and then looked over at the anthro dog. "Since we're going to have a large number of players, what game did you and Bertram select for us to play?" she asked.

While the archmage was equally excited for the meetup, she bore a more sober variation of the Nephilim's demeanor. "As we're not following the typical cloak and dagger routine, I think we should at least have something of a backup plan in case things go south. Has there been any suspicious behavior around the Wizard's Nook lately?"

"Meris raises a good point," agreed Matriel, his hands casually stuffed in the pockets of his jeans. "This is a momentous occasion, however fun it is meant to be. We are going to have denizens from all three planes and ones that compose a considerable fraction of forces that are standing up against the Pit and the Loyalists. We have Holden Hall's members, your numbers, Tom Magnus and his band of extraplanar friends. Even if it is single insurgent, we should have an idea of what to do, just in case."
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Re: Chapter IV - Earthly Delights

Postby IamLEAM1983 » Wed Jun 14, 2017 10:28 pm

"Not any more than usual," noted Dave. "Some slightly spaced-out kid wearing the local big competition's Polo shirt just stepped out, we had to break up a fight between two pros over the meta for some card game invitational they were warming up for here after hours..."

He shrugged. "I mean, this place is basically Hope's would-be Nerd Heaven, and we can be pretty defensive about our games or our TV shows. The same four regulars stopped by last Saturday and more or less hosted the same old round-table concerning the rebooted MCU or the DCEU... A lot of passionate yelling happens here, sometimes, that I guess your average Normal might call odd. By our standards, though? Nothing much."

Ingram then looked to Nami. "By Bert's headcount, there might be thirty of you folks sitting at this table - and that's if mister Gammell can TARDIS up this corner of the shop. There's no way we're asking everyone to pull out a character sheet, and the most accommodating board game we have stops at twelve players. We might be able to work that in if we have a few sticklers who prefer to stay knee-deep in tactics and politics, but that's a long shot. The only option I can think of is Werewolves or a game like it. Maybe The Resistance, ironically enough."
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Re: Chapter IV - Earthly Delights

Postby TennyoCeres84 » Thu Jun 15, 2017 12:59 am

Meris pursed her lips with some skepticism, but she knew trying to delve for more information about some seemingly random teenagers would do no good. She figure they would have to make the best of whatever would happen and prevent any assassins from succeeding.

Nami grinned. "That should be doable, then." She then glanced over at her fairly recent friend, Lucas. Given that they were about to a rather large chunk of people they had never met, the Nephilim nudged the Animate, as she knew he was rather shy still. "Hey Lucas, how are you doing?"
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Re: Chapter IV - Earthly Delights

Postby Karl the Mad » Thu Jun 15, 2017 11:52 pm

From outside came the contented engine burbling of some well-fed muscle car or other; the noise stopped, and shortly thereafter three people entered the shop. Charles Jenkins, Abraham Zahavi, and Katherine Starr; the lawyer immediately put a warm smile on and set about introducing herself to those she didn't know. "Hi everyone, I'm Katherine," she said to the room at large. "Katherine Starr, attor-" she caught herself and shook her head. "Sorry, old habits... I'm just Ms. Starr today."

Arrogant as he was, Charles just assumed everyone already knew who he was, and settled with a lazy wave; Abraham seemed uncomfortable and lurked behind his boss, trying to avoid attention.
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Re: Chapter IV - Earthly Delights

Postby IamLEAM1983 » Fri Jun 16, 2017 1:04 am

"I'm nervous," admitted the Animate. "I don't know how the others might react once I take off my Veil."

For now, Nami stood beside what appeared to be a fairly ordinary teenage boy of Caucasian extraction, light brown locks and green eyes giving him a subdued, if somewhat skittish countenance. Add the currently unused earphones he wore, a Hope Wizards tee-shirt and a loose and somewhat grungy plaid shirt worn on top, and you had what appeared to be every pubescent wallflower imaginable.

Katherine and Charles' arrival made him slide a foot away, while George chose to remain out of sight for the immediate. Katherine hadn't met him yet, and he didn't feel like exposing her to him so suddenly. Again, Miles and Ingram had been briefed. They'd know how to handle this.

So, Dave did just that. He stepped forward, hand outstretched. "Pleased to meet you, miss Starr. I'm Dave Ingram, a friend of one of mister Gammell's, um, beneficiaries. I'm a total normie, apart from the usual anthro nasal benefits," he said, chuckling. "Great perfume, by the way."

He then joined his hands together. "So... There's no easy way to break it to you, but you've been working alongside an Elemental Throne since you joined Wyvern Holdings. You've already met Meris McConmara, I think, but that tall and handsome fellow from Accounting is actually Matriel, Throne of Water. The idea that angels representing the prime elements might join in on our little soirée might be a bit strange, but it's about to get stranger..."

Dave then eyed Charles. "And noticeably more tense, going by what I was told..."

The canine sniffed, and then inhaled. "My boyfriend's one of those Squids you resent," he said, "stuffed you with abilities you didn't ask for. Well, he's not one of them, but I was asked to warn you in case anything, well, tentacly ends up being a trigger for you. You're going to see a lot of them tonight, and all of them are on our side. I understand you might hold a grudge, but as far as I can tell, nobody related to your instigating events in Vietnam's been invited here tonight."

Ingram then included Abraham in his sweep of the room. "Remember the weird guy who showed up with the secret weapon needed to shut off Circe and Amaxi, when Machae almost blew us up? Y'know, that music box? He's here now. Even outside of our little conspiracy-a-thon, he's one of Hope's best-kept secrets."

From a corner of the game room, and still unseen, George chuckled. "Oh, come now," he said, "a few Christmas ornaments and some wind-up toys do not make me Rhode Island's pride and joy! Might I stop lurking, now?"

Ingram lifted a finger. "Wait a sec! Fair warning, he can pull some serious Hellraiser shit, and although he's a genuinely nice guy, I still have nightmares about him asking Bert and me out for tea.
- I had a sore throat that day," protested the honeyed and sepulchral voice, "and the bloody idiots who made me wanted me to act as their Lovecraftian James Bond villain! I can't quite help that they gave me the vocal chords to fit now, can I?"

Dave scoffed in amusement. "Yeah, and a penchant for long-distance monologues when you're killing Loyalists through one of your Pain Boxes."

George Murray Gammell stepped out of the corner and into view, as eyeless and full of teeth as ever. "So I enjoy a fair bit of schadenfreude," he said, shrugging. "I would ask you to sue me, but my blatantly illegal status makes it difficult for that to happen."

He then eyed the newcomers and the rest of the group. "I know soft drinks are involved for tonight, but I'm much more of a tea person, as Meris knows. I packed an electric kettle and a few bags of Darjeeling - anymore care to join me?"

Something made him look to Starr. "Believe me, I would have undergone the procedures for registration with Vienna and subsequent naturalization, but doing that is fairly difficult when brainwashed cronies of deranged depth-dwellers would sooner kill you than let you apply for a Social Security Number. Consider me one of Vienna's reluctant registration-dodgers, then. This is no besmirching of the common citizen or of the law - my people and I are simply limited in our options, at present. Coming out of the Eldritch Construct, to coin a phrase, would be a difficult proposition."
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Re: Chapter IV - Earthly Delights

Postby TennyoCeres84 » Sat Jun 17, 2017 12:50 pm

Matriel stepped forward and shook Katherine's hand. "You would know me as Kaito Urakawa. My wife, Hanako, works for WySec as a translator. This is my daughter Nami."

Both Nami and Hanako also shook her hand. The female Malk noted, " It's a relief to finally make our little secret known. Matriel and Nami would have made their selves known to the Vienna Accords, but historical events such as Elysium have halted any attempts. "

While she wasn't so worried about the Urakawas, Meris cautiously observed Charles and the others to see their reactions toward George and the Void Weavers, hoping that the veteran would keep his wits about him, even with Abraham's glimpse of the Toymaker previously.

At George's inquiry about tea, Hanako raised a hand subtly from her kimono sleeve. "I will take some Darjeeling, Mr. Gammell."
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Re: Chapter IV - Earthly Delights

Postby Karl the Mad » Sat Jun 17, 2017 11:28 pm

Katherine shook hands all around and smiled politely, but her mind was obviously reeling. Elemental Thrones? "Sea World wasn't hiring, or something?" she countered with a slight laugh, making light of the situation again.

At Gammell's reveal, the lawyer couldn't help but step back momentarily, eyes going wide in shock. But she quickly mastered herself and curtsied to him. "The honor is mine, Mister Gammell. I understand your circumstances, so worry not."

At the mention of more Void Weavers being present, Charles just shrugged. "I made 'at mistake once, 'm pretty sure I c'n tell X from any other squiddy. X'd prolly wanna kill me 'n be done with it; th' good squids'd wanna talk, 'n th' bad squids'd wanna talk while tryin' a' kill me, aye? S'all good."

Abraham, meanwhile, was staring intently at George, not with horror, but wonder. "Have I... have I seen you in some of my dreams, sir?" he asked bluntly.

Katherine's phone vibrated, and she pulled it out. "Hm. Mary Jameson wants to know if anyone wants genuine Chinese for the gathering today," she announced to the group at large. "Maybe she's offering to cater?"
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