Chapter VII - Healing Pains

This is what you came here for. Adventure, intrigue, murder, mystery and action - plus a healthy dose of boring everyday stuff. One continuous story-line, broken up into smaller themes for easier consumption.
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Karl the Mad
 

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Re: Chapter VII - Healing Pains

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Mary smirked and was willing to laugh it off, until Zeb brought up that name. Instantly infuriated, she whirled on him with murder in her eyes. "Asshole, you did NOT just compare me to that bag of dicks! Take that back or I'll revolutionize the smirk right off your FACE!"

"Is it really so offensive, being compared to... him?" Vlastos mused, trying not to laugh at the scene.

"Wouldn't mind," Preston replied, shrugging.

----------------------------

"Hones'ly I hadn't planned on Katherine either, hell I never even knew she were me kid 'til a coupla years ago." It was weird for Charles to think of how paper thin death was these days, when he could literally email his dead daughter and get a reply back in a timely fashion. "She's doin' well, either way."

With their business concluded, he felt it was time they moved on before the secular authorities noticed the fracas. "We oughta git movin' then, aye? 'Fore th' cops git involved?"
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Re: Chapter VII - Healing Pains

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Gomez had started pulling Zeb away just as Mary finished, the lich looking like the offensive nature of his words hadn't even registered.

"You'll have to excuse my friend, señora Jameson, he, er - he doesn't seem to be one to launch into anything while sober, these days..."

However, Aidan could see what would've offended Mary. "I don't know, guys," he told the gearhead and vampire. "You've got a douchecanoe who appropriated his team's findings and coasted on an undeserved reputation as a modern-day Da Vinci - and then there's Mary, who's always given credit to H&J's Engineering teem - and the Sin Seven."

Carrie shrugged and pouted. "Plus, she's sexier by miles. Appropriate sensibilities and whatnot. We should get going, though - I guess the others made it through, judging by how Spector's bounded in from the other side of those battlements."

* * *

"Yes, let's," agreed Herbert. He then turned to Bragi and switched back to Old Norse. "Will you fare well, friend Bragi? I could arrange for transport to your brethren's host, if you will it."

The Draugr seemed surprised. "We are weeks and months away from the Dragon's Peak! You, a demon, would grant us such a boon?!"

The Prince of Pride nodded. "My Vice has changed, friend. After all these years, and with your watch now ended, is it only fair that you be allowed to return home."

The Draugr blinked. "An honor-bound demon...
- Oh, there are others like me," noted the Prince, briefly forgetting himself and grasping his lapel in self-satisfaction. "That whole bit about crushing the world beneath our heel is - there is no real word for it in your language - old and withered, let's say. Kindness suits Pride much better, I've found."

Another Draugr stepped forward. "Then yes, please. Send us to the Orkneys, if you will."

Herbert nodded. "Of course. Let's endeavor to leave this place first, my friend Charles and I must also return home."

And down they went through the old student residence, until they found their way to the culvert and the old catacombs. Once there, Herbert dug in his suit jacket and found a fountain pen - likely a Mont-Blanc, judging by the expensiveness of its design. He tapped it a few times as if trying to shake dried ink loose before writing, and seemingly caused a red glow to appear in front of its tip. Then, using it, he drew a doorway against a stretch of exposed stone and placed his hand inside, expending a little willpower to create a doorway of sorts. Lurid red light briefly shone through, but shifted to an icy blue just as the view became clear. Beyond the door waited the Orkneys' biting winds and the dead of night, Dragon's Peak being a large, black shape blotting out the sky.

"There we are," he said. "I daren't take you any closer; while we have Draugr allies ourselves, the islands' keepers won't have been briefed of our alliance. You'll have to walk the last mile on foot, I'm afraid."

"We fear no cold," replied a female Draugr. "We could walk leagues without complaint."

Herbert nodded. "You won't have to, Milady Knight. Safe travels."

* * *

"I'm sure you'll be up to the task, Alastriona," replied Bagley with a nod. "I'll see to your necessities with mister Gubbin. If I might, however, I have concerns to share."

Vernon gave the Clank a bit of a sideways glance. "Ah? Such as?
- Hector Gutierrez, sir. He may be intent on making his presence known in London, but his having appeared here during Alastriona's unveiling suggests something is afoot. Dragons and their cronies may have no influence on Fae politics, but Fae politics are now as easy to manipulate as their mundane counterpart. I would not be surprised if Lyle Machae received monetary assistance from... kindly donors."

Vernon pouted slightly. "Yes. Filthy lucre could bend even our most sacred of traditions. Alas, I cannot ask for such assistance from my allies. Fae matters only concern the Fae, and my asking you for space and vittles stretches tradition enough as it is."

Maurice seemed amused. "You forget, sir, who it is I've worked with for most of my life. I'm quite certain I will find other means of assisting you - with you being unawares until I choose otherwise."

Haskill rolled his eyes and chuckled. "Yes, of course. It follows that the batman for a centuries-old spy would be something of a spy in his own right. I'm sure you'll defeat all my attempts to hold myself to an Oath with you."

The Clank spent a few seconds pretending to polish the stairs' handrail. "Good old friendships are worth more than bonds of magic, I've always found..."

* * *

"I can't wait," excitedly whispered Nereus, as they were ushered inside.

Anyone who would've visited Buckingham Palace as a tourist would have picked up on a bevy of textures and patterns, on old Persian rugs and tapestries, on suits of armor and massive foyers and chandeliers. The King and Queen of Faerie effectively lived in a space that had all the visual features of its equivalent location in the mortal plane - if magnified a hundredfold. As you'd expect, this was a place heavily steeped in the development of magic as a discipline, and it mirrored certain quaint expectations concerning enchantments. Suits of armor turned their heads and raised a hand and stamped a foot in salute, while it being obvious that nobody was wearing them, while busts of previous Kings, Queens, Counts and Contessas gave the group slow and interested blinks as they followed them. Clattering noises signaled the slow and careful glide of trays laden with teapots and cups as they sailed above their heads, heading for other parts of the castle, and Nereus couldn't quite repress a gasp of wonderment as a literal flock of books flapped in and out of sight.

Eventually, they reached an obvious central hall of sorts, which was dominated by the exquisite marble-hewn rendition of a life-size mature oak tree. The tips of its branches cycled in a constant bloom, expansion, withering and sprouting cycle, magical holograms of leaves appearing into view and falling away seconds later. This obviously was where Aidan's own group was also headed, Nereus looking glad to see the others.

"Aidan, Marius! How were your travels?"

Three shook Nereus' hand. "Insightful for Carrie and myself, probably a fair bit more eventful for Marius and Preston, judging by the look of things. You weren't followed?"

Archie glanced at Preston, something in the man's features informing him that something had gone wrong. "No, but we've had the dubious pleasure of meeting with the Sedgewicks of Coasttown. Goblin arcane bankers, to put it simply. I understand you would've probably appreciated our spot of social awkwardness..."

Three spotted the ostentatiously-dressed goblin in the back and then looked back to Archie. "What'd he say?"

Silas sniffed as he stepped forward. "What tenderfoots end up saying when they're up against something they don't understand," he explained, gripping Aspasia's hand with his free one as he did. His other one gripped his belt, the hammer of his left-handed Colt glinting into view.

That made Aidan's features turn somber. "Shit, Aspasia; sorry to hear that. You okay, Miranda?"

* * *

"As tends to be the case with everything, truly," noted the Speaker. "We've got something good, to borrow a phrasing from the surface-dwellers."
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Re: Chapter VII - Healing Pains

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Alex pursed her lips thoughtfully as she watched as Bagley feigned polishing the banister, her expression somewhat soured by the mentioning of Gutierrez.

"The initial Challenge is only the first battle Vernon will have to deal with. Like any campaign, McHae will be in it for the long term," she acknowledged, then tilting her head. "Is there any spy advice you could give a young dryad who wants to spread her roots and be informed against potential threats in Hope?"

"I can't exactly be too obvious with dragons who can spit acid and poison, after all..." she said. "I'd be tempted to see if the Tree's roots could explore the Shadowlands, but I'd have to be careful of not going too deep. Though, that might not matter either, given how the realms have more or less merged."

***

Miranda pouted with some frustration, but then nodded. "I'm okay overall. Most of the immortals or long-lived types I've been around have been progressive, but I realize there's still a lot more who are fossil-brained and don't know anything past the 18th century at best, including fossils themselves."

Aspasia sighed and scratched her chin. "Chances are that we'll meet more of that sort at the Choosing, so having a thick skin and knowing when and how to talk back will be key here. You can't be a doormat, but you also can't offend someone who could could easily throw a gauntlet at you for calling them an ignoramus. The joys of dealing with fossil-brains..."

The older Fauness then placed a reassuring hand on her daughter's left shoulder and smiled. "All the more reason to dazzle them with the fancy garments Abigail made for us. Maybe make them so awestruck they'll be speechless."

***

The Squid's lead-on caused the Consort to quirk a bruised brow in interest. "Oh? Do tell, Speaker. The thought of making an angel of any Choir suffer is music to my ears, especially one of the high-and-mighty Ophanim," she replied with a cruel smirk.
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Re: Chapter VII - Healing Pains

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"Drunkenness is no excuse!" Mary yelled after the retreating pair. "When he sobers up we're gonna have words, you understand?" She could tell it was a lost cause though, so she took a few deep breaths to calm down before turning back to the others. "Sorry about that, but Aidan's right. Trust me when I say that Musk being dead makes the world a better place, or at least, my little sphere of it; if it weren't for Auntie Song I'm sure I would've had more than one hostile takeover attempt from that 'douchecanoe'."

Preston just shrugged. He'd been in prison for most of Musk's notorious days, after all.

--------------------------

"Feels like Hogwarts," Preston muttered, staring at the lively suits of armor and the mobile paintings.

"It does, doesn't it?" They had rejoined the others, and Marius offered a smile. "Hauser here can really fly, did you know that?"

Preston caught Archie's glance and nodded in return. If it involved him, they could catch up in private later; right now, there was other stuff going on.

----------------------------

"Safe travels," Charles called after the departing warriors. When the last of them had stepped through the portal, he cracked his knuckles and grinned. "So, wha' next?"

(sorry it sucked, dealing with writers block atm)
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Re: Chapter VII - Healing Pains

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"It might not," agreed Bagley, "but it wouldn't hurt to check. I would offer my services as an ad hoc spiritualist, but you would find me lacking in this department," the butler said. "Luckily for your current needs, we have the city's premier spiritualists on speed dial."

The Clank stopped buffing up the banister and stepped away, obviously expecting Alex and Vernon to follow suit. "Would you care for a warthog that has its friends and loved ones understandably concerned, a Creole gorilla with a thing for Haitian mysticism, or a Void Weaver acting as a former ghost hunter? As much as I understand, the Shadowlands still remain liminal in their very definition, else Leonard's client base would be positively untenable. It still takes a particular sense of gumption for unfulfilled spirits to remain here, the truly sapient ones are few and far between."

Vernon seemed a bit surprised. "I thought mister Ephesian being freed of his burden would also have freed Monsieur Duvivier of any further maintenance work.
- We would all have thought so," agreed Bagley as they headed back for his office, but he claims Maman Brigitte, one of his loa patrons, remains dissatisfied. She senses unease in the Shadowlands, so it follows that he would as well.
- And the Baron?"

Bagley smirked at the pair as he sat behind his desk and accessed his personal organizer. "The loa are apparently like any long-suffering marriage, Milord. The woman of the house sees to her demesne's affairs, while the man goes off gallivanting and coming back with strange folk at all hours... Baron Samedi concerns himself with the odd ones out, the contented restless - those for whom incorporeal existence is a strange sort of sport to be enjoyed. Those, as well as those who've forgotten and who remember too little to cause trouble."

Haskill nodded. "And those in need of revenge, correct?
- Oh, you'll find that the last few years' events have both created many bereaved souls and served as a means to bring them rest, just as well. We haven't heard much of Samedi's more wrathful incarnation in a long while - or at least Aristide hasn't. The way he reports to us, it's been all sunshine, roasted peanuts and cheap American whiskey for this particular specter."

The Fae Lord grunted in thought. "And Mister Rothchild?
- Our allies in the Void Weavers state that his having been chosen by the Architect is part of why Dalarath's priesthood is restructuring. None of the Loyalists will admit to it, of course, but they're terrified of him. Here we have a man who could rend us all asunder if he so chose, who could prospectively stand toe-to-toe against the Thrones themselves - and who's retired to the domesticity he so craved. The Rothchilds and all the pupils they've tutored are untouchable, in our enemies' eyes. There would be no safer means for an untested dryad to venture into the Shadowlands than by his side. Unfortunately for us, his son-in-law remains a cause for concern. Doctor Wynn is a trusted ally of ours, but the alter ego the Loyalists created in splintering his mind is unpredictable. The last I'd heard of Lucian, he was locked in a battle of wits and patience against Billy, Charles' superpowered alter. This second, hotheaded and impulsive anthro rhinoceros has been a thorn in both Lucian and Astra's sides for several months, now. It's put some understandable strain on Astra and Charles' marriage."

Gubbin's voice sounded from behind the pair. "The man is practically godlike, now. Couldn't he simply will this William away?"

Vernon lightly jumped out of his skin, but managed to make it look graceful as he slid a foot away. Gubbin's response combined a slight eye-roll, the ghost of a smile and the tightening of his grim-looking mien as he handed Bagley a leather-backed folder.

"The scouting report copies you requested, Mister Bagley. The kitchen is also prepared, I've re-set and dressed the morning's leftovers and added a few delicacies from the old country. Master Bucky not being present puts some load off of our larder for the next few days."

Bagley didn't miss a bit and thanked the Malk. "I'm sure Mister Rothchild could theoretically patch his son-in-law up with a few imperious commands in some Eldritch language, but I suppose he would state the Ship of Theseus argument applies. If parts of Charles Wynn-Rothchild's subconscious are extricated, altered, then altered a second time and forced back into place, is he still the same man?
- I honestly wouldn't know, sir," shrugged the Malk. "My people aren't known for their postulating on abstracts, as you well know."

Bagley grunted pensively, the sound somehow conveying a measure of amusement. "Yes, Malks - the killjoys of Faerie."

The hook-nosed and pointy-eared butler smiled with teeth, in a manner that conveyed as much pride as it did a tiny, minuscule measure of menace. "I would offer that we rend this Billy into pieces first and then see if the old cuttlefish can magic the pieces back into the man's psyche."

Bagley pulled out a Notes page from his organizer and wrote down a few phone numbers and names. "Duly noted, Mister Gubbin - and ignored. With all due respect, of course."

Gubbin bowed forward in a way that was just a tiny bit too deep to not serve as a nonverbal put-down. "Of course, sir. No offense taken."

* * *

Three took a deep breath. "Just imagine you'll be back home with the rest of us friendly, weird, superpowered Progressives in no time at all. Every time some idiot gives you shade for your legs or your horns, Miranda, just remember most of them don't so much as have cable, or printed encyclopedias that relate to the mundane world. Toss them on a street corner back home and they'd be begging for your assistance."

Sev strolled past them, looking for all the world like he wanted to have spotlights trained on his ugly mien. "What was that, Mister Drake?"

Three shrugged. "Oh, nevermind. The vagaries of modernity, the struggle of being raised to encourage personal and mutual acceptance, the lack of any desire to give two shits about someone who believes themselves to be clearly superior to others..."

The younger Sedgewick smiled blithely. "Yes, I'm sure that's quite difficult, out there with all these common folk."

Carrie rolled her eyes, while the soldier went for a glassy-eyed look and mouthed Urge to kill, rising towards Meris.

As it all unfolded, the group was led away from, the main hall, and through a sequence of staircases Sir Kay seemed to think they'd find confusing, while apologizing for it. Spector kept his hands behind his back and nodded good-naturedly.

"I wouldn't worry too much, Sir Knight; we're all mostly Americans. All our high schools are designed after rejected insane asylum block plans, college quads are barely any better and any spaceport terminal is liable to drive a man insane. If anyone has any objections about climbing three staircases to reach the Great Hall, I can always make a handy Spider-Man impersonation."

Eventually, they all found themselves standing in a massive viridian-tinted common room, with practically as much seating space as the entirety of Holden Hall and two connecting sets of staircases on either side, connecting to several richly-appointed rooms.

"Your belongings will have already been transported in their proper place; you will find a named card affixed to your door, with an initial formulation of the Oath of Hospitality that is to be placed on you all, while you remain with us. We've worked out couples and families, while newer additions will unfortunately have to bunk with one of the celibates or avail themselves of the common room's lounges and chaises longues. We know that some among the invited have yet to appear, but the King and Queen wish to make it clear that they understand that the particulars of your respective travels can make punctuality a difficult thing to guarantee - especially if some of you elected to travel undercover."

Nereus felt obligated to speak up. "I'm sure you've noted mister Wallace and miss McConmara's absence; they'll be with us shortly, I'm sure."

Kay briefly waved his hands in front of himself. "Oh, no - no-one is at fault, here, mister Marinos, worry not. Friends and agents of decorated Knights are typically offered far more leeway than mere Lords and Ladies of either clan; or at least, they are in this particular reign. Go back three Titanias ago and, my word, you would be in hot water for so much as not eating your served dishes in the preferred order!"

* * *

Herbert looked like he was about to answer one way, but then thought better of it. "Should I be fiendish?" he asked, looking like he wasn't actually asking Charles. "Oh, to Hell with it, let's be fiendish - it's sure to put a damper on things if anyone were to try and make a scene..."

Then, realizing he probably didn't make sense, he paused. "Oh, er - apologies, old boy; I was merely thinking I can give Heathcliff and a few colleagues a run-down of your current assignment in Hope and then see you gussied up for something more courtly, as it were. I could snap my fingers and call it a day, but I'm sure old Nickar would appreciate having someone to turn from merely dangerous to professionally dangerous..."

The demon snapped his fingers, the aperture shifting to the view of a startled Douglas who looked briefly aggravated, only to straighten himself out. "Coming through, sir? Can I assume the car is staying in Estonia?"

Herbert looked briefly annoyed. "I'll just magic it out of there in a little while; I've got ideas percolating, right about now."

Doug looked somehow both bored and interested. "The both of you would like to crash London-Upon-Faerie, I assume?"

The spaded-tailed demon's smile was almost Grinch-like as he rubbed his hands. "Am I that transparent?
- As a sheet of acrylic, sir. Mildly cloudy, with no modesty preserved whatsoever."

* * *

The Speaker shrugged. "Simplicity itself, mostly - especially considering how we were originally borne out of Matriel's own demesne, with the Young Creator's blessing."

He took a moment to bask in Dalarath's lights. "We Prelates too often forget that there are others who could benefit from hearing the Gospel. The Fae are harder to crack with their Oaths of theirs, but not by much. Angels and demons of any rank are harder still. However, one group has mostly been reaping the fruits of the surface world's labor without much duress to challenge them. These would be the Finfolk. The old chestnuts we've supposedly abandoned, the poisoned books and planted operatives? Still quite fresh in Finfolkaheem and other settlements."

He smiled from the corner of his mouth. "The humans have a few more gifts to give, as well. Have you ever read Lovecraft, Consort? There is a story of the man's, one where a fishing hamlet falls prey to abyssopelagic gods and abandons all humanity... The Finfolk gave us a group of people almost exactly like the Innsmouthers of the tale: their Servitors. Slaves in all but name, treated more humanely than ours after Victoriana poisoned their society and made them fall for the mystique of certain tropes - like the Gentleman's Gentleman or the faithful bat-man - but not by much.

Servitors cannot blend in with mortal society, living on the surface for any length of time comes with considerable drawbacks for them. However, the Chamberlain and I have managed to present a case for Amaxi; that of corrupting the Finmen's lowest rungs."

He shrugged lightly. "This is no grand design, they're nothing except cannon fodder for our cause, but they would redirect the attention of most surface-world protective instances. If a few bright ones emerge from the lot, I could see cities like Hope, New York, Hokkaido and all of Japan beyond - anywhere coastal, really - threatened by a force we wouldn't have to actively monitor or influence outright. The occasional nudge would suffice."
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Re: Chapter VII - Healing Pains

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"So, it's a case of which hornet's nest I should be the most careful with poking, hm?" Alex asked rhetorically.

She knew asking Tom for help would be too risky at this point in time. The gorilla seemed like a possible candidate, but he seemed too centered on the two lwas to be able to specifically help her. She knew she'd be vulnerable in the Shadowlands, given how relatively unattached she was to this world.

With the situation with Charles and his alter ego, she frowned thoughtfully. "If there is any solution to that dilemma, it'll certainly involve magic. It's the quintessential Jekyll and Hyde situation, but getting rid of this Billy fellow doesn't feel right. He's still a part of the rhino, albeit one that neither aspect approves of, obviously."

The dryad shrugged. "This Billy might cause trouble for us when we consult Mr. Rothchild, but it's an issue we'll just have to handle. Though, I'd rather get along with him, if at all possible," she acknowledged.

***

Meris returned his glassy-eyed look with a tight-lipped smile, indicating she shared his sentiment.

Meanwhile, Miranda heard Sir Kay's explanation about their housing situation and opted to pick up the pace. The young Fauness broke into a speed that was faster than power walking but slower than outright jogging, blithely brushing past Sev as he waited to be a spectacle in his own right. He might've found the teenager's behavior audacious, but at this point, the girl was too eager to try on the new clothes to care.

Aspasia smirked as her daughter hurried and found the door with a card that had The Robertson Family elegantly marked. "Thankfully, the current Titania is more relaxed. It's better for this to be a relaxed affair rather than having everyone walking on eggshells."

Meris nodded gratefully to Sir Kay. "Nereus is right; they shouldn't be too much longer, even with the time dilations. If anything, Neasa will probably have some remark about being fashionably late!" she said with a light scoff.

***

Neasa-as-Meris thoughtfully tapped her chin and smiled approvingly. "The Servitors, hm? That reminds me slightly of Belial's long-term pact with the orcs. Obviously, the Servitors are nowhere near apparent as the former, but I can see how your plan will work," she replied.

"Though, in Lovecraft's tale, they intermingled with the population to such as extent they created a cult-like situation without even really trying. It's more subtle than many previous surface world cults, so I assume you hope that this taint will be deeply ingrained enough in them to lure more surface dwellers to our side?" she inquired.
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Re: Chapter VII - Healing Pains

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Mary went right for her assigned room, to get ready for the main event. And to let off a little steam, in her own way. Marius looked around, then approached Sedgewick, noting from the way Drake reacted to him that he might not be the most pleasant company. But then, neither was Marius! "I don't believe we've met," he said, holding out a hand. "Marius Vlastos. Antiquarian and entrepreneur."

Preston was starting to look a little overwhelmed, naturally. "Too many people," he muttered, trying to control his breathing while looking for the exits. He sidled up next to Archie, figuring he'd ask what the old clank's sidelong look had been about. Once he could speak in something besides monosyllabic grunts, of course. "Um. Archie? Archibald? Holden?"

----------------------------

"Coul' al'ays use a new look," Charles replied gamely, shrugging. Privately he wondered if going all the way to London-Upon-Faerie would do much for his crown-shaped mission. Maybe Dennis would be there? That would make things easier for him, for sure.
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Re: Chapter VII - Healing Pains

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"If such a thing is possible," noted Bagley. "I've scarcely met William myself, but have heard enough reports of his rather abrasive nature. Luckily for us, however, he seemingly knows better than to attempt to waylay Lucian in a game of one-upmanship. The old man plays the Patrician elder, but we've all seen him fight."

The Clank then seemingly caught himself. "Well - you haven't, miss Alastriona, but I suspect you will find something of Madame Nasir in him, from what I've seen. He is formidable, yet fairly content. Peaceful."

Gubbin made a bit of a moue. "I would expect the Squid to be playing his cards close to his chest - this William is a figment of his son-in-law, after all. Open disavowal would not sit well with Miss Astra, for obvious reasons."

That made Vernon sigh gamely, as though all this were a lot to take in, but that he attacked the task with a fair bit of gusto. "More for the welcome wagon then, eh?" he asked his daughter, a bit of a twinkle in his eyes.

* * *

Their rooms might've been sorted, Three and Carrie were more focused on dropping things off and inspecting the common room, first.

"I can see where the Fae get their reputation," noted the soldier woman. "If you can coop up in here and play courtier or courtesan on the castle's dime, you don't exactly have to deal with the rest of the world. That probably explains Severin," she noted, widening her eyes a bit as she spoke.

Three glanced about. "I can't imagine staying here for too long, the entire place feels like they want to wow our socks off and then kick us out the door. Two staircases down to the main stairwell, plus the corridors we crossed - it's like a reverse Vienna. They don't want us to feel too comfortable."

Lucky sniffed and flopped in a nearby chair. "No te preocupas, mijo - we're just a bunch of Yankee Army jocks to them. Your Knighthood and all? It only means anything back in Hope, where the real people who matter gave you that title."

Three puffed out some air. "Maybe, sure, but you're a Federale - you're not exactly Yanqui material."

That left the iguana to scoff good-naturedly. "Y'think the high crust cares? The only old souls I'd trust today, we just rode with. That's Meris, Nereus, Eirean, Coach and Vlastos."

A politely-stifled burp was heard in the back, while Zeb fingered a few bottles in the drinks cabinet. "Don't I count too?" he asked, which made the iguana chuckle.

"Sure, jefe. You blew it with Jameson, but I'd trust you with, uh, lesser arcane perils."

In the meantime, Sev offered Miranda's retreating form a brief look of bemusement. "I forget we're in the new millennium, sometimes," he said, to no-one in particular. Stopping nearby, Nereus settled with briefly stopping to massage his knees and thighs, and gave the goblin a frank gaze.

"I know I told myself I'd abandon all my New Age malarkey if I was ever freed, but now that I am free, and after meeting you, mister Sedgewick; I'm starting to think I didn't quite lie when I said I could sense people's auras."

The goblin seemed rather pleased to do so. "Ah - it's nice to see your troupe does contain one decent judge of character."

The former Augur smiled mirthlessly. "I wasn't done, I'm afraid. Not to sound relentlessly Californian and provincial to you - but your vibes are rancid, man."

He then stepped away from the goblin and closer to Meris, keeping his posture as girded as possible while using his own mass to conceal the muted fist-pump he landed in view of the selkie Archmage.

Thankfully for Sedge, he wasn't quite fast enough on the uptake for modern lingo to realize just what it was that Nereus had told him, and seemingly welcomed Marius' extended hand like a raft in the ocean - which he shook with just a little too much strength.

"Severin Sedgewick the Second, arcane financier and investor - very pleased, sir. Yours is likely the most confounding of all parties I've had the good fortune of traveling with, I must say."

Unlike Marius, Sev looked like the type who could appear congenial, but it was all self-reflective. The senior had shown marks of being the hard worker of the three and the last descendant hadn't been given a chance to fully emerge from under his father's shadow. Vlastos would've lived long enough to meet other giants with feet of clay in their own domain, and Sev was clearly one of them. He'd either bring disgrace to his father, or his own son would burst free and eclipse him entirely in due time. For now, however, this fatuously-dressed green idiot - was there any other kind? - acted like the world was his oyster.

Further in the back, Archie left a hand to hover just out of contact with Hauser's back for a brief moment, as if mime their being involved in a deep conversation, and adjusting his nonverbal language enough for Spector to choose to pitter-patter down to the commons' lower floors.

"Apologies, old sport," he told Preston, in a conversational, if slightly hushed tone. "I assumed you'd want a bit of a social breather so I opted to hang back a bit. Thank you for noticing me, earlier - there were a few things I needed to discuss with you..."

Judging by his body language, you'd assume he was describing something action-packed or at least rather involved to Hauser, but his hands didn't fit his tone. "You must know, first, that I'll want to circle back to you. No news during the war was fairly daunting, and I don't like hearing one of my fellow operatives go mum. I understand we haven't always been on the best of terms, but I assume you've noticed the occasional attempt at hailing. Still, this is the last item on my docket."

He paused, growing silent for a second or two before producing something like a tongue-clicking noise, as he finished gathering his thoughts. "I wondered if you would've developed something of a network in regards to our occult enemies," he started. "Bluntly speaking, Tom is a concern of us now, and I don't like his influence on Aislinn. She's grown suspicious of him and worry is eating at her. None of it feels quite right, not coming from someone who previously was your total opposite," he said, adding a bit a smile.

"You know Tom: give him the floor and he'll grandstand you an ornately Machiavellian plan where the local heroes of various shades of gray bend the law and the rules prescribed to Black magic and Infernalism to save the day. The problem is he's withdrawn almost completely, and now all of his guile is plied in artful dodging. He's concocting something, but he isn't a James Bond villain - there aren't any plans or notes for us to pilfer and study."

He tapped his own head, eluding to Tom's mind. "They're all in there, and across his own network. I doubt there is anything to hack, but there are certainly people he worked with, organizations he contacted - and with Judge Mantus being as worried as we are, we could even have power of attorney in doing what must be done in order to elucidate this. As it stands, however, neither of us have any proof. I understand Randolph asked Jenkins to shadow Herbert for a while, to hopefully cross out some possibilities related to Pride's new heir."

The android shook his head in the negative. "I'm not overly worried about Wormsworth; he took to Pride the way Naberius suggested he might, what now feels like ages ago. Even so, I wouldn't want to leave a Prince in the dark and then proffer one of his crown's missing jewels as if nothing had happened."

The Clank then leaned on the tower's stone railing, taking a few seconds to look straight down.

"Finally, there is your own matter. How are you? Don't feel obligated to go into specifics if you cannot."

* * *

The Speaker managed to make a bend of his torso look curt, as though the false Meris had raised a valid point. "That is my hope, yes," he admitted. "Humility doesn't become the servants of Amaxi, but perspective is needed after so many failed campaigns. With the rebels tightly integrating surface-world communities, the old ways wouldn't bear the same results as before. Our face is known, so to speak, and Flesh Masks are all but obsolete, now. Only the deepest of our operatives still use one - our best chance is to now integrate the former Augur's Progressive folly to use it for cover, which means living in the open. In tapping Servitors, we're diverting the burden of responsibility away from ourselves, which also allows our handlers to position themselves as victims."

Bucky recognized that grift rather easily. "Whoever assists you, then, could serve as a target."

The body of Meris' child nodded in allowance. "Exclusive relationships forge the strongest operatives, even if there is a risk that being exposed to surface-world politics so consistently could result in the loss of a few cell leaders."

Bucky shrugged. "The weak consistently go native, when exposed to the surface world. This body still has memories of Lucian Rothchild - Lulroth."

Disgust touched the Speaker's features. "He was the weakest of us all by far."

* * *

By the way he'd reacted, Charles might as well have told Herbert that he'd favor Business Casual with a touch of tactical sense. In any case, Estonian springtime humidity was traded for Israelo-Palestianian heat and sunshine in an instant, the culvert vanishing as it was replaced with the labor of Solomon's Court under Meris' orders: antique stone renovated into a base that would've given certain billionnaires a run for their money. What was entirely new, however, was the floating, goatee-sporting Faun who appeared into view with a pop of displaced air, only to wince at their sight.

Wormsworth held up a hand. "We won't tell, Master Nybbas - rest assured."

Solomon's protocol officer snorted. "I've gone through this timeline twice before, already; no thanks to Doherty's field training back in the fifties. I know you won't tell, Wormy,"

The Prince chose to ignore the barb. "May we see Nickar? Mister Jenkins here is in need of proper vestments."
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TennyoCeres84
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Re: Chapter VII - Healing Pains

Post by TennyoCeres84 »

Alex placed her hands together, tilted slightly downward, and nodded with an equal twinkle in her eyes. "Quite so," she replied with a hopeful look.

She glanced over at Bagley and Gubbin and raised an eyebrow. "Do you think contacting Mr. Rothchild ahead of time would be prudent? I think showing up unannounced, especially with the aforementioned situation, would be in bad taste," she noted.

***

While having found their room, Matriel and Hanako still hung around in the common area. The nekomata silently slipped next to the iguana in such a way that might've taken him off guard, albeit her demeanor was entirely neutral.

She offered the young human a ghost of a smile that had just the slightest sardonic edge to it. "That goes for many Knights, Mr. Drake, regardless of age. Unless you are directly tied to the main court in London, invitations are a formality. All of the ranks below the Prince or Princess of different regions have much more fluctuation with regard to politicking and subterfuge, which are more likely to change hands and favor."

Her features sobered some. "Even my own is as such. Part of my Oath has me taking on the role of diplomat for my father, as he generally dislikes dealing with the upper crust; though, he's been involved in the occasional Wild Hunt if the current Oberon is in close enough proximity. With my marriage to Matriel, that novelty adds to my likelihood of being at important events like this. I drift between Eien-no-Yuki and Hope as needed, or wherever one of Matriel's assignments takes us. That is how I met Meris when she was still only a centenarian mage."

She added, "Eien-no-Yuki is viewed as an outpost in Faerie that's long leaned heavily toward Oberon's influence. They still have to deal with Mab-aligned groups like the Kori clan, such as when Lord Holden visited. Whoever has served as Oberon at the time has typically hailed from Celtic, Germanic, or Scandinavian regions, until the current one that is."

Her husband nodded in agreement. "Angels aren't frequent guests to Fae events, as they generally want us to stay out of their business. However, as Hanako said, our marriage and my status probably made them err on the side of caution when sending out invitations."

Meris returned the fist bump and smiled gently at him. "Before the main event, I wouldn't mind having a breather," she noted, gesturing to the door to their shared room. "I'd like to see the suit you had Abigail make, instead of only seeing it on a mannequin. Nickar made my outfit, but he largely kept it secret."

She grasped his hand and led him through the door of their quarters.

***

For all his likely ingrained bravado, Neasa sensed that Lucian would have a good chance of wiping the floor with the Speaker, give his arcane upgrade from the Architect. Still, following along with his sentiment toward the former slaver worked in their favor.

Fake Meris nodded in agreement and matched his disgusted expression with her own, glancing back to Fake Nereus. "He absolutely was! I can't fathom how we used to consider ourselves allies with that slave-besotted fool!"

"As for your plan with the Servitors, may Amaxi and Her Brothers give Their blessings for them to deceive and taint as many surface dwellers as possible. Love and friendship can be blinding emotions, so the Servitors will need to use that fact to their advantage."
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Re: Chapter VII - Healing Pains

Post by Karl the Mad »

Charles followed along, marveling at the architecture around them. At the sight of the faun he flinched, but Herbert seemed to know him so he relaxed. He shrugged and let the lawyer do the talking.

----------------------------------

"Ah, Sedgewick. I remember that name, I might have done business with a relative of yours. An uncle, maybe? Perhaps your father?" The pond that was arcane finance wasn't exactly large, and one didn't have many options in that field if one wanted to avoid attention from Vienna and Switzerland. "If I recall correctly, your family's money helped me acquire some particularly powerful Hyperborean pieces."

When dealing with especially powerful relics it was always best to make it seem like a group was buying them, instead of a single person. Vlastos may have been hidden at the time, but his mortal and corporate proxies certainly weren't, and even then he cared at least that much, if only because it took time and effort to condition effective proxies.

-----------------------------------

Preston looked to one side and the other, then pulled out one of his many devices and offered it to Archie. The spy would know that he was more comfortable and fluent in text form, and paranoid about being overheard as well. It HAS been a while, hasn't it? he sent, fingers flying across the keys of another device. After we saved the world up in Svalbard I reclaimed my inheritance, but it turned out Magnus was right about me: I'm not cut out for board rooms and pressed suits, and I tried my damndest too. So I retreated back to the shadows again, but I'm still in touch with the board members, and the commission in charge of unraveling the company and purging it of Vlastos' influence. Vlastos himself is helping, but sometimes you can't control a car once it goes off the rails, you know?

Anyway, when the Pride Wars kicked off I was in the underground, and I had to work with your darling brother to stay alive and make a difference. Not sure how much difference I made, mind you, but you know. Classic spy shit: sabotage, financial fuckery, the occasional beat-down and execution of a Knight and his whole retinue, you know the drill. I helped evacuate civilians too, whenever I could, and the old Cuban grandpa over there lent a hand in that, though I didn't know about that until yesterday.

Once the war was over I went back to doing my thing, though it wasn't until recently that I could get out of Rebuilding Mode and start making decent money again. So yeah, that's me!

As for Magnus, I've been keeping an eye on him as best I can. I never trusted him the way you guys did, you know? I'm not sure I know more than you guys do, but if it's this important I can put more guys, money and servers on his case. If you want me to, of course.

It went unsaid that he wouldn't do it for free, naturally. He might have had a fortune to rival Elon Musk on his best day, but it was the principle of the thing, and Preston was nothing if not a man of his own principles.
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