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  1. Now it was Michael's turn to blush. He had been educated on many subjects including war, righteousness, health, and even sex; but marriage was something he had scarcely ever spoken of or heard about. Shanti and he had been happy together- would always be, he knew- but was marriage the institution they would call it? "Not yet, but something like that!" he said in response to Ross, beaming over to Shanti. "This is Shanti, Ross. My love, and not the only one!" he said, eyes following Roswell's attention to her stomach. "A plate at the table is all for tonight dear," he said shifting his full attention to her. "Let's show this ruffian around a little first, though." Taking Shanti by the hand, Mike led the three away from the giant pot of simmering food and around Aspyn's great perimeter wall. Theree was a modest pathway separating most of the wall from dense forest. There were eight gateways into and out of the city spread dozens of miles apart. As the three ventured into the shade of the canopy farther and farther from the North gate toward the Northeast gate, Michael told Roswell about the city and its wall. "We're nearing 6 million in population now! Been growing for 5 or 6 years. All of Terrenus is not so lucky though," he went on, bare arms gesturing to implicate the city's great rise and others' less fortunate fate. "Cities, whole cities, are falling. I've never seen any national discontent of this level in my life. It scares me. That's why, with help from Archbishop Twizzen and Gaia's clergy stationed in Biazo Abbey, I have led a Terran military venture to establish a refuge city. A haven away from the destruction and, Gaia willing, a place from which we might levy a brighter future. People steadily pour in the South gates from all over the continent, following the good word that there is a place defended from the dark by Gaia and the Terran military. "Even this isle isn't safe, though. To the east is the unnatural chasm that ruined Biazo City. The population has been mutated into what we call Half-Men. Most of them are just trying to get by in the ruins of the city, now called Bi'le'ah, but some of them aren't so peaceful. The Mule, a Half-Man mafioso who's benefited from the Half-Man plight in Bi'le'ah, has erected somewhat of a criminal syndicate. He aims attacks at our caravans, travelers, and even the city itself. That's why we have this wall," he said, fingers brushing along the perfectly natural looking barrier. "10 squads of geomancers run 24/7 rotations manning this wall. Their magic has been infused inside it to allow perfect responsiveness to their defensive geomancy. The wall is coded with our blood. Only one person in this city can grant a new person access or remove access from controlling the wall." To demonstrate this intimate connection, Michael withdrew his hand sharply from its surface. A spike jutted out from the wall just beneath his palm with enough force to punch clean through an assailant's chest, had one been approaching the structure. Now the group ventured away from the wall into a dark patch of forest, Michael turning to Roswell with interest twinkling in his eye. His hair was somewhere between short and medium-length now, and he swept a side bang behind his ear in heat that permeated the forest shade. Though he focused on Roswell, his hand still clung to Shanti's. "Anyway, tell me about those friends of yours Roswell! Perhaps an alliance and expansion is in order? The benefits will be laid bare even as we walk, I'm sure!" It was clear that Michael had picked up education in more fields than just the aforementioned— it shone in his tone and entire demeanor that he seemed to have acquired quite the pension for diplomacy as well.
  2. You're really gonna do that to me right before I go to work 😭
  3. And just like that, all of the humility bled from Cain's face like blood from the damned. And like the milk that spilled around the dead milkman outside, the nefarious smile spread across the ginger god's face. He let Nefarious make her conditions without so much as batting an eyelash. She could speak whatever frail precautions she wanted, but everyone in the rickety house on the bluff knew; Cain and the Dead would take what they wanted when they wanted. The fact of the matter was that Cain had taken quite a bit from her though, so it only seemed fitting that she be given some semblance of it back. He looked at Riforte for a moment, showing something (as he couldn't help with her) in her eyes that he wouldn't show anyone else— they were the only two left who had come from a simpler time for him— before addressing Nefarious again. "Here." With a light soccer kick, he shunted Nefarious' head toward her headless body. It spun across the floor like a football, narrowly missing one leg of the living room table before spinning to a halt at her feet. "You can have however much you want to do with building the thing, too. Was it not your greatest joy? Then make it so again and we'll stay out of the business. Just don't make us come knocking with our hands out. Meet us on the southern trail to Casper in three dawns. We'll clear the plagued from the harbor and collect what we can of the old Deck." With that, Cain left Nefarious to her devices. Inside the sack that contained her head was a divination that would attach it to her neck again. She may feel cold and alone, but it was really only as long as she denied the Dead. What she didn't understand was the ocean of pain that writhed beneath Cain's exterior; the other side of him that thrashed in revile for the pain it felt. It wasn't me, it was him, was a terrible excuse though, and Cain knew it; so he swallowed the blame. If he must be the bad guy to some people, then so be it. He was willing to bear this burden and a thousand more to bring on the world that must be. Full Summary Cain, Riforte, and Ina travel to Nefarious' house. Nefarious was the prior owner of the Full Deck Casino boat which traveled between Casper, Tia, and Last Chance. Almost a decade ago after a cataclysm which separated Cain into a well-controlled half and an utterly uncontrollable half called the shadow, the shadow attacked and destroyed the Full Deck. This cast Nefarious into an emotional poverty that lasted until present day when operatives of the reinvigorated Dead visit her. Offering her a host of control over the vessel, as well as her head back, Riforte tries to tell Nefarious she wants to reinstate her as Captain of the Full Deck. Nefarious doesn't take Riforte's word, remembering what Cain did to the ship years ago and in disbelief that Riforte was truly able to speak for Cain. Cain, who had been standing outside the entire time in an attempt not to exacerbate the situation with Nefarious, now enters. He convinced Nefarious she could have everything back, including her head, and she posed the conditions that the Dead stay out of her business except for where she allows them. Cain allows and leaves, scheduling the rebirth of the ship with Nefarious at the helm. Short Summary Riforte, Ina, and Cain approach Nefarious and reestablish the Full Deck Casino Boat under Nefarious' rule. Nefarious gets her head back. Cain kills a milkman.
  4. The Dead’s First Officer lay before a knick-knacks shop in a square of moist dirt beneath a canvas awning. Rain poured in a line around his confectoinary body. To his skin he now knew, this was utter decay. A funny situation had become an incredibly dire one; Cain’s right arm and leg were gone up to the shoulder and hip. Before him extended ten feet of earthen spikes, undead aberrations impaled upon them. Still though, they writhed toward their target, drool sloughing from their gnashing jaws and rain flinging from their bloodied claws. And the spikes that contained them were deteriorating in the rain. At that moment, something that could have been good but was, because of the context, awful happened. Cain turned back into a demi-human. Flesh replaced breading, blood replaced dough. The curse was lifted. Cain cried out in pain, his voice cracking with blaring weakness through the rain. Blood sprayed from gaping wounds where once his arm and a leg had been. Under regular circumstances, a careful line of black traced itself around his eyes. Sometimes the slight undulation could be seen, but it was a largely fixated object. Now though, with Cain’s pain, obsidian flared like a rorschach painting across his face and climbed animatedly down his neck. Black tar sapped over the eviscerated limbs and kept him from losing anymore blood; but dizziness had already set in. The Troll, the ink that contained his poor vessel, bled onto the ground. Lying in a puddle of black the world blurring around him, he reached his hand out. In the waning light he could see the manor. The distance between was nothing; it was just a block; it was… He chuckled woozily, amused and delirious. “Damn, that hurts.” And just like that his face, matted with blood and red hair, splashed into the water. Soon the three demons would be released from the spikes he had thrown up in panic and they would be upon him, and soon the hordes from the square would follow. Esben would round the corner and see Cain; the three Unnaturals impaled, but still thrashing on the dissolving pikes ravenous for Cain’s body; and the tall manor where Reginald resided ahead. Thanks to black circles stuck to all their bodies, the group was able to communicate telepathically; so everyone would know that Reginald had reached the manor and a small bit of the plight he encountered. They would also know that Cain’s feed had been cut off in his unconsciousness. Meanwhile Shikai faced off with the Beast at square one. The force of the Beast flinging the undead away was enough to wrench one of its antlers off. Even though rain poured on the piles of burning bodies around the Beast and Shikai the fire still burned, and a mist of black decay rose from their bodies. The Beast walked through great pires of flame toward Shikai as he replaced his leg. Its robes burned away entirely as Shikai absorbed the power of another. Beneath the Beast’s robes was a skeletal form to which steel cables of muscle clung. The cables wound through its ribs and vertabrae, from its mandibles to its scapula to its metatarsals, spiraling up into the longhorn skull that crowned it. Through the eyes of the longhorn it could be seen, this had once been a human— perhaps a great warrior. It still had its head, and upon it had been shoved the massive longhorn’s skull. Through its eyes shone bloody red light. It ran toward Shikai framed in brilliant fire, bone feet crushing skulls and stones into its footprints. It grabbed the flaming body of a horned monster by the head, lunging toward Shikai with the intent to use the flaming corpse’s horns to pierce his body.
  5. Hey! Just so that it's a known fact, most of the buildings in the city we are in are 1 or 2 stories, while the main estate is a terraced building that is many stories taller than the rest of the city. None of us have really mapped the city so we are all on equal levels of navigation, but being able to see the tower from anywhere is a certain.
  6. Influence is not something that rises in singular, powerful swells before expiring on the altar of its achievement. No, it is with undying love for the game of power itself that true influence is made steady, immutable— daresay inevitable. It can rise and recede, ebb and flow, but never goes. To what moon’s heart is the Dead tide tied? The answer was less than obvious; it was impossible for anyone to know except, maybe, the Architect. One who spent time with the Dead might wonder what was the point: here the Dead usurped a king and sold his domain’s blood to vampires; there the Dead saved a city from hordes of Unnaturals. But one who understood true, undying love for the game of power need not wonder. Cain’s form was a black, velvet ribbon sliding down the alleyway before Esben and the lady. His presence was as a light pressure against the temples, a gently pressing in from the space around you; but here, masked in the afternoon blue, he was visually more difficult to behold. Gait streamlined to cut out unnecessary movements and begin gathering inertia and momentum, his body didn’t sway from side to side but moved in a straight line forward. His mask’s front was a grey, cracked skull mask. The rest was a tight black material that fit over the rest of his head and covered his neck, one long braid of red sticking out from a small hole on the back left. Amraphensbane had gone down an alley that would bring him onto the main street after Cain’s group interfered with Seabass’s path— the alleyways were configured so that Amraphensbane could choose if he wanted to come from in front or behind. Esben, the lady here and I will be group A. Amraphensbane, I’m going to call you Raph for now if you don’t mind, you’ll be group B. Cain’s voice emerged with perfect clarity over the agents’ shared mental connection as Group A neared the mouth of the alleyway on Main Street. The green sign demarking this as Main St. hung overhead. The psychic circles each of them wore were like a chat room they could all inhabit using encrypted magitech that played hit 10 AO pop tunes to anybody trying to listen in from the outside. We still have about 5 minutes before the caravan rounds the corner onto Main Street a quarter mile from our interception point. When they get here, Group B will get in position while Group A cuts Heiliger’s guys off, and wait for my signal. If you haven’t heard anything 2 minutes after contact, then Group B high-tail it out of here. Now, Mistress. I have a request. From behind, the Mistress and Esben would see Cain spread his hands. From his chest blossomed a perfectly black organism. Like opaque liquid with a mind of its own, it moved in controlled splashes over Cain’s body and changed color, then his entire appearance. Now what stood before them was an almost painfully endearing old man. His lips were puckered in ever so slightly, eyes twinkling with the caring craft of age. Amraphensbane wouldn’t see Cain’s transformation, but in an odd happenstance of psychic connection he would feel Cain’s amusement with himself as he changed into the hunched elder. Then he would, through Esben’s and the Mistress’s perception, understand the impression almost entirely— if they willed it. Any capacity of information was available if one psychic host in the connection willed it to another. This made data transferral between the Dead about as easy as it comes. Mistress when I tell you, old Cain said, standing at the mouth of the alleyway. I need you to push me into the street and start pretending to rough me up. The street was sparsely populated, evening rush over and most within their homes for the night. Even so, and even with his unsuspecting persona, Cain waited in the alleyway and not in the bare street. Soon the clatter of Seabass’s caravan could be heard. Ready? Nearer they drew, nearer; Cain waited until they were just four blocks away before giving the go. The old man looked over his hunched shoulder at the Mistress. His eyes were the old, fearful eyes of an unsuspecting victim. But his voice was the cool calm that Cain always carried like the precession to a storm. Let's begin, Mistress.
  7. The first assailant to strike, the man with a quick lunge at Sevens' head, landed with the ruffling of fabric and the sound of flesh scraping along cement. Although it was that same moment that Jericho had chosen to deafen the attackers, Michael heard the soft noise of his first victim as he felt the gentle pang of impact on the back of his fist. The next thing he felt was the grasp of cold fingers around his hand, then a numbness climbing his arm. Just as Michael turned to face the disguised ice mage, he heard the cracking sound of stone against stone— no, without looking he could tell by the resonance that this was, in fact, skull against stone where Jericho's first victim crashed against a stone wall. From even a block away this might sound like a typical drunken scuffle, but anybody with a line of sight on the battle would know by the way everyone moved that the stakes were much higher than a broken face that looked uglier in the hangover daylight. In the same fashion that Ogden parsed brainpower away from facial expression and toward action, Sevens betrayed all of his. His eyes had sharpened into knife points that trailed moonlight as they flitted from one target to the next. Just after the first impact of his fist, Sevens felt cold fingers close around his unoccupied hand and numbness climbing his arm. There were several types of numbness, he knew from arcane and herbological studies; poisonous, cold, nerve blocks, decay, and drugs. He could tell by the sting that this was the second. Without using his eyes to address the second man, he scanned left after executing his first blow to lay eyes on the third attacker while channeling immediate, blistering heat from his numb arm. Rotating the numb arm and spreading his fingers for the wrist of the hand grabbing his wrist, Sevens found the third attacker as they were mid-lunge in an attempt to bludgeon his head like the first attacker had. Finding purchase with his searing grip on the ice mage and keeping in circular motion, Sevens whirled him in one circle before throwing him into the man with a bat. While those two careened off to the side in a tangle with one another, the first had righted himself. Sevens extended his entire body in one long step toward the man. He closed about three of the fifteen feet between them, extending his right hand palm up. As if offered at first, a vine of blue light ribboned away from his palm toward the man. It was slow at first, lighting up both of their faces in a moment that froze the attacker, before the singular line jetstreamed through the distance between them and pierced his throat. "We found them," said one of the other two into a wrist receiver as they resolved on the ground."Block 56-1A in Minaiki!" Sevens lifted his hand, the ray of light fanning over him as he did, until it lapped down on the two men and lopped each cleanly in half mid-report. Sevens looked to Ogden as the light dissipated form his hand. He wondered how long it would take to disenchant the man Jericho had possessed, see if he had any information to offer. When the other two were disposed of, he tapped Ogden's shoulder. "Should we save him? See what information we can get on the new princes?" The next morning, Ogden and Sevens met at an address in Eastern Minakai; this time as two even more different looking individuals. "This is the artificer that can get me a shell for the tracker," Sevens had said as they closed the door behind them the night before. Their journey together had solidified something more than double agentry could dissolve with any degree of simplicity. "Let me know if you need anything else. I'm always down to serve the good side," had said Matte in parting. There was no animosity, outward or hidden, in his voice. "I'll be in touch!" --- Full Summary: Jericho leads two Justice operatives into Izral in order to topple merchant prince Velleh. Terran Peacekeeper Michael Commager, disguised as Matte Daemon, accompanies Justice in an effort to get closer to Zengi's Gauntlets. After infiltrating Velleh's estate and killing the prince, the three operatives make a dirty getaway with a Velleh zombie acting as partial cover. Just before the three split and agree to meet in Minaiki to let things cool down, Jericho severs Velleh's head and hand in a gesture of victory to Velleh's men who are still in hot pursuit. After making an example of the prince, Jericho and Matte abscond into the wilds of Izral to meet two days later under the guises of Ogden and Sevens. While staying together, Sevens discloses to Ogden that he is making a tracker for the other of Zengi's Gauntlets. His fake reason is that his fiance was killed in the Casper plague where the other gauntlet was last seen being used. Ogden discloses that he dropped a telemetric package with the Terran military that could help Sevens find the other gauntlet once he creates his tracker. Michael already knows this, but acting as Matte through the medium of Sevens he does not tell Jericho. After a night of drinking and relaxing to commemorate the adventure and unwind, the two are walking home when they are jumped by seven of Velleh's goons who were able to track Matte and Jericho's magic signatures. Disposing of the group after having their location blown, the duo changes disguises for the last couple days of their stakeout while Matte finishes the Gauntlet Tracker's blueprints. Then Matte and Jericho, under new disguises, meet at the artificer's place where the tracker shell will be completed and bid their farewells. Short Summary: Jericho, Matte, and Levi infiltrate the prince of Izral, Velleh's estate and assassinate him. Retreating to a remote city called Minaiki to go under disguise and wait for Velleh's men to give up on finding them, Jericho and Matte wait together for a week and a half while Matte creates blueprints for a tracker to find the other gauntlet. Michael's reasoning for wanting the gauntlet pertains to Terrenus defense, the other of Zengi's gauntlets being traceable to the Casper plague. Although the pair's cover is blown in Minaiki, they are able to change disguises for the remainder of their stay. Finishing the tracker blueprints undercover, the two drop off the schematics to be completed by an artificer in Manaiki and part ways.
  8. That's one more joke than Amy Schumer has ever told.
  9. Nah this has gotten away from me so I'll bow out as well. Thanks for the tap, though.
  10. "Yeah!" said Matte in muted surprise, glossing over Jericho's commenting on his sneaky fuckerness and faux perking up at the notion of telemetrics he wasn't supposed to know about. He betrayed in his inebriation just one millisecond of eye contact too long, perhaps, in his fake excitement. "I've actually been working on some blueprints for a tracker and searching for an artificer in town to help construct some kind of tracker. This package you're talking about would be perfect to plug into it! I wonder how I can get them to cooperate with me," he said in a moment of thought as the two began walking down the alleyway near where it spilled into a secluded road back to their flat. Up ahead there was a group of young adults jokingly pushing one another back and forth. They respectfully parted ways for the two buzzed looking gentlemen, but when Ogden and Sevens passed between them, the five mens' eyes lit up. Even beneath their disguises, the mages had been able to track trace amounts of their energy signatures, and at this distance it was potent enough for them to know their targets had been found. One of the collar-shirted boys procured an arcane shock baton from his sleeve and swung it at the back of Sevens' head. Sevens pivoted on his feet, acting unknowing to the swing but lashing out with his own backhanded fist for the assailant's jaw. In the night it was hard to see, but the baton clashed with a small crystal that hovered in the way of the blow. What was not stopped, however, was Sevens' fist. It sent the man, mid-swing, careening about a dozen feet to the left. Two of the six remaining were on his back while the other four jumped Ogden.
  11. Mike throws a card down in the street! (open the spoiler to see which one)
  12. The young clergyman had been prepared for things to escalate. He was just thankful the assailant wasn’t much for attacking, at least not in his docile state. When things began, he was focused and calm, but when Palmer evaporated into his atmospheric base, the crystal on his neck vibrated a sonographic image of his energy signature into Michael’s mind. Even as Imogen’s earth spread around his dissipating form, Dan would find himself— however large or small— within a prism of light that expanded away from him as he became less-than-solid. Its walls, he would find if he could crack the diocese enclosure, were composed of a fine layer of photons charged and sped up to create a solid barrier. A stream of white light still connected his hands to the prism, the estuary near the prism brightening as the photons sped up and became solid. Holding still on the order not to attack the ol’ baddy’s minions, Commager also withheld the temptation to course fire down his limbs. He resisted the urge to swallow air with fire, issue a maybe just demise. Instead he settled for running collateral damage if Palmer was able to escape the marble of earth, walking toward the group and continuously feeding light into the light cell he had made around Imogen’s encasement. The streaming particles dimmed and died around one of his hands as he drew near. “Just like that, huh?”
  13. As the two undercovers slowed in their offshoot from the nightlife, Sevens propped his back against a brick wall across from Ogden in the alleyway. He was within the pale blue of the sun reflecting off the moon, Ogden within the stark black shade that slanted across Seven’s shins. Seven’s intentions had been to loosen Ogden up and perhaps understand the Jericho beneath, and for an honestly good purpose; but one of them betrayed the propensity to toss back maybe a couple too many reflected as conversation deepened into the subject of life and death. “One less fucking snake stalking the garden, right?" Although he couldn’t help but relish the thought of living a life like Jericho in his younger days— Michael was in present days consciously fighting to favor peace over death. He was looking for things to let somebody live for, not waiting for any reason to kill them. What he had seen in Jericho, whether true or born of suspicious impetus, was a preference to dispose of annoyances before dealing with them. At least, something on the other side of a certain line from where he stood. When Jericho opened his eyes, it wasn’t in the beam of the drunken compadre’s eyes; it wasn’t the mysterious follower that Matte had been either; for an instant, Jericho might see in his gaze’s venture to the stars a peripheral journey to hell. A peripheral journey into the boundless eyes of Terran Peacekeeper No. 5. But in the same instant, Michael blinked to Matte and then Matte blinked to Sevens. "How about you?" There was a pause as, for maybe that nstant the guise recomposed. Opportune or not, right there in that moderately secluded nighttime alleyway, a discrete but major exposure had just wrought itself upon the agents. Luckily, Tori could confirm for the moment that they had no intruders. Beneath Ogden and Sevens, and abruptly for Jericho beneath even himself and Matte, there might manifest a layer in Matte’s eyes that needed peeling way. Perhaps a bold claim that need be made. Jericho, Matte thought, was suitable enough to know of his broader mission; but just exactly as much as he must for now. “I wish to save those who are willing to be saved,” he responded. There was only the briefest of pauses afterward to indicate that this meant anything different than Jericho had meant before Matte cut to the chase. “I know about the gauntlets. I’ve been looking for one of the owners for some time.” Even in his slight inebriation, Michael anticipated the friction this revelation might carry. It came with spread hands and a quick follow-up. “I knew right away that it wasn’t you,” he said, “but the owner of the other one killed my fiance in Casper.” He said this last part with real-seeming zeal, summoning some of his own real, historic pain for a visual picture of sadness that materialized the imaginary death of Matte’s family. Matte’s pain shone in his eyes as a reflection of some genuine discontent Michael carried, always ready like a catch-all actors uses when they needed to cry on cue. “I need to find the other one,” he said, clenching his fist and looking up with the stone face of a widowed lover.
  14. "I've heard of rolling dice, but usually on a craps table or in an alley. And I'm asking you about dancing because you wanted to go to a club and all we've done is sit in the corner and get drunk. Coulda done that at home. So yeah, sure, I'm asking." Sevens grinned at Ogden’s obliviousness. His idea of a dice roll in this context had nothing to do with actual dice. Furthermore, Jericho didn’t know how aware— how painfully aware— Matte was of the gauntlets and their potential. Getting out of their unit’s claustrophobic space, dancing or not, did wonders for Matte’s paranoia. He watched Ogden move for the dancefloor and assimilate himself in, finishing his current drink and ordering another before taking its full container to the floor with him, where he proceeded to show Ogden what he’d meant by ‘rolling the dice.’ At first, his dancing only consisted of a sway of the shoulders. As the alcohol set in, the crowd and lights closed in, Ogden and Sevens lolled this way and lulled that with the beat. Light burst in bright pinks and greens against their faces, yellow microcosms dancing in the air between them. Matte closed his eyes and tilted his head back, willing his brains to slosh back in inebriation. More than peacocking, here he swallowed the despair that came with being adrift away from home. Later that night, when boys and girls left arm in arm and lechers smoked alone, Ogden and Sevens walked down the alleyway home with the peculiarity of fresh air permeating their nostrils. Theirs was one of the solitary rivulets of people splitting off from the club. When they were well alone on a stretch of road with no houses nearby, no prying ears to hear an inside voice, Sevens cocked his head to the side. “Hey, I’ve been wondering something.. Like something real, about the estate where this all began… How does it make you feel when you, you know—” Sevens made a slicing motion at his own neck with the pointer finger, “somebody.”
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