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  1. Current Location: Hell’s Gate, Terrenus; Western District - Ivory Estates Apartment Complex. Personage: Belvardi, Capria Twisted and contorted, rolling and bending and bowing, is a body in turmoil. Or is it the mind encased behind closed and twitching eyes? Plagued by memories further defiled by monsters of imagination, the beautifully shadowed dreamer cries out. Agony and sadness the only salvation earned from a job well done. Upon awakening, there is little to say or dwell on in the face of glittering rays of sunlight that burst in through the edges of dark curtains. Equivalent to the colors of the sun, freshly illuminated eyes sparkle at nothing more than the bubbled ceiling overhead. Suddenly, yet ever so gently, the maw of a creature in resemblance to a very large and scraggly wolf lays its head against an outstretched upturned palm. Gold and red hues collaborate silently in a moment of mutual understanding before they both move. One dissipates into the shadows of the room while the other peels herself from wrinkled sheets. Sitting up, turning so that her legs may slide off the bed, and then standing in order to start the day. Bubbles in the joints pop as the lengths of arms and legs are stretched while in walking motion. First, the menial tasks like using the restroom, brushing teeth, and tossing a sweater on are performed. Then comes breakfast. Another simple, but necessary task in order to sustain stamina and health. Friction, a sound produced by paper scraping against tile causes hooked fingers to hesitate in opening the kitchen refrigerator. When nothing follows, the woman continues onward to relieve the frigid device of a premade smoothie packaged in an [approximately 32 oz] glass jar. It is one of the multiples sealed and lined very neatly on the top shelf where nothing aside from them is contained throughout the entire compartment. The door to it is shut, and a pivot of the heel brings her attention to a bare counter from whence a drawer is open, a straw is produced; a twist of the cap emits a metallic pop so that she may penetrate the cold thick reddish multicolor-speckled sludge with the thin hollow cylindrical object. However ideal this may be, the further process of bringing it to her lips is interrupted by the subtle whimper of her bestial counterpart at the front door. Removing herself from the small cubby like area, although she cannot see his frame the ember-glow of his eyes and the placement of them draws her attention to the floor. More specifically the small space between the bottom of the door and the floor. Nails scoop the rectangular business card from the cool flat stone to view the picture depicted on the front before flipping it over to reveal a brief message and a selective sequence of numerical and alphabetical coding. This thread is an artifact quest, specifically for Odin’s Mask.
  2. Isabella was cool as a cucumber as she cut across the floor after having exited the ladies room. In the bathroom, her search for illegal contraband had been unsuccessful and so now she moved on to the next possibility -- the man behind the bar that had been making eyes at her from the moment she entered the building. The black satin fabric of her full, tea-length skirts shifted in color, adapting beautifully to the oddly soft neon lights that went through a continuous loop of warm colors -- starting with pink, moving into red, then orange, and yellow before starting over again. The bodice of her dress was tightly fitted, but exquisitely cut for her small frame, and the ribbons that held up the dress, with perfect little bound bows at the top of her shoulders, were the sweetest touch to her ensemble and quite a contrast to the neck-breaking, black stiletto heels that she magically balanced upon. The finishing touch was her hair, which was simply too long and far too thick to be put up into a functional or elegant up-do, so instead it was woven into a loose braid that swayed like a pendulum with every step she took. When she reached the bar, she smoothed her hands across the tightly pulled bodice that stretched under her breasts and across her stomach -- and after sucking in a breath, she took a seat on a bar-stool. One heeled foot hooked on the stretcher, while the other remained fixed upon the floor. Both elbows touched the bar top, and her hands came together to make a pedestal upon which to rest her chin as she inclined her head in the bartender’s direction. “So before this place fills up -- is there any chance you might know where I can find some pearl powder?” Perhaps startling, or perhaps not -- Gabriela was pretty, young, and newly rich -- and with beauty, youth, and money came certain self-destructive traits that surely weren’t surprising, especially not to someone in the bartender’s profession. But maybe it was the boldness of her request, or the fact that she was revealing a dirty-little secret that could easily undo the carefully cultivated and nurtured public persona she was trying to portray. Whatever the case, the man behind the bar, simply stared at her in silence -- that is of course, until inspiration struck. “This is your party, isn’t it? Quite a shindig for an up-and-coming politician. Let me give you a little bit of advice, sweetheart,” he leaned forward, resting his elbow across from hers, but keeping his hands busy by wiping a beer glass. The very odd thing was that the man was probably just a few years older than the birthday girl, but he was speaking down to her as if he could be her father. “In your line of work, people tend to try and hide their vices -- not announce them.” “What can I say,” she replied, lifting her chin from her hands and interlacing her fingers instead, “ -- I plan to be an honest politician.” He chuckled, and she only smiled somewhat, almost half-heartedly. “Oh, sweetheart...coke is not going to help you get through the night, not if the goal is to razzle-dazzle this crowd.” Baby blue eyes lifted away from her face, peering into the crowding bar area of Club Tablillas, before resettling on Gabriela. “You need something stronger. You need something that’s going to help you sell this pretty little lie you’re so desperate to pawn off on others.” What remained of her smile melted away. She sat there, hands gathered as if in very heartfelt prayer, while her eyes studied the bartender’s face. Somehow, when her lips settled into a firm, straight, expression of serious discontent, everything about her seemed more natural. Her resting pulse was hatred, so the constant smiling, the constant pretending to be working toward a greater good -- it was exhausting. But the severity of her expression not only suited her better and made her presence seem more consequential, it almost made her prettier. It was almost as if her’s was face for worry and not at all for lightheartedness. “Ah, there you are,” said the bartender before dipping below the counter and taking a moment to rummage. When he returned he set a very small, glass vial within her reach. The container was no longer than her pinkie and much, much thinner. It could only have contained two or three drops of the beautiful golden liquid inside. “What you need is something more genuine -- something that will help you be more genuine, even if we both know you are incapable of that.” “And how do you know so much about me?” she asked, at long last, without bothering to look into his eyes as he began to piece together a reply. Instead, she picked up the small, glass container and held it up to the light, peering at the slow moving gold liquid -- it appeared to be very thick, like raw honey. “I don’t know a thing about you, except what the papers and the flyers say, and I am sure you carefully prepared all of the information that gets released to the public, Miss Marquez. You see, I am an empath -- I can feel what you’re feeling. And let me just say, holy fucking shit, sweetheart, you’re one fucked up little train-wreck.” Gabriela looked at him and smiled, more sincerely this time around, almost as if she were flattered at his description. “That there,” he said, gesturing to the glass vial with his chin, “ -- that’s happiness.” Topaz colored eyes narrowed. “Happiness?” she echoed the word, tilting her head curiously. “Happiness. Real and unabashed happiness -- the emotion. Extracted at the peak moment of sensation, stolen away from the person who was experiencing the most significant instance of their life. This is, in essence, what you lack, isn’t it?” “Happiness…” she repeated, regarding the honey-colored liquid once again. Could it really be so simple? Was this really all that was missing from her life… “Considering that it’s your first trip, I’d say you’ll last a good six hours before coming down. You won’t need liquor or narcotics, but if you decide to pair them,” he grinned at her, and then gathered all five of his fingers at a point and kissed them in that universal gesture of exquisite consumption, “ -- buenisimo, bella.” “How much?” came the inevitable question -- as amusing as this conversation had been, she was growing distinctly annoyed, and the crowd was only growing and growing. “How does the saying go? If you have to ask, you probably can’t afford it… But you can’t afford not to sell your image tonight -- you can’t afford not to have them all fall in love with you. So, it seems we’re in a bit of a predicament.” “How much,” Gabriela repeated, setting the container down between them and slipping off the bar-stool -- preparing to walk away if the price was too steep. “Don’t be impulsive, sweetheart. We both know you need this. Take it, a gift, but remember us -- when you climb to the summit of your career. Remember what we did for you tonight.” Wearing half a smile, he picked up the small, glass vial and broke the wax seal that kept the golden liquid from spilling. He poured a glass of chilled champagne into an elegant flute, and then emptied the vial into the same glass. After giving it a careful swirl, he handed the glass of bubbly over to Gabriela, who had watched the entire thing. “Cheers, my lady -- may your night be successful.” Wordlessly, she plucked the flute from his hand and walked away not bothering to so much as thank him. He didn’t seem to mind. He kept his half-smile as he watched her walk away, and then went right back to polishing glasses and making sure he was prepared for the oncoming traffic of the night. ~*~ Outside the front doors of the club, two men dressed in impeccable black suits stood welcoming guests. Each and every individual who sought entrance would be stopped, and a metal-detecting wand would be drawn over their body -- politely, they asked for all weapons to be checked, though they knew there was little they could do about items of the magical sort. Curiously, obediently sitting or standing besides each of the men, was a massive, black Great Dane. The dogs did not belong to the bouncers but rather to the hostess of the event. The men had been asked and had accepted, quite reluctantly, to care for the dogs during the party since the young woman who was throwing the event didn’t feel comfortable being too far away from her beloved pets. Much to the men’s surprise, the dogs were remarkably well behaved. “Good boy, Jaeger, good boy…” said one of the men, while rubbing the top of Jaeger’s head with the back of his fingers. “You going soft on me, John?” asked the other man. “Shut up, you can’t tell me there isn’t something kind of cute -- in a ferocious sort of way -- about these pups. Isn’t that right, Clovis? Aren’t you ferocious?” John's voice hitched up a bit, almost as if he were speaking to a little child. It was almost endearing coming from such a burly, scar-ridden man . John, not wanting to ignore Jaeger’s brother, crouched in his well-fitting, black suit, and gave Clovis a good rub under the chin. Clovis found this perfectly acceptable, and lifted his massive head for the continuation of rubs. Meanwhile, Jaeger took a few lazy steps forward toward the line of guests waiting to be let in, and sniffed at the nearest individual. “Alright, alright… come on up,” said the, un-named, bouncer as he motioned for the person in line, “--hurry up before the dog decides to eat you.”
  3. The warm smell of mushroom soup wafted out of Frances’ Fungi Place, a startup restaurant in Hell’s Gate revolving around the recurrent theme of mushrooms and fungi dishes. The food appealed not only to vegetarians, but the healthy eaters, carrying dishes which were not only exotic to the palette, but nutritious as well. Addison sat quietly in her corner of the restaurant at a table for four; her compatriots had failed to turn up. She sipped gloomily from her bowl of mushroom soup, the savoury fungi taste masking the temporarily aroma of loneliness which seemed to exude from her. No one would have so much as thought that an opportunistic predator loomed in the distance, scales and talons poised to seize the window before it closed. @Metty
  4. 'Honestly...' He had left a trail of dead beasts and bandits alike, overgrown dire bears and bugbear bandits painting a bloody path from deep inside the Shawnee Glacier. There was no mercy nor thorough execution. So sloppy and sleepy were his battles that assailants lived to tell the tale of a shadowy, pale man that kept walking after they stabbed him. It wasn't a reaction of indifference, more irritation as he simply chose not to lift his sword in kind. Truly, he looked like a tired shade to all that he crossed paths with. The very ground he walked upon had left a traceable residue of his shadowy taint, that which was intertwined with his very essence. 'I hate this. My body takes so long to warm up.' Over time, the kills had become more clean and precise, the tattered swordsman avoiding blows and beginning to conceal his presence. The foreboding darkness that seeped out of him and warned of his coming and going slowly vanished. But that trail simply didn't go cold in any timely manner for this sleepy shade. He had left marks of innocent carnage and his vile existence almost all the way to the steps of Hell's Gate. Once inside, he was quick to vanish save for the obvious marks of his appearance that gave him as some sort of aberrant adventurer cursed by his life-time of murder. Pale and black, his hair was long and white like the snow and he was first adorned in tattered black and gray attire. Worse yet was the red right eye with the misshapen iris, a symbol of some old, dark god dead now and unknown to this land. His scar. 'Damn it, damn it, where are those stupid stones.' But even that red eye did not make him so obvious in the city at first. Even with all that went into suppressing his powers, he must look like a phantom of a mortal being to those with the right sort of spiritual sight; perhaps a black mass to those with magical. His appearance was simply ominous, like a red eyed raven cawing at your window in the wake of a funeral in his tattered robes and freezing limbs. Truly looking like a dead man walking. But his goals were nothing so esoteric in nature. For while he was not easily ignored or hidden, he did nothing quite conspicuous. His first goal was a storage unit, one he had rented out nigh indefinitely with his adventuring funds. "F-f-finally-!" He struck two faded out, gray-rocks together, causing a small shower of sparks to sprinkle on the floor and form several small burning, yet harmless lights. In the same moment, a warm glow had begun to spread through the two stones and suddenly, his limbs. His health began restoring itself in literal seconds as the murderous frost began to melt down his body, although failing to put out the handful of sparks that produced no fire or steam, but light. The stones warmed him through his limbs, and evenly through his whole body. And that was the only thing they did for him. The rest was a super-healing process worked out by the inky darkness that suffused his soul and weighted him down to the earth. It remembered what he remembered; and even as he restored use to a limb that should have been lost, his body recovered its own important scars. Important battles that marked his soul, leaving his body forever covered in innumerable scars. But he covered them up in something more suited for the city. A black suit, tailored years ago in his journey with Seras Crystal, bearing a sleek red tie down the front. He was dressed fresh enough to get into even those with djinne for a bouncer. And with his hair cut short as the next thing, he looked like he might just belong to one of the city's more organized criminal outfits. But he was nobody. The shade of a man. Barely regarding the waking world. Still, when he walked into The Weary Orc tossing a freshly finished cigarette into a passing trashcan, he was regarded like an omen. To them, perhaps he was a new players go-boy or a hit-man. He looked the part, baring a sheathed blade to a suit like this with a dagger on the back. His youthful appearance and attire didn't look entirely out of place when he reflected all the stares inside the bar he received. And how could you not look? He was a pale haired freak with a crimson right-eye that spoke only curses in kind to the figures sizing him up. But just like everyone else here, he wasn't there to stir up a commotion. As he took his first two steps across the bar, interest faded in swathes as only the seriously superstitious gangsters who had received a particularly telling fortune from a mystic gypsy still paid attention to him, wondering if he was their dark sign of death. He was just another questionable looking person in Hell's Gate. The only thing that bothered anyone was that he was nobody, forgotten to time, and here, ordering, "...I'll take your hardest drink." An irregular customer like him got another odd look from the bartender, but it may as well have been nothing new to him in a way. There was no reason not to serve this imposing half-elf, but like everyone else in the room, he met Lucas Black with an uncomfortable pause. The man's being here seemed like an offense to all the living in the room. And even they didn't know why. Worse yet, the pale haired half-elf started downing that glass as fast as he could and asked for another. He was nobody. Forgotten to time. Trying to forget himself. And here he was, filling the void where he didn't belong with the reek of cigarettes, blood, and frozen death wafting off of him; the last in the list more a feeling, lacking in smell. "Hey...could you tell me something?" He tiredly asked the bartender aloud, drawing the man's eye back to him. The man on-shift amicably replied as best he could, avoiding to mistreat a customer based on their eerie presence, "Sure sir, go ahead," He said as he dried out a glass with a white cloth. "But you could be asking anybody this." It wasn't unfair to say, and it didn't draw an irritable gaze from Lucas for just that reason. "I realize," He said with a breath, sliding his empty glass over towards the bartender followed by some handful of coins to pay for the second drink up front. "But you're sort of in a position to not go anywhere." This did draw a few odd looks from nearby, but the meaning was clear between the two of them as the suit and tie wearing shade roughly cleared his throat, barely having spoken in months of rest. "I'm a bit lost for the times due to...camping," He explained simply. No one at the counter believed he had just been camping. "I wanted to know what year it is." "...One long damn camping trip you must have had. It's the year twenty-nine of our Lord and Savior, Odin Haze." "Shit," Lucas suddenly spit out, acquiring another odd look from the bartender, the name Odin Haze drawing a dirty look of its own that seemed to offset the bartender. He proceeded to down his drink, then order another as he struggled to pull a cigarette safely free from its carton. He wasn't the only one smoking in there at least, but the bartender continued to curiously observe him now. It hadn't taken long for the bar-stools near him to clear either.
  5. OOC Note: This thread takes place in the event A Star is Born, run by @Pasion Pasiva. There was a certain allure to the darkness of the lighting. The slow, melodic music accompanied by the soft gaze of the moonlit night casting vibrant reflections against shining tuxedos and curved ornate dresses gave a surreal feeling to the whole event. It was like watching antelopes frolicking in a day dream, unaware of the lions which prowled toward them from between the tall grasses of the savanna. By then, the event had slowed down significantly. People were dizzy, spinning each other around in circles on the ballroom floor. Some were seated down on chairs, their heads reeling from the lift of alcohol. Others hid away in the bathroom, belching their stomachs’ contents. Addison stood and observed, gripping tightly in her hand a pineappled cocktail which her lips had never once touched. As opposed to the more elegant of her sex, she had put aside flowing dresses and ballroom gowns in favour of a pair of black, silk-woven tights and a red corset, layered over with a sleeveless woollen tank top and a black scarf to go with it. Though bearing sharp and defined facial features that were distinct of the noble-born, she had forsaken conventional notions of elegance and taken up one far less suited to a lady of the upper class. Below her tight fitting clothing, she bulged, her powerful and broad shoulders forming a perfect triangulation with her neck. Her arm and leg muscles, although not monstrously large, were clearly defined, straining the constraints set upon them. Not an impressively large specimen, Addison’s lack of height was quickly made up for by the impressive bulk of her torso, carried in the form of a mighty set of cores and an adequate amount in the good stuffs. She bit the edge of her straw, sucking the contents of her cocktail up into the tip and letting it slide back down into the cup, never once letting the liquid touch her tongue. She had an intention to meet here, another man. One whom from the words of newspaper speculation, she was certain would not only be here this very night, but would have the means to give her what she needed, should she be able to convince him. @Twitterpated
  6. Hell's Gate was a city of technology. Known as the locus of scientific progress in Fracture, the city was booming with experimenting clockwork that appeared to be from Genesaris, strange blends of chemicals augmented by magical process, containing elements which should not have existed in this reality. Yet in spite of the scientific brilliance of this city, men were just men, and they were far from being incorruptible. Recent weeks had seen a rise in racially motivated violence between the elven and human population of Hell's Gate. Foreigners may have cast apprehensive glances, but it seemed that anyone living within Hell's Gate knew exactly what the motivations behind these acts of violence were. However, one man sought out to put an end to it all. Gerald Fitzmartin, a local self proclaimed 'ambassador', sought out protection and aid in his mission to promote racial harmony between the elves and humans. He intended to meet with the elves directly, and in large masses, so as to drive home the sincerity of his approach and his message. For this task, he had sought to bodyguards and diplomats, but few were willing to take up his cause, deeming him insane and disloyal to his kind. However, it would take the eyes of a foreigner to see the true value of his words. Within a week, Fitzmartin received a letter in response to his call for aid. It promised the arrival of at least one individual, and that said individual would try to bring more people to their cause. At the bottom of the letter, was stamped in bright red: あ世ら. Fitzmartin waited at the agreed meeting place, a small four chaired table in a cafe, largely populated by humans. He looked around nervously, unsure of who his willing benefactor could be. @Agent Knockout @HeeHooAraxie69
  7. August, 25 A.O. Lily woke in her new apartment, dreadfully aware that she was late late late. Her hair was a mess, her stomach rumbled, and oh my god, she was going to be late. In the total blackness of her bedroom, she managed to blindly feel her way to the door, acquainting her toe with a nearby dresser because why not, this was going to be a shitty day. Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit- By the time the buzzer rang, she’d put together the most conservative outfit she could think of: grey suit, white shirt, black shoes, and a silver watch. Something that wouldn’t draw too much attention on her first day on the job. “Hi,” she said somewhat breathlessly, holding down the intercom button. “I mean, hello. Lily speaking.” “Good morning, Miss Harper.” It was the cheery receptionist from the front desk. “Just wanted to let you know that your limousine has arrived. Should I have it wait out front? Or do you think you'll be a few more minutes?” Lily paused, confused. “What do you mean my limousine has arrived?” “Exactly that,” he said with a flourish. “Your limousine has arrived.” “But I don’t have a limousine.” “What do you mean?” “Exactly that. I don’t have a limousine.” Another awkward pause where neither of them spoke. The receptionist had the good sense to put her on hold while he checked in with the driver. “Hello, Miss Harper? Yes, he says he was sent here by your work. Apparently a certain Major Brondok arranged to have you picked up.” Major Brondok! Lily thought, panicking. We never discussed this, you inbred little sh- “I’ll be right down,” she said politely. “Thank you for notifying me, Mister…” … “Mister…” “Ives.” He sounded offended. “Ah. Yes.” Lily hung up. As she exited the complex (and pointedly avoided looking at the receptionist), it still surprised her that there was, indeed, a long black car waiting specifically for her. The driver was a nondescript man with a matching lack of discernible personality, though she supposed she was forced to like him since he held the door open for her. “Would you care for a beverage, madam?” he asked as they pulled away. “You wouldn’t happen to have anything with caffeine in it, by chance?” He pressed a button on the front dash and a hidden compartment opened to her left. Inside was a coffee machine, a tea brewer, and a nicotine patch dispenser. There were also paper cups, cream and milk, jars of cinnamon, clove and nutmeg, as well as twenty different types of sweetener she never even knew existed. “Wow, okay," she thought aloud. I take back all those means thoughts I had about you, Major. “Would you mind taking the scenic route? I’m going to need a little time to figure this out.” Twenty minutes later, they parked in front of an obnoxious building bigger than the apocalypse itself. It looked, quite frankly, in Lily’s utterly bewildered opinion, like a glass honeycomb of doom reinforced by ultra-thick steel and invisible force fields. Lily nervously walked up to the front gates, expertly-made cup of coffee in hand. A soldier in power armour scanned her ID. He waved her through after he'd made her sweat a little. Odin on a stick. The interior was just as breathtaking. True, the building was a micro-city, but holy hell, this was the pinnacle of ridiculous. Across the room (if you could call it that, she couldn’t even the see the ceiling for god’s sake) was a front desk next to a set of elevators operated by artificial gravity. Lily thought about asking for directions, maybe get the low-down on what was good in the hood. But a droning the sound and someone calling her name suddenly pulled her up short, drawing her attention. “Private Harper!” Lily turned around. She was the greeted by the sight of a fuzzy, brown squirrel. It wore a suit, had a bushy tail, rode on a platform that hovered in mid-air, and spoke in a Lance Reddick-deep voice, which sounded oddly familiar for some reason. “So good to finally meet you!” the squirrel said. “I trust the limousine was to your liking?” Lily stared, rather rudely, before something clicked inside her head. “Major Brondok?” she exclaimed. Next she fumbled out a salute. “Forgive me, sir! I didn’t know it was you!” They’d only spoken on the phone prior to her relocation to Hell’s Gate. Brondok chuckled. “At ease, soldier. You’re quite awestruck, I understand. It’s not every day one gets the chance to meet a magnificent specimen such as I.” Lily lowered her hand, feeling like she’d come up for air. She tried to ignore the fact that her cheeks were flushed with embarrassment. “The limousine was lovely. But, um, was it really necessary? I have a car, so I could’ve driven here.” “Nonsense!” Brondok exclaimed, waving a tiny, righteous paw. “This isn’t Ignatz, my dear. We’re not savages, Gaia forbid.” Hey, I’m from Ignatz. “Of course not, sir. Shall we get going?” The Major led her to the weird elevators and up a dizzying three hundred floors, then marched her down a hallway with the aesthetic of a luxury space station. Eventually, they arrived at her office, which had been cleaned out in anticipation of her arrival. It was a large room, beautifully furnished. Two of the walls were massive sheets of glass looking out over the building’s interior. An official-looking desk sat near the back—on it were two monitors and a vase full of flowers. “Are you sure this is my office?” Lily asked skeptically. “Not an executive’s or, I don’t know, a general’s or something?” Brondok snorted. “Believe me, Private, this is very much your office. No general would be caught dead in a humble little abode such as this.” “Little. Yes.” This coming from the pimped-out squirrel riding a hovercraft. “You disagree?” “Oh no, sir. It’s just very different from my old department.” The Major chittered at that, a low, teeth-smacking sound. Lily didn’t know what it meant, so she simply refrained from saying anything else. “Quite so,” Brondok said deeply. She would never get used to that voice. “You were in human resources, correct?” “Finance, actually.” Brondok nodded, parking his hovercraft on the edge of her desk. Lily was somewhat annoyed to discover that he wasn’t wearing any shoes. She’d have to disinfect that later. “Well, Private Harper, I’m sure you’ll adjust fairly quickly. Your evaluations from the training academy were nothing short of stellar, if I say so myself.” Reaching up, the Major plucked a flower from the vase and began to chew on one of its petals. “I’d wager that not many… what’s the word? The one all you younglings use these days?” “Admins? Clerks?” “Ah, yes. Dweebs.” Lily’s eyes narrowed. She didn’t think the Major actually knew what the word meant. “Not many dweebs could handle the combination of paperwork and fieldwork necessary for your posting. Yet you’ve done so with aplomb! Is there something wrong with your eyes, my dear?” Out of his jacket he produced a yellow folder about the size of her fingernail. He flipped through a few pages, then jabbed a triumphant finger at one page in particular. “It says here that you singlehandedly uncovered a major case of fraud in your department. When the perpetrator caught wind of your discovery and tried to have you assassinated, you viciously beat him into submission with a stapler.” “Indeed,” Lily said. That day was a vivid memory in her mind. She’d spilled pico de gallo on her favourite blouse, and the season finale of Game of Sovereigns had sucked ass. “It also says that you’re proficient in five languages, four martial arts, three sports, and two instruments. You have perfect vision and uniquely red eyes. No allergies or medical conditions to be concerned about. You graduated at the top of your class with a double major in finance and criminal justice. Your blood type is O negative. Your last relationship ended in late February. You hate rap but love country. You’re afraid of lice and undercooked chicken. Your favourite ice cream flavour is mango explosion. Occasionally chocolate chip. You believe that ‘moving shit with your mind is the most underrated superpower’. You…” Lily stood there in a daze, listening to a sentient squirrel lay out her entire life before her. She almost screamed when he flipped the page, and then the next eleven pages after that. “…and your favourite colour is orange,” Brondok stated. He flipped the page and abruptly pursed his lips. Lily looked up. It was the first time she’d heard silence in, oh, twenty minutes. “Is that everything?” she asked numbly. Brondok squinted his eyes at the folder. Then he unsquinted and looked at her. “Welcome to F.I.S.T.”
  8. It wasn't every day they were contracted with breaking into a night club for a client. Some of the group didn't find it palatable to their interests, but went along regardless. Phillip wanted to make certain it was a clean job, with no casualties or killings. Lancellar and Sarah were both inside the club, posing as patrons and wearing their best clothes. While the elf looked to be a more natural member of the scene, Sarah stuck out with her dark leathers, piercings and sour demeanor, having been the most vocal detractor of the mission. Together they danced and kept an eye out for anyone important, Lancellar having charmed herself with a glamor that she assured them would catch many eyes, to hopefully cause a distraction should they require it. Coming around the back was Phillip, Eric and Cragmar, hiding in the shadows to try and see an opening into the interior without being noticed.
  9. The stench of coffee permeates through the room, ventilations coughing from the sheer concentration of the hot dark brew that seems omnipresent within the chamber. It was Baron's crutch, his achilles heel. The junior researchers know well to not play any stupid pranks of hiding his coffee, but still sometimes it goes missing. Baron is what some may call gifted, and if he wasn't so humble he would tell you he had a photographic memory and the eyesight of an eagle, but still somehow that damn girl still is able to swipe his belongings right under his nose. Be it his pen, his glasses, or always "borrowing" his alterion-imported bags of loose leaf tea, the girl has hands a burglar would kill for. But tonight would be different, Baron's team screwed up handling CS-1222 and caused it to create a temporal time loop around an area, effectively "killing" a guard and two junior researchers, and without a way to safely get them out of the time loop, they're essentially in chrono-magically induced coma, not a good thing if you want your brightest to stay alive. This means Baron has piles of paperwork to be done, and not enough coffee to fuel his veins. Well at least he would get some peace and quiet, with nice soft orchestral music playing on his speaker and a soothing cup of joe, he could not have a better all nighter behind locked doors. Except he forgot to lock his doors. A mistake he'll soon realize far too late, as the footsteps along with the sound of a tail smacking the floor repeatedly can be heard throughout the hallway. "She's probably just heading to her quarters" he thought to himself. Thought. @Metty
  10. Just as crows muster, in direful murders, to pick over the bones of Gaia's beloved, so too have I forsworn what little peace and normalcy my station affords to serve my people: the people of Hell's Gate, the people of Terrenus, and the people of Valucre. Whispernight in Genesaris, the Culling of the Pantheon in Renovatio, the Death Throes of Elendaron, and our own Civil War prove that the tragedies that have befallen Valucre cannot be ascribed to a single source. Now, the Enrele, are dismissed as a mere conspiracy, Dredge, blackguard he is, has found a home in Genesaris, the Grandmaster of Renovatio presides over a nation he has robbed of a future to advance his dastardly agenda, Orisia's rightful monarch, Irene Gabriela DuGrace, has abdicated her throne and fled, Tia has been razed by terrorists, the artifacts of the Witch King have resurfaced, and Odin Haze is still nowhere to be seen. Mockingly, the media has renamed our once mighty nation Fracture. Our lot is lamentable; how far we have fallen, and how far we have yet to fall! We cry out to Gaia, and our prayers echo through empty halls. It is evident that our deities are not moved by our agony or are utterly absent for reasons that are beyond our ken. We watch, transfixed by our fears and anxieties, as darkness swallows the stars that illuminate our path. I will abide this baleful pattern no longer; my forbearance is at an end. If we wish to survive and prosper in this unfeeling era, we must author our destiny by valor and arms! In one day of feverish action, Caeceila Glasmann contested a great many of the political forces that menaced the denizens of Hell's Gate with oblivion. Overnight, House Glasmann's private army installed rudimentary fortifications at strategic locations within Hell's Gate - the very same locations House Glasmann had selected for their clandestine shipments in the dead of night. These secure facilities, which House Glasmann had renovated on the sly soon after Caeceila Glasmann entered into an informal alliance with Ilyana Sevryn, housed state-of-the-art weaponry, constructs, and surveillance systems, functioning as automated watchtowers encircling House Glasmann's manned perimeter. While the aforementioned watchtowers had been fortified by House Glasmann's "Eyes," spherical, floating robots designed for light and heavy construction, working in tandem with standard heavy civil construction constructs, House Glasmann's perimeter was secured in stages by combined human and drow "sappers" under the command of the enigmatic Nines, who exploited her unique abilities to assemble the unyielding metal walls and stretch concertina wire at a crackerjack rate under cover of darkness. House Glasmann artillery units, House Glasmann security squads, drow wetwork squads, and teams of catfolk magicians locked down the worksite in an impressive show of force and coordination. Wards, fueled by abjuration magic, flared to life throughout the night, bathing the wall in ominous red light, and any areas identified as high-risk were doused in faerie fire and chemiluminescent munitions to rout the shadows and whatever else might be lurking within. Dragon's teeth and bog standard concrete barriers were scattered at intervals in an attempt to edge out land-based vehicles despite the plenitude of suitable, urban terrain in outlying neighborhoods. Ultimately, House Glasmann intended to funnel all authorized traffic through one gate while forcibly denying entry at any other point. At the break of dawn, Caeceila's live, televised speech commenced. Financial records would indicate Caeceila used her considerable influence to acquire large blocks of broadcasting time with several major media outlets. When Caeceila broached touchy subjects, subjects that had almost led to criminal charges, specifically the intent to incite a riot, a number of weeks ago, a handful of these media outlets cut her broadcast and credited her accounts. This was not true of all media outlets, and she was not, apparently, discouraged by the detractors that capitalized on her crusade by misconstruing her message and painting her as a monster. The Enrele were here, and, so help her Gaia, Caeceila would expel them from her fair city. That said, not once did Caeceila declare her aim to erase the Enrele in Hell's Gate. Instead, Caeceila dedicated the bulk of her time to "setting the record straight." She tore into former regent Jim Jenkins, who she insisted on calling "Doughy Jim," for capriciously turning his back on the Empire in its time of need, appreciably contributing to the strife within Terrenus, and compromising the security of Dougton, exposing it to enemies within and without. She affirmed her commitment to rescuing Terrenus from the ills that plague it in collaboration with Terrenus Military personnel. Not once did her words betray her suspicion of the Terrenus Military as an organization. Their ranks were bound to be suffused with Enrele; only a handful had earned her trust. As her forces shored up House Glasmann's defensive perimeter and squared off with law-enforcement, lawyers paving their way for bloodless solutions with properly endorsed copies of deeds, receipts of sale, rental agreements, hold harmless/legal indemnity documentation, and legalese, several individuals received invitations to the Glasmann Estate to discuss how to proceed with "achieving security objectives in Hell's Gate." Caeceila pointedly denied all communications that did not originate from one of these individuals, who she quietly held had not been compromised by the Enrele. She would go out of her way to snub Matthius Brown and Van Edmund, televising her refusal to negotiate with parties responsible for letting Hell's Gate go to seed should they attempt to contact her. Ilyana Sevryn might receive a special invitation to spend the night at the Glasmann Estate and armed escort hours in advance of Caeceila's blockade and tirade. Steel, Caeceila's handler, would receive an invitation requesting that he summon his brother, Cadmium, Victory, the Bubble, and Michael Commager, if possible. The message relayed to Steel, however brief, will also note that he is permitted to bring a handful of other individuals he is willing to personally vouch for should he so desire. I will not let Hell's Gate go the way of Tia. I will not stand by as marauders slip the net and get away with their crimes scot-free. I will not see my people victimized. Let justice be done, though the heavens may fall! Let justice be done, though the world may end! @supernal @danzilla3 @Dolor Aeternum
  11. Lily Harper, more commonly known as Rose to her friends—or Private Harper to people she didn’t like—was nursing a glass of whiskey when her girlfriend walked into the bar. “You made it,” she said, sliding a warm beer across the counter. It’d been sitting there for a while now, long enough that it probably tasted like piss. “I was starting to think that Ashford might’ve killed you.” “He almost did,” Echo said, holding up a finger while she drank. The glass came down empty, and she gestured at the bartender for a refill. “Fucker had me fixing gardening tech for PETAL all the way down in hydroponics. Should’ve only taken me a few minutes—a grad student with two brain cells could’ve done it—but he neglected to mention the carnivorous algae clogging the air filters.” Lily cocked an eyebrow. It was hard not laugh at the thought. She settled for a teasing smile instead, taking a sip of her own drink. “What, did it try to suck the moisture out of your skin?” “You say that like it’s a joke, but that’s exactly what happened.” Echo rolled up her sleeve. “Only it had teeth to do the job.” Lily’s smile vanished. The skin on Echo’s forearm looked crinkled and raw, like the flakes of an old croissant left out to dry for too long. A series of dots ran along its length, bright red and needle fine. They formed a narrow, twisting line winding all the way up to her elbow. “Yuck,” Lily said. “You’re supposed to tell me it doesn’t look as bad as I think.” “Did you put any cream on that?” “Best PETAL could do was some aloe vera and an apology.” Echo shrugged, quickly unrolling the sleeve of her jacket. She was a tall woman, with the rough, calloused hands mechanics got from working long hours. Sometimes those hours were on account of her boss being an inconvenient brand of dickhead; often it was a matter of Echo treating her job as a religious sort of hobby. Lily knew the girl was a genius, a savant in all things that went boom—it wasn’t uncommon for her to drop by the workshop late at night, bag of McRonald’s in hand, to find Echo obsessing over the military’s next doomsday device all on her lonesome. Lily smiled. For some reason, she found those nights oddly charming. “What?” Echo asked. “Nothing,” Lily said, waving the question aside. “You feel like ordering nachos?” “Only if they come with extra guac.” They ordered at the counter and had the nachos delivered to a nearby booth. There was an aquarium built beside it, pulsing with the soft glow of neon pink jellyfish. The rest of the bar, in similar fashion, had other tanks embedded into its walls, keeping in line with its namesake as the Knackered Nautilus. “So,” Echo started, chomping down on a handful of cheese and taco beef. “When are your friends supposed to show up? I thought I’d be the last one here.” “Probably soon,” Lily said. “I don’t think anyone’s in a rush. And we’re not exactly friends, I’ve never met either of them before.” She’d heard of them, though. Callsigns Quake and Bandit. Both pretty popular among the Ogre community, but not for what she’d call the right reasons. One of them was a cripple, apparently, with an equally crippled mech, while the other was a first-generation pilot who’d gone AWOL some time ago. They were supposed to meet here at the bar and discuss the details of their mission—Echo was merely a tagalong, someone willing to patch up their rides and give them a lift in her airship. “Well,” Echo said. “Let’s hope they get here soon. I don’t know who decided to put Hunan peppers in these nachos, but they’re kicking my ass and I need help.” @Zink @samo
  12. It is highly improbable that Ilyana, upon receiving formal and exceedingly eloquent confirmation that Caeceila was willing to chat with her about this and that at such-and-such a time at such-and-such a place, imagined that the venue for their little affair would be a cross between a firebase, a club, and an arena. Club Tablillas, tucked away in a lot formerly occupied by a warehouse two blocks from the reinforced black gate shrouding the Glasmann estate from prying eyes, was, ostensibly, a newcomer to Hell's Gate's club scene. Anyone in the know, in fact, insisted Club Tablillas must be a hole in the wall because, to the world at large, Club Tablillas simply did not exist. Your average civilian hadn't seen or heard hide 'r hair of it. Citizens, people who had served in the Terrenus Military and were honorably discharged, were altogether oblivious to its presence, as though information concerning the club's existence had escaped the notice of all but, perhaps, Victory itself. It was almost as if all information apropos the club's operation was actively suppressed, but it didn't take long for a keen observer, once there, to ferret out the reason for Club Tablillas's utter obscurity. From the slinky forms of driders and drow, silhouetted in the pulsing neon light animating the street in front of the building, to the fierce beauty of catpeople and weretigers, clad in spikes and leather, bouncing through the door at a whim and even to the more exotic clientele, enchanting vampires, refugees from Tia, no doubt, sultry demons, and a fair number of lesser known species, the club reeked of the one thing Gaians detested above all else, that single cursed thing that has no right to live. Yes, the club caters to Outsiders exclusively - if the signage does not exaggerate. That Caeceila would arrange to meet Ilyana here, of all places, is bewildering if not amusing by dint of its presumptuousness. If Caeceila flounced through the door, heiress to the Glasmann fortune or not, she would be turned away, wouldn't she? And if she wasn't... Nothing triggered a Gaian like an assembly of Outsiders, and the guileful owner of Club Tablillas had not left that hiccup to whittle away at her patience. On top of miraculously controlling the information available about the club, the club is fortified like a military outpost. The bouncers are armed-to-the-teeth and wear military-grade exosuits that are eerily similar to the set Caeceila modeled at the tail end of Dredge's ill-begotten invasion of Last Chance. More shockingly, every guard is outfitted with a weapon manufactured by House Glasmann Arsenal, a subsidiary of House Glasmann that, apparently, has refused to advertise or offer its products to any entities that are not allied with House Glasmann. Packing serious firepower and bearing symbols of House Glasmann's approval seems to do a decent job of warding off humans, elves, and other Naturals who may avail themselves of any of the other services in the area heavily influenced by House Glasmann to their hearts' content. If and when Ilyana chooses to approach Club Tablillas, she won't get far before she is accosted by an ad'awwrable, effervescent catgirl. The subject of interest quickly breaks away from a group of three other catpeople and begins to smile and wave at Ilyana as she draws near. She's a shortie, this lady, and she can't weigh more than a hundred and ten or a hundred and fifteen pounds. The kawaii catgirl, who would definitely be an instant hit at a comic con with her sparkling pink eyes, striking silver hair, and a well-groomed tail tied up with multicolored ribbons, is not quite as spiky as her compeers. She's rocking a hot pink leather jacket and a black t-shirt depicting several cartoon characters riding a single motorcycle with a comical quantity of attached sidecars through a spooky forest. The blood-red letters "ETHKLO" are visible in the bright light of the street. Though Ilyana isn't yet able to view the catgirl's back, a window has been cut through the back of her jacket and her t-shirt exposing a full-back tattoo of a white tiger mid-pounce. Sharp teeth flash through luscious fuchsia lips as she tries to get Ilyana's attention. Hi! I'm Cammy! You're Ilyana, right? You aren't, like, a doppelganger or an evil twin or anything but the real, live Ilyana Sevnyar... Cammy blinks as a wave of abject horror washes over her. Her ears perk up, her tail freezes up, and she really, really tries to enunciate in response to her faux pas. Ilyana Sevnyar. Ilyana Sev-nya! DAMMIT! Ilyana Sev-ryn! YES! Nailed it! Cammy is overjoyed! She beams at Ilyana, who may have already sensed that the cute catgirl before her is a TERRIFYINGLY POWERFUL MAGE AND WERETIGER. Caeceila definitely sent someone very important (and bizarre) to meet Ilyana. Cammy's tail sways hypnotically in the cold night air. Cammy knows who Ilyana is, so it's only fair Ilyana know something about her, and on that note... I know all about you! You run the Redeemer! Something happened to the purrevious ownyar! Cammy frowns at her own ineptitude. Focus, Cammy! Talk like a normal person, not a cat-tiger-weretiger-abomination-thing! Previous. Owner. Previous. Owner. Purrevious. Ownyar. NYAGH! Cammy stomps her right foot! This is sooo frustrating! Why does her mouth betray her? She can't even make frustrated noises properly. Nyagh? What's nyagh? Crossing her arms in an awkward fashion, Cammy turns her gaze to the ground. Just forget I said anything. Pretend I said nothing at all. I definitely didn't make cat noises while introducing myself, and you definitely, definitely aren't imagining me doing cat things like sitting in boxes and looking grumpy or grooming myse- No! Not gonna finish that sentence! I see the weird art they'll draw already! I don't want them drawing weird art of me grooming myself or writing fan fics about us! The word "mortified" doesn't even start to describe Cammy's expression. It kinda resembles ?, kinda. Next time, I need to bring alcohol with me so I can lie and blame everything on being an alcoholic. @Dolor Aeternum
  13. Immaculate. Not a word to be casually thrown about, but here stood a structure that merited the term. Walk under the open archway into its towering lobby, and one would see no flaw in its curving walls, crafted in mimicry of plant growth patterns to produce and elegant and soothing shape. One would see no dirt on the towering windows, no frowns on the faces of the guards and secretaries manning their posts, no stains or discarded litter marring the pretty mosaic of the bright floor tiles. Breathe, and one could smell the air of a deep forest or an open field, freshly oxygenated and free of all unpleasant pollution. Listen, and one could hear the kindly voice of the building's central mainframe, quickly answering any confused newcomer who happened to ask for directions. Clean and beautiful, safe and self-sufficient. Never mind that the open archway of the entrance was guarded by an electromagnetic barrier, shutting out any dirty unauthorized rabble who might try to sneak their way in. Never mind that the windows and floor were covered with artificially engineered bacteria eagerly devouring any contaminants that might hurt the building's perfection. Never mind how the air was seeded with chemicals to give it that pleasant 'natural' scent, or how the guards and secretaries were contractually obligated to smile and would be laid off if found displaying an attitude inconsistent with their requirements. Never mind how the kindly mainframe was tracking everyone in the building and recording their movements. After all, this was a utopia! A glorious, towering monument to the ingenuity of civilization! Why worry about the insignificant details when one could climb in an elevator and shoot up past each floor, one, two, three... Ten! Twenty! Thirty! Up and up and up, watching them all fly by until one reached the assigned room of one's appointment— oh, but why not visit the observation deck first? After all, there are free drinks to be served there, and a good view. Why not stand there a while, and think on how wonderful it all is? Yes, think on that, and then think on how this is but one of the Monroe Foundation's many magnificent properties in Hell's Gate, and perhaps not even the most magnificent at that! Does it not invoke a feeling of worship? Good. Then it's working as intended. *** Immaculate. Not a word to be casually thrown about, but here stood a woman who merited the term. Walk into a room, and chances were she'd immediately catch one's eye, her slim and gently curved figure poised to emphasize its elegant and soothing shape. One would see no tangles in her long and snow-white hair, no flaws in her makeup or her pale and silky skin, no stains or wrinkles marring the expensive fabrics of her black suit and white shirt. Breathe, and one could smell the tang of her perfume, a gentle hint of cinnamon. Listen, and one could perhaps hear the faint rustle of papers turning as she flipped through the folder held in her slender hands. Clean and beautiful, alluring and formal. Never mind that her irises, on close inspection, were not a doe-like brown but a harsh, bright red. Never mind that her appearance was the result of over an hour of careful, precise preparation that she undertook every morning, perfectionist to the point of obsession. Never mind how running searches for the name 'Sabiya Invarti' would inevitably lead to classified material, the news articles sparse on details and the official documents marked with thick black censoring bars, mostly related to an incident a year or so back involving a multi-pronged terrorist operation. Never mind how nobody got to the position she had without being incredibly smart, and just as ruthless. After all, she was gorgeous! A lovely, intelligent lady eager to help out her new client! Why worry about the insignificant details when one could tell her one's wishes and watch the prices shoot up, one million, two million, three... Ten! Twenty! Thirty! Up and up and up, because of course the best services incur the greatest costs, and nobody would book a private appointment with one of the Monroe Foundation's top-level specialists unless they had something seriously expensive that required such expertise— oh, but why chatter about the costs when one could discuss the possibilities? After all, she was smart, and charming, and a pretty face. Why not chat for a while, and tell her how wonderful one's grandiose pet project will inevitably be once completed? Yes, talk with her, and then think on how she is but one of the Monroe Foundation's many excellent personnel in Hell's Gate, and perhaps not even the most excellent at that! Does it not invoke a feeling of hope? Good. Then smile, she's watching. The meeting room had been cleared out, a large table and dozens of chairs folded up against the wall to leave the space largely empty. A smaller, more casual table stood by the window, along with a pair of very comfortable chairs, but for the moment Dr. Invarti chose to stand, staring out the floor-to-ceiling windows as the city stretched out below. This wasn't the highest floor in the building, and the building wasn't the tallest structure in the city, either... But it was still nice. Nice to look at. People far below, scurrying about like ants... and one of them was coming to see her. Which one? she wondered. Idly, she pressed one finger against the glass, as if crushing those ants into oblivion. Whichever one it was, they had better not be late.
  14. Am I a bad person because I do bad things, or am I just a person who does bad things? Information was a commodity only two people really understood the value of. Spies were one, and the other being gossip mongers like her. It was important to know the difference between what was gold and what was pyrite. Fortunes hung in the balance, lives were on the line, and Andromeda really enjoyed watching the people she attacked squirmed in embarrassment. Who were they to believe they were so superior to the rest of us? Ursa Madeum had given her so many delectable morsels to feast on, but she wanted something better, something far juicier, the kind of thing that made you hot under the collar, clutching your pearls and hoping beyond hope that tasty little dish was for you. What Andromeda wanted, what she needed, was to be satisfied, to be quench her thirst for knowledge, and to see those hoity toity types get what they deserve. That was her idea of a head board rocking night. And so she ended up here, in this classic metropolitan hotel, sitting in the bar, swirling a drink with her finger, playing the part of the nervous Nelly, waiting for her victim. It was a grand example of destiny, that she would find this man, so desperate to find someone to write out his memoirs, that he didn't look twice at the first person who answered him. Ms. Andromeda Sunchaser, an innocent little girl who is desperate to become a real author and would be so honored to record and share with the world in the form of a book. Men were just too easy. @Djinn&Juice
  15. Red eyes. That was the first thing people noticed about Lily Harper. Bright and crimson, like fresh-spilled blood on a clear winter day. It was a genetic mutation supposedly, one she’d inherited at birth. Neither of her parents bore the mark however, with their ordinary brown eyes. Spiking levels of melatonin hadn’t dulled the sharpness of her glare over the years, and growing up she’d always been the ideal target, easy pickings for bullies of the highest degree: Kids. Kids were assholes, to say the least. From the tender age of four to the post-pubescent dumpster fire that was seventeen, Lily had never known people so ruthless, more callous than kids. They played pranks, called her names, did everything to affix a uniquely pissed off glare to the hard lines of her face. She vividly recalled the time in ninth grade when a group of boys set off firecrackers in her locker. The incident ended with a fire extinguisher, five broken noses, one cracked femur, and her very first suspension. In a way, that was the day Lily became Rose. “So wait, your name isn’t actually Rose?” Lily sipped the grey whiskey from her glass, tasting vaguely of burnt rubber and lab-grown fungus. They were all nursing overpriced drinks, mostly beer and too-sweet cocktails, around a steeply elevated patio overlooking the Adendale's ringed atrium. Tube-like elevators slid along the micro-city’s inner floors, like pneumatic mail that ran up and down for a couple of kilometers each. Lily’s eyes flitted over the railing, riding a capsule all the way to the top. There was no sky, no clouds, just the pink-orange line of an artificial sunset. “No,” Lily answered, dragging her gaze back to the recruit sitting across from her. “That’s my call sign. Every Ogre pilot gets one, same way Raptor pilots do when they graduate from flight school.” “It usually represents a person’s quirks,” Javier added. “Take Jean-Phillipe over here. No one in our class could pronounce his name. We started calling him JP for short, then it eventually caught on with our instructors. Next thing you know, that’s what all the bigwigs at Command are calling him. It became way too iconic for any of us to let it go.” “Call signs are also a way of remembering a pilot’s achievements,” JP said, smiling over the rim of his still-foaming pint. “Tu veux nous dire how you got yours, Big Daddy?” “I’d rather not,” Javier said flatly. “Coward,” Lily chirped, smiling in response to the pilot’s narrowed brow. The recruit leaned forward. He’d been staring at her since he first sat down. She didn’t know if it was a sign of how drunk he was, an open display of affection, or a bit of both. Either way, she didn’t care for the gesture. “So why does everyone call you Rose?” “Her eyes,” Javier guessed accurately. “Her thorniness,” JP supplied, which didn’t get him the reaction he wanted but didn’t discourage him nonetheless. “Do either of those things look like they belong to a lily? Une belle fleure douce and not this prickly, hard-edged, fermented mushroom-drinking sociopath? No offense, by the way.” “None taken,” Lily said, finishing her drink with an honest sip. “Anyone up for another round?” Javier bowed his head. JP lifted his glass. The recruit, unfortunately, said, “Sure, I’ll come with you.” The Drab Grasshopper was easily one most popular bars in the whole entertainment district. By extension, it was also one of the largest. Almost certainly the most popular. It ran for two floors, both constructed around an oval-shaped bar, with massive TV screens that struggled to keep up with the retro dance track pulsing in the background. Some of them were playing sports. A select few were tuned to the news. Lily paid attention to the latter, where a crawler below two reporters showed an updated death count of last month’s airport bombing. “You alright?” the recruit asked. “I’m fine,” Lily replied. The mission’s expanded crew was scattered to every far-flung corner of the establishment. To her left, the Hughes twins were downing a quartet of flaming shots each, while Abiyoe, Klavier and Ophelia cheered them on with sadistic glee. Further up on the dance floor, she spotted Chombaugh getting down to Cool & The Gang. Carter, hovering to the side, was holding off the advances of a pretty girl several decades his junior. Other tables were dominated by soldiers, their straight-back postures giving them away in spite of their lack of uniform. Lily wondered just how many of them would be shipping out with her in the morning. The bartender—a barrel-chested man with an almost comically thick moustache—caught her waiting at one end of the counter and gave her a quick nod. She ordered another whiskey for herself, then a jug of the house blonde for everyone at the table, and focused on a random TV screen until the recruit’s small talk turned into a question. “Is this usually what happens before a big assignment? Everyone goes drinking and we all show up to work hungover the next day?” Lily thought about it. “Pretty sure it’s the opposite, really. Most people prefer to celebrate a battle knowing they didn’t die like the rest.” The bartender slid a jug across the counter, then reached for a liquor bottle on a top shelf. “Everyone here, though? I think they’d rather go the fight without regrets. Who wants to bite the bullet knowing the time leading up to it was shit?” Lily took another peak at dance floor. Chombaugh was already leaving with a girl wrapped around his waist. “Otherwise, I just assume you’re looking for a good way to burn off stress.” The recruit edged a little closer. “And how do you burn off stress?” “Obviously not with you, pisswizard. Stop hitting on my girlfriend.” The recruit turned immediately, recoiling as if he’d been slapped. Echo towered over him. She towered over most people, really. “Girlfriend?” the recruit repeated. “Girlfriend,” Echo confirmed. “Do I need a whiteboard to explain the concept to you, or can we skip to the part where you skedaddle?” Lily watched the recruit shuffle away. Echo seemed awfully pleased with herself, as she always did. “I could’ve handled him, you know.” “I know you could’ve,” Echo said. “But it’s not often I get to be a dick to someone and have a valid reason for feeling good about it.” Lily leaned over to give her a kiss. Echo held her lips for a too brief moment. “So, where’s your friend?” “Having the time of his life.” “Do I want to know?” “You absolutely do.” Echo pointed at someone in the crowd, weaving Lily’s gaze like a needle through a curtain. On an elevated stage, she spotted a dark-haired young man, alongside three hungry-looking vampires dancing with him—or rather on him. He kind of stood there and took their gyrating hips with a profound look of get me the fuck out of here. “That’s him.” Echo smiled languidly, then shot a cheerful salute at the young man. Lily waved in a similar fashion. “He’s the luckiest man here and he has no idea.” @SweetCyanide
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