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[Blairville Outskirts]

Trees. Lots and lots of trees.

The ship soared over stretches of the Terren land that fell between Hell’s Gate and Blairville, passing over the shining Sidereal Lake, greeted by the wide open arms of the Ouread, and found themselves settling into the warm sands of the desert at the mountain range’s feet. It sat as a crown to the city, peaks reaching to the stars, all the way from the flat desert land of their shared valley. Soon, the gamut of green gave way to dirt and mud, soon then to waves of buff, blustery sands.

A smattering of small settlements beyond the city walls decorated its distance with an abundance of small homes, markets, and trading caravans. Harlow’s good eye scanned the landscape as they approached their target, watching silently over the shoulder of her pilot.

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“Don’t go too fast, we don’t want to blow them away with that lead foot of yours.”

An artificial voice quipped back, “That saying doesn’t apply to airships, Captain.”

“Funny. But with all sincerity, Mama Gita is - Gaia bless her - old. She will literally blow away if we approach too quickly. Take us down easy.”

The Cloudstrider coasted low in the sky above the city outskirts, soothing the roar of its engines as it eased into a landing. Tires bounced against the sand as the engines slowed and stopped, the surrounding population of Mahrjan turning their heads and ceasing activity to observe the visiting ship.

The small, sapphire-maned woman at the helm raised her arms with elation, a device fastened to her right ear and forehead blinking in time with each syllable, “Touchdown, Captain!”

“Good work, Abi,” Harlow nodded, tapping a nearby button on the control panel. It dimmed in activation as she leaned down to a nearby microphone, clearing her throat, “Goooood morning, people, - “ her words echoed throughout the halls and chambers of the ship, “- and welcome to Blairville. We’re here for a day or so. Our friends outside are a local Mahrjan clan. They’re friendly, but avoid mishandling water around them. Happy to explain if needed; otherwise, just trust me on that. Tom - prepare for a full house plus for dinner. We’ll be having a few guests aboard later.”

She smiled at Abi seated in a tangle of her own legs in the pilot’s chair.

“Wanna come with me to get my new eye?”

“YES. I mean.. Of course, Captain. When do we leave?!”

Harlow mulled over her answer, tapping her chin as she spun to face the exit of the bridge, “We have to set up at the Inn de Clairmont by midday. We should head over to the shop first now, if we want to make it in time to meet our prospects. Are you ready to go?”

“AM I EVER!” Abi leapt from her chair, “I’ve been waiting for so long for you to get that eye!”

“Tell me about it. I’m over the eyepatch.”

The pair moseyed from the bridge and into the common area of the ship, briefly scanning the several couches and chairs for any signs of early morning life. Harlow could hear the clanging of stainless steel from the kitchen just beyond it, a clear sign that their cook was well into his task for the day. She paused at the top step for a moment, a satisfied smile finding her, before she descended into the cargo bay below.

Bright beams of light parted the darkness of the bay as the rear ramp opened to the outside, playing Harlow and Abigail’s silhouettes across its expanse as they approached. A small group gathered at the opening entrance, centered by that of an older woman donned in many layers of colorful, ornate robes and wrappings. Bangles danced along her thin wrists as she clasped her hands together, shaking a bit from a natural unsteadiness. Three individuals appeared to surround her as escorts, observing her movements and paying careful attention to her needs. One held her elbow to provide stability where she stood.

“Mama Gita. It’s been a while.” Harlow greeted her with a small bow before the woman reached to take one of her hands.

“It’s so good to see you, young one. Although I wish it were under better circumstances.” Gita slowly raised a shaking hand to the captain’s face, bangles chiming, “Your eye.”

“Don’t worry about it. Getting it taken care of today, actually. Thanks for letting us stay here, it’s really appreciated. Tom is working on a feast for us all later. We’re looking forward to hosting you this evening.”

“Oh yes, we’re thrilled to have you all. Did I hear correctly that you’ve a crew now?”

“Not yet. That’s the other thing we’re taking care of today. Hopefully. Abigail here,” Harlow motioned to her comrade, “Is my engineer, has been for a while. Everyone else you’ll have the pleasure of meeting later tonight - if they show up, anyway. Although, you may get a sneak preview if you run yourself into the slumbering princess we have aboard. You’ll know him by the hat. His name is Stello. ” 

The warm smile on Mama Gita’s wrinkly face colored her tone, “I’m looking forward to meeting all of them.”

“Heh, me too.”
 

Edited by ~Harlow.

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Well, Teddy thought. This is pretty fucking weird.

As long as he could remember, the world had always made room for moments like this. Even when he was busy, he inevitably found himself in strange, frequently occult situations that made him reflect on where he’d gone wrong in life. Granted, this wasn’t anywhere near as bad as the one time he’d been forced to cosplay for that warlord’s daughter- or the time he’d woken up naked in a necromancer’s attic (sign of the cross) -but it still left him feeling dumb and short-sighted, and that with a little bit of clear-thinking he could’ve avoided all of this. 

“Hey, Gramps. You think we can speed this up a little?”

The man in front of him didn’t reply. Didn’t move, didn’t look at him, didn’t even seem to breathe. If Teddy hadn’t known any better, he would’ve thought the guy was dead. All he’d done so far was sit on his stupid satin pillow and stroke the gunslinger’s palm at an intimate pace of half a millimetre a second. In the span it had taken to get midway, Teddy could’ve eaten lunch, dinner and dessert, and still have time for an early nightcap. In fact, he was kind of craving that right now. All around him, the Gipsy Market swirled with the smell of warm food. Fresh samosas. Cheddar perogies. Something that looked like frog on a stick. His stomach rumbled, almost painfully. If it hadn’t been for his audience of eager young street rats, he would’ve flipped the bird and hopped onto the next train headed for the splurgefest. 

Eventually some of the kids got bored and left. Not all of them, though. Teddy silently cursed those who stayed behind, along with his reservations about disappointing children. The old man was just reaching the calluses where his fingers began. It should’ve been a moment of celebration, until Teddy realized palm reading also extended to the fingertips. In that regard, it meant they were only reaching the halfway mark now and not, say, ten minutes ago. 

Screw it, I’m leaving-

HMMMMMM!

Teddy jumped. One kid who’d been sucking on his thumb nearly choked. 

“What?” Teddy started, his voice part excitement, part concern. “Are you done?”

The kids leaned in as if to repeat the question.

The old man was silent for a while, then finally opened his eyes. Inside them was a worrying slowness anyone could’ve mistaken for brain damage. 

“Yes,” he said, somehow stretching the word into three syllables. “I have… finished.”

Teddy waited. “And?

“There is a cyclops looking for a second eye.”

Teddy and the kids exchanged a glance.

“It is here,” the man continued. “In this city. You will meet with it and…” 

There was another pause. “And?

The old man licked his lips. Teddy thought he saw the bastard smiling for a second. 

“You will…”

“Yeah?”

“Try to…” 

“Uh huh…”

“…”

Uh huh-"

“Mate with it."

Teddy stared blankly. 

What?

Laughter exploded in waves all around him. The first one came from the older kids, because they understood the meaning behind the fortuneteller’s words; the second one came from the peewees, who didn’t catch on but simply found the laughter infectious. Gritting his teeth was all Teddy could do to save himself from whipping around and telling them to shut up. 

“Anything else you want to tell me?” he asked slowly, emphasizing the else.

“There is a beetle-"

“Mhmm.”

“-who looks like a girl-"

Teddy suddenly retracted his hand. “You know what, nevermind. I don’t want to mate with beetles.” 

Standing up, he straightened his shirt and dusted off nothing from his pants. The kids weren’t laughing so openly now, as he caught their giggles and the way every glance prompted a fit of uncontrollable rumbling. He gave them all a glare, including the fortuneteller, then left the tent in time to hear the tension release in a chorus of delighted squees. On his way out of the market, he angrily snagged a couple of those frogs on a stick he smelled from earlier. Like any fried meat, they tasted like chicken. It was always chicken. He imagined they would’ve paired well with a beer from the inn, or two ounces of hard whiskey if he really needed it. Unfortunately, 'do not drink before meeting an employer’ was one of ten commandments he tried to live by. Once they’d get to know each other, it would be a different story, but for now he was staying as chaste as ice. 

I really need it, though.

The Inn de Clairmont itself was a quaint establishment. Large and spacious, it offered plenty of room for travellers to rest. Teddy had grown particularly fond of the inner courtyard, since it was a great spot to catch a few rays while familiarizing yourself with the caravans’ horses. One of the mustangs, whom he’d nicknamed Chuckles, greeted him in a hiccuping whinny. Teddy fed the animal the rest of his meal, then gave its muzzle a good rub before finding a shaded bench. There, he flipped out his iCrystal and began scrolling through his contacts.

“Foster, Foster, where are y- ah, there you are.”

The messenger app opened to a tap of his finger. He typed out a quick message.

Here. Sitting in the courtyard.

Zoom, the message was off. They’d never actually spoken on the phone, just on text or through email. That said, Teddy was sure Foster knew what he looked like. She would’ve had to have gone through his dossier to contact him, because no sane person hired professional killers without checking them out first. Teddy, on the other hand, had no idea what to expect. His police friends in Tia weren’t legally allowed to divulge her papers to him. The most they’d coughed up was assurance that she was an upstanding citizen, who'd done nothing dramatic enough to earn a spot on their radar.

As for the others- Foster said there’d be others -Teddy didn’t know what they’d be like either. Which was fine. Meeting strangers was part of the fun, he supposed. Once, he’d teamed up with a gorgeous vampire babe who he ended up dating for a while. That was great- until it wasn't. Shooting people and digging around lost temples went hand in hand with each other, but that didn’t mean passions always lined up. He was a cat person; she was a dog person. She was into neck-biting (like real, bloodsucking neck biting); he wasn’t. He liked pineapple on his pizza; she didn’t. It just wasn’t meant to be.

On another occasion, he got together with a bunch of clowns. Literal, chainsaw-wielding, killer clowns. That had scared the shit out of him. 

All to say meeting these goons could go either way. 

There is a cyclops looking for a second eye. 

Teddy relaxed into the bench. He opened the eBook reader on his phone and tried to focus on where he’d left off.

It is here, in this city. You will meet with it. 

“Reed Minola didn’t know what Gaia wanted from him,” he read aloud.

And you will. 

“But he knew she wanted something."

Try to mate with it.

“Fuck me, I need a drink."

Edited by Wade

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The makeshift bazaar situated outside of Blairville's city limits was abuzz with activity, as most bazaars were. You had your thick, stifling crowds of shoppers, roaming to and fro, hunting for deals. You had men haggling down the price of goods for up to several minutes at a time, and a few pickpockets plying their trade on the more vulnerable targets among the crowds. Children ran wild and unkempt, checking random stands in search of handouts and pretending to be guards and thieves at random. Sometimes the guards won; sometimes the thieves won. Livestock rested idly in the shade, out of the sun and its overbearing heat. On a day like this, the world was abuzz with activity.

And a scarab beetle was attempting to sell a ring at a stand.

The beetle was bigger than most; it was roughly the size of a toddler's fist all the way around. Its smooth carapace was a dark blue, like the deepest fathoms of the sea. For whatever reason, the scarab was also carrying a cheap gold ring beneath its body. For those who are curious, this was not an easy goal for a beetle to achieve at all. For one thing, scarabs have no concept of currency, nor do they understand the value of precious metals. Nor did it know how a bazaar operated. However, this did not stop it from hovering in front of the perplexed man behind the stall.

"Do you...want to give that to me?" The man was dumbfounded. The beetle, in response, flared its wings before settling down on the countertop. Slowly, the merchant reached for the ring, and in response the beetle backed off. He picked up the ring slowly, and examined it carefully. It had a similar dull sheen to gold, certainly, but it wasn't well-made or new, either. Experimentally, he bit into it, curious. Sure enough, he managed to leave marks in the metal. So the beetle did have a genuine gold ring. He glanced back at the bug and nodded.

"Well, of course. Let me just," He coughed. "Get you something in exchange, sir." He just called a bug 'sir', he noted with distaste. The merchant looked away from the insect atop his desk, and had to take several seconds to actually guarantee he wasn't completely losing it. Not only was he trying to do business with an insect, but he was talking to it now. It couldn't even talk back, as far as he knew! Yet he knew what he'd seen; the ring was made of gold, even if it wasn't quality gold, and the bug seemed content to wait on him now. He reached into one of several baskets behind his stand, and produced a small felt bag of gold coins. Tipping a few out, he counted them out for the insect...oh, wait, it was an insect, it had no pockets to carry several pieces of currency in. With a mighty sigh, the merchant reached back into the bag and found another small felt pouch. He tipped the pieces into it, and returned to the stand. 

The beetle awaited.

The man glanced around, totally unsure of what he was trying to do. Everywhere else, the bazaar still moved on as normal, and next to noone appeared to notice that he was speaking to an insect, or that he was now trying to give it roughly two gold pieces for the ring.

"You know, you would have made more money if you could haggle." He said to the beetle. It only flared its wings in response. He tied the pouch to the beetle, who quickly took off in response. For a bug of its size, it was able to fly remarkably well with a bag of gold strapped to it.

With the bug finally gone, the merchant put a sign up on the counter that read "Back Later." He hurriedly stuffed his things into a heavy iron crate, and locked it tight before walking away from the stand. Bugs making jewelry exchanges was probably a good sign that he needed a break.

Elsewhere, the black-blue beetle wobbled through the air, more weighed down by its newfound loot than the ring prior. Curiously, even a larger bug, carrying around a small pouch of money beneath it was still quite hard for many people to see, and it fluttered harmlessly along, headed back towards wherever the ring had come from in the first place.

"Ma'am, if you're not going to pay for anything, get out of the way, please." Somewhere behind her, a peasant had the gall to open his mouth. The woman at the front of the line turned in place, and fixed him with a dead stare--like staring into the very soul of the poor sod who'd thought to talk with her.

They held eye contact for several seconds, those two. The man, because he could look not else. The woman, because she had all the time in the world to do so. Her stare was....heat, perhaps. Not fire, as some might have mistaken it for, but heat, as if he were basking in the deathly glow of a small, feeble star giving up its last vestiges of energy at that exact moment. Intensity radiated from that baleful, unmistakably hateful glare until her focus was finally broken.

A beetle, roughly the size of a small fruit, fluttered directly in front of her, a bag of some kind tied around it. The woman at the front of the line blinked in surprise, and reached out eventually, accepting the pouch from the beetle. Without further instruction, the beetle flit over to her, nestling into her hair. The man behind her, who'd stared into her eyes for ages while she did nothing, could only watch in absolute terror as her skin adjusted--flexed was more accurate--and the beetle was drawn into her caramel-colored flesh. If this caused her any discomfort, she showed no indication of it.

Inar Otep presented the merchant behind the till with her findings, proffering the gold and the pouch at the same time.

"There you are," She spoke, satisfied everything was in order. "Now, your end of the bargain."

She extended her hands, and the merchant handed her a smoked leg of lamb, well-seasoned and still hot. It was wrapped in a small length of cloth, which she immediately discarded in favor of holding the food in her hands. Steam rose off the piping hot meal as she strode away, already digging in seconds after getting it.

Inar Otep wandered the bizarre with her prize clutched firmly in her hands. Although her hands were full of cooked meat which quickly spread to her cheeks and palms, she was otherwise a proud, straight-backed and regal-looking woman. Her skin was a deep caramel tone and, to the best of anybody's ability to tell, appeared almost flawlessly smooth. She had slender shoulders and broad hips, both of which were mostly covered by her robes, and yet her garments also allowed plenty of skin to show. If one were to pay close attention to her garments, they might notice that they are quite a bit stiffer than clothes of such a fabric should be, and they moved very little as the girl moved along, chewing upon her lamb's leg with a ravenous vigor.

The Scarabous was not here for the food alone, however, and she made her way along at a brisk pace, striding with purpose towards the further end of the bizarre. The Scarab Queen had arrived her approximately a day before expected, and had spent that time mostly resting, and sampling the various meals she could find throughout the bizarre for the duration of her stay, she dared not enter the city itself, where it was more likely that she would get lost, or simply lose herself in the more human aspect of the city. That would not do, as her presence here in the first place was unplanned. Instead, she needed to be close at hand for when the time came.

Inar Otep finished her lamb leg quickly, and instead of consuming the bones, as she might have, she instead surrendered it to the earth, dropping it along the path as if it were nothing. It was a callous gesture, certainly, but the alternative was to risk letting somebody see her pulverize the bone between her teeth. She wasn't an expert on human behavior, but she was fairly positive they didn't like watching other humans crush bones into powder with their teeth alone. Besides, she felt as though people would treat her better if they weren't terrified by her.

Right. On to business.

Approximately two days prior, Inar Otep had been on another continent. Specifically, she'd finally gotten through the Velhatien Desert, and had begun her approach to Jorah City before she encountered...someone.

She didn't waste time learning his name, as he had the extreme misfortune of assuming she was hostile, and tried to attack first. Looking back, she couldn't blame him for his actions either. She suspected that not many humans were used to perfectly normal, healthy-looking women wandering out of one of the harshest environments on the continent relatively unscathed.

Unfortunately for him, he was right in one respect. While she wasn't hostile at first, she was unnatural. In the end, when she finished picking his bones clean, munching down on the broader ones in search of marrow, she was able to go through his things. Most of them were not useful: water, food rations, lengths of rope and a compass, all mostly useless to her. However, there was one particular piece upon him that caught her attention. A missive, directed to whom she could only assume was the man she'd devoured.

It was a short, easy to comprehend note. The receiver had been selected as part of a group, for some kind of work. From the way it was dictated, it seemed as though he'd undergone some kind of selective process to be chosen. She recalled biting down on one of those bones in his forearm as she came across this part of the note, snapping the bone apart with an audible crack. Evidently he wasn't chosen based on his hardiness, then. This, of course, left Inar Otep on the path towards Jorah City, with the very obvious sign that she had derailed somebody else's intentions. As Queen of the Scarabs, she really, really didn't care about whether that particular mission succeeded, but she did care that she'd just eaten somebody that was expected to be a part of that mission. Without any other goings on, the Scarabous considered her situation, taking her time to ponder the problem, carefully, slowly weighing her options. By the time she'd finished, the sun was finally sinking below the horizon, and sunlight was scarce, but she had an idea what she wanted to do next. She continued strutting out towards Jorah on foot, determined to get within the city's walls and make her way towards Terrenus. 

Which brought her back to the now. 

When Inar Otep had initially set out towards the new continent, her intention had been singular. Find the person who was hoping to hire the man she'd devoured, explain that he would not be coming, and leave just as quickly. However, upon her flight there, she'd had a great deal more time to consider the situation, and realized that if he had been so foolish as to assault Royalty without hesitation, he was clearly not fit for duty, as these people had believed. In slaying him, she had provided them with a unique service. Now, she could approach them in person, explain that they were unable to make it to the city, and offer to take their place. The note provided little to go on in terms of work details, but the Scarabous was not unused to such things. Besides, if the job went wrong, and they all perished, she had nothing to fear. Her kin would come to her eventually, and reassemble her broken flesh. Certainly, it might take months or years, but it was just as possible that it would take minutes, or hours.

After all, that's how she'd managed to kill the man and find the note in the first place.

The note had mentioned a rendezvous point, and now that her hunger was sated, she saw no reason not to head there now. She'd done her waiting already, and was more familiar with the surrounding buildings than she was a day ago. Getting there quickly, so as to intercept the original sender of the note would not be difficult.

Edited by Jotnotes
Redid post. Should be better!

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This wasn't the first time Stello traveled by air. As a youth, he embarked on many trips, most of which he hardly remembered anymore. Fortune had rained down upon him with such frequency that it had all blurred together into a picture that could no longer be deciphered. It would take a telepath to help him untangle those memories and get them resembling serene crystal clear water again, a notion he had relentlessly considered during some of those quiet contemplative days adults occasionally lose themselves in. 

His mother was the one who liked to travel. If there was one thing he remembered it was the look of wonder in her expression as she ventured about in foreign marketplaces, gawking at vegetables and fruits that she would never see at home. Nowadays he wondered where she had gotten that from. Probably from her upbringing. She loved to cook, loved to eat and though even now he felt no interest in seeking out the same stimuli, he found himself feeling excited to ogle something in much the same way. The sky and all of its constituents was one. The other were the heavily curved swords of the Mahrjan culture they would be encountering upon arrival. 

For long moments at a time he watched the clouds wondering things like if whether his hand would get wet if he could stick it outside the window. Then he might consider how refreshing it could be to stick his face out with his eyes closed if that were true. When he was busy, in this instance with exercise, pulling himself up and down from a sturdy pipe overhead, he did so while facing the glass. Because of his motions, he was entirely unaware that the Cloudstrider had begun its descent until the clouds disappeared and revealed a bird in flight. It looked like it was going higher and higher but then it hit him that it wasn't the bird that was elevating but that the ship was losing altitude. 

He let go and landed with a thud, approaching the window and leaning up against the frame that it was nestled in, watching the bird soar in what looked like an eternal glide. Stelllo didn't know birds very well but this one looked like the ones that delivered babies to their homes in children's books. Eventually, the city of Blairville came into view and became the next object of his attention. It brought a thirsty smirk to his lips. Pushing away from the window, he snapped around and left to prepare. 

After quipping that the cook was hard at work preparing tonight's gruel, he admonished ( lightly because he didn't want to get spit in his food ) him about his kitchenware and hinted towards some nice upgrades from his shop if he was interested. Then he was off, appearing at the very top of the cargo ramp a few seconds after Harlow met with her Mahrjan contacts, putting on a pair of dark shades. He wore a white short sleeve t-shirt with his shop's logo imprinted on the front in black. His black jeans were neat, not a single wrinkle present and his mostly white and black shoes were pristine, as if painstaking care was taken to preserve their luster. Rounding out his garb was the hat, the one he would be recognized for, which was black with white pinstripes throughout. A tuft of black hair from the crown of his head protruded from its adjustable strap. 

Naturally, he didn't smile at all for maximum nonchalance. After a brief pause ( either for dramatic effect or because he was adjusting to the light of the sun, you choose ), he began his descent towards them, carrying the smell of smooth citrus cologne with him and watching the older lady grace Harlow's face with a touch so delicate it might not even have fluttered away dandelion seed heads. He didn't arrive until their initial exchange had ended, however, and the first thing he did was turn towards Abigail, holding up a communication device that he placed inside his ear so she would know he was connected now. He also made sure she saw him tap down the volume a bit. For a mute, she was pretty damn loud. 

Then he turned his attention to the Mahrjan folk, nodding his head in acknowledgment. "Hello. I am Stello Lavis," then he approached, and held out his right hand in hopes of initiating a proper Mahrjan greeting.  Left hand remained in the pocket. For Mama Gita, he had a soft grasp and barely any shake at all. For the others, the men especially, a firm grip and firm shake. 

"I'm here to help Harlow but I'm hoping I get the opportunity to study Mahrjan weaponry once that's taken care of. Your curved swords, especially." 

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"I wonder what to exspecting of this little bout of adventure Nyx..." Maria said walking along the bazaar talking to her cat as if it was nothing. Certainly this drew some attention from the crowds as she appeared to be a normal human with a cat on her shoulder. She should have no business out here in the scoorching sun and certainly not seem right at home. Though she paied this no attention. She appeared to be in a landof her own as she walked.

She yawns a bit board by the whole thing.judging by the sun she still had an hour before the meeting was supposed to take place. Looking down at the paper she had received and given her the invitation she read over it. Very little info to go off of but she was no stranger to that. She had done more on less. It seemed like fun and she wasn't busy. She was just curious if this Harlow knew much about her... Did she even have a record? Maria was just a nomad never sticking in one place to long. She hadn't really interacted with authority much either...

How did this person even find her?! So many questions... WAIT what if this was a trap?! What if the paper was harmful?! She yelps drawing attention to herself as she throws the paper in the air and quickly snaps her fingers send a bolt of bright red flame up and engulfing the paper she watches it staring with hatred. 

"Hm... Okay... Totally normal paper." She says reganing herself. She giggles a bit and speaks to her cat. "Well that may have been over kill..." 

People we're not to sure what to make of the girl and she just looked around the crowd and laughed a bit waving hi before crossing her hands behind her back and moving on like nothing had happened. She had people to meet and places to be! Clearly this Harlow might not be bad... She would hear this out. MAYBE she could meet some fun people... OH OR MAYBE there would be things to burn! That was always fun for her!

When Maria arrived no one seemed to be there! "HOW RUDE OF THEM! Nyx they aren't even here yet!" She slamed her foot on the ground as fire sparked to life in her hands. "LATE! HOW COULD THEY! I could be out doing other things!" She starts walking around in circles smoke rising from her feet. Clearly she was upset but no one probably cared or... Wanted to give her something to direct her anger at. 

Nyx hopes down from her shoulder and meows up at her. "NOT NOW NYX! When they get here I am going to give them a price of my... No no Maria... Calm down! I am sure there is a resoanble explanation for this..." Looking up at the sun she sighs... "Wait... Maybe I'm early... HMMM.... What time is it?..." She sighs and waits for the others. To pass the time she conjures a fire in her hand and plays with it morphing it's shape and color. "Still... They are making me wait I hate that... "

Edited by AthenasFire

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“You’re in luck, actually,” Harlow gestured to Stello, “Some of them are coming with us."

Mama Gita putt her way into the full shade of the Cloudstrider, her sandaled feet stepping onto the metal ramp. A faint sensation of unease worked its way through her, the elder wriggling her ringed toes at the absence of earth or stone beneath them. Rarely had she ever been separated from it.

After a moment of reflection, she turned her attention to Stello, “I take it you are an artisan of these things, weaponry? There is a man later that you must meet, then. He is one of our best warriors. I believe he's one of the tribe coming with us.”

Bing.

A small screen beamed to life on Harlow’s left forearm, the display of her crystal array omni-tool. She brought the light to her eyes, underlighting the curves of her face as she read, “Someone’s already here.”

Abi pout her bottom lip, “Does that mean we have to wait until later to get your eye?”

She quickly typed back with her gloved finger, Be there in a little bit. Need to run an errand first.

“Na, it’s on the way. Mr. Lavis, “ Harlow dropped her arm, “We’re headed into town, if you’d like to come with us to meet the hires.”

“And get her new EYE!”

And get my new eye. Otherwise, we can meet you back here afterward."

Once aligned on their plans, those heading towards the Inn de Clairmont would depart from the Cloudstrider, leaving it in the hands of Tom and his tribe as they began to prepare for the later festivities.

The nearby Gypsy Market served as their path through the winding walkways of Blairville’s outer residents, to the gate that would lead them into the city proper. Sand quickly became cobblestone as they made their way through, the marvelous Walls of Blaurg towering over them in silent judgement. Harlow passed into their late morning shadow, taking an immediate turn into a corner store, first to the right just after the entrance. Above its minimalist doorway was a delicately inscribed, single, bolded and italicized, lowercase i.

Abi’s jaw fell, awestruck at the sight of the simple storefront, “I can’t believe we’re here. We are in the presence of a magitech god.”

Harlow ruffled the girl’s hair with a hand as she passed her to knock on the door, whispering with a grin, “Please try to hold back on the fangirling.”

Abi hoarsely (not-so)whispered in return, fixing the mess her hair now was, “I am not fangirling, I just have a completely professional, relentlessly serious and potentially unhealthy amount of interest in his work.” The young engineer shrugged, “No big deal.”

“Right. ”

Shnnk. A tiny window in the center of the door opened to a pair of thin-framed eyes. They darted around the area and at his visitors without so much as blinking.

“Can I help you, Miss?”

“Yep,” she handed him a receipt, undeterred by his clearly antisocial behavior, “I’m picking up a special order. Should be under Foster.”

“One second, please.” Shnnk. The small opening slid shut momentarily before flying back open but seconds later. Shnnk., “It’s ready for you.” A second, lower window revealed a white box. Click. “Have a nice day, Ms. Foster. Come again, soon.”

It took most of her inner strength not to hug the box to her chest immediately, “Thanks, Dr.Siizahl. We’ll be back, I’m sure -”

Just as the box passed from the Doctor to Harlow, a group of teens sprung from a nearby alleyway. Rushing the exchange, they plowed their way between the two, grabbing the box before blasting the surroundings of their victims with some sort of ice-conjuring spell. Frozen crystals manifested instantaneously around the legs of the captain, keeping her held in place from the knees down. She glared at the young thieves as they took off further into the city.

“Hey!”

Spoiler

Stop the little brats (or don't)! For all intents and purposes, let's say they're running in the general direction (but not directly at) the Inn.


“Excuse me, Miss.”

The pithy voice of a man astute sounded from behind Maria as she played with her fiery toy. He stood over her as an adult might when checking in with a small child. The roundedness of his midsection required almost a bow from the man in order for him to look down at the girl, the dark coattails of his jacket fanning out behind him as he did so, “I am Jacques, one of the proprietors of thee Inn. We would prefer if you, eh, how should I say thees? Stopped that. We are not ones to stir thee pot as you might say, but we certainly do not want magicks being performed in the courtyard... Or anywhere on this property, thank you.”

He motioned to the fireball in her palm before placing his hand back in the other.

“What ees your business here at the Inn? You have been sitting here a while, may I suggest anything of interest to you as you wait? Your time would be much better spent perusing one of our many shops of wares, or perhaps one of thee street vendors? There is all kinds of things to see, no need to be playing with fiyar at a time like thees, you know?”

The grin he found himself with felt plastered to his face, ear-to-ear, as he attempted to avoid any sort of magical upset in his place of business. Jacques offered a hand to Maria to help the young woman to her feet, betting on a bit of diplomacy to calm her spirits.

“There is a palm reader just over there,” he pointed to an elderly man seated squarely at the center of a small group of children across the way, “He ees so good, and so thorough. He will tell you everything. He really is just great. A tad on the slow side, but don’t let that deter you, eh? He can hold your hand, reading it while you relax and whatevar. What say you, eh?"

Edited by ~Harlow.

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Reed ran fast, faster than-

“HOW RUDE OF THEM!”

-he ever had in his entire life. The exit was right there, bleeding its white light, calling for him. He-

“LATE! HOW COULD THEY!”

-had to make it. He couldn’t afford not to. If the wights caught up-

“NOT NOW, NYX!”

-to him, Jean would never-

HMMM.”

Teddy sighed deeply through his nose. In the process, he swallowed lingering traces of smoke and nearly coughed. Looking up from his phone, he didn’t try to hide his contempt. In fact, he hoped the pink-haired girl saw him- or at least felt him, like a searing laser of ill will that burned a hole in the back of her skull. It was a mean thought for mean people, but he reckoned Reed Minola would’ve approved. With a push and flick of his thumb, the phone saved his page before he turned it off and shoved it back into his pocket. The girl was talking to a man now, large and round and with a nasally accent. Teddy didn’t quite catch what he was saying but, again, he hoped it was scalding. Preferably to the point where he had to get an ice cold beer in her memory, because that’s what he was doing now and he needed an excuse to not feel bad about it. 

Inside, a pair of ceiling fans spun lazily to create a comfortable draft. Brick walls and polished wood lent the bar a charming atmosphere, and Teddy had the back row feeling that he’d stepped into a good spot for a quiet Friday night. He took a seat by the counter, directly across from one of three liquor racks. The lone bartender on duty was a blonde woman, somewhere in her early forties. She looked bored, tired, hot as the day she’d turned twenty, and very, very married.

She introduced herself as Cindy and slid a menu in front of him. “See anything you like?” 

“I’m not sure yet,” Teddy said, trying not to sound too disappointed. “How’s your peanut butter stout?”

Cindy shook her head. “Wouldn’t recommend it. They used real peanut butter while brewing it, like the kind of stuff joggers eat to stay healthy. It’s the diet coke of beers, only you’re still drinking the caloric equivalent of a small loaf of bread.” 

Teddy laughed. “Alright, then what would you recommend?”

“Definitely the Hairy Moon Blonde.” Her knuckles rapped the tap handle. “At least, it’s my favourite."

“What the hell does hairy moon taste like?”

It was Cindy's turn to laugh. “Want to find out?”

The beer in question was a rich, translucent yellow. About as normal-looking as any blonde Teddy had ordered in his entire life. Seeing it in front of him, he didn’t know why he had half-expected to find a peppering of eyelashes on its surface.

“Cheers,” he said, taking a sip. “Huh, it’s actually pretty good.”

The bartender seemed pleased with herself. “Anything else I can get you?”

Teddy was about to make a joke when his phone suddenly buzzed. He flashed her an apologetic smile, then opened his messages.

Be there in a little bit. Need to run an errand first.

“Lady friend?”

Teddy lifted his gaze back up. A coquettish smirk that was, somehow, not at all flirtatious played on Cindy’s lips. It made him swoon.

“Maybe?” He shrugged with his eyebrows. “I don’t know what she looks like yet.”

“Blind date?”

“More like meeting an employer for the first time.”

“Oh?” she said quizzically. “And you’re here drinking why exactly?”

“I got violated by a fortuneteller on the street.”

A snort escaped her. “Sorry.”

Teddy waved the apology away. “Don’t be. I was half-joking.”

Cindy’s eyes shot him a query at the word ‘half’ but she didn’t press the topic. “So what do you do? Work-wise, I mean."

“Take a guess.”

“Hmmm.” She looked him over. “Foreign language teacher.”

“Nein. Nada. Niet. Non. Me gusta el pollo frito. Essaye encore.” 

“Photographer.” 

Teddy wheeled around in his stool so Cindy stood behind him. They took a selfie together, and he sent it to all his easily-angered male friends. 

“It’s more of a hobby, as you can see. Try again?”

“I’m afraid to ask if you’re a flight attendant.” 

“Fair enough,” he nodded. “Bounty hunter.”

Cindy’s eyes widened ever so slightly. He could tell this was the most interesting thing she’d heard in over an hour. Their conversation began to revolve around his more extravagant adventures, as it usually did with people he was trying to impress. Cindy herself proved to be the perfect audience. She asked questions at the right moment. She always made sure to react appropriately. So swept had he been by her attentiveness and his own testosterone that he hadn't realized she’d suckered him into a second beer until he finished it. 

“…You wily little minx.”

She winked at him and he felt his heart implode. “Just doing my job, sweetheart. Stick around for another?”

Teddy remembered Harlow’s text. The words in a bit stood at the forefront of his mind.

“Well,” he started reluctantly. “I guess there are worse ways to kill time. But first, as a married woman, you gotta tell me. How attracted are you to me to right now?”

Cindy took a moment to think about it. “You’re kind of like a hopeless little puppy."

Teddy nodded grimly.

“Yeah, I’m going to need another drink.” 

Edited by Wade

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Warm sands gave way to firm cobblestones at the Gates of Blaurg, and Inar Otep found herself staring up at them with amusement. Like the city of Jorah, and the city of Patia where she'd touched down upon her arrival in Terrenus, the buildings and structures behind the walls were visible even from here, towering over the walls that defended them. It was foolish, did they not understand that? Cities were not meant to be elaborate structures exposed to the sun and sand and wind and water. They were to build underground, in a series of tunnels and chambers, aimed at keeping food, and offspring, and the Queen safe from the elements. This backwards thinking was shared commonly among the races of this place, she understood, and while she knew the true nature of the world, the consensus was not in her favor. However, Inar Otep was confident that she would outlive every man-made city she encountered. When the sands finally claimed their due, she would walk in the ruins with a haughty gait, scoffing at the gall these civilizations had. 

Until then, of course, she had to go inside the city and mingle, like the rest of the common folk.

She strode through the gates, back straight and head held high as she passed beneath the stone archways. Behind her, a few scarab beetles followed suit, landing periodically on anything they could land on, and resting a while before flitting ahead again. It was in this way that the Scarab Queen could see the various reactions to her arrival.

When we say 'various', we mean the two different reactions. That is, either people were looking at her body, or they weren't looking at her at all. That was fine. Royalty was to be admired, after all. The Scarabous jerked her head in the direction of one of the guards who'd been staring, and fixed him with that timeless stare of hers as she passed by. Slowly, he took a step away, and cast his gaze elsewhere, seeing something in her stare that he didn't like. Just like that, she was clear of the gates once more, and her procession of beetles followed, soaring over the gates or under them, or crawling out of the filth and mud on the other side, as if they'd spontaneously been created there. The queen wandered down the road swiftly, and as she moved, the insects that followed her shared a wealth of information with her on everything they could.

From what the Scarabous could deduce, the city of Blairville was quite clean, even this far out. The streets were swept often, and recent rainfall, combined with salting the streets with home-made cleaning salts, made it easy to scrub the stones from time to time. Most of the buildings she passed were in fair repair, and for the most part the majority of the people she passed by looked mostly proud and mostly clean. There were exceptions, certainly; Inar Otep found that peasantry was universal in this way. Among her kind, the hard-working ones always smelt of filth and dirt. There was no exception here. The skies were mostly clear as well, which meant there would likely not be any rainfall today. That was a boon, as it made finding the Inn she was expected to reach far easier on her.

The white-clad Scarab Queen rested against a wall comfortably, moving out of the way of moving bodies in order to focus. She produced her scrip of paper from within the folds of her attire, and reread it as best as she could. 

The note was straightforward, as she'd already established and featured the location she was expected to get to. 'Inn de Clairmont' was listed as the place of interest. Once again, Inar Otep reached out to her kind, and relaxed as her kin fluttered close, gathering around her general location as she directed them around. With a wordless gesture, she bid them all to take flight, and with a drone audible to just about everyone on the street in front of her (about two people, at the time of writing) they took flight into the skies overhead. Approximately a dozen scarabs took flight as one, before splitting up individually and descending upon the city. Each insect zoomed through the streets, and the Scarab Queen overlooked their efforts simultaneously.

The end result was a veritable wealth of data in almost every direction. Inar Otep was able to see in some detail as her kin flitted through the streets, just over the heads of most passerby. At their modest speeds, she could see buildings and people, food and livestock, the facades of businesses and even a few peculiar incidents. Along one street, she saw a small group of younger folk sprinting away with...something. Whatever they held was not of import, as the beetle quickly overtook them in its search of the streets. One beetle was ordered to pause and circle around a particularly intriguing bakery along one street, which appeared to be serving meat pies of a sort. Although she'd already eaten, Inar Otep was tempted to investigate, if she only had the funds to do so. Alas, she did not have the time to send another beetle out into the world with another piece of her jewelry in order to procure additional funds. 

Especially not when one of her scouts flitted past the exact building she was looking for.

She sat up, and instructed the beetle to hold still, which it did so. It rested against a lamp post, fixated on the building for the time being, while Inar Otep made her way in its direction. The Inn wasn't that far off, and she made swift progress, striding down the streets with vigor. The Scarabous passed through the streets uninterrupted, brushing past slower peasants and unmoving livestock along the roads as she traveled. Slowly, most of her flock returned to her, creeping along the ground and clambering up her legs before melting into her flesh. If anybody saw this, she wasn't aware of it as she broke from the main road and cut through an alleyway towards the Inn. 

She'd made good time, she believed. She may even arrive before the people responsible for the missive got there.

Before she could get to the end of the alleyway, Inar Otep's way was blocked by a familiar group of individuals. She recognized them from the insect who'd found the Inn for her; that same gaggle of ruffians, sprinting down the road. She hadn't seen what they'd done prior, nor what they were doing, but she did know that they were rushing her (or perhaps more likely trying to rush past her.)

The Scarabous was not so keen to be assailed by such uncouth creatures.

As they attempted to get past her, she thrust her hands out in both directions, effectively taking up the majority of the alleyway. She stared them down impatiently, as they rushed on, prepared to get past her without much of a fight. The one leading the charge, a taller, pudgier fellow (with that kind of muscle to fat ratio, he must have tasted delicious) attempted to shove through her arm, right past her. 

Imagine his surprise, then, when the curvaceous priestess barring his way refused to budge.

"Get out of my way." She hissed impatiently. She locked eyes with the first of them, who took a step back, before raising his voice at her.

"Look, lady, there's enough alleyway for everyone. Stop blocking us."

"No. You will go that way." She ordered, staring him down coldly. "I have no patience for brushing shoulders with your ilk."

"My ilk?" He demanded, annoyed. "What does that even mean?"

Bargaining with the priestess proved next to useless, and they realized it quickly, instead opting to try and shove her out of the way again. In response to one of them trying to brush her aside with the length of their arm, Inar Otep hissed once more, and her clothes and skin rapidly began to grow dark and mottled before rotting away entirely.

Then came the screaming.

The group sprinted out of the alleyway in the direction they came from at full speed, the majority of them swatting at their bodies. In their moment of distress, several dozen scarab beetles were brushed off of their bodies, scattered along the road. They weren't discarded unscathed, of course, and anybody close enough to see the thieves run off might be observant enough to notice the red, swollen bites upon their ankles and legs. Insect bites, all of them, and they were more than likely not going to do much else to their victims beyond irritate them. In some cultures, however, they might have been seen as symbolic, as surefire signs that the afflicted were doomed to die in some horrible way. Whether they did or not, they fled without their prize in hand, and as the beetles finally returned to the alleyway Inar Otep was able to stride back out. The last of the scarab beetles found its way back into her flesh as she made her way into the streets, clutching the box. She bore the expression of a very unhappy consumer, as if dealing with the thugs had spoiled the last of her mood.

Carrying the box along, she quickly took notice of several people approaching her down the road. She paused in her tracks, still clutching the box. She was uncertain as to who these people were, or what they wanted from her. However, she still had the box with her, and that seemed to be the focus.

"I presume this box belongs to one of you." She spoke quite stiffly, unamused with the whole ordeal. She was tempted just to drop it for them on the floor and walk off, but instead the Scarab Queen held it aloft, waiting impatiently for someone to take it.

 

 

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Mama Gita's apprehensive motions towards the Cloudstrider were noted. The first thought that passed through his mind was that it stemmed from physical weakness. Maybe she wasn't sure if the bones in her aged body would hold up during the ascent. Just as he began to consider the thought that she might benefit from a wheelchair, he noted the people beside her, holding and supporting the steps she took. With them there ensuring she wouldn't suffer a hard fall, he might be wrong about his initial speculation. Doubt opened room for another theory, one that more closely approximated the truth. She wasn't entirely at ease with flying. 

"Yeah, I'm a smith," he confirmed, listening to what she had to say next. The thought of being able to examine their weapons earlier than he anticipated was enough to bring a grin to his lips, "Alright, now we're talking. If he'll let me check out his blade, of course." He remembered reading that they were curved into a half circular shape. It was by no means a design that he had never encountered before. What stimulated him about these experiences was that every culture always had a different take on similar weapons. What was the edge like? It must be top heavy for better cutting performance. Was there a unique quenching or tempering process? All of these considerations, all of which were inane to most folks, were vivid streams of color cutting across a gray scale landscape in his mind. 

Meanwhile, Harlow organized their itinerary and Abi announced something he hadn't been privy to until now. "First off, just Stello. No Mr. Stello, Mr. Magnificent, Sir, just Stello. I told you already. Maaaaybe Mr. Magnificent, then again. Second, you're grabbing something for your eye? A working prosthetic or a stand in?" 

While his first statement was crabby as ever, the tone of voice with which the question was posed changed drastically. In not so many words, he effectively put all of the bullshit aside and honed in on a matter he considered to be worth serious discussion. Furthermore, with enough attentiveness one might even note that he harbored a preference for the working prosthetic over the other option. Harlow's response was met with resounding approval. 

"Hell yeah, that's great. When the means are there within reasonable lengths, it's a total shit head move to skimp on yourself. Good call. Let's go grab that eye." 

The Gypsy Market turned out to be a quaint little destination. While he studied a magical trinket here and there, in the end he settled on a food vendor and purchased two bright yellow lemons, which he now carried around in a bag. Ever since, he appeared to be searching for something specific all throughout. Whatever it was, he couldn't find it before they arrived at their . . . eyeball drive thru. Stello watched silently as Harlow exchanged words with the person at the counter and Abi gushed. 

"This place looks shady. Are they even licensed?" He pointed over his shoulder with his thumb, "There was a guy a few blocks down inviting passerbys to take a look into his trench coat. Might as well get it from him." 

The exchange happened despite his warnings. Hearing someone being called Doctor eased his mind, however, and next thing he felt was someone smashing into him to get through. For Stello, conflict was instinctual, as inherent to him as blinking his eyes to keep them from going dry. His brows knotted up in an instant and his first response was to savagely kick at one of the teenager's ankles as he ran with one long leg swept horizontally like a steel i beam. The thief's back leg was knocked, no shunted, out of its running rhythm and sent him crashing into the floor with a youthful yelp. 

Just as Stello identified that the culprit was a kid and Harlow had the package snatched out of her hands, frost washed over them. If he wasn't angry before, now he was seething. With a wrathful yell, he expelled a forceful blast in every direction that peppered the whole nearby area with ice chunks, some of them pelting Harlow and likely Abi as well. 

"What the fuck, Harlow?! You're lucky they didn't want your bra and panties cause they could have stolen that shit too if they wanted!" 

He ran past them, shooting after the thieves like a horse at the races, yelling obscenities and threatening them with broken legs if they didn't drop the package. He was fast and agile, at some point cartwheeling one handed through a narrow split between two shops to continue the chase over a cinder block wall seven feet tall, which he overcame effortlessly. As he disappeared behind it, his hollering grew more and more distant. 

"I'm going to break your foot off deep in your friend's ass!" 

Eventually, he was led to an alleyway but instead of watching them make their ways through it, they were repelled by what looked like a haze of vicious beetles. The second he noticed the red bites all over their skin, he took several steps back and made sure not to let any of them touch him, though he did eye them for Harlow's box. Nothing. Then someone emerged from the alley. 

Other than the box, Stello also noticed a pattern. It was almost as if the scarabs swirled around her presence, or at least danced to a tune that was imperceptible to him. It was a strange ability, not something he witnessed commonly. Watching those things scatter about, making the very air look like an abandoned picnic crawling with ants, made him cringe. 

"Yeah, it's Harlow's." 

He was just about to approach and retrieve the package when he heard steps behind him. Looking over his shoulder revealed the captain had finally caught up. 

"This lady here saved the day. Gave the kids a proper send off, too. They look like they had just contracted chicken pox. It was hilarious. And . . . kinda freaky." 

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As Maria is approached by the man she raises an eyebrow. Not many people asked her to stop. She flicks the fire off to the side and it hits the ground dispersing into a cloud of smoke and she shrugs. 

"Okay then... But I am content to just sit here." She says brushing the man's hand off. "Fortune telling is for people who want their futures ruined and I'm not about that. As for my business I am waiting for a rather rude group of people but that is fine... Now then if you'd be so kind as to leave me be that would be lovely." 

As if to emphasize this Nyx meows at him as Maria slowly get up and starts to sigh as she looks up at the sun slowly moving through the sky. It was a rather nice day maybe some shopping wouldn't be the worst thing she could do... But what did she need? She shakes her head and looks as a bunch of kids come run in out of an ally covered in bumps. She couldnt help but giggle clearly they had a terrible time in that ally. Soon after a girl with a bunch of bugs steps out. Maria couldn't help but stare at her. It was clear the bugs we're drawn to her. Or were they real bugs? 

Anyways she had a box and did not look amussed about having said box... Made Maria wonder what was In it and why she had it but that was quickly cleared up when more people showed up and claimed said box. Was this the people she was looking for? Likely but she wanted to see more about this whole thing. Bug queen over there had a chip on her shoulder and Maria didn't particularly want to upset her.

Nyx hops down off of Maria's shoulders and follows her as she approachs the group and looks to the group claiming the box. "Hello... Excuse me ,but would one of you happen to be Harlow? I happen to be looking for her..." Maria tries her best to give a pleasant smile.

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The moment the box left Harlow’s hand, Abigail locked onto its location with her sights and darted after the thieving hooligans like something fierce. Given her small size and stature, the petite engineer found weaving through the crowd of adults and large pack creatures easier than anticipated. Her small feet barely seemed to touch the dirt.

Harlow swore out loud, nearly falling over from having her feet cemented in ice to the ground as Stello shouted at her for losing the box. She glared at him over her shoulder as her omnitool opened with a mini ice pick.

“What are you even calling me out for?! Existing outside of paranoia for a minute? Just get the damn box back!” She smashed the ice by her ankles, kicking its remnants around as she started to follow her two companions after the thieves, shouting at no one at this point, “I’d love to know what you  were doing while I was in the middle of a focused exchange!”

Meanwhile, Abigail had nearly closed the gap between she and the three assailants that dared lay their hands on the work of Dr.Siizahl. She watched, impressed, as Stello cleared the small opening the boys had made their way through with some familiarity. It was obvious from the way he was able to keep up with them that he was deft on his feet. And Abigail wasn’t far behind, either.

The larger one, holding the box, briefly met eyes with Abi as she encroached on his lead. Instead of fear, however, she was met with laughter.

“Haha, give it up little lady, you’re no match for us!”

Abi huffed, shoulders tensing as the pudgy punk took his verbal jab. Her eyes locked on a nearby rock, and she scoped it from the ground as she moved, reeling back her arm, “I am NOT little!” The stone beamed off the box-holder’s head, causing him to stumble and trip up the others behind him.

“OW!”

“Don’t stop now!” One of them shouted, frantically searching for another escape route. Stello and Abi were nearly on top of them. A nearby, open back door caught his eye, “This way!”

The scrawny one yanked at his friends as he veered left hard, flying into the open back door of a local establishment. Inside revealed quickly a small back kitchen, quiet and without rush. What should be a line cook stood in a lean against an unused stove, smoking a cigarette as he read a copy of the Daily Weekly.

Bringing with them a storm of clamour and chaos, the young fiends pushed their way past the unsuspecting man, knocking the cigarette and paper out of his mouth as they forced a path to the front. The double doors to the back kitchen flew open, ricocheting against the wall in their light weight, jittering audibly on their hinges. 

For a moment, the trio paused in the wide-open doorway, casing the joint. It was a relatively empty bar it seemed, one that lead into the busy center of the Clairmont. All but a single seat at the front was empty, save the pretty bartender, providing the boys the open field for an escape they were hoping for.

“Out the front!” The big one declared, holding the clutched box above his head, “We can lose them in the crowd!”

They swerved quickly through the many empty chairs and tables before diving into the outside crowd and down the closest alleyway.

Inside, Stello had been able to successfully maneuver himself around the now agitated cook and easily kept up with the boys. Abigail, however, was immediately stopped by the man.

“EY! This ain’t no through way, lady! You and your friends need to get out of here!” He blocked her path.

“They aren’t my friends, they’re thieves!”

“I don’t care, get out of my damn kitchen, girl!” He slammed the paper he’d just picked up from the floor against the countertop and shooed her with it back through the rear door, “Out!”

“C’mon, sir! Please let me through! Going around will make me lose them!”

“Didja hear me?! I don’t care!” He grabbed hold of the door to slam it shut, but when he looked back to Abigail to declare it so, all he caught were the long strands of her blue hair disappearing between his legs. The sound of scuttling footsteps through his kitchen sent his temper into the sky, and he slammed the door behind him, locking himself out inadvertently in his anger.

“Sonuva...”

Abigail scrambled up to the lone bar patron and woman behind the counter.

“Excuse me!” Her communicator blinked as her mouth remained still, expression that of determination and sheer will, “Did either of you see which way those three kids went?!” It felt weird hearing the word ‘kid’ come from her, “They’re thieves! I must stop them!” Her fists were clenched as she anxiously awaited an answer from the two of them.

Outside, Harlow had been tracking Abigails’ location by way of her communicator, having been unable to catch up to the foot chase earlier. It lead her right to the entrance of the Inn. Standing in the archways of its market entrance, she peered down the straight way in front of her just in time to see the group hurdle over a cart with Stello just behind them, disappearing again down the turn of a nearby alleyway.

“Wuh -”

Harlow reached out a hand, unable to respond fast enough to say anything before they left sight again. She sighed and entered into a jog in their direction, just in time to see a wave of activity crest a few pedestrians in front of her. The crowd parted to allow plenty of room for the now-welted and well-embarrassed thieves as they screamed and cried, beetles buzzing and boxless, in the opposite direction from whence they’d gone.

The captain carefully pushed her way through the observers to the front, falling into the open path created. Looking to her left, she saw Stello taking the box from a woman. She appeared unscatched by whatever had transpired, aside from the shade of annoyance that painted her otherwise perfect features. Harlow approached them in dismay.

“Thank Gaia,” Harlow received her box, and quickly folded the top - reading ‘FOSTER’ - open to observe its contents, “Not even slightly damaged. From the outside anyway.” Snapping it back shut, she reached a thankful hand out to the Scarab Queen, “Thank you for stopping those punks. You saved me a lot from a lot of hassle just now. I’m Harlow. Is there anything I can do for you in exchange for getting my goods back?”

After shaking Inar’s hand and hearing her response, Harlow heard her name from behind and turned to see a blush-haired girl with her feline familiar approach them.

“I am she. You must be Maria and Nyx,” she shook her hand and kneeled to greet her fiery companion, “Everyone’s so early today. I guess that’s a good sign.” She stood up and glanced around the marketplace of the Inn, wondering where the missing members of her line up might be.

She glanced down to the map on her arm and then to Stello, “Did you see where Abigail went? It says she’s here somewhere. About a hundred feet straight ahead?” Looking up, Harlow noticed the sign to a local dive bar, “At.. a bar?”
 

Edited by ~Harlow.

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Now that the chase was over and the box was secure, Stello appeared to be in high spirits. There was even a vague semblance of a smile on his lips, radiating waves of approval all aimed towards the bug lady. Then all that changed when Harlow came to retrieve the box. His expression immediately flattened. As it was handed over, he commented from afar, "Better hold on tight, butter fingers. If it were me and I was holding my new eye ball, those kids would have had to drag my frozen ass down the street, too. Keep it safe so we can see what you look like without that funky eye patch." 

There was nothing actually wrong with the eye patch. Despite common stereotypes, it largely failed to bring any of that ugly grit to her semblance that most expect to see from this type of accessory. Coupled with Harlow's friendly nature, it was almost invisible. Almost. 

Averting his attention to the newcomer, this one being dubbed the cat lady, both of his hands slipped into his pockets and watched as she approached. He could have sworn that something smelled like it was burning but in looking around, there were no indications of a proper source, although it did make him privy to the crowd that had drawn in around them. Their irksome presence weighed on him and it showed in his expression before he turned bodily to face them, "What?! If you wanna have your noses shoved deep in someone else's hot steaming shit pile, pick up the Daily Weekly! Nothing to see here! Get it moving!" People began to filter out with Stello presiding over their exit. 

Once they were gone, he drew in a breath and released it, his entire body relaxing before he listened to Harlow reconciling Abigail's situation. "The bar?" he asked, glancing towards it. "Couldn't be. They'd kick her out in an instant." After declaring as much, he stood there as if he genuinely expected the door to burst open followed by a tumbling young woman with blue hair. When it didn't happen, he began walking towards it. 

Arriving, he pushed one of the doors ajar and glanced inside, searching around for something that was extremely hard to miss. It didn't take long for him to spot Abigail's brilliant blue mane. Next, he glanced over his shoulder towards the others. "She's in here," he confirmed before fully stepping inside. "Hey Abi, we got the box back!" Yelling from across the entire venue caused several people to stop what they were doing to look at the source of the loud voice before continuing to enjoy their drinks again. Approaching her, he recognized one of the people there at the bar. He had gotten an unintentional peek at one of Harlow's personnel files and this guy was the one he'd seen. 

"Oh hey, you here for Harlow Foster, by any chance?" 

The fellow in question was Teddy. He had a drink snug in his hand. Empty, too. Upon recognizing that, Stello shook his head and grinned. 

"Saw gun specialist in your resume. You sure the rest of the team can expect not to have chunks shot off their asses when you're seeing four of everything?"

Edited by LastLight

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What a strange little group of corpses, Inar Otep noted wistfully. Though 'corpses' wasn't the correct term when they were still upright and mobile in most cases, it was the inevitable fate of everything to walk the earth, everything except for Inar Otep, of course. For the Scarab Priestess, there would be no death and no decay, so long as her servants lived to sustain her. However, the plucky little group was animate and diverse, which the Scarabous took note of quite quickly. There were quite a few of them to begin with, as soon as they'd caught up with the first person that had approached her.

This first fellow was...well, if she was quite honest he seemed loud and disorderly, and for all intents and purposes quite ordinary. She suspected that, in another life, they may have gotten along well as vagabonds. Now, however, he was simply a handsy peasant with a big mouth. That was all. 

She immediately skipped past him and towards the next person to approach her; their eyes met long before they got close--or rather, the Scarab Queen's eyes met her...erm...eye. The woman appeared, for all intents and purposes to be missing one eye. It appeared to be an older wound, or perhaps a long-standing disability; without much experience in the matter, she could only guess, as her own eyes would rebuild themselves quite quickly if they were ever destroyed. The Scarabous was never incapacitated forever, after all. Beyond that, this woman seemed to be the titular 'Harrow' that the first corpse had mentioned.

Harrow.

Inar Otep puzzled over the name briefly as she handed over the box. The name was familiar, certainly; had she heard it, or perhaps seen it written somewhere?

On 6/9/2018 at 4:57 PM, ~Harlow. said:

“Thank you for stopping those punks. You saved me a lot from a lot of hassle just now. I’m Harlow. Is there anything I can do for you in exchange for getting my goods back?”

Inar Otep shook her hand somewhat reluctantly. The woman's grasp wasn't unpleasant; just a bit firm. 

"It was a coincidence, really. They had the audacity to attempt to force their way past me." A cruel smile ghosted her features as she stared in the direction they fled. It wouldn't be hard to track them down, would it? Surely, if she did not end up working for her previous victim's employer, she could torment them further for daring to test her. She could command her subjects to pierce through their skin, worm their way into their bodies and--

On 6/6/2018 at 10:57 PM, AthenasFire said:

"Hello... Excuse me ,but would one of you happen to be Harlow? I happen to be looking for her..." Maria tries her best to give a pleasant smile.

Inar Otep's gaze shifted to the newcomer, and her lip curled in curiosity. The girl herself wasn't of note, but the creature following her...the cat. It didn't react too negatively to her presence, unlike many other wild animals might, which suggested it was at least a little familiar with sorcery of some kind. She let her gaze linger on it for a while longer before digesting the woman's words properly. Recognition lit up in her eyes, and she took a step back, suddenly elated with the sudden sensation of understanding.

"Ah, that is where I know your name from." Inar Otep spoke aloud. She reached within the folds of her flowing alabaster robes and produced the letter she'd claimed earlier. She promptly handed it to Harlow.

"The man you gave this note to will, regrettably, not be coming." She spoke matter of factly, as if she were the one who was inconvenienced by such a revelation. She was, after all; her sense of obligation had dragged her off of her home continent, away from the sands of the Telhatien Desert and into this place. If he'd just not tried to kill her, it would be a very different story.

"He made the mistake of thinking I was a monster of some kind." She answered the question that was sure to come. "He also made the mistake of failing to make sure I was dead." He was delicious. She added silently, deciding against revealing the man's grizzly fate to the small company of corpses before her.

"My presence here is straightforward, then. I have cost you a body, and I will lend you a body, in return."

Somewhere, scarab beetles buzzed sleepily as they drew near to their Queen's position.

Edited by Jotnotes

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Five drinks. That was how many he’d had. 

For some people, that was bad. Really, really bad. Downright catastrophic if you were feeling dramatic. Teddy actually knew a guy - Chipsy was his name - who’d ritually go to a karaoke bar on the second Friday of every month. The guy never really sang. Probably because he was deaf. But Teddy figured that even if your hearing wasn’t worth shit, there would always be something funny about drunk, middle-aged white guys wailing away to Rick Astley on stage. 

On one of those fateful Friday nights, Chipsy invited Teddy to join him. “Come with me!” Chipsy signed. “Okay!” Teddy thumbed back. Together, they frolicked to the bar, then started pounding back a few pints with the fervour of hot newlyweds. By the fifth one, Chipsy was looking a little red. He’d felt it was best he go to the washroom. Teddy, like the good friend that he was, waited for him without complaint. Five minutes passed. Then ten minutes. By the twenty minute mark, Teddy was getting a little concerned. When he went to go check out the washroom, Chipsy was gone. Like the wind, maybe, but to Teddy it had felt like more ABRACADABRA, MOTHERFUCKER! When he asked around, no one had seen Chipsy. Not the bartender, or the bouncer, or even the pretty mermaid who’d been making googly eyes at him all night. His only leads were a trail of vomit he found in the bar’s back alley, and five paragraphs’ worth of text messages that would’ve made Sherlock Holmes light his dick on fire. 

By the time he found Chipsy, it was three in the morning. They were at some tattoo parlour across from a Konkey Dong’s, where Chipsy thought he was getting a flamethrower but was actually getting a used tube of peppermint toothpaste. Why the tattoo parlour was open this late, Teddy would never find out. He would also never stop Chipsy from getting the whole tattoo in time. Not that he really cared at that point. Or could. Prowling the city all night had left him emotionally vacant, and he’d devolved into the energetic equivalent of a grade eight potato battery. The only thing that really mattered was that he’d learned to never go drinking with Chipsy again, and that was a promise he intended to keep. 

About a month later, Chipsy got a full tube of bubblegum toothpaste. 

In Teddy’s case, five drinks wasn’t a lot. He was a big guy, after all, with a mean metabolism and a liver of steel. He could go a whole night with twelve beers under his belt and still feel like a champ the next morning. 

That said, those five he drank just now? Gone in the span of half an hour. Anyone worth their salt would’ve needed a monk’s focus to keep their mind intact, and Teddy, having strangled one a few years back, was apprehensive about anything monk-related ever since. Already he was at the point where his cheeks started to tingle. His neck also felt kind of hot. For some reason, whenever Cindy offered him another pour, he felt the oppressive urge to say, “No Mickey Mouse stuff!”

It wasn’t so bad, though, that he didn’t have a handle on himself. He’d gone to empty his bladder once now, and he hadn’t experienced any swaying. What that said about his dexterity, he didn’t know, yet he reckoned he could’ve juggled those empty bottles behind the bar if he really wanted to. 

Suddenly, just as he was about to cave in to the strange phrase’s mysterious power, a pack of hooligans exploded from the kitchen doors. Teddy watched them with a pair of raised eyebrows, then quickly forgot about them as they disappeared through the front doors. Shortly after that, someone with blue hair emerged from the kitchen. She was out of breath and clearly agitated, and oddly enough she was approaching him. 

Oh boy.

“Excuse me!” she huffed. "Did either of you see which way those kids went?! They’re thieves! I must stop them!”

Teddy looked the girl up and down. He decided to name her Exclamation.

He lazily pointed towards the front doors. “They went that-a-way.”

The doors seemingly opened in response. Teddy glanced over his shoulder, and now some guy in a ball cap was walking over. Apparently he knew Exclamation.

“Oh hey,” he said, and it kinda sounded like Ball Cap was talking to him now. “You here for Harlow Foster, by any chance?”

Teddy turned in his seat.

I’ve been catfished, he drunkenly thought.

Ball Cap- or rather, Harlow kept talking. “Saw gun specialist in your resume. You sure the rest of the team can expect not to have chunks shot off their asses when you’re seeing four of everything?”

Teddy stared at the man. It took him a second to realize he was being insulted. 

“The rest of team?” he said, standing up. “Sure. But you?”

Teddy leaned in, close enough to whisper. 

“I’m gonna tear that ass apart.” 

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Maria was delighted to hear that she had, in fact, found the right person! That was the first part of this little adventure done though she quickly notes that Harrow appeared to be looking for a someone and she was perhaps at a bar? Looking over at the bar nearby she wondered why someone who was part of the group would be drinking right now! They had a mission or.... Something to do! That would just be irresponsible! She shakes her head at the thought as another member calls out she was there! She notes to herself that maybe this group might not be a great suit for her... The last time she was in a bar with a group it um... Burned down... Because she got mad at the bar tender...

She quitely whispers mostly to herself. "May...maybe we should avoid bars for now..."  She didn't really exspect anyone to hear it though... She turns back and notes the box and the rest of the group. She had to. Wonder what was in the box... It seemed rather important... "Um Harlow do you mind me prying a bit? What's in the box it seems rather important?"

This entire time Nyx notices the scarab preistess's stare and eyes her back down... Nyx didn't like being stared at by new people... She hisses a bit at her and gains Maria's attention with it who picks her up. "Hey! Play nice, Nyx! I'm sure the nice lady is just curious!" She says and looks to her. "S... Sorry... She isn't real fond of new people..." She takes another look at her and tilts her head. She seemed a bit off to Maria but she quickly averts her gaze as staring at people you didn't know might not be a good idea... Especially if the lady injured a bunch of kids just for trying to get by her...

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