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supernal

Quick, wash out the blood! [closed]

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Jericho was as cautious as a radical vigilante set against a trafficking cartel had every right to be. Izral was a hub for Alterion's slave trade but it was only a spoke in the wheel; the so-called 'chattel' came from all over Alterion, all over Valucre, and required a vast network to keep those wheels turning. He anticipated dozens upon dozens of morally bankrupt, strongarm mercenaries that were good at shooting, slicing, and flinging spells all standing on one side – and opposite them just himself, with his sword Sally, a little knowhow, and too much rabid passion for his body to contain.

But, Jericho knew that so as the body fell without the head, the sword was nothing without the arm to move it. And that arm wouldn't do anyone any good if it came apart from his body. So he had to be cautious and careful, right up until the moment when it was just him and them all alone, and he could slit their throats in the dead of night one by one.

Fucking slavers.

He actually had a pretty sweet setup, as far as those things went. The sensors he had placed in the eyes of the banner, the one he had plastered onto the face of the building opposite the brothel before turning that hellmouth into a mound of rubble, those sensors were a honeypot. The question of 'when did that get there' was meant to draw attention, to not only let them know someone was watching but give them a bug to find so they think they're clean. There were another two like it, each more subtle than the last, and none so subtle as Jericho's capabilities actually went.

Even if they found his most sophisticated sensors, Jericho got most of the information he wanted after the first day of the stakeout. Within the first hours actually, when he was meeting with Middy and Will to let them know they had succeeded. Over the course of those three hours his remote sensors caught faces and snippet of conversations of the first people to touch down on the ex-brothel. It was a crew half a dozen strong; one was the capo, and one was the cleaner.

So now Jericho knew who to chase and who was chasing him.

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"I didn't cut off your hand to torture you."

They were in an abandoned warehouse in the bad part of town. The kind of place people went to do drugs or mug one another or torture people because there were very few people around to hear, and those that did weren't likely to care.

Jericho sat in a steel folding chair. He had a swollen eye and a busted lip. Before him a man swung aimlessly in neat little circles, shirtless, in torn slacks, with both of his eyes swollen shut and his torso painted in the blue-yellow rainbow of pain.

"I did it because you're a trained professional. I'm interrogating you. I can't have a cartel assassin with two functioning hands sitting around, plotting my downfall every time I turn around to take a piss. If I just broke your hand it'd heal and you'd come after me, we know that, because if you didn't then what good are you to the cartel? But this way you know I'll always have a hand up."

Jericho didn't smile at the pun but nodded in acknowledgement of it.

"Not to mention you're a piece of fucking scum that deserves to have his eyeballs scooped out and the sockets filled with coarse grain sand. I'm trying to show you I have a heart here, even for fucking scum, so that we can get on the same page sooner rather than later and make this as painless as it can get for everyone involved. Which isn't very painless, but we do what we can."

From his pack Jericho procured an unassuming burlap pouch. The mouth gaped open as it rested in his hand and revealed a completely void interior. Then, in the next moment, the mouth filled with a spectral teal light which grew brighter and darker in hue with every passing seconds. From the mouth of the satchel issued forth the macabre melody of forlorn spirits, ghosts which Jericho had ripped from hosts he killed and now leashed to his purpose.

"I don't care about your boss right now. I want to know where the money's kept. The big money. How you pay OpEx."

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Jericho had let the cartel assassin go, but only after cutting off his other hand. Those hands had done very evil things, Jericho told the nameless man. It wasn't fair that he gets to just wash his hands clean of the blood, and could then use those hands to pick flowers and touch a lover; it wasn't fair for all of the people he had killed, all of the people he had helped the cartel to kidnap and force into slavery.

So to that end Jericho let the man keep his life, but forced him to change his profession.

The cartel had already investigated the Brothers and Sisters cult-like organization peppered through the city offering help to the displaced slave labor of their now defunct brothel. By then half of the offices had already rolled up, leaving nothing behind but empty rentals in buildings; the other half had no information to squeeze. Everything was paid for by an LLC which had materialized out of thin air the night before and had already declared bankruptcy.

Camped on the roof of a steel mill a quarter of a mile from the cartel warehouse, Jericho fully understood that this stakeout would be different than the first. No remote sensors this time. After the brothel, the bugs he had laid out for them to pick up and breed a false sense of security, their hackles were up. Using magic near their warehouse was as good as sending up a signal flare. He was stuck using high-powered rangefinder binoculars, rangefinding so he could use the distance to tune the oversized parabolic microphone he had setup behind him and trained at the warehouse.

The stakeout had lasted two days. Two days all but motionless behind the bulk of a water tower on the building between himself and the warehouse. Two days eating canned food and pissing off the side of the building, recording every detail available to him; the number of workers, how many of them were armed, with what, the organization hierarchy based not only off of the spread of employees, but any discernable material wealth, such as luxury cars and fine suits.

At the start of the third day Jericho had enough information to put a plan together.

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It came as no surprise to Jericho that the cartel moved more than just slaves. They trafficked metric tons of illicit drugs and overseas contraband as well, spreading their wares over the whole face of Alterion. It did not take long for Jericho to grasp that, so as the cartel was the large shadow behind the guise of the brothel, so there was something even larger behind the cartel which used the organized crime syndicate as a mask. He didn't know how high up the ladder of conspiracy went, only that to reach the top required that he step on each rung in its turn.

The cartel wanted to maintain business as usual. To do otherwise would cut into the profit margin, not to mention the appearance of weakness such deviation would present, true or not; being a criminal was a tough business to be in. So, for those first two days of his stakeout, the warehouse doubled down on on-site security, tripling their number of armed guards and increasing patrols, but when no attack came, they thought it better to reshuffle the shells.

That was when Jericho struck, as their accountant was charged with taking a small jewelry box filled with information-dense crystals to a more secure location; struck just the accountant's armed escort nosed their vehicle onto the main road which would lead them out of the industrial sector and into the mining district, notably vacant of traffic. A javelin punched through the windshield, missing every single one of them, embedding itself into the upholstery of the seat. Light emitting nodes peppered along the javelin's shaft lit up and projected hex runes all over the inside of the vehicle, triggering temporary blindness and insanity on the occupants.

They crashed into the concrete façade of a butcher's shop. Came upon the minor crash from the shade of an adjacent alley, liberated the armed guards of their arms, pillaged the accountant of the jewelry box as he ran his hands over his face while lamenting his lack of sight, smearing his face with the blood from his broken nose. Then Jericho left them, to go find a hovel in which he could hunker down to crack the crystals and review the information they contained.

With ledgers of accounts, inventories, and business proposals, Jericho would need to load up on a kit to burn it all down.

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Jericho found himself in Minaiki, the village of tranquil glades.

Over the past . . . how long had it been anyway? Jericho estimated about a week had passed since he first touched foot to Alterion soil. Within his first day he had found a brothel in Izral – while he couldn't care less what consenting people did behind closed doors, he found himself rather irked by the notion that this brothel traded in slave labor. They kidnapped men and women, boys and girls really because it was easier to mold from youth, and forced them into the role of customer satisfaction.

Through that week Jericho has seen buildings destroyed, lives lost, lives reclaimed, and a complex array of pain and anguish, being himself no small merchant of death against the forces he had deemed morally reprehensible. He found it both curious and infuriating that all of this could take place in the 'free city' no less; a little too free if you were to ask his opinion, if it meant that one was free to squander another's happiness and wellbeing in such a manner.

So with all of that lurking just over his shoulder, Jericho experienced a bit of cognitive dissonance to now find himself in a land of sunlit meadows and smiling pedestrians. It didn't take him long to reconcile the two things, the dreams of one land against the nightmares of another just a few hundred miles removed, but the time it did take Jericho would not be time soon forgotten.

He was in Minaiki to find the means to fuel the engine of destruction he wished to build – fruit plucked from the grapevine told him that he could find a shop in Minaiki, at least for the time being, which offered a wide and varied array of material spell components and esoteric knowledge. He stood in front of it now, first knocking to announce his presence, then feeling a bit foolish when opening the door caused a bell to chime for exactly the same reason.

"Hello hello hello, customer in need."

@Lady Gilaen

Edited by supernal

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The shop bell sustained a gentle, high pitched knell as the door opened and then shut behind the newcomer. Its lovely, ringing voice called to the back of the store, the sound seeming to travel across the room before fading behind a curtained doorway beyond the clerk counter. Apart form his own voice echoing after the shop bell, the place was still and quiet, and apparently unsupervised. An ornate emblem of two intertwining W's were carved into the front of the counter; made of the same dark and polished wood as the shelves that lined the walls, and lettered in the same style as the writing on the front door. Welcome to Wandering Wares, it read.

The space itself was lit with a greenish artificial light emitted from hanging lamps that sort of dripped from the ceiling in an asymmetrical pattern. Apart from the circular window set into the door, there was no natural light to speak of, and no general sense of warmth at all. If there were any windows here, they were sufficiently hidden behind shelves stocked with books, bottles, and jars of things that if watched for too long would look right back. In fact, they were looking; little eyes in little jars staring at a form they didn't recognize from the moment he walked in. An entire gallon of preserved toads beamed up at him from a low shelf with foggy, sunken eyes while a taxidermy owl, eternally frozen in flight, had its sight trained on him as he moved about the shop. Even the books were watching, the lettering on some spines shifting to form new words from old titles. The clearly more sophisticated books formed whole new sentences on their spines to ask Who's This? and How May I Help You, Sir? while lesser tomes could only rearrange the formation of their titles (a copy of Wolfsbane -or- Monskhood? became so Who Man be? -forks -noodl in a desperate, if endearing attempt to communicate).

A moment can feel like hours in the wake of expectation and silence, but just when it seemed like there was no one to answer his call, the sound of the bell returned, passing overhead to reunite with its vessel, which shuddered before fading into a proper silence. “I'm very sorry about that,” came a slightly muted voice from behind the curtain at the back wall, “I didn't think anyone would come today, so I busied myself with other things.” A woman emerged from the back room, pushing the heavy curtain aside with one hand while the other held a stick that was weighed down on either side by what appeared to be human hands. Hands dipped in beeswax, to be more specific; each hung at either end of the dipping stick by a wick protruding from the middle and pointer fingers. The wax was still cooling when she set them on the counter, causing some of it to pool at the base..or wrist of each.

Now then,” she said, adjusting her posture to meet his gaze, “How may I help you?” The light in the room, and the subsequent mood shifted with her presence, turning warm (and less ominous at least) as the unusual trinkets about the shelves settled into a passive state of comfort. The woman wore a long black dress with long sleeves that were rolled up to the elbow. The length and sweep of her skirt made her seem taller than she was (and she was already quite tall to begin with), but it was an otherwise plain dress; almost a uniform. She had a firm, even stare and strait black hair cut short to frame her features with somewhat sharp angles. Otherwise she was, from her face to her fingertips, entirely green. Spring green, in fact; fresh basil and parsley green that wasn't just a trick of the unusual lighting. She didn't smile or shift her expression to match the sincerity of her words; only looked on and waited patiently as he spoke, thinking in the back of her mind that there was something off about him...

 

She didn't think anyone would come today.­

@supernal

Edited by Lady Gilaen

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At the time of Enid's arrival into the common area of her shop, Jericho was bent at the waist, eye level with one of those little jars with dozens of little eyes – they were staring at him and he thought it only polite to stare back, not to mention satisfying to his overwhelming sense of curiosity. A keen eye coupled with a nimble mind would easily conclude that Jericho's comfort with these esoteric compounds sprang from familiarity. Namely before Enid there waited no mere dilettante, but an informed practitioner of the arcane arts.

It was the bell which grabbed his attention; snagged it, then lured it away from the jars and towards the counter, towards the curtain behind the counter, towards the person moving from one to the other and addressing him in turn. Jericho straightened his posture and approached the counter, running his thumbs up and down the length of the suspenders which held up his denim overalls, the powder blue mixing well with the pastel yellow shirt underneath.

"T'aint no problem at all miss. Wasn't much of a wait truth be told and there's plenty 'round here what can stimulate the imagination. Maybe think about leaving a catalog of your wares and services laying about, let a customer see what you got in store that ain't necessarily out for the world to poke and prod. But, who am I to say anything on the matter anyway, right?"

Jericho let a skein of silence unspool between them, allowing her to thank or accost him as she felt fit, and allowing himself a moment's reprieve to grant further study to the wax-dipped hands resting on the woman's countertop. The gradient of expression across the man's face was one of intrigue and fascination, completely void of even a trace of repulsion. As he spoke, Jericho's fixed eyeline and slightly furrowed brow made it clear that he was subjecting the thing to the deepest scrutiny.

"I'm looking to drop a hefty bit of coin. Or Notes, if you trade in the Alterion standard. I'm thinkin' before I hand you a laundry list of spell components and you start wonderin' just what I'm up to, I'll just tell it to you flat what I wanna do and you can let me know if you and your shop can help.

"I'm looking to let off a big time Evocation spell. Something that'll upset let's say four or so armored trucks? I want to leave the trucks intact; it'll be transporting living cargo and that cargo I don't want to get damaged, they're alive after all. But I want the trucks flipped or otherwise unable to escape.

"I'll also be needing one whammy of an Enchantment. I gotta be able to discretely target about eight or so people but let's call it an even dozen just in case they got someone riding with the cargo. I figure I'll only net half of 'em but better that than not at all. I'm thinkin' along the lines of a Hold or a Charm. Temporary insanity still makes 'em dangerous to me and to the cargo.

"So." Jericho concluded, for the first time removing his eyes from the wax-dipped hands so that he could search the woman's face for any betraying line of expression, anything which might give him a glimpse to the workings of her psyche.

"Whaddaya think?"

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Enid allowed that first string of silence to linger a bit while she assessed her potential patron. That off-kilter feeling he gave her made it feel like the floor was slanting very slowly beneath her feet. She opted to move over to the stool behind the counter when she did address him again. “A catalog would imply a different sort of service, I think. There are some items one must be in want of before they can be acquired.. if that makes sense. Regardless, if you are here, then I have what you need.” Her tone was meant to be reassuring, but whether or not it showed was hard to say.

The witch waited quietly through the man's pointed explanation of what he intended to do; her expression little more than a gentle mask of indifference. For one who had such particular wants (and who seemed quite comfortable with the arcane nature of her wares), he did not appear to know his actual needs as far as the items in question were concerned. Finding the right thing for the job would be a challenge, she thought. “Interesting..” Enid rifled about under the counter and brought out a pair of scissors to snip the wicks on her wax hands. As she did so, she continued, “It sounds as though there are many variables of uncertainty you must contend with. I will need a moment to consider this Evocation. What I can offer you now is a Hand of Glory.” She set the scissors aside and presented him with one of the hands, which had cooled and hardened by then. When lit, the Hand of Glory would incapacitate everyone but the holder the moment he walked over the threshold into, say, an occupied home, or a bank. It was a thief's tool made from the hands of a thief that came before, but it could almost certainly be appropriated for this task.

“Assuming you can catch one or more of these trucks in a hangar, you can simply light the wick and walk right in. This would, of course, leave your “cargo” as vulnerable as your targets. Now, if you knew who your targets were personally, or if you had something of theirs, I could modify these hands to affect them specifically...” she paused, thinking a moment as she picked up the second hand, “Well, ten of them, anyway. Since that does not appear to be the case, I have another suggestion.”

She tucked the hands under the table, then smoothed her dress as she stood upright. “Can I offer you some tea, Sir..” She lingered after the last word a moment, attempting to punctuate a question mark with a small hand gesture and a shrug. She hadn't asked his name, but it was not a habit of hers to do so. It occurred to her then that that was what seemed off about him: His name. She didn't know his proper name; she didn't care. But the kind of name she was looking for showed itself in a person's manner and general aura. A person with a hearty laugh and warm disposition might have a name like 'Jovial' or 'Labrador' while someone with a sly gaze and short temper might be 'Mink'. Yet, despite his clear and vivid personality, Enid could not discern such a name.

“The parlor is just through here.” she continued, leading the way through the curtain door as though running from her previous thought altogether, “Please, make yourself comfortable.” She wasn't allowing him much of a choice, was she?

The parlor was a dark space by design. It was accommodating, but cozy; made smaller by sweeping velvet curtains that swallowed even the smallest crack of light that dare attempt to beam through the windows. The wallpaper was old, too. Not garish exactly, though it was hard to tell for certain in the dim glow of a few shaded lamps, but noticeably dated. The upholstery was large, soft, and burgundy. And, over years of absorbing the smoke and scent of incense, smelled faintly of sage and something else. Cinnamon maybe?

This atmosphere was, of course, for show. The prospect of having one's fortune told carried with it a certain expectation, at least from the layman's perspective. To be frank, Enid thought the space looked like an old opium den, albeit a nice one (if such a thing ever existed). In fact she preferred the light of the afternoon sun spilling in with the breeze through an open window, but such warmth and illumination did not lend itself to the mysterious atmosphere she was aiming for. But while the whole set felt a little disingenuous at times, the trinkets, charms, and divinations were all quite real.

Edited by Lady Gilaen

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He looked back at the Hand, his attention directed by Enid, and regarded the extremity as if for the first time. Jericho reached into the front pocket of his overalls while nodding in agreement, pulled free a small satchel, and placed it over the hand, flipping it upside down but leaving it on the counter. He made his intention clear to buy the item from her but didn't want to be accused as a thief himself, having seen how that class of person was dealt with by the witch opposite.

"My name's, Jericho." The minute pause revealed his hesitation. It put Jericho on edge to disclose even a sliver of his identity. Doing so established a vector back to him through the woman should criminals or the authorities, if there was even a difference between the two in Alterion, attempted vengeance for his putting them to task. It also presented a handle to the witch. A small one, but nonetheless a means for leverage which she might reach out and grasp should she end up petty or simply cruel.

These considerations gave Jericho reason to be cautious but did not change the fact that he needed her. Required her wares. The alternative would take too long and war against institutionalized slavery was not one he could win through attrition. It was too embedded into the local economy – too big to fail in that way.

"And I'd appreciate it if you never repeated my name to anyone else. Ever. Tell them I told you my name is Wind if someone asks. I just come and go as I please. I'd love some tea, thank you."

With mutual introductions concluded Jericho stepped through into Enid's parlor at her invitation. The moment he crossed through the threshold he stepped to one side, moving as if anticipating an attack and finding none. From her vantage behind him Enid couldn't see it but Jericho's eyes were electric with motion, probing the dim lighting of the parlor for any bulky objects which might hide an ambush, any signs of a spell-trap baited with trigger quivering in anticipation.

Finding no such sign, Jericho continued on and pressed his hand against the furniture, appreciating the plush and the comfort, but remained standing.

"How's that thing back there define threshold anyway?" He motioned with a thumb over his shoulder at the Hand of Glory still waiting for him on the counter, now obscured by the curtain.

"Or structure is probably a better word. If I can obstruct the road, stop the trucks moving, and then jimmy up four walls and a roof real quick like. Would that be enough to let the Hand work its magic?"

He waited a half-beat, just long enough for an answer to form in her mind, but not so long as to let her actually get it out. He didn't want to interrupt her.

"Is it usual, that you don't ask many questions about what a fella wants to use your wares for?"

Edited by supernal

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It should be made clear that Enid had acquired the human parts second-hand, so to speak. She was more inclined to make good use of valuable components that would otherwise go to waste than she was to seek them out deliberately; which is to say that the body attached to the hands had been long dead before she took them. If her guest thought otherwise.. well, that misconception worked in her favor (not that the truth was any less disconcerting).

He introduced himself and it gave her a moment's pause. She was turned away from him, but something about her posture, a subtle bristle, seemed to suggest that she felt defensive, maybe even a little offended about the introduction. “Apologies. I realize how that must have sounded,” she said, her shoulders relaxing, “but I was not asking for your name.” Not his proper one, anyway. As for the pseudonym, well.. If she had heard it, she was choosing to ignore it for now. After a pause she let out a long breath, not quite a sigh, and returned the favor. “I am Enid.”

She watched after him as he passed through the doorway, tilting her head quizzically at his apparent skittishness. It was almost enough to make her smile, though she did not. Not that she enjoyed his discomfort (she didn't... much), but the uncertainty that he postured about accepting her invitation sort of mirrored her uncertainty about him. Funny, that. She followed through the curtain door and passed him, gesturing to two large, soft chairs seated on either side of a round table. Enid stopped behind the far chair and turned to address him, noting that he had yet to sit down. She was poised to speak, but he beat her to it. Just as well, she thought. She was a gracious host, but not always a sociable one. She had only a moment to think about his question before another followed. She could feel a small smile tugging at the corner of her mouth, and this time she allowed it to show.

“Is it usual for you to be so forthright with your secrets?” she leaned forward into the back of the large chair, resting on her elbows as she laced her fingers together and looked him over with a more critical gaze. “You were very direct about your plans when you described them to me just now. You gave me your name. Which, I suppose, could have been a lie, though I suspect not. You're making an effort to trust me, despite every instinct that tells you otherwise. Your actions speak well of you.

“Mind you, I do have many questions; about you and the uncertainty ahead of you. I find it quite exciting, to speak truth. But I need a different sort of clarity before I can know which questions to ask. For that I have Tasseography.” Enid stood upright at the word, her posture rising with a small swell of personal pride, “It's my specialty, actually. Now, do you have a preference for tea?” She was moving again, drifting into yet another room beyond an arched doorway (presumably the kitchen).

She returned a short while later with a serving tray, several small tins of leaves and herbs, and two jade green teacups and saucers (the kettle had yet to boil, thus remained in the kitchen). She placed them gingerly at the center of the table. “We were talking about thresholds before, yes?” she wasn't really asking so much as clarifying, “For most people a threshold is a door, but the definition is contingent on the person using the charm. It has its limits, but those can be stretched by someone with imagination, or an exceptional grasp of certain magics. One can, in theory, draw a circle to define their space, and simply step over the line to cross its threshold.” The witch illustrated her explanation by tracing an invisible circle on the surface of the table around the serving tray, then walking her fingers over the proposed line. “It would be very difficult,” she added (and that was putting it lightly), “but possible. Or plausible, anyway.”

Edited by Lady Gilaen

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"Is it usual for you to be so forthright with your secrets?"

Enid's line of inquiry appeared to have caught Jericho off-guard, or at least put him in a state of musing. He pursed his lips and furrowed his brow, evident signals of hard mental labor. More subtle signals were the slight gloss which filmed his eyes as he turned his vision inward, diving headlong into the realm of his innermost Self that he might mine his titanic unconscious mind for insight.

It was just as Enid rose to go and fetch a pot, and cups, and herbs for their tea that Jericho spoke; his voice came out soft but clear, laced as his words were with hard emotional edges, none of which were directed to his host.

"I don't have the time to be coy. I'm in the middle of a war and I have to sweep my enemy from the face of the earth before they have a chance to strike. Strike they will, and their arms are long, and their fists are heavy, but I will cut them off at the feet, and remove their heads while they kneel. The only way for this to end is with ruin, if not death."

Jericho's cadence was rhythmic, almost musical in utterance, almost mythical in structure, as if he spoke of some half-forgotten story written long ago. Near the end of his statement his brow had furrowed so deeply that it cast a small shadow over his eyes, partially hiding them, but then when properly concluded his expression smoothed to present an almost serene face to the world.

"I told you what I needed to do, but not where, or to whom . . . or why." Undeniably this last was the most critical of the string of questions, but also the one with which Jericho was the most open if asked.

"For the tea, my only real preference is that it's poison-free. Other than that I'm not very picky." He was no longer possessed with the spirit of his truest Self and so, now, could wait for Enid to do as marvelous hosts did and provide the offered refreshment.

Jericho made no move to veil his evident interest in what she was saying. As Enid spoke, he reached across the table into the figurative circle, paused momentarily as if waiting for a trap to spring, then took hold of a cup before sniffing at the tins. He settled on a fruit blend, and let the herbs wait in their jade chamber for the kettle to boil.  

" . . . by someone with imagination, or an exceptional grasp of certain . . ."
"I have a bit of both." Jericho played at modesty, pointedly waiting for Enid to take up her own cup. "I'm familiar with truename magic, and as an extension of that, with symbolic flexibility. I prefer it to be difficult, truth be told. If the method was easy it's probably already been anticipated and planned against. Difficult is harder to see, harder to deal with.

"So ok. The Hand and a proper circumscription will take care of one-half the problem. What about the other half, so's I can stop the trucks dead?"

Edited by supernal

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That dramatic shift in tone as Jericho spoke set Enid on edge all over again. Who was this man really? Did he stumble through her door by chance, or did he know the shop would be there when he wandered in? And why did she not know he was coming? She'd performed her usual reading with her morning tea, and it showed nothing, not even a hint of this clandestine meeting. She could have asked these things outright, but as her guest had openly surmised, it was not in her usual nature to do so. She wasn't trying to be coy exactly, she just did things in her own way and in her own time (often for her own curious purpose).

She was silent on the matter of where, to whom, and why he had set about planning this task. Either she was choosing to ignore it, or she didn't think it warranted much of a response. If it was so important to him that she know his intentions, he should have expressed them openly. Not that she didn't care what he was doing and why, but what truth could she hope to glean from his words alone? This was why she insisted upon this reading.

She watched his hesitation about the cup and the tins of herbs as she went about her explantation. His pointed interjection concerning his own capabilities was not unexpected. He'd shown that he was familiar, or at least very comfortable with her wares already. It was the mention of names, or naming magic rather, that caught her attention as she was sprinkling a pinch of mint and ceylon into her cup. Her own (apparently) particular rules about when and how and what names to use were a very different thing. But still, the topic caught her attention. “You don't seem very much like Wind to me.” she said, the thought interjecting on their conversation quite suddenly as she thought back to his proposed pseudonym, “It's too fickle. Reckless, even.” It was about then that the kettle whistled from the kitchen, signaling Enid's departure from the table.

She returned with a jade teapot to match the cups and filled them, guest first, then her own. The witch eased into the chair opposite her guest, giving more attention to her tea than him as she plucked up her cup and blew over the hot surface. It caused the leaves to swirl beneath the rising steam before sinking to the bottom. She took a brief sip and found that it was still too hot, then winced for just a moment as she set it back into the saucer to cool.

When he returned to the matter of the trucks she offered him a small shrug. “I suppose there are many things that would do the job, but were I in your position-” she reached out to one of the tins and tipped it over, causing the loose top and all of its contents to spill out into the table in a rough trajectory. The tin could have represented a tree, or a rock slide, or another vehicle; anything, really, so long as the point came across well enough. “I would block the road.”

Edited by Lady Gilaen

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" . . . Reckless, even."

And then Enid rose to fetch the water for their tea. Jericho called out to her over his shoulder, an easy smile a new feature of his expression, and shaping the sound of his words with a lighthearted air.  

"To be honest that's mainly the point. The last thing I want to do is give these people useful information."

When Enid returned and filled their cups, Jericho aped her motions; blew across the surface to cool it, to animate the tea leaves; sipped at it, also winced, and then put it down next to hers. He knew of the practice of reading tea leaves in the abstract, as a third-party, grasping at the underlying divination principles but failing in his knowledge of the particulars. Enid had already proved out her utility with the Hand, with her information, with their plan, and if this assisted her in some way, then the more the better for him.

Jericho's eyes fell onto the tumble of tea leaves. He leaned back in the chair, slumping down into the seat cushion, bringing his fingers together at their tips to form a steeple over whose peak he could observe the table from a bird's-eye.

"I'd need to do it twice. Once in front and once in the back, to keep them from backing out. I couldn't do it too far ahead of time either, or they would stop and send a vanguard to inspect, splitting and spreading my intended targets, maybe even putting the party that stays behind outside of whatever range I can summon with the Hand.

"If there are hills or buildings on their route, easy. If they take open roads across flat lands, much harder."

Jericho's intention was not the outright dismissal of Enid's proposition. It was tactically sound but, via purposeful design, Enid was working in a vacuum of information. Nonetheless she had managed to kindle a flame in him. Jericho sat upright and leaned over the table, arranging the lids of the tins in a line, and positioning them to one side of the still strewn leaves.

"So a tripwire. A delayed tripwire, combined into the circle I'll use to establish the threshold for the Hand. They’ll be boxed in, or circled in rather. The only way out will be up and that's where I'll be, dropping down on them with the Hand in tow and freezing them in place. Then I can handle the guards, so when the Hand goes out, the cargo can just walk out with me."

A pause, gravid with meaning.

"That's more than I can do alone, I think."  

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Enid leaned forward intently as she watched Jericho rearrange the pieces on their improvised war table. Whether or not either of them had intended it, they had transitioned from total strangers to co-conspirators inside of an hour (though the latter did not specifically negate the former). The witch would later reflect in hindsight that the shift felt so natural she might as well have been discussing afternoon plans with a friend over tea. In a way, she was, though the details around that sentiment were a bit more complicated.

She regarded him with an apprehensive nod as he expanded on her initial suggestion, hammering out the details as they loomed intently over what was, at this point, a very messy table. “You do not know their route?” she asked, tilting her head quizzically to one side, though her tone was quite flat. Upon consideration, she supposed one could know their intended route without knowing the specifics of its terrain. She continued, “Some things are not possible to divine. That said, I would ask you to focus your thoughts specifically on your targets while you drink your tea.” She led by example, taking up her cup once more and closing her eyes in a meditative gesture before taking a long sip of tea. One did not need to maintain this contemplative posture for the duration of their tea, but Enid chose to for this occasion.

When the witch was done with her tea, she opened her eyes and peered down into the jade vessel with a blank stare that shifted into a subtle wrinkle between her brows. She placed the cup down and regarded his plan with another slow nod. It was getting a bit complicated, but still well within the realm of possible.

 

That's more than I can do alone, I think.”

 

She paused. “Yes, it is.”

Enid met his gaze and it looked as if she were searching for something; as though looking long enough in just the right place might reveal something she'd missed. Without another word she reached across the table with an open palm. She was ready to perform the reading.

Edited by Lady Gilaen

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If Jericho had ever formed a habit of telegraphing his emotions, he would have chewed his lip in thought. But since he never did, Jericho merely sat in Enid's chair, a blank expression dominating his face, eyes scintillating with the light of penetrating focus as his mind switchbacked through various scenarios and outcomes which branched from the limited options laid out before him.

Everything Enid had shown him, of her self and not simply of her wares, spoke of a person meaningfully engaged in his request. If she was not vested in what little she knew of his mission, that is if she even thought about his assault as a mission, then at the least he could say she comported herself like a consummate businesswoman. A professional through and through who had displayed no intention of interference and who had, to his knowledge, no connection to his targets – precisely why he had sought her out, so far removed from where he intended to strike.

"I do know their route." Jericho spoke as he again took up the cup. "I know all of their routes. They'll be winding through the countryside, moving from city to city. The terrain changes wildly depending on when I move on them, and now that I have a plan in mind, I have an idea of timing and location."

Now Jericho turned his eyes to the liquid in the teacup. It was neither still nor dark enough to throw back at him his reflection but the liquid's rippling movement provided Jericho with something of a mandala, a focal point through which he could direct the energies of his easily distracted, fickle, conscious mind.

He didn't think about his targets first, which is why he poised the cup near his mouth but did not yet drink. He had to get there through a circuitous route, to summon up the full depth and breadth of his emotions. He thought of the downtrodden and disenfranchised. Of sentient peoples subjugated, sold into slavery, made to perform acts beneath their dignity, forced into labor which ruined their bodies, to sacrifice the noble threads of who they were before a sinister alchemy transformed those threads into something which could not be salvaged.   

Now he thought of the men and women who supported so sinister an engine of commerce. He thought of them in comfortable chairs, luxurious beds, ornate offices and plush homes. He thought of their fat wallets and fatter bank accounts, overflowing with precious metals and Alterion alchemical Notes. He thought of their joy, and how it traced back through an unbroken line to the collected pool of sorrow and suffering of a great mass of people.

He thought of the drivers he would be striking against. Were they evil? Not in the way of their overseers. They did not strategize, they did not plan beyond what was before them, they did not own the materials or the infrastructure, they did not coordinate back-alley deals with corrupt officials. But they moved product. These were the foot soldiers of a morally bankrupt war. The captain was a more valuable kill but they were also harder to get to, and though these men and women were simply doing their jobs, such ideological phrasing made poor shelter against Jericho's tempestuous sense of righteous justice. It was their job to move, and it was his job to move against them – their job to facilitate suffering, and his to pay them back their karmic balance.

And so with that burning in the depths of his mind Jericho drank slow, and drank deep. When done he placed the cup in Enid's hand and waited.

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