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[High Atlas] A Price on Immortality

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A bead of sweat rolled down his temple as his host turned away and sauntered to the other end of the ornately decorated room. The walls were dressed with a regal crimson, floral design. The floors were a dark hardwood, smooth and with a beautiful sheen. The velvet chairs, the golden candelabras — everything spoke of this man's wealth. Not wanting to show Sullivan his seeming unease, Russell quickly wiped away the perspiration, fearing in the back of his mind how his host would react. Even with back turned, the man's reputation gave him an aura of intimidation which cloaked his every action.

The occasional sound of the crackling wood in the fireplace was the only noise the trader could latch onto in the otherwise silent room. Even though he had just entered moments ago, for Russell, it seemed as if hours had passed. The air itself felt heavy, not from the humidity, but from the sheer presence of the man.

“Would you like wine, or water?” Sullivan asked in a polite, formal tone, shattering the suffocating silence. The man had stopped in front of the fireplace, his tall silhouette now eclipsing the only source of light in the room.

“Wine please,” the trader said in a hoarse voice, throat dry from a day’s worth of travel. While he was not necessarily one to drink, it would be rude to not accept his host’s good grace. Perhaps this trip would be easier than he thought.

Sullivan came back to his desk, a golden pitcher embossed with flowers in his left hand and a large wine glass in his right. This was the first time since entering that the trader had the opportunity to get a good look at the man who he had traveled so far to talk to. Russell's host was old as evident by the short dark hair with flecks of gray, yet his eyes still blazed with youthful ardor. His suit was a fine, silky satin, so soft that it looked almost sinful to wear. As Sullivan placed the glass on the oak tabletop and began to pour, Russell’s eyes couldn’t help but dart down to the man's cuffs. To his surprise, his host’s hands were weathered and battered. Numerous, jagged scars circled and around the man's knuckles, spider-webbing across and along the backs of his hands. Russell couldn't fathom how a man who was well-off and had more money than most to have such injuries. It was a jarring.

“You’re curious, are you not?” the man replied with a knowing grin, not even needing to look up to see Russell gawking at him. “About my hands?”

“No, no, I would never ask about something so perso-“

“You don’t need to lie,” Sullivan cut in, halting the pouring of wine. Putting the pitcher down, he turned towards the trader, steel gray eyes piercing through the man’s forced propriety. “You know, I just can’t stand it when people don’t speak what’s on their mind.” Taking a seat on the other side of the table, Sullivan learned forward and folded his hands on his desk, maintaining a hawklike gaze at Russell. The trader was petrified.

“They say you can learn a lot about a man just by looking at his hands,” he continued. “They say a you can tell a butcher from a baker, a mason from a chemist, a man from a woman — and, it’s true. Looking at your hands, I say... that you are a man who is just about to get married.”

“H-how could you tell?” the trader stammered, shocked at the insight.

“Clearly by your engagement ring,” Sullivan laughed, a deep, resonant laugh. Still, his eyes were not fully shut, and Sullivan noted Russell wringing his hands before placing right hand over left.

“Now,” he said in a more sober tone, “How would you say I got these scars on my hands?”

The trader pondered, as if carefully considering what words would come next, and answered, “Would it be that you obtained them sometime during University?”

“No,” Sullivan flatly stated as he slumped back into his chair. “Getting these many scars in University is the mark of a man whose bad at his trade, and I assure you that I am a master of trade.”

“My apologies, sir. I did not mean it,” Russell sheepishly whispered, eyes looking down at his hands. Sullivan gave the trader an extended period of silence just so the man would have a few moments to realize the gravity of his comment. Did the trader even know who he was talking to?

“Don’t worry,” he reassured the trader, voice slow, punctuated, with notes of disdain. “It will take many years until you reach my age, and when you do, I am sure that you will be much better at reading people’s hands. As for your first lesson on the subject, let me tell you about my hands.”

“You see, as a boy, I always got into trouble. Whether it was with the other kids, or with an adult, I always got into fights. And you know what these scars tell you?”

Russell dared not answer again.

“They tell you that I never lost a fight.”

Sweeping his short peppered hair to the right, he made a gesture towards the cup of wine.

“Now, have a drink, and let’s talk about business.”


Starter for Solo Quest for High Atlas for Sullivan Ciar Ohdran


Edited by Artificer

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The faint, red, glow of the single lit candle cast the laboratory in an unearthly light. The shadows danced on the walls as the arcane flame atop the tallow waxed and waned. Books that were once dull took on ghostly hues, and the ivory white of bones became enfleshed once. Standing above a gamut of glassware was a student — a young man with hair the color of fire and eyes as green as emeralds. With catlike nimbleness, his hands maneuvered and manipulated vials and beakers, burners and strikers, and many other tools too esoteric to name. He had to finish it before the night was naught. Tonight was the night of his biggest breakthrough.

Fumes rose, and with a flash, the smoke cleared. Then with a knock, the door opened.

“Quinn?” came a voice from outside. “You’re still here?”

Recognizing the thick dwarvish accent, the alchemist removed his brass goggles and turned. At the door stood a figure who was half Quinn's height, yet built like twice the man. Quinn squinted his eyes as he was not adjusted to the sudden change in light, holding his hand out to block the obtrusive light.

There was only one person in the school who only had eight fingers.

“Professor Verraten!” Quinn responded. Quickly, the student brushed his hand through his hair to try to make himself more presentable, but the untamed bramble which was singed at the tips refused to stay. “I wasn’t expected any visitors at this hour,” he admitted, brushing off the soot from his apron.

The professor raised his nose the the air and wafted the air into his face with his hand. “I thought I smelled burning salts from outside. I assume you are still working on that exciting secret project that you’ve been doing for several weeks — that won’t tell me anything about?”


“And have you made progress on said project?”


Folding his arms, Verraten continued. “The project where you — for some reason — needed, fifteen different oxides, twelve rare — expensive — ingredients, my last few vials of water from a godspring, twenty live cats, and an entire, smoked ham?”

“Well, to be precise,” Quinn answered with an impish grin, “the smoked ham wasn’t for the project — I was just starving that day. It was amusing to see that you actually got me one, professor.”

Verraten shrugged and gave a wry smile. “I figured.”

“Still,” he continued, “based on the nature of the ingredients that you have in hand, I couldn’t possibly think of any recipe in any of your textbooks that entails such… advanced materials. If was a fool, I would think that you were trying to synthesize a-”

Lapis Perpetuitatis,” Quinn finished.

“So… I was right,” the professor said with a frown.

“Yes — yes you were.”

“Oh my…” Verraten sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose as he closed his eyes tight. Patting hand on pocket, the professor could feel just how empty his wallet had become since he had taken on this... pupil. “Quinn. Countless other renowned alchemists have tried to make it, both path and present, and yet all have failed," he said, now pacing back and forth in disappointment. "The substance is purely fictitious," he continued, "— a child’s tale! Spun by kings who thought that magic could solve man’s mortality. Heal any mortal wound? Cure any illness? Give man everlasting life? Only a fool would believe in such things. The stone is imposs-”

“I made it.”

“What?” Verraten replied with voice somewhat heated, incredulous at what was just said.

“I made it,” Quinn repeated, unable to hide the big smile now growing on his face.

“You’re actually kidding me," the dwarf replied, leaning back against the counter with arms crossed. "Saying things as a student of one of the most presigious Genesaran schools of alchemistry in the world is embarrassing. Surely, this is some jest.”

“Come look,” Quinn said, barely able to hold back his excitement any longer, “Let me show you!”

Still not believing what the redhead was telling him, Verraten reluctantly followed his student to the granite counter. Next to all of the flasks, alembics, and other miscellaneous things was a parchment with a runic circle — otherwise known as a catalytic array by those in academia — drawn on it. His eyes widened. The array was unlike anything he had ever seen before, with scripts that were nothing like the standard patterns he had seen in the works of others.

“You wrote this?” he asked.

“Yes!" Quinn said. "It is based on an entirely new sets of formulae I’ve discovered with regards to the subject of Equivalent Exchange. Here, you came at the right time — this is the last set of stones I’m making!”

“Plural? You’ve made multiple?” Verraten muttered softly, eyes darting back and forth, examining and reexamining the entire setup. He began twisting his beard around his index finger — a habit he had whenever he was deeply engrossed in thought. His student now had his undivided attention.

“Well… yes, but give me a moment to demonstrate! I’ll explain the gist of my findings to you now, and the finer details in the paper.” With that, Quinn went off to the closet on the right. Within the course of a few seconds, there was a large crash, and several metallic containers fell from the cabinet along with a few mops and brooms. “Everything is fine! H-hold on...” the boy grunted. The floorboards groaned as something large toppled onto the ground. Afterwords, a large, rusty metallic drum was rolled out by Quinn, the sound of liquid sloshing from within clearly evident. “This is the last of what I have.”

“Last of what?”

“Water from a godspring — cost my father a fortune, but I was able to convince him to procure a barrel of the stuff.”

Verraten’s jaw dropped. “A-a barrel? How many hawks was that again?” Just thinking about the amount of money it took to procure the phials of godsprings he had given to his student earlier took the dwarf aback. Whether it was his dwarven frugality or experience as a collector of rare substances, the thought of buying a barrel made him feel faint.

“Don’t worry about it,” Quinn replied dismissively, focusing more on push the barrel upright.

Shaking himself out of stupor, Verraten moved over to his pupil's side. “Here… let me help,” the professor said, moving towards the barrel and putting both hands firmly on a side. “Lift on three. One… two…,” and with a heave at the third count, the drum was up and standing.

“Thank you Professor.” Hands now black with oil, the student took a moment wipe the slick lubricant off his hands onto his smock. “Now, watch this.”

With a snap of his fingers, the dust on the floor cleared, revealing on the boards a scaled up version of the alchemist’s array that was on the table drawn in chalk. Of course, there was preparation of the stabilizers, fixators, and other materials necessary for the facilitation of the reaction around the circle at various points. When it seemed all setup was done, the student placed his hand on the barrel.

Dimittere te Quinn spoke, and the water from the barrel burst from the corked top, flowing out and up into a floating sphere of liquid. Once all of the precious water was out, the student casually kicked away the barrel, no longer needing it for what he was about to demonstrate.

Using his left hand to keep the shimmering globe suspended, Quinn reached into the right pocket of his pocket, and pulled out a small flacon with a few grains of something colored a deep, pure crimson. “This is the prime catalyst for the entire reaction,” Quinn declared with a beaming smile. Uncapping the glass receptable, the red grains were poured into the water. Once the container was empty, it was tossed aside. Quinn then closed his eyes, held his hands out, and began chanting the final words needed to complete the transmutation: a coercion binding.

Words after words in tongues out of tongues. It started off as a small red light within the center of the blue sphere, but slowly grew in size and magnitude. Not a minute had passed when the entire orb had changed colors from crystal clear to an exploding gradient which shifted from deep crimson to a brilliant turquoise. The interior ebbed and flowed, red streaks dancing like ink in a swirling glass. A pure note was growing, growing louder and louder. The walls and floorboards shook, humming with arcane resonance to the sound of magic.

Fiuntque omnia.

Not even a second passed after which the words were spoken that the large orb of water shivered and quaked, waves rippling on its three-dimensional surface, until with a plop, it instantaneously imploded with a golden light. Once the light had subsided, a pebble, no larger than the nail of a child’s pinky fell onto the ground and into a small clay bowl. Quinn reached down and carefully plucked it from the soot covered ground and held it up in the air to examine it.

Verraten approached slowly, inching closer and closer to get a better look at the supposed legendary material. Although initially a skeptic, the aging alchemist took one look and felt sheer excitement. If this was the real thing, its creation would shake the foundations of modern alchemy.

After turning it twice in the air, Quinn nodded his head in self-satisfaction, and walked over to the stack of boxes on the side. One such box was covered by a tarp, and the removal of said cover, it was revealed that the boxes were no boxes, but rather cages of animals. After placing the stone to the side, the student selected a white rat from one of the enclosures.

“What you are about to see, professor, is proof that this isn’t a joke.”

With one swift motion, the student grabbed a scalpel laying on the counter and skillfully slit the rodent’s throat, hanging the creature upside-down by the tail to let the blood drain out. It was a sickening thing for the professor, being that he had always disapproved of inhumane animal-experimentation, but the verification of the discovery far outweighed any morals he may have had minutes ago. After checking the rat’s pulse to make sure that the creature had been dead, Quinn grabbed the stone, and held it to the creature’s throat. Within mere moments, to wound began to visibly knit itself shut, and within moments, the rat that was once dead began squeaking once more.

Edited by Artificer

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Tap. Tap. Tap — went his shoes as he walked down the cobblestone road. The morning was dark and freezing, but Quinn kept the hood of his thick, viridian cloak off. In his arms he clutched a large tome, and on his back he carried a large backpack which jangled and rattled with every step.

“Ahhhh,” Quinn said as he opened his mouth wide and exhaled. In an instant, his invisible breath had taken corporeal form as a wispy, white, little cloud.

It was a curious phenomenon, Quinn thought, that every breath turned into clouds of fog in the chill of winter. Mezthaluen had always been known for its mild weather which lasted yearlong, but on certain days like this, the nights were particularly cold. When exactly was the last time his skin had gone numb from a brushing breeze, or the pavement itself covered in a thin veneer of frost? Perhaps tomorrow would be one of those rare, coveted nights when it snowed. Despite nearing the age of twenty-one, he still felt like a child on the inside, and what could be loved more by a child than a snow day?

He felt so silly, that he even started to laugh to himself for a bit.

Quinn was starting to grow fond of walking back home at three o’clock in the morning. Ever since going to University, he just couldn’t separate himself from the Aether’s library. Something about studying “magic” was simply ethereal. Books of course were his best friends… they’d never leave him, betray him, or lie… unlike people. Laugh turned to silence as his face became blank, unmoving — expressionless. He put the book under his arm, pulled hood back over head, and continued down the path to the Northern District.

Edited by Artificer

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Quickly and quietly — that would be for the best. It was roughly four o’clock in the morning now, and being berated by his father this early in the morning was not ideal. Hopefully when the sun had risen, and Quinn had thoroughly explained why he had been out at such a late hour, his father would understand. Slowly, and softly, Quinn twisted the key and turned the knob….


‘Crap,’ the boy thought. Peeking his head in, he looked left and right, making sure the coast was clear. The house was dark with no candles lit. Perhaps his father was asleep? Quinn inhaled the sharp, winter air. He just had to climb set of stairs right in front of him, and he was home free. Cautiously, Quinn untied his boots, and holding his breath, crossed the threshold, stepping into the house.

“Finally decide to come home?” came a mellow voice from within, untinged by the ravages of exhaustion. The clouds parted outside, and moonlight filtered through the open blinds and illuminated the living room. The first thing Quinn saw was the man’s calm, gray eyes which shimmered dangerously like melted silver.

Sitting in the darkness, lounging back in a huge bergère chair with novel in hand, was Quinn’s father: Sullivan Ciar Ohdran.

“Well since you're awake, Son, would you like to join me in the living room? I think it is time that we have a talk.”

Edited by Artificer

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"Thank you for the coffee, Jericho," Sullivan said as the head butler placed a brass cafetière and tray of biscuits on the coffee table. Waving his hand, Sullivan spoke: "You are dismissed for the night." Kindly, the servant bowed, and disappeared back into the dark halls. The flames of the fireplace danced, tongues of fire highlighting objects at shifting angles. Leaning forward from his chair, he rested the his chin in his interwoven fingers, eyes locked on the coffee. To the common eye, the man's strange expression could have been mistaken to be stoic, contemplative — even composed, but Quinn knew. Sullivan knew. The man was was anything but.

"Father, I —," Quinn began, but was cut off when the gray-eyed man raised his hand.

Sullivan's fingers now unbound and twitching, wanting so desperately to break something. Today was not a good day. Taking a deep breath, the man reminded himself that this was his son, and not the con from earlier. The boy in front of him was family. Careful not to crush the handle, he picked up his mug, and took a sip of coffee, then placed the cup back down onto the glass table. Getting angry was the last thing he needed.

"I was very worried when Jericho told me that you hadn't returned two days ago, so worried in fact, that I've hardly been able to sleep for the past two nights. Where have you been?"

Giving a light smile, the boy replied, "Dad, honestly, you don't need to worry, I am adult n—"

"As long as you live under this roof, you are a boy. Now, where have you been?"

"At the universit—"

"Of course, it's always at the university," Sullivan replied with a biting tone, teeth grit and eyes narrowing as his eyes pierced the table. Ever since Quinn had been accepted to both Cut in Stone and The Aether, he had acted differently to his father, most likely dismissing him as some lesser-educated brute who only graduated from Fallenger's. Did the boy think that he knew everything since he was attending the two universities at once? He wasn't even studying anything useful. Magic? Alchemy? Those subjects were not even half as useful as chemistry, business, economics — hell, any other subjects would have been better. His son may have been intelligent, but he wasn't smart.

“Father,” Quinn exclaimed, eliciting a look from Sullivan. “I’ve been doing some pretty exciting research at the University. Maybe if you’d listen to some of the things I’ve been doing, you’d understand.”

Giving a sigh, Sullivan asked, “Fine. What are you doing?”

“I’ve been working on this project — its very interesting actually!” he continued, looking at his father with genuine excitement. Such excitement died upon observing his father’s flat face, to which Quinn looked away once more, playing with his thumbs at the response.

“I-If it is a success, then it could end up solving a lot of the problems that plague valucreans all over the world.”

“Oh?” his father said with a raised eyebrow, still not looking at his son. “And what is this ‘project’?”

“Well, it’s called a Lapis Perpetuitatis, and it’s still in its initial prototyping phase —  however, I believe that it is the key to living forever.”

“Really? Are you kidding me? A stone that can make you live forever? That sounds like something from a children’s story,” his father laughed dryly.

“It’s true! I’ve tested it on live specimens! The stone can bring its holder back to life!”

“I assume by live specimens, you mean lab rats, and not actual Valucreans?” his father continued snidely. Quinn remained quiet, looking away.

“Gah,” his father sighed, resting forehead in hand. “Do you really want to become just some street musician? You are an adult now, you need to start thinking about your future seriously.”

“I am!” Quinn said, voice desperate for some acknowledgement from his father — some sign of appreciation.

Now pinching his brow, Sullivan shook his head. Under his breath, he muttered, "I have no idea why you are studying under that cripple instead of picking up a useful skill."

Then, at those words, his son looked up at his father, eyes widened. Sullivan could insult him all he wanted — insult his research, insult his vocation, but insulting his mentors was something that he would not stand for. Practically springing out if his chair, the flustered boy pointed a finger at his father, and with voice rising, growled, "Professor Verraten is one of the most esteemed alchemists in this entire town," Quinn retorted. “Don’t you dare insult him.”

With that, his father’s eyes darted up. “I’m sorry, but what did you say?”

“Don’t insult Professor Verraten, he is a great man!”

“He's a fool! Alchemy is for fools who think they can turn lead into gold.”

“No it’s not, alchemy is an actual science!”

“Alchemists are not scientists.”

Turning away, Quinn grabbed his hair, wanting to pull it all out at the ridiculous comment. Surely, after all his years of living, his father knew that alchemy was real, was respected. He was educated, wasn't he? “It’s as real as chemistry father, and you know it. I’ll prove it to you when I finish this project.”

“I sincerely hope you do — prove me and hundreds of years of science wrong. Immortality is a fool’s dream. You’d be better off taking the family business…."

"And what? Be a criminal like you?"

Turning around, Quinn’s face met the thin lapel of his father’s suit. He said too much. Realizing his mistake too late, Quinn raised his hands in defense, but it to no avail. The palm of his father’s hand cracked like a whip, and then — ‘SMACK!’ With that, the boy went spiralling to the floor.

Taking one step towards his son who was curled up on the floor, the veins on Sullivan’s neck bulged as his nostrils flared.

“You have no right to say that...” Sullivan snarled, face contorted with anger. His voice resounded through the empty halls, throughout the mansion. “After everything I’ve sacrificed — everything I’ve done for you — for this family!” Throwing his arm to the side, knocking a vase onto the ground, shattering the vessel into hundreds of blue and white ceramic shards.

“Who fed you? Who raised you? Who gave you a roof to sleep under? Who payed for you god damned education!?” Sullivan shouted.

Picking his son up by the collar of his shirt, he was just about ready to slap him once more, but was stopped when he saw his son’s face. Through the muffled sobs, messed up red hair, and wet green eyes, Sullivan saw his wife in the boy’s face, and held back his fist. That look punched a hole in his gut, letting the anger seep out until there was only regret.

With that, he let go of his son, and at that, Quinn ran up the stairs.

Looking at his two hands, Sullivan slumped back and relented, black coffee now staining the white carpet.

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Step by heavy step, Sully climbed the stairwell, hand anchored to the railing. Midway during his ascension, he paused, hearing the faint clinking of broken pottery being swept below. Taking a brief glance down, he caught the coattails of Jericho who cleaned silently. Then suddenly, the sound stopped, and his butler disappeared from view.

Upon reaching the second floor, Sullivan walked to his own room, mentally and physically drained from the events that had happened that day. The business deal had not gone as planned, a few of his men had been arrested by the local authorities, and of course — there were matters regarding his son. Reaching out for the doorknob, Sully twisted, only to find the door locked. Looking up, he realized that he had not walked to his room, but in fact walked to Quinn’s room.

Slowly, Sully’s hand reached up to knock, but stopped. Instead, he turned his palm towards himself, and looked at his hand. The skin was still red, flush from where the skin had struck his son. Reluctantly, he pulled his hand back from the door. He wanted to speak — wanted to beg for his son’s forgiveness —, but no matter what, he couldn’t find the right words to say everything at once. How could a father express all of his aspirations for his son? All of his hopes for him? All of his fears? What few words could he speak before his son would shut him out as he always did? Nothing, Sully concluded. Nothing at all.

Turning away, Sully made his way back to his room. He only had a few hours to rest before the big conference between the trader’s guilds began, and he really needed to sleep. If he could improve his own business, maybe his son wouldn’t even have to worry about getting a decent career. He’d take care of it all… at least if Quinn wanted him to. Would Quinn still consider him as his father?

It was so frustrating.

Ever so softly did Sullivan close the door, closing his eyes all the while, thinking about the last promise he made to Leah. The thought of her crushed his heart. He wanted to sleep, but he couldn’t close his eyes. What would she do in times like these?

Edited by Artificer

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The smell of melted caramel wafted through the mob of traders, travelers, and townsfolk alike, filling the air with sweet promises of candied apples and other confections. For a child, this smell marked the coveted time when Giovanni’s Famous Gaufres et Chocolat was open, but for a man of the market stalls, this marked half past noon.

Walking through the Emporium during this time was always a welcome sight. New faces from new places, and the opportunities they bring with them, were always welcome. The streets were much busier than usual, which was good — busy meant business.

On a normal day, Ohdran would have made his rounds with the craftsman in these parts, offering goods and materials that were hard for honest men to get their hands on. Alas, his agenda did not involve his usual clientele. Instead, His eyes were set on the newest arrival in Mezthaluen which towered over the skyline.

High Atlas.

It was a thing of beauty, that airship. Crossing the horizon from tip to tip, the Atlas’s dark outline boasted of its fabled magnitude. The largest airship of all time was an understatement. This damned thing’s shadow nearly covered the entire square — at least from Sully’s perspective.

Cutting through the crowd, Sullivan could pick up fragments of the same conversation spoken by different people: “Why was the airship in Mezthaluen?”

Walking down the stairs to the lowest market level, Ohdran couldn’t help but crack a grin, for he knew.

High Atlas was out for auction.

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Upon reaching the bottommost level, Sullivan’s eyes and nose were overwhelmed by a wide assortment of colors and smells. To his left, there were grocers with stalls packed to the brim with exotic fruits and leafy greens, fresh as they were rare. To his right was butcher’s row, where there were charcutiers, cheesemongers, and fishwifes aplenty — meat, dairy, and daily catches all proudly displayed. Blacksmiths, jewelers, masons and tinkerers — all of Mezthaluen’s finest craftsmen were here, the bottommost floor of the Emporium: The Bazaar.

Navigating through the mazelike market, Ohdran took count of the prices and the products in the periphery of his vision, noting who was competition, and who was not.

“Boss!” came a faint, distant voice.

Sullivan looked slightly behind him, thinking that he heard someone he knew. Still, among the crowd, there were no familiar faces. It must have been his imagination.

“Boss!” came the same voice again, this time louder.

Peering through the gaps between the mobs of shoppers, Ohdran caught a tuft of blonde peek out briefly above the canopy of hair, hats, and hoods, before it quickly disappeared back under.

“Boss!” came the voice, a third and final time, close as it was clear. From the masses, a short, young man with crooked teeth and a crooked smile sprung out from between  a married couple.

“Julian,” Sullivan said smoothly. “You don’t have to yell so loudly — a tap on the shoulder would have sufficed.”

“Sorry boss,” the young man panted, out of breath and sweating like a maniac. “I had,” — gasp —,  “something important” — gasp —, “I needed….”

“Now now, I know we have much to discuss, but I think we’re drawing a small crowd around us,” Sullivan said, noting the growing group of people that were looking at the two. “Let’s go someplace a little more… private.” With that, he grabbed the young man by the shoulder, and proceeded to the back-alleys.

In his mind, Sullivan knew that if Julian was here, then the black market trading conference had begun earlier than anticipated. If that was true… then deliberations regarding High Atlas were up in the air.

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Hand slid into his blazer's pocket, and from the satin sheathe came a simple yet elegant tin box. Cracking open the lid, Sully plucked the fattest cigar he could find, and stuck it between his teeth. Putting the tin away, he drew his lighter, ran his thumb across the lion embossed in gold, and reminisced. Truth be told, he didn't like smoking. It was relaxing, sure, but he hardly liked how the smoke burned his lungs and throat. Still, this lighter was her first gift to him, and he'd honor that. Flicking open the cover, Ohdran cracked the wheel twice before it finally caught aflame. From there, he lit the cigar, took a deep breath, and let the somewhat sweet, somewhat acrid smoke burn in.

Letting out a long, drawn out white stream, he took the tobacco from his teeth, and looked to Julian. "What did you find out?"

"Black Hat just finished talk'n with Big Atlas."

Taking another inhalation from his cigar, he paused, exhaled, and continued. "And what of it? Did they strike a deal? What was the man's price."

"There was no price. Big Atlas ain't sell'n. Ev'ryone he talked to — no deal," Julian said, crossing his arms as if to emphasize the point.

"What?" Sullivan replied. "Then why is he here?"

"No idea boss. He got's ev'ryone in a twist. Even threw Red Suzanne for a loop. She tried hard to get that ship for herself — and I think y'know what I mean when I say hard."

"Red Suzanne you say... well she's earlier than I expected." Sully didn't even recall her being invited to this year's Mercatoribus de Ovili Pecus, especially given the incident that happened last year.

Whatever the situation was now, it looked as if matters weren't going to get any better from him. Most people would crack under offers from some of the merchants and marketers in Mezthaluen. Most of them had big coffers to spend on whatever they wanted. If the richest of the rich weren't going to get that ship, then how would he get it?

Tapping the ash from his panatella, he made his way out of the alley and proceeded in the direction of the meeting.

"Boss, are y'still going? I thought th'only reason you came to Bazaar was t'get that ship. How can y'buy it when he ain't sellin?"

"Julian, my son. Everything has a price."

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The curtains were closed, the blinds were shut, the lights were out save for the lone, cold flame of the blue candle. Quinn didn't leave his room that day. No, he was not going to work. He just wanted to lay there forever, under the covers, hidden away from the world itself. Looking to the window, he considered what it might be like to leap from its ledge, to fly like a bird in the sky. To be free.

"No," he said to himself. "I can't." There was work he had to continue. Whether or not his father approved of him did not matter. Or did it? Quinn no longer knew. For all of these years, he'd try and try to please his father, but nothing was satisfactory in that man's eyes. When he showed great interest in magic, he was squandering his potential in the sciences. When he decided to challenge himself to studying at two of the most prestigious colleges in all of Genesaris, he was a failure for not going to the third. And now? When he wanted to make a name for himself, he was leaving behind his father's legacy to strangers. There was nothing, absolutely nothing, which would please him.

Still, it was lonely being at the top. While he considered himself no different from his peers, his peers thought otherwise. Was it jealousy? Was it self-pity? Quinn never knew why those around him treated him the way they did. There was only one man who treated him like a man of his age, like a student, if not an equal.

Knock, Knock, but the sound came not from the door.

To say he was startled was an understatement. His room was three stories up, and his window had no balcony, yet the impossible tapping was on the glass. Perhaps it was his imagining, but then it came again. Knock, Knock. Slowly, he shed the blanket, and got to his feet, making his way to the window.

Knock, Knock.

Moving the curtains aside, he had one thing left to do, and that was to pull up the blinds. Grabbing the knob, he twisted the blinds open.

The sky outside was a beautiful azure as the rooftops were dusted with snow. Clouds passed by above as people passed by below, but there was no man, no person knocking. Opening the window, he took another look outside.

Knock, Knock, but this time on Quinn's face.

The man shook his head as he was about to sneeze, whatever knocking had knocked his nose. After holding it back, he took one more look outside, only to be greeted by a floating, black moleskin glove. Blinking twice, the young Ohdran could not believe his eyes. The ghostly hand waved at him in a gesture Quinn assumed to be 'Hello' before it pointed down to the terrace below. Peering down, he saw his visitor. A tiny, angry looking man who had only eight fingers, but had a genuine smile on his face as he waved at the boy.

"How dare you miss your lesson, Ohdran. I have a busy schedule, you know! You're lucky that I've decided to not cancel your apprenticeship over this, but rather come to pick you up. Now get down here before I change my mind!"

And with that, Quinn ran downstairs to meet his beloved professor.

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Its voice was a soundless sound, the kind that one feels when the earth quakes. Booming, the inquiry resounded throughout Sullivan's entire body. "Do you have an invitation?"

In front of Sullivan was a beast of towering stature. The creature had a man's body, but did not have the feet nor head of any man. Instead of a human face, it had the face of an ox, hair as dark as night and teeth as white as ivory. Instead of feet, it had hooves, and although its muscled hands were human, they were large enough to cover Sully's face — perhaps crush it. However, the beast had no need of such brutish methods. At the beast's right, a large gladius was sheathed, hand ready on the jeweled pommel, and on the left was a hammer which shone like the finest platinum. The turquoise eyes of the minotaur weighed down upon Sullivan, but Ohdran looked straight up at the beast, unrelenting at the creature's attempt at intimidation. The two stared at one another for quite sometime, and at one point, Sully swore that he saw Julian break a sweat.

Finally, Sullivan cracked, that is, with a brimming grin and a chuckle.

"An invitation? Henry, are you serious?" Laughing heartily, he placing his right hand up to the minotaur's shoulder and gave him a pat. "There are no invitations, you cow. Who the hell do you think organized all of this?"

"I know, I know," the minotaur sighed, the corner of his lips flashing a brief smile. "'Was seeing if I could surprise the dreaded Silver Lion, but, I see nothing fazes you, even with age." Releasing his grip on the pommel, Henry placed his right hand down onto Sullivan's shoulder. Learning in, the bull whispered into Sully's ear, "Glad you're still alive, Sully — haven't seen you in a year. Where have you been? Heard you were still doing business, but aye, you never come down and visit. What, you been hiding at a whorehouse, or something? Forget about ol' Henry? You still haven't bought me drinks like you promised."

"In a week when the schedule clears up, we can get a drink at whatever tavern you want."

"Tavern? Ha! You are joking with me? Eight hells and twenty heavens, you really haven't been down here in a while. My tastes have refined since that time, thank you. We'll go to Le Palais du Vin et du Fromage."

"You'll bankrupt me if I take you there." Sullivan remembered the last time he went out to eat with Henry and just how bottomless a minotaur's stomach really was. Granted, this is back when he was just an abandoned pup on the streets, but still, such excursions make a dent in one's wallet. "Besides," he continued, "You know the women at Iggy's are far more beautiful then those stuck up pricks at du Fromage. Plus, I hear that Julia's back from Terrenus."

At the mention of Julia, the Ox-headed man leaned up and turned his head away, and scratched his cheek. Sully could have sworn he saw the fur on the creature's neck bristle up, perhaps even turn a shade towards roses.

"Alright, we are going to Iggy's Tier's Day, but I swear if you skip this time, I-"

"Tier's Day, I'll make a note of it on my calendar. I'll send a raven for you in the afternoon so we can get you something nice to wear — you know, for Julia."

"Hurry and get in there," he huffed hotly.

Lifting the velvet ropes, the Minotaur gestured Ohdran to enter the backroom of the shop. It was time to get an airship.

Edited by Artificer

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Blue bell flower walls laced the mahogany floor hall, all leading to the arch with curtains parted. Upon leaving the antechamber and entering the reception room, Sullivan was greeted by the familiar scent of perfume and sweet-smokes — the kind that made his eyes water.

"They redecorated the room, but they still can't get rid of that gods-awful smell," Sullivan said, fanning the pungent haze away from his face.

Julian shrugged. "Can't fix everything boss."

It was spacious, comfortable room with luxurious accommodations. Crystal chandeliers, marble counters, vivid murals, celuran seats — all of it was catered to the tastes of the high elites of Mezthaluen's legitimate and underground markets who used the space to discuss new business ventures with one another.

Sullivan scanned the room, seeing familiar faces all around.

In the corner drinking ale at the bar counter, there was Kerrigan, a dwarf of short stature, but a master artisan and head to one of Mezthaluen's most profitable ore transportation businesses. Sometimes though, Ohdran wondered how the man was able to consume so much alcohol. Even for a dwarf, the man made his kin look like lightweights. Next to Kerrigan was Rudy, a half-elf who looked more like a lover than a businessman, but in actuality was responsible for heading one of the largest mergers in Joran's magitech center. Charm, silver tongue, and beauty were all at that man's disposal when it came to making deals, and that man was a master at it.

Head turned, Sully glancing at the other side of the room. Laying back on one of the couches, smoking her large pipe was Suzanne, better known by her name on the streets, "Red Suzanne." Harlot, enchantress, femme fatale — all would be suitable characterizations of the succubus. Owning some of the largest brothels in "The Busy," Penny, Docks, and Emporium, Red didn't earn her name from her beauty. In reality, she runs a network of hitmen-for-hire that spans all across Genesaris. The woman had connections everywhere, so unsurprisingly, she was the person to go to if someone needed to 'disappear'.

Then, with a frown, Sully noticed him.

Unkempt beard, magitech visor, arms engraved with tattoos, and that stupid, green hair. Auren Rannigan, otherwise known as "The Ripper." Sullivan cracked each knuckle individually, having felt the sudden urge to smash the man's face. Rannigan was "The Ripper" for one, and only one reason: his illegal slave-trade operation, specializing primarily in children. Such filth made Ohdran feel violent, as all slave-traders. The bastard dare show his face at this meeting? Didn't he know what happened to the late Elias Rannigan, Sullivan thought, reminiscing of when he beat the man to death.

It was long ago that Sullivan resolved that all slave traders deserved to be beaten to death.

"We're here," Julian said, breaking Ohdran from his violent fixations.

In front of him was a door, and inside was the man he came to talk to.

"Fantastic. Let's go in, shall we?"

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