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supernal

Ain't that just the way

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Preface

"I don't want to position myself as some guy who knows everything, who has all the answers. I don't know what a hero is, so I can't say that's what I am. I'm just a guy that hurts people that like to hurt people. Like, I could say it's being brave and fighting for what you believe in but what's that got to do with anything at all?

"A thief feels braver than you'd think if you've never stolen anything, anything that's really worth something from someone that really wants to keep it that is. There's a fear. Of getting caught, of facing consequences, that goes the same for thieving as it does for killing as it does for, I don't know, orchestrating development loans to rebuild infrastructure after you bomb the living daylights out of it. And overcoming that fear is what makes those bad people bad people as much as it makes the good people good.

"So I'm like, so what? So what about being strong? So what about having conviction and, and grit, and so what about being clever, and inspiring, and kind? If I looked deep down I think I could honestly say I'm just being selfish. I can't stand it. I can't stand that slavery is justified for profit, that genocide is legal because an idiot king says so, that these shit-eaters are out here killing people on the basis of 'gimme yours cause god says so'."

Jericho was inside of a mobile clean room, what looked like an enclosed trailer, but whose walls were fortified against intrusion and espionage by means both material and arcane. He sat in the single chair and on the single table before him rested an ultrablack gauntlet.

All of the above was a little ritual which Jericho enjoyed with items of power. It was something akin to the naming of a sword, but a thousandfold, because Jericho gave it more than a name, he gave it his passion, revealed the glinting and various facets of his manifold truth.

He slipped the gauntlet on and took one minute to let his body adjust to the power, masked its presence by means of a resonant feedback loop with the ghost-pouch also on his person. He left the clean room after that, threaded the crowd to get to his transport, and made his way off Terrenus.

OOC

Edited by supernal

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"Doing nothing about it, leaving it to a broken system, might as well be giving them license to do wrong by people. We're the only ones who will stand up to it, who'll say. 'No. It stops here.' 

'So what do you say, Levi,' He had asked her, 'Will you join us?' 

Well, what do you think now? Levi wondered wryly, as she watched the languid, crimson pool spread across the floor beneath her feet. Barely a week before, twenty-six year old Elisha Ripken had been nobody. A temp. She spent her days showing up for roll call and her nights scoring transient highs in a crummy nightclub in Casper, perpetually adrift in acedia. But now... 

The twenty-six year old had never felt further from home than she did when she first laid eyes on Velleh Ah’bjyd's sprawling palace through the window of their transport. It appeared like a mirage in the desert, immense domes of blue agate and white, marble spires shimmering like precious metal in the sun-baked air. The desert outside of Alterion just felt like... all she could think was yellow. Like noxious, yellow heat. Like miasma. It left the taste of ozone and aluminum on her tongue. And Ah’bjyd's estate stood out against the yellow, gleaming, gorgeous, and sinister. In that moment, the thousands of miles that separated this sallow purgatory from Casper struck Levi in the chest as if they had physical weight. She felt far from home then... but only in miles.

Now, barely an hour later, standing in this room with three dead bodies and blood blooming over the carpet, 'home' didn't even feel real. 

The blood was real.

And Justice was real. 

Real enough to Velleh Ah’bjyd, she thought, still propped upright in his high-backed chair, his throat opened. And real enough to the lifeless guard at her feet who had suffered the same ill fate. 

Levi grunted, something beyond translation, and knelt to wipe the blood from her knife into Ah’bjyd's exotic rug, leaving a bright red smear on the plush, gold and turquoise fibers. She slid the blade back into the sheathe she wore at her hip just as Jericho dropped his hands. Suddenly the eerie, oppressive silence that enveloped them blinked out of existence. Now they could hear the faint bustle of activity outside of this room, and each of the three people still living would immediately observe its tempo; the pulse outside had not changed. Ah’bjyd's guards remained unalarmed–-at least for the time being. 

The newly anointed assassin, just baptized in the blood of her first victim, stood again and turned her twinkling steel eyes to Jericho. Levi had a much smaller frame than the sorceror in the center of the room; a lithe, if disalluring, figure. She pushed an errant lock of short, cadmium hair from her forehead. In a gauzy, strangely genderless voice, she asked. "What's the plan, boss?" 

Edited by Ace

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“What else is there?”

“There is still everything, Matte.”

“So tell me.”

“Just go along. Learn it in your own words. Take this.”

He downed a strong drink.

“Great, now take this.”

He took the flask full of the same… savory liquid.

Then a dark haired young man with light-brown skin and very round, expressionless features sat with Jericho and Levi in the back of the transport. He looked out the window; cacti, sand, rock formation, cacti sand, cacti. Head rocking with the slight shifts, hands puddled in his lap, the newbie known as Matte barely blinked his plain dotted eyes against the blazing light. From underneath relaxed eyelids, from beneath the dull matte of his imperceptibly brown eyes, shone something tempered and observant— either something suppressed or the illusion thereof. Every now and then, Matte glanced from the desertous backdrop to the eldritch glove on Jericho’s hand.

Matte did carry a conviction for doing what was right. His soul burned with a fury to do right. Now, en route to Izral with Jericho, he was quite able to do the type of right he desired. Matte had killed, and Matte had resolved himself to keep killing until he was the only one killing and nobody else was. At that point, and only when his humanitarian principles were sated, he would cease killing the dastardly who made nests from the despair of others.

That evening, the group found their way into the palace and into the room in question. Matte dispatched of one guard in a very orthodox fashion, catching an intended blow and turning it into a rear naked choke to incapacitate the enemy.

While Levi finished off her quarry and cleaned the blood away, Matte undressed his victim— if you wanted to call him that— and donned the garb of the deceased. Affixing it to look passable by his standards, he went to stand with his back to the door from which the most commotion was coming.

“What’s the plan, boss?”

The quirk in Matte’s brow reflected his comrade’s question, removing the flask from an inner chest pocket and taking a swig. Matte had an auxiliary idea or two of his own.

"I say we feel out the situation and see how guards get close to him. Then, I volunteer to try it. Meanwhile, anybody cued up to distract the party if I'm found out would be ideal. My suggestion is that either two of us go in as guards, or two of us help run distraction. I don't like going in without an escape plan, but I can find my own way out. Just make sure you two aren't caught up, got it— er, is that alright sir?" finished Matte, angling his head to Jericho.

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The trip from Casper to Izral was one of onerous length. It took them days. There was nothing for it. When the Casper Shipping Company generated enough revenue for an airship or two that'd be different but he had to work with what they had, and that meant water ships.

In that time Jericho spent very little time fraternizing with the two operatives he brought along with him. He wasn't sure about them. He knew very little about Levi, but she had cleared the bar. He knew the power of rhetoric and he knew that talking a good game would make people nod along before they even knew what they were agreeing to. But unconscious sycophants did not guerilla soldiers make. Levi had proven by action that she landed firmly in the camp of 'useful', but that did not preclude a long-con. She could be a friendly mask worn by any number of sinister shadows broken off from the various enemies he had made, or enemies he had yet to make.

He knew even less about Matte, but he was vouchsafed by Ignatz's Odette and that was, just barely, good enough for him.

That meant bring them along but prepare your own food and drink, sleep in your own room. That meant give them the weapons they would need to accomplish the job, both literal and figurative, but don't turn your back. That meant arm them with knowledge but only a little at a time, as they went along, so that if one or both of them stabbed him in the back, kidney, or heart, it wouldn't all come undone.

The trip from the shore of Izral to Velleh's estate was short by comparison, two hours, maybe two and a half. Jericho engaged when spoken to and made sure they knew that he knew what he was doing, that he was not unhinged and that they were not putting the integrity of their lives in frail, flimsy hands, but if left to his own devices he spent his time looking out the window. Some of the time his jaw and his fists were clenched. Other times his lips moved in rehearsed soliloquy.

And then, less than an hour after they left the transport, Velleh was dead. Months of arduous, painstakingly arranged work, of constant paranoia and specter-like living, and Velleh's rapidly cooling corpse was slumped on the ground, blood soaking into what used to be his expensive rug.

There. Finally. Now, even if he died before the day's end, then at the very least this one snake, in a world of them, was without its head.

Jericho dropped the zone of silence that cloaked Levi's and Matte's gift for violence. He flipped Velleh's body over and leaned over it.

"Fuck you motherfucker."

He spit on Velleh's face before straightening up and kicking his teeth in. He turned the head and gathered Velleh's teeth in one hand while, with the other, he fished from his person a small burlap satchel. Into it went Velleh's teeth; from its gaping mouth pulsed green light. Wisps of smoke, or something that looked and acted like it but left one with the distinct impression was altogether more substantial, funneled from Velleh's body into the satchel. Jericho tied it off and lost it on his person and extended his right hand – in the next instant that hand was covered in ultrablack metal to the forearm.

"I appreciate you two coming with me this far. It may not look like it, but we just saved a hundred thousand lives from slavery." Jericho shook his head and bit back the urge to spit again as, with his unarmored hand, he gestured to their lavish surroundings on the expansive estate, while his armored hand pointed at Velleh like it was a canon.

Velleh twitched. Seized up. Then lurched into a standing position; over the passing seconds his slack jaw set itself and his up-rolled eyes positioned themselves into a semblance of normalcy.

"Right now the plan is we clean him up a little and walk right on out."

(OOC note: the estate of course has safeguards against magic so the necromantic manipulations of the gauntlet won't last for long. Have fun with it!)

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Levi started to volunteer for the job of the distraction; The twiggy young woman would hardly pass as a guard, even in disguise, but she was fast enough to get out of a scrape. She opened her mouth to say this, but the words would never make it past her lips. Jericho interrupted with a sudden, mighty stomp that broke several of the dead merchant’s teeth with an audible crunch. The sound turned Levi’s stomach. She hastened to the closed door and pressed her ear against the carved mahogany panel, happy to give this display some space. Levi wasn’t shy about their purposes here, but some things were just too gr-

“What the hell?” She’d turned her head to warn him off the noise and, from over her shoulder, saw what Jericho was doing then. It was the luminous, green glow bathing his face that had stopped her. Levi had known that Justice’s leader was a sorcerer. He’d revealed that much when he recruited her.

But some things...things like necromancy, you didn’t fully grasp the horror of until you witnessed it in the flesh. She watched, repulsed and astonished, as this tall, bumpkin-looking man lifted his hand and raised Velleh’s body from the ground. 

21 hours ago, supernal said:

"Right now the plan is we clean him up a little and walk right on out."

“Wait, wha---Really?”

Levi stepped away from the door with both hands held out, palms-up, before her, and looked dubiously at Jericho. Then her gray eyes shifted to the body of Velleh Ah’bjyd. Surreally, Velleh seemed to look right back at her: His irises centered, his pupils locking straight onto her own. The macabre vision made the hairs on the back of her neck stand upright.

It wasn’t the fine, clean slash across his neck or the coat of blood still glistening down to his sternum that chilled her. Standing there seemingly on his own, he seemed almost a conscious man. Almost. There was some minute detail: His head cocked at just a degree or two off center, the limbs a bit too still at his sides. Those tiny differences--mere slivers, but uncanny because of their closeness to the margins--that unsettled Levi. But she acted. They didn’t have the luxury of hesitation; If jefe said this was the plan, then she’d spring to it.

Levi studied the room, face set, grim and calculating. The large room seemed to have two distinct sections: A sitting area, where they stood now, with a chaise lounge and two tall winged-back chairs forming an arc around a cold, dry fireplace; and a kind of sideboard or service area against the far wall--a space where the needs of the occupants might be handy but out of the way. There was a wide credenza bearing refreshments, a sweating carafe of water and a bottle of wine that had been opened to breathe, as well as an empty tea set. In the corner stood an elegantly carved hat rack or coat rack, and another door that might have led to a kitchen or butler’s catwalk. On the rack, Levi spotted a long, delicate swathe of embroidered gold fabric, like a veil or a headscarf.

“Matte, get that. We can use it to conceal his throat” she pointed as she crossed back to where the second guard lay face-down in the carpet. Levi squatted and pulled that knife back from its sheath with her right hand, lifting the fabric of the guard’s clothing away from his back with the left. With little effort she cut a large scrap from the tunic and, re-stowing the blade, brought it back to where Velleh.. stood…   She wadded the remnant up like a hand towel and used it to mop up the excess blood from his neck and clothes. Luckily, Velleh had received them today dressed as one would expect from the obscenely rich and vainly opulent; the luscious crimsons, wines and violets of his silk clothes only looked a bit brownish with blood, not a gory bright red swiped across a canvas of whites or creams.  

"We'll need to hide the other bodies," she added, working with the calm detachment of someone who'd done this before. In Casper she'd worked with corpses. At least with this one, she didn't have to worry about getting infected from the blood. "We don't want someone to find them while we're still being--escorted off the grounds." 

Edited by Ace

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Daemon was neither surprised, nor did he seem to enjoy the process that occurred with Velleh. Nonetheless, their path out seemed clear; under the escort of the clearly not dead Velleh himself. That is, of course, after he and the rest of the room received a nice selective bathing. Matte immediately stepped forth as an effective solve for the problem. Within the brunette's upturned palms illuminated sharp geometric shapes of a dark purple hue. First he laid his left hand on the body of which he had dispatched. This one began crumbling to dust in the shag, the dust decaying even further. He touched the next body, and then another as Levi instructed him on Velleh's scarf. Vying not to exercise the dichotomy of his abilities, Matte took the scarf and arranged it just so around Velleh's neck that he appeared suitably more fashionable than dead.

*THUNK THUNK THUNK* "Sire!"

The door began to crack open with Matte's hand on Velleh's chest, where a large amount of blood had pooled. Matte instinctively lashed out with his foot to kick it shut, stopping inches short on the realization that force would be a terrible response here. He took his hand off Velleh's chest, returning to the door as the singular one of them under disguise.

"The Prince has just finished bathing. Give him a moment!" There was nothing but silence from the one on the other side of the door as Matte closed the door, returning his hand to Velleh's chest afterward with an urgent expression. The bodies around them were decaying, but not in immediate fashion. "They did not seem to like that response," he said, "I can handle the blood, but that and the bodies will take a moment."

As Matte spoke, blood flaked from Velleh's robes and dissolved in midaiir. Moving from Velleh to the floor, the clandestine Daemon swept his hand over spots of blood on the floor as if he were a swiffer blooder upper. 

*THUNK THUNK THUNK* "Sire!" the door began opening again, Matte turning helplessly a few meters away with his fingers in the carpet.

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"Really?"

Jericho shrugged. The infantile aspect of his ego was offended that this rookie would dare question his plan, but what made Jericho an expert in his field was that he didn't allow that aspect to mature and dominate. He identified it for the poison it was; he couldn't cut it out, such instincts would also be a corollary of the self, but he could make it small and put it to one side.

So with a breath, he explained his own shortcomings. It didn't click in Jericho's mind that Levi's disbelief could be about his ability to realize his stated desire.

"Velleh's estate is a black box; I couldn't get a peek inside of it. Everything I did to make an opening for myself also made the guy paranoid and he tightened his shit up pretty wicked. I thought I could get an inside man but his vetting process takes months. We didn't have months. So I figure, puppet the boss and maybe they'll even arrange a limousine for us."

Levi was a quick thinker, adapting to the dire circumstances and putting together the blocks which would combine to aid their escape. Now that he could see the way she painted, Jericho's mind hit the ground running and started adding his own notions to the framework. He took long strides to the bottle of wine, gripped it by the neck, and upended it in his mouth. He didn't take swigs – just a mouthful, which he swishes around before spitting into the rapidly melting ice bucket which previously housed it. He splashed some of the wine on his collar too.

While Levi and Matte cleaned up the blood and covered Velleh's striking neck wound, Jericho paced back and forth, awkwardly emulating the gait of a drunken man but refining it by the second – inside of a minute, he could have fooled a beat cop.

After that he took one of the bodies of the interior guard by the underarm and dragged them behind Velleh's desk, then doubled back to cover the drag marks in the lush carpeting. He didn't have time for the other body – the door was on the verge of being kicked off its hinges.

"This is a business meeting." Jericho hissed at Matte. "Why would he be taking a bath?"

Watching Matte pull out of his hat exactly the tool they needed for the job, guided entropy coded to an individual DNA stack, had impressed Jericho. There was no two ways about that. But having him lob that one out of left field made him remember that youth could never fully escape all its follies.

Then, just as he opened the door, Jericho seized onto the way Matte painted – he hit the ground running, motioning to Levi to go nearer Velleh as Velleh turned towards the massive windows overlooking his estate and threw open the curtains.

"Ever so sorry about that old bean."

The guard tried to muscle his way in – despite his lithe body, Jericho proved a most immovable object, admitted no entrance, but let the door open wide enough to let the guard take in a full view of the scene. He would find Velleh with his back to the door, one arm around Levi, the other motioning in a sweeping gesture, and a sound pouring from him which from a distance sounded like words, but which to Levi was clearly gibberish.

"The prince is a bit, ahh, ehhmm, indisposed."

Jericho hit the H's hard, flowing his breath over his tongue and through his teeth, so the guard could smell every particle of wine.

"Just, perhaps, a few minutes more to let your prince see where his efforts take him, and he'll be more cross at my associate than he will at you. We're just about to leave – you're the one that has to stay behind and deal with his sour mood."

Jericho laughed lightly and locked his eyes on the guard's own.

"Be a dear and fetch us more wine?"

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On 2/17/2019 at 5:04 PM, amenities said:

As Matte spoke, blood flaked from Velleh's robes and dissolved in midaiir. Moving from Velleh to the floor, the clandestine Daemon swept his hand over spots of blood on the floor as if he were a swiffer blooder upper. 

*THUNK THUNK THUNK* "Sire!" the door began opening again, Matte turning helplessly a few meters away with his fingers in the carpet.

 

On 2/18/2019 at 2:00 PM, supernal said:

Then, just as he opened the door, Jericho seized onto the way Matte painted – he hit the ground running, motioning to Levi to go nearer Velleh as Velleh turned towards the massive windows overlooking his estate and threw open the curtains.

 

Her mouth open, about to observe an approving 'neat trick!' to Matte's stunt, the verbal salute evaporated instantly at the precipitous turn of events.  A mindless, disoriented "Unhh--" burst out instead. Levi had started moving in the direction Jericho waved even before she recognized his meaning, and when she did, it was too late to mind her disgust. She'd barely enough time to slip under the outstretched arm and, with a quick maneuver of her outside hand, tug it downwards a few inches and into place around her shoulders. It was a good fucking thing Levi had a fast processor, but even as she snapped reflexively into action, her mind darkened; The three of them could have had the reflexes of a cat, the cleverness and cunning to match, and she had a feeling it would have changed this course of events exactly zilch. They were damned anyway.

"Ever so sorry about that old bean."

From several feet behind her, she heard Jericho greet the guard in an affected--posh and hopelessly tanked burlesque, and she almost barked laughter. Use it, something snarled at her. A visceral impulse to bolster the deception, to make it work. Levi craned her neck around. Matte was kneeling on the floor, looking absurd, and the palace guard's full head and shoulder were visible through the gap in the door as he tried to push his way inside.  Doesn't matter, it snarled again. Levi showed the guard that ludicrous grin, looking titillated by the rascally bacchanalia into which he'd apparently stumbled.

"Indisposed!" She hooted and turned back to face Velleh as though he were a perfectly normal, perfectly alive, participant in this farce. She nudged him with her free hand, still sniggering. "Just wait til they see us after anoth'r bottle, amirite Velleh?" 

The sentry's eyes moved from Jericho to Levi, and then to Matte, who'd apparently finished taking care of the trace evidence in the carpet and righted himself in a feeble effort to save face, and Levi understood the outrage on his angular face immediately. He didn't buy it. "What in all the hells is going on here?" He roared and, springing forward mightily, shoved past Jericho and into the study. "SIRE-" then, "YOU. Step away from him immed--" 

Levi didn't hear the rest. She did all she could think of in that split second, wresting her body back around until it was positioned where it needed to be relative to that of the cadaverous prince, raising her foot off the ground and her right hand flying to her hip. She brought the flat sole of her foot down sharply, and thrusting slightly forward, into the back of Velleh's knees, causing the body to fall into a kneeling position on the floor beside her, still facing away from the door. At the same time, she drew that knife--which had gotten so much use in the last hour already--once again from its home and whipped her arm around with deadly precision, holding its razor edge demonstrably close to Velleh's throat. The irony was not lost on her. 

If she'd had time to think, she would've silently willed (bellowed at him psychically, if that were a thing she could do) Jericho to puppet an outcry of pain and surprise from the corpse, but a blaze of faith in his reflexes kept her from making eye contact with their captain and giving anything away.  "THAT'S FAR ENOUGH," Levi barked at the guard, projecting her deepest, gravest voice.

"I'll cut his throat, I swear," Levi menaced, then paused just long enough for the guard's eyes to find hers. He curled his fingers around the hilt of his curved sword; He'd recognized the cold defiance in her glare. "Don't do anything stupid," she continued. "This party's got one too many already. Now, call us a transport. He's--" Levi sneered at her hostage, nostrils flaring in unmitigated disgust. "--coming with us. You'll get him back after we get safely back to Alterion. You understand." 

She could hear the urgent stampeding of footsteps from behind the door -- more than one, and getting alarmingly close. Fuck, fuck, fuck, she thought. Then she remembered the door she'd noticed earlier, the one she'd barely acknowledged as a kind of service entrance. Her eyes flashed upwards to meet Jericho's, then Matte's, and she jerked her head towards the door, not knowing where it led or even if they could open it. If they could--if they had just enough luck to find it unlocked, and if they moved quickly enough, maybe they could lock it behind them and slow down their pursuers.

"Plan B?!" She cried. 

Edited by Ace

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As Levi made her play, absorbing the guard's attention with her psychodrama, Jericho deliberated letting out a dandified scream to support his cover. Dismissing this as a notion which too deeply divided Levi from the tactical support he and Matte could, and must, provide, Jericho read the room – he twitched Velleh's body in signs of anxiety.

They were selling pretty hard but the guard was a tough customer – he wasn't buying any of it, not even at wholesale prices. Jericho, closer to the door, could do more than hear the soldiers storming the staircase and pouring out onto their floor, he could damn near feel the vibrations on the floor. Their smokescreen would soon be dispelled by the force of directed energy beams, targeted hexes, and a horizontal hail of bullets.

So Jericho made an executive decision – he positioned himself in the guard's blindspot while the other's attention was focusing on his living paycheck, and tapped an armored digit against the back of his neck.

At that touch the guard collapsed, not fainted but dead; translucent blue-green ribbons twirled around the gauntlet and spiraled up his arm; his veins came alive with electric incandescence as the man's potent, stolen life-force coursed through his body and joined the whirling vortices of his chakras. For a moment the hair on his head stood on end, wavered as if caught in a breeze which affected nothing else around him, and then settled back against his skull when his body acclimated to the juice.

Jericho loomed over the cooling corpse of the guard. It took a surprising exercise of willpower to keep his ego from overinflating, from viewing everyone on the grounds as another meal for the gauntlet's infinite hunger. With a breath, he vented the greed.

"Live by the sword . . . "

Less than a minute had lapsed and he could feel the pulsing of the mercenary unit's collective life-force on the other side of the door. At his whim the guard rose to his feet, drew his weapon, and went to the other side. There followed the crashing sound of bullets; the whizzing, whirring sound of flung spells.

Luckily, or rather by design, Velleh's office was fortified. The soldiers would get through before too long but a zombie sentry and Velleh's safeguards added seconds to their time. Jericho's other hand signed near his hip and before him appeared the guard's spirit, tethered to him by the ghost pouch.

"Where's that lead?" Jericho pointed at the door Levi spotted and underscored. The blank-eyed guard pursed his lips, struggled against the pouch's compulsion, and buckled – as he must.

"Study. Kitchen. Wine cellar. Servant's quarters."

The guard's spiritual waveform collapsed under the pressure – he might be useful later but for now he was tapped as an information source.

"Kitchen to pick up something at least resembling a weapon. I can make something out of their herbs, depending. Servant's quarters should give access to loading and unloading entry."

A rough outline of the next, and hopefully not final, minutes of their lives sketched out for the others, Jericho took the initiative. Long, loping strides took him to the door; Velleh's body tagged along as if connected to Jericho by steel cables. Jericho took the steps of the spiraling staircase three at a time, leaping the final five, and then putting his shoulder to a wooden door twice to bust it free from its hinges. 

There were two waitstaff in the kitchen. This time Jericho flexed only a fraction of the gauntlet's ability, ceasing blood flow to the brain for 20 seconds robbed them of their consciousness; in the next instant Jericho was rummaging through their spice drawer for ammunition. 

Edited by supernal

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“I don’t know,” responded the monotone Matte to Jericho’s hiss, “but there’s a huge bath in that bathroom.”

Even the best agents get caught in the headlights sometimes! That’s why teams of us are sent for jobs like this. At least, that’s what Matte told himself. He had to, because when the incredulous guard turned his attention to them after barging in, Matte was not only still in the process of wiping the room— he had only just begun. While the merchant prince himself had been cleaned, there were still easily noticeable, sharp spray patterns of crimson across the carpet and spread up Velleh’s desk.

Matte’s palms, emanating black vapor that selectively ate blood to dust, were pressed against the bloodstained carpet fibers as his round face turned blankly up at the unconvinced guard. A uniformed man kneeling in the blood of the bodyguards, the assumably alive Velleh alive and taken hostage, would be the confused intruder’s last sight before Jericho flexed the power of one of Zengi’s Gauntlets. These, destroying their ilk, was the very purpose of Michael Commager’s existence. When the guard fell, Jericho was as an abyss; a void that called to Matte. When Jericho looked around, in perhaps the millisecond when he was most vulnerable to the gauntlet’s ravenousness, his and Matte’s eyes would lock.

Sir, a vibration emanated into Matte’s head from a tiny red pearl beneath the surface of the right side of his neck. The voice was soft, feminine, had changed in recent months to be most appealing, unstartling and perceivable to its host. I have reconciled the signature that man's gauntlet just emanated with the source of the Casper plague.

What does that mean? Matte became tense. Would this go completely upside down? Did he do it?

No, this is the other gauntlet; but I believe it means we can find who did. Beginning diagnostics.

Jericho quelled the dose of tainted energy administered to his greater stalwart mass and employed his undead, and the three moved like they had done this before, all in their own capacities. The brunette Matte left his cleaning assignment, black energy dripping from his fingers and dissipating as they burst through a door into a study. Matte stopped. Grabbing a book and opening it, he placed his hand flat against its spread pages before placing it on the floor.

Then he turned, catching hopping down a spiral staircase just as Jericho burst through a door into the kitchen. As the waitstaff fell,Matte couldn’t help but notice that one of them was young. He whisked to her side and lowered her to the ground before examining the rest of the kitchen for an exit to a wine cellar. The crystal at his neck, normally a cool and unnoticeably entity, hummed against Matte’s jaw in a manner he had come to find comforting. Information feels good when you have something meaningful to do with it. Finding the hatch quickly and realizing it was locked, Matte returned to the older of the waitstaff and removed a key ring on an extending clip from her waist.

“Should we drop Velleh off here? Maybe he can hold off the good ol’ boys as we slip out this way.”

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While Jericho rummaged through the dried spices, Levi let her diffuse mind go to work. Instead of groping—groping around the room for an answer, groping for ideas—she took the scantest moment to to pause, close her eyes, and breathe in.

It was enough. The environment in the kitchen was warm, balmy, and something fresh and aromatic just barely hung in the air.  When she opened her eyes again, she registered light. Grey irises switched instantly in the direction it came from and spotted a window. She sprang for it, leaping over the elder cook's unconscious body. Only a thin hook-and-eye latch locked the diamond-grille doors shut, and Levi swiftly unfastened this and swung the window open.  Robust sunlight filled the kitchen, glaring off the surfaces of hanging pots and pans, and her body formed a stark silhouette, craning forward slightly through the opening.

Yes! There was a long, narrow terra-cotta box hooked beneath the window, filled to the brim with soil and dotted with fragile green shoots and sprouts. "Jericho, here!" Levi squawked, and quickly stepped away from the window to give him space to shop the herb garden for components.

As she let that task go from her mind, already moving on to the next, she noticed Matte removing a ring of keys from the woman Levi had vaulted over in her hurry. He used it to open a hefty wooden door in the floor in the corner of the room. "Nice," she exclaimed, breathless and high-spirited from the urgency of the moment. 

On 3/2/2019 at 2:35 PM, amenities said:

“Should we drop Velleh off here? Maybe he can hold off the good ol’ boys as we slip out this way.”

"I'm good with it--if he can keep up the enchantment that long." Either way, it would probably serve them better to leave the merchant prince behind: Animated and fighting back, he would give the guards reason to pause. Until they figured out he was dead, their priority would be to see him safe, right? And if the magic extinguished.... then he was just dead weight. While he waited to see what Jericho did, she would maneuver just around him and into the cellar. Quick as Levi was, either one of her companions would outrun her over long distances, so she'd taken to the habit of acting without waiting for confirmation from them. To keep moving. 

She took the short flight of stone stairs briskly. The cellar was dim, but not dark: lit from inside by glowing amber lamps, burning arcane energy, that hung two-to-a-wall around the perimeter. It didn't look too promising...  but Levi explored on, past rows of casks and dusty bottles. On the far side of the room she felt a draft, and as she approached the opposite wall, spotted a pair of heavy wooden doors. "Exit down here!" Levi raised her voice and called back to them before approaching nearer. The floor sloped upwards here, and there was another short flight of about six stone steps leading up to them. They must bring the wine down from the outside, here. 

Levi saw with dismay that the doors were chained together and sealed with a great, heavy metal padlock that must have been five vertical inches across. She tried pushing her shoulder into the door, to judge how weak it might be in its cradle, but it didn't budge. The slabs of wood were solid and dense. 

The other way, then. Her hands went to her sides, feeling around in her pockets for the two thin steel files that she'd started to carry when her investigation in Casper began to pull her into an underworld of secrecy and corruption; when getting around obstacles had become a necessary life skill. It was possible that one of the others had a faster method for circumventing locked doors, but if they did, they would steer her out of the way. Until then, better not waste a moment. Levi dropped to one knee and got to work--gingerly--for fear that the sturdy metal fixture might just snap her tools.

Edited by Ace

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Jericho nodded his appreciation at Levi, thankful for the extra pair of eyes when raiding the kitchen. He rummaged the potted plants she pointed out to him, clearing the row of nutmeg and sage, crushing and ripping them with his bare hands, letting them drift from his fingers into the center of a little copper pot he took from a cupboard. To this he added handfuls of garlic, lavender, and cinnamon, evoking the depths of their mystical properties by their expert combination, and by the influence of the chant even now rumbling from his diaphragm.

"Should we drop Velleh off here?"
"I'm good with it."

"He'll hold up long enough if it's just a bunch of swords and guns barreling towards us, but if there's anyone decent with magical theory in their numbers they'll be able to disjoin the necromancy pretty handily without me here to keep it up. Not instant-like, but probably inside of a minute. Pretty narrow window for us . . . but I'll take what I can get.

"I'm just thinking it might be better to take him with. Right now the only person close enough to have seen that Velleh was snuffed is snuffed himself. From a distance Lev's plan might work, might still be able to make a play like he's a hostage."

As he spoke, as he worked and his hands moved with practiced eased to measure amounts and combine elements and perfect ratios, Jericho's eyes returned to the ultrablack gauntlet over his right hand over and over again. He couldn't deny its power. He couldn't deny how good it felt every time he acted through it, every time he took hold of a sentient being's life-force and absolutely dominated it, because if he did then he would be making himself fat for its trap. If it could it would feed until it was the one wearing him, rather than the other way around.

So, while he still had the resolve and clarity of mind, Jericho determined to vent only a little of its power over time and to do so only when circumstances were most dire. Once they were back at HQ, he could spend some time taking it apart and poking around its guts to come up with safeguards. But until then . . .

Matte got the hatch open and Levi led the way down to the cellar. Jericho took point behind the two of them but shouldered his way to the front when they didn't keep advancing. Jericho's eyes lit on the door, the padlock, and Levi's picks, in that order.

"I can crack that but need you to cover my back and buy me some time. They're almost here."

'Almost' was putting it lightly. The punctuating mark to Jericho's statement was the sound of static flooding the air, the white noise hum of dead air, and a rolling scent of ozone; they had only the time it would take for Velleh's security detail to maneuver between the racks of wine to the exit they were currently huddled around.

Jericho packed the padlock's mouth with a helping of his powdered concoction, jammed the file into it. With a single prick from the point of the gauntlet to his finger, a drop of his blood touched the file and slicked down into the powder, igniting it with a magnesium-like flare.

"Forty seconds."

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After opening the door to the wine cellar and watching Levi make for the lock to the loading bay, Matte returned to observe Jericho; you know, see what he was whipping up— but standing half in the shadow that slanted down the cellar staircase, his face in the darkness, Matte watched Jericho’s eyes flash on the gauntlet. Averting his attention before Jericho could see him with any more than peripheral vision, Matte followed Jericho down rows of dark bottles, then yellow bottles with wax seals and foil and fat corks, twined with fancily braided wire. Matte paused about halfway through the cellar, taking a bottle and reading the foreign writing decorating it as Jericho made his way to Levi with Velleh.

"I can crack that but need you to cover my back and buy me some time. They're almost here," he heard behind him. He couldn’t help but smile distractedly a little as he pretended to read the incomprehensible language.

On 3/2/2019 at 12:35 PM, amenities said:

Matte stopped. Grabbing a book and opening it, he placed his hand flat against its spread pages before placing it on the floor.

Right on the heels of Jericho’s analysis of their remaining time, an explosion rocked the study on the floor above them and blew debris down the spiral staircase to the kitchen. The closed door to the staircase shuttered, paper and ash fluttered on the other side. Matte’s grin on so round a face didn’t change his complexion much, so in the dimness it was hard to tell he smirked at the explosion.

“Hopefully that gives us a couple more seconds,” he said aloud. “I can do 30.”

Would you like me to translate the bottle, M--

Yes, please do.

Matte still wore the robes of Velleh’s man, the scarf coiled around his shoulders concealing the bottom half of his face, the headdress his brunette locks. His silhouette separated Jericho and Levi from the silent beam of light extending down from kitchen into the cellar, drinking in the silence in the wake of his explosion.

Well, this one says it’s a nineteen-year-old Aelindran Nebbiolo. “In tasteful divergence from the original recipe in order to take away from the sweetness, this one is twice fermented in violet and tobacco, then strained and aged in a cask buried in the sands of the Noerest Ocean. Predictably, fragrant smokiness will undercut the cherry and raspberry tones; but that does not mean they won’t be there!”

The feminine voice in Matte’s head had largely mastered the intricacies of human speech, but her emulated exclamation at the end of the description elicited a bark of laughter from the host. At the same moment, the blasting open of the kitchen door at the top of the staircase shattered the silence in which Jericho worked. Matte lowered the bottle, holding it by the neck with his left hand while he extended the spread digits of his right hand, palm facing the cellar door. Inhaling through his nostrils for a moment, Daemon slowly closed his fingers and drew the fist toward himself, pulling in heat and air and, if one could see the space between him and the cellar door, light. Shouts and shadows danced in the stairwell, but his focus was nigh impenetrable, his hazel eyes nailed upon the steps with murderous intent. A shape of barely perceptible, blushing red gossamer gathered around him, the movement of air it generated billowing his robes gently.

Men had breached the narrow cellar door and began making their way down double-file. Like the opening of an eye, Matte’s aura flared a bright orange color and he opened his hand. Leaving the bleached light of the kitchen for the dark cellar and suffering lacking visibility due to the angle of the staircase, Velleh’s men were at a slight disadvantage despite their numbers. Orbs of light began shooting from the dimly lit air surrounding the agent, angling upward as they approached the staircase and pelting guards like an upward storm of hot spheres that didn’t pass through them, but ground into them at all points of impact. The first few men were blown entirely back from the mouth of the staircase, the next few knocked back as the visible pool of heated air harnessed by light diminished around Matte.

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