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The Alexandrian

Club Tablillas - The Redeemer and The Heiress

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It is highly improbable that Ilyana, upon receiving formal and exceedingly eloquent confirmation that Caeceila was willing to chat with her about this and that at such-and-such a time at such-and-such a place, imagined that the venue for their little affair would be a cross between a firebase, a club, and an arena.  Club Tablillas, tucked away in a lot formerly occupied by a warehouse two blocks from the reinforced black gate shrouding the Glasmann estate from prying eyes, was, ostensibly, a newcomer to Hell's Gate's club scene.  Anyone in the know, in fact, insisted Club Tablillas must be a hole in the wall because, to the world at large, Club Tablillas simply did not exist.  Your average civilian hadn't seen or heard hide 'r hair of it.  Citizens, people who had served in the Terrenus Military and were honorably discharged, were altogether oblivious to its presence, as though information concerning the club's existence had escaped the notice of all but, perhaps, Victory itself.  It was almost as if all information apropos the club's operation was actively suppressed, but it didn't take long for a keen observer, once there, to ferret out the reason for Club Tablillas's utter obscurity.

From the slinky forms of driders and drow, silhouetted in the pulsing neon light animating the street in front of the building, to the fierce beauty of catpeople and weretigers, clad in spikes and leather, bouncing through the door at a whim and even to the more exotic clientele, enchanting vampires, refugees from Tia, no doubt, sultry demons, and a fair number of lesser known species, the club reeked of the one thing Gaians detested above all else, that single cursed thing that has no right to live.  Yes, the club caters to Outsiders exclusively - if the signage does not exaggerate.  That Caeceila would arrange to meet Ilyana here, of all places, is bewildering if not amusing by dint of its presumptuousness.  If Caeceila flounced through the door, heiress to the Glasmann fortune or not, she would be turned away, wouldn't she?  And if she wasn't...

Nothing triggered a Gaian like an assembly of Outsiders, and the guileful owner of Club Tablillas had not left that hiccup to whittle away at her patience.  On top of miraculously controlling the information available about the club, the club is fortified like a military outpost.  The bouncers are armed-to-the-teeth and wear military-grade exosuits that are eerily similar to the set Caeceila modeled at the tail end of Dredge's ill-begotten invasion of Last Chance.  More shockingly, every guard is outfitted with a weapon manufactured by House Glasmann Arsenal, a subsidiary of House Glasmann that, apparently, has refused to advertise or offer its products to any entities that are not allied with House Glasmann.  Packing serious firepower and bearing symbols of House Glasmann's approval seems to do a decent job of warding off humans, elves, and other Naturals who may avail themselves of any of the other services in the area heavily influenced by House Glasmann to their hearts' content.

If and when Ilyana chooses to approach Club Tablillas, she won't get far before she is accosted by an ad'awwrable, effervescent catgirl.  The subject of interest quickly breaks away from a group of three other catpeople and begins to smile and wave at Ilyana as she draws near.  She's a shortie, this lady, and she can't weigh more than a hundred and ten or a hundred and fifteen pounds.  The kawaii catgirl, who would definitely be an instant hit at a comic con with her sparkling pink eyes, striking silver hair, and a well-groomed tail tied up with multicolored ribbons, is not quite as spiky as her compeers.  She's rocking a hot pink leather jacket and a black t-shirt depicting several cartoon characters riding a single motorcycle with a comical quantity of attached sidecars through a spooky forest.  The blood-red letters "ETHKLO" are visible in the bright light of the street.   Though Ilyana isn't yet able to view the catgirl's back, a window has been cut through the back of her jacket and her t-shirt exposing a full-back tattoo of a white tiger mid-pounce.  Sharp teeth flash through luscious fuchsia lips as she tries to get Ilyana's attention.

Hi!  I'm Cammy!  You're Ilyana, right?  You aren't, like, a doppelganger or an evil twin or anything but the real, live Ilyana Sevnyar...

Cammy blinks as a wave of abject horror washes over her.  Her ears perk up, her tail freezes up, and she really, really tries to enunciate in response to her faux pas.

Ilyana Sevnyar.  Ilyana Sev-nya!  DAMMIT!  Ilyana Sev-ryn!  YES!

Nailed it!  Cammy is overjoyed!  She beams at Ilyana, who may have already sensed that the cute catgirl before her is a TERRIFYINGLY POWERFUL MAGE AND WERETIGER.  Caeceila definitely sent someone very important (and bizarre) to meet Ilyana.  Cammy's tail sways hypnotically in the cold night air.  Cammy knows who Ilyana is, so it's only fair Ilyana know something about her, and on that note...

I know all about you!  You run the Redeemer!  Something happened to the purrevious ownyar!

Cammy frowns at her own ineptitude.  Focus, Cammy!  Talk like a normal person, not a cat-tiger-weretiger-abomination-thing!  Previous.  Owner.  Previous.  Owner.

Purrevious.  Ownyar.  NYAGH!

Cammy stomps her right foot!  This is sooo frustrating!  Why does her mouth betray her?  She can't even make frustrated noises properly.  Nyagh?  What's nyagh?  Crossing her arms in an awkward fashion, Cammy turns her gaze to the ground.

Just forget I said anything.  Pretend I said nothing at all.  I definitely didn't make cat noises while introducing myself, and you definitely, definitely aren't imagining me doing cat things like sitting in boxes and looking grumpy or grooming myse-  No!  Not gonna finish that sentence!  I see the weird art they'll draw already!  I don't want them drawing weird art of me grooming myself or writing fan fics about us!

The word "mortified" doesn't even start to describe Cammy's expression.  It kinda resembles ?, kinda.

Next time, I need to bring alcohol with me so I can lie and blame everything on being an alcoholic.

@Dolor Aeternum

Edited by The Alexandrian

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“Club Tablillas? Guess I should throw convention out the window when it comes to Lady Glasmann”

The soft words escaped her as she made her way in a rather gaudy vehicle that hovered its way toward the secretive gathering that she had heard about but never visited. For the Redeemer, information such as the existence of an establishment that catered only to outsiders especially in this city she called home took little time to reach her ears. The outsiders, outcasts, and oppressed were exactly the sort of customers she held bias toward for it was a group of them that had redeemed her from her agony and elevated her to where she was now. Knowing that a place exists and immediately becoming an expert on its business structure or frequent customers were entirely different things, however.

Forced to park her car an annoying distance away, she approached alongside another young woman. The Redeemer, relying solely on rumors and speculations along with what had been published in the news concerning Caeceila, understood that she would have to play this specific meeting by ear alone unlike the prepared meetings she would prefer to have. Judging by the event the Glasmann family hosted, Ilyana understood there to be a desire to improve upon the current situation of Hell’s Gate and Terrenus as a whole but what the definition of improvement was to someone as isolated as the Glasmann debutante could be anyone’s guess at this time.

Ilyana chose to wear a strapless dress that clung to her features, the hem of her dress ending at mid-thigh. An ethereal luster enhanced her attire, shining even within some of the lower lit areas along her journey. A necklace rested along her chest which was modestly covered, with a circular pendant bearing a depiction of several red eyes if one ever got close enough to stare long at it. Whatever the usual attire for this club was, Ilyana seemed dressed on her own terms, her current attire not the norm for a woman who was raised in the seedier area that was the eastern section of Hell’s Gate.

Next to her was Aislyn, garbed in a simple white blouse with a red skirt. The young woman adjusted her top several times, obsessively concerned with how she looked. Despite what seemed like distraction, the woman had a keen sense of her surroundings which was evinced by the way she was aware of Cammy's approach even with her back turned. Ilyana’s brow perked as she looked at the catgirl, not pairing the girl's approach with her intended reason for visiting this club. The lustrous attire The Redeemer wore vibrated against Ilyana’s flesh, likely revealing to someone with keen senses that it was much more than just flashy clothing but eventually it would stop as it sensed Ilyana’s comfort. Finding the young girl amusing, she allows her to go through the entirety of her introduction without a single response, though the speed at which the woman was speaking would likely had made it hard to fully interject.

In truth, the sight of Cammy reminded her of several others of her kind being peddled by those she answered to in a previous life. If she could have only had the power to create a haven like this for them back then. The sight of Cammy might have dragged Ilyana into sad remembrance were it not for how endearing and powerful the weretiger girl was. Aislyn blinked several times with mouth agape, staring at Cammy’s attire as if in awe. It was only Ilyana’s voice that broke her out of her own stupor.

“I am the real Ilyana Sevryn in the flesh beautiful.”

Ilyana smiled a bit and then continued.

“I do run the Redeemer though this previous owner you speak of is likely only the owner of the first business I acquired: The Nature’s Repose Inn. The Redeemer itself is solely my creation.”

It was a common misconception that she remembered repeating several times to the press though she assumed the whirlwhind of acquisitions that soon followed along with her avoidance of the press soon after did not help any.

“Well, in any case, it is a pleasure to meet you Cammy. Is there something I can help someone who has greeted me so well my first time here with tonight?”

Given she had not been informed about how she would end up face to face with Caeceila, she decided to entertain this interaction with the catgirl for a while longer solely because she was already enjoying the girl’s presence.

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The felicitous complement Ilyana paid Cammy jolts her out of her dark place nigh instantaneously.  Ilyana's expression of acceptance and, if taken at face value, approval refocuses Cammy, but it isn't evident to an observer, especially to an observer who isn't yet familiar with the diabolic, freewheeling adventures Cammy's errant mind so whimsically embarks on, what terrible, terrible consequences this otherwise charming action has invoked.  Pray that Cammy is not susceptible to Ilyana's advances, for if Cammy is, Ilyana will inevitably awaken tomorrow to bloodcurdling shrieking as someone discovers the bloody, mangled body of a mortally wounded giant eagle lying at her doorstep tied up with ribbons like a dreadful present.  The sheer size of the puncture wounds she'd leave in whatever shredded, gory offering she would lay at Ilyana's feet would almost certainly plunge that ship into the drink!

In a regimented parade of mild distress, Cammy tilts her head to the left ever so slightly and gazes up at Ilyana with dazzling pink eyes that sparkle and shine in the streetlight as if reflecting stars shooting across the firmament.

You think I'm beautiful?  But...  I was trying to look the metals?  See?

In a blink of an eye, Cammy strikes a pose.  It isn't metal in the least.  The sign of the horns is woefully absent, she doesn't adopt an intimidating stance, and she's smiling like she's actually enjoying herself!  For all of her effort, she looks like she's about to call upon the power of Gaia transform into a magical girl wielding an oversized sword.  In no way, shape, or form is Cammy physically menacing, yet no one would dispute that there is an ineffably alien quality to her that would disquiet the most apathetic nihilist in Valucre.  Once, she may have been of this world.  Now, her mastery of certain rituals and formulae, and the beings she has consorted with in her practice, have left indelible marks on her spirit.

Anyway, I'm sorry I didn't remember your story.  I guess I was a little distracted when Nines was briefing me on it.  I don't really have a head for that side of the business, y'know, and then there were those pictures of you and I was thinking to myself, "Damn, that lady is dummy thicc!  I'd probably ask her out if I wasn't such a recreant -"


For the first time, Cammy's wandering eyes catch a glimpse of Aislyn.  Cammy blenches violently, leaping three feet into the air (and a generous three feet at that).  With feline grace, she lands on her feet.  Her tongue too is quick to recover.

If she didn't already have a girlfriend with-

Cammy eyes sweep over Aislyn, lingering on her top for a moment longer than anyone could term decent and proper.

-massive ti-bia.  Tibia!  You have massive tibia!  Yes, you have tibia so massive they don't really seem to fit in your br-eeches!  Breeches!  That's the word I was going to say!  Your tibia don't fit in your breeches.  Do you like birds?  Why is it hot out here all of a sudden?

Cammy blushes, her cheeks redder than a rose in full bloom.  That was, what, three times in a minute that she very nearly said something slap-worthy to Ilyana and Aislyn?  No, that's not right.  The count is off by one.  Cammy did declare Ilyana dummy thicc, after all.  That's worth a slap and a half, and there might be yet another slap in her future delivered as recompense for that giant eagle she's surely going to leave in front of Ilyana's house at midnight.  With a nervous "ahem," Cammy clears her throat.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that you don't need to worry about being cuckold, Ilyana's girlfriend, so why don't you let me take you both to Cae and buy a drink for each of you to patch things up before this gets out of hand or into hands or-

I'm shutting up now.  If people find out I'm talking like this, we'll end up in one of those lewd novels they carry in the weird section at the bookstore with all that Rae X Gabriela schlock.

Cammy shudders and shakes her head vigorously.  Truly, her insatiable craving for forbidden knowledge has led her to the dark corners of this world where things lurk that are better left untouched.

A second later, Cammy escorts Ilyana and Aislyn past the guards stationed at the front door and into a deserted reception room with an auto-gun mounted in the ceiling.  The room is illuminated by orbs of faerie fire which drift harmlessly through the air, and the walls are plastered with posters featuring metal, goth, industrial, and experimental musicians.  While there is ample furniture and entertainment in this room to accommodate clients waiting for the rest of their party to arrive, the focal point of the chamber is the transparent, one-way wall overlooking the primary floor of the club.  Three doors branch off from this chamber.  Two appear to lead to well-appointed dressing rooms while the third leads to the primary floor of the club.

When Cammy holds the third door open and gestures for Ilyana and Aislyn to enter, their world pounds to the rhythm of experimental music.  The Stygian expanse unfurling before them bleeds ghostly shadows that claw at the glowing, runed doorframe trapping them within.  Well over a hundred wisps of light dance in the shade, beacons of warmth and comfort beckoning to Ilyana and Aislyn.  Their numbers swell in the nucleus of the expanse.  Trepidation, if not fear, claims this tenebrous sanctum, but Cammy's unassailable smile scatters the power it might otherwise hold.



When Ilyana and Aislyn step through the portal, for this is a portal if ever there was one, they too may find themselves sources of transcendent light.  The atmosphere is saturated with magic.  Here, every breath is an enchantment and every movement is an exhibition of power.  The owner would boast there is nowhere else, within Hell's Gate, where the spirit realm imposes upon the material with such energy as Club Tablillas.

Other fantastical sources of light flit past the trio as Cammy guides Ilyana and Aislyn through a reality unseen.  When Ilyana and Aislyn acclimate to the club, they will discover that, much like Ilyana's stint at the Glasmann Estate, they are hemmed in by a collection of bizarre works of art.  The walls are uncanny statues that move as though they have lives of their own.  Pools of metallic liquid to the left of the ever-changing mural Cammy so casually strides across react to their light and their will, sculpted into unconventional furniture according to the trio's desires.  Strong emotions propagate through the ether, shockwaves emanating from beacons adrift in the distance.

In the end, Ilyana and Aislyn are guided to two alabaster hands protruding from the floor.  In the palm of one, Nines is seated, and in the palm of the other, Caeceila rests.  Caeceila's leg dangles over an armrest, a thumb bent at the joint which twitches eerily.  In front of them is a low table that resembles an eyeball if viewed from one angle and a bowling ball if viewed from another.  Two crystal bottles and a set of glasses have been set on the table.  Caeceila and Nines nod to Ilyana and Aislyn as the pair approaches.  Cammy is nowhere to be found though she stood smack dab in front of them a fraction of a second in advance of their arrival.

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Oblivious to the volatile fixations conjured by the eccentricities of Cammy’s mind, Ilyana did nothing to take back any of her mellifluous words or flirtatious stance. When she committed to an approach, Ilyana was hard pressed to divert unless her very existence was what she bargained with. The catgirl’s appearance was exotic and Ilyana had already been enthralled both by the memories this girl unearthed and the break from the sterile monotony that tended to fill her days. Ilyana seemed unfazed by the oddity of Cammy’s responses or movements, a sort of tacit respect brewing for the weretiger who even while apologizing for her slights seemed wholly unapologetic of who she was.

Aislyn, however, looked mortified. Ilyana’s companion could not properly recover from her stupor, entranced by what she considered inane and an utter waste of time. That was until those pink eyes stared at the expanse of her chest which was covered by the white blouse but unfortunately did nothing to distract from the enormity of her breasts. Her reactions cycled from embarrassment to anger with a mixture of shame and resignation temporarily muting the woman. Overwhelmed by the flurry of sensations coursing through her body she could only look toward Ilyana, expecting her boss to retaliate for her given that she was not the only target of Cammy’s loose mouth.

Ilyana’s eyes finally showed signs of surprise as her greeter spilled what she thought of her and her companion. The continuous string of words that would have warranted a retaliatory slap for their offenses. Aislyn picked up on the surprise and couldn’t help but attempt to suggest Ilyana’s next reaction should be admonishment. “You’ve ended others for far less.” Aislyn gave Cammy a venomous stare, finally settling on anger after what the catgirl put her through. Ilyana’s black eyes darted in her companion’s direction briefly before she finally started to respond.

“I think you escorting us to…Cae soon might be best. I would hate for the media to pounce on a very metal catgirl just living her life.”

Aislyn’s mouth dropped in incredulity and she couldn’t help but speak after.

“Thats it? Really?”

Ilyana ignored Aislyn’s words, taking hold of her hand to guide her forward as Cammy started to lead them further into the club. The rhythmic pounding of the music vibrated through their bodies, the lure of all of the visual stimuli potent but only to a degree thanks to Cammy’s intervention. Aislyn’s previous anger was battered away by the onslaught of sensations but the woman found herself clinging to Ilyana, a burgeoning fear present that made her feel uncomfortable. Ilyana, however, remained poised though her body moved stiffly forward as if she was intensely focused on something else.

The Redeemer’s gluttonous companion wanted to react to the inundation of magical energies. It was unappreciative of the shifts within Ilyana’s surroundings and desired to devour what it considered potential threats to its host’s well-being. Yet it was admirably kept at bay, soothed by the practiced comfort that Ilyana wielded even as they were pelted with strong emotions. Aislyn whimpered, cried, and sometimes laughed throughout the whole ordeal. Ilyana did not escape being affected as was evident from a teary eye or a clenched fist that forced white into her knuckles.

“What the hell is going on Ilyana? This is not normal even for Hell’s Gate’s standards.”

“It will be alright Aislyn. Lady Glasmann has a reputation for imposing introductions.”

The stint at the Glasmann Estate before clearly cemented that statement for Ilyana as the woman had immediately been painted as a social anomaly who could not be expected to behave predictably. Ilyana would not go so far as to say the woman was tactless but it was clear to her as an observer that impulse drove much of what the Glasmann recluse did. Aislyn had attempted to dissuade her from entertaining any sort of meeting with Caeceila but after the public knowledge of her animosity toward the Monroe Foundation and her antics in Last Chance, Ilyana considered it her duty to discern what this would mean for the future of her city.

Upon finally seeing Caeceila, Ilyana briefly smirks before searching for Cammy to thank her for the escort. With Cammy no longer in sight, she just expels a breath of air before turning her attentions back over to Cae. Aislyn fixates on the twitching thumb though when she could stomach it no longer she shifts to focus on Nines just to have something or someone seemingly normal to look at.

“Club Tablillas seems to offer quite the experience. Was it your idea Lady Glasmann? If so, I applaud your investment.”

Ilyana might seem as if she was opening with flattery but it was just an attempt to establish her bearings and balance after being subjected to the journey here. All of the artistic decorations she had witnessed and the layout she was currently presented might have distracted or disoriented others (such as Aislyn) but not her. At least not today when she’d finally aim to get a clear picture of what place the now infamous Caeceila Glasmann truly had in her own desires for Hell’s Gate.

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Normalcy is a relative term.  When applied to an individual, it is defined by its conformity to constructivist dogma, enabling gross standardization of people and processes while pressuring individuals to cash out their quirks for a shallow sense of belonging.  Customarily, the term normalcy is used as shorthand for what is right.  Consequently, that which is wrong is labelled as abnormal by modus tollens.  While the second part of this argument is logically valid, the first, appropriated directly from constructivist dogma, implies there is no objective right or wrong, that ethics are conventions established through consensus.  Any way you slice it, Nines is as normal as Obtenebra is pacifistic, and her uniqueness has only become more pronounced since the anticlimactic conclusion of her tenure as co-founder of the Abbadon Triumvirate.

Nines was always a lithe creature, muscular only in comparison to other members of the elven race, and she is pleased that her curse has yet to strip her of her natural grace and the myriad opportunities it affords her.  For her kind, she is neither short nor tall, and were it not for the spindly spider-legs jutting from her spine and encasing her torso, she would be the archetypal drow, exuding dark beauty born not of dreams but of lucid nightmares tearing at a mind.  Sections of her obsidian skin are horribly scarred, and a shallow gash extends from the right edge of her eyebrow down to her cheek.  Ashen hair, silky and braided, sweeps down to the nape of her neck.  Her ears are longer than they are wide and taper to a point, as is typical of her kind.  The little finger of her left hand is conspicuously absent, but this is no great handicap considering the number of appendages at her disposal.  Her eyes are searchlights dispelling the darkness of the interstice dividing her from Aislyn.  When she opens her mouth, Aislyn will, in all likelihood, observe that her fangs are quite unlike those of a vampire.  These retractile needles supplement rather than replace her canines, which have also been honed to a point via a curse-induced mutation. 

Nines still wears her battle vest (cut-off) adorned with official patches from her favorite (heavy metal), but the design of the gas mask stored in a transparent satchel slung across her torso has substantially evolved.  It now resembles the ShMS gas mask coated in silver film.  In addition to her iconic attire, Nines sports a black A-shirt, woven from strands of spider silk, solid black jeans, black combat boots, and a duty belt featuring a push knife, a kukri, a hand crossbow, a dozen unmarked metal canisters, a multi-tool.

Nines casually tosses back a vial of crimson liquid as her eerie red eyes meet Aislyn's gaze.

Caeceila, in contrast to Nines, has not undergone a monumental metamorphosis.  Neglecting her squamous tail twinkling with sapphire, silver, and cerulean plates, the unmistakably draconic quality of her starlit eyes, now sickles of ice enclosed in primeval, saurian orbs radiating chilling cerulean energy, and a body that is, overall, a smidge ampler than Ilyana might remember, the flaxen-haired, fair-skinned heiress is, physically, no different than she appears in public.  She would be quite lovely, with fetching, well-defined features, if she was not as unpredictably violent as she is.  She isn't dressed exactly the same as Nines or Cammy; she opted to slip into a plain black tube top, a black, spiked leather jacket, black, studded leather pants, and combat boots for this occasion.  Her high-frequency blade is propped against the palm in which she lounges.

Sedately, Caeceila witnesses Ilyana's approach.  The heiress is uncommonly relaxed; she doesn't glare at Ilyana, threaten to crush her like an insect, or initiate any aggressive action right off the bat.  She sizes Ilyana up, as is her habit, turns her attention to Aislyn, and repeats the procedure.  Then, she glances at the crystal bottles and shot glasses so tidily arranged on the table beside her.

No, Club Tablillas isn't my baby.  I wish it was; it's as cozy as the estate.  I'd give everyone else the boot and hoard it for myself if it was mine.  I mean, I'm entitled to be selfish once in awhile, aren't I?  Alas, it doesn't belong to me.

Caeceila absent-mindedly rotates her right hand about her right wrist.

You've already met the owner, Camelia.  She must like you, Ilyana, because she comped you a bottle of Liquid Agony and a bottle of Liquid Bliss.  That is an expensive gift to hand off to a complete stranger, and I can only speculate on her motives for doing so.  She knows where you came from better than you might suspect; most of the catpeople around these parts, Camelia included, grew up on the streets of Tia.  Based on Cammy's history, it wasn't atypical for impoverished parents to sell off unwanted children to those filthy leeches, catpeople reproduce like nobody's business, and they spawn a runt every litter.  You wouldn't believe how glad I am that that fucking city was burned to the fucking ground.

As Caeceila summarized Cammy's origins, her sinuous tail curled around the index finger of the sculpture in which she reclines.  When she begins to cuss emphatically, her tail constricts around the finger, breaking it into three distinct segments which crash against the floor (which ripples in response to the impact).  Nines does not hesitate in cutting Caeceila off before Caeceila can kickoff her rant proper-like.

If we had the manpower, we'd wipe out the diablerists sheltering in the ruins of Tia as well, but I doubt you that matter is of great interest to you.  You came here tonight with an agenda.  Kindly take a seat.

Nines gestures to the vacant space on the other side of the table, prompting Ilyana and Aislyn to "conjure" up furniture and get comfortable.

By the way, you may call me Nines.  Now, please introduce your companion and make your agenda known.

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Aislyn had intended to grasp for some normalcy, wanting to cling to some comfort given she was thrust into something truly unexpected. Instead she was looking at a drow woman, garbed in attire ready for combat that eyed her with red eyes and bore fangs that were enough to menace Aislyn into a noticeable shudder. She had almost wished for the return of Cammy then and there but she resigned herself to the discomfort that both Nines and Cae presented. She had endured far worse in her past and this time she had Ilyana by her side who seemed unperturbed by all of this. It was that sort of confidence that rallied much of her sisters to whatever cause she had. Still, that did not stop the young woman from being amazed every time she realized how much more different Ilyana was from the woman she shared agony with long ago.

Ilyana turned to look at Nines only briefly with a knowing look as if she had known her for far longer than was likely but the moment would be fleeting as she bore all of her focus toward Cae soon after. She found the woman much cleaner in appearance this time around though she was not sure if this was just a minor effect of their sensitive surroundings. Physically the heiress certainly looked considerably more approachable than the bruised and battered phenom that had deemed her appearance worthy of hosting back then. The attire she chose, however, could have significantly drowned any semblance of nobility for the observer had they not already been acquainted with who she truly was. It was this sort of dichotomy…or contrast rather that piqued Ilyana’s interest more than the décor present around them.

With Cae sizing both her and Aislyn up, the latter suddenly becomes tense, her fair skin reddening as her mind translated the gaze as more violation than relevant scrutiny. The woman adjust her auburn hair so that it rested along her back now and then squirmed a bit as she felt a chill down her spine. Ilyana meanwhile placed much of her weight on her right leg, her hip accentuated by her outfit while a finger tapped along her lip to signal a moment of contemplation. A moment soon shattered once Cae started speaking. There was some amusement garnered from the idea that Cae would pamper herself in isolation within this place and then lips parted in mild surprise at the mention of Camelia and her unfortunate history. Empathy washed over the Redeemer and then kindred acknowledgment surged as she found herself in agreement with Cae’s words.

Watching Cae’s anger manifest itself physically, Ilyana arched a brow as the pieces of the finger crash with enough force that she felt it along her legs. Aislyn cringed a bit but she wasn’t sure it was just because the finger was now broken and ruined the hand’s structure or if it was the strength Cae had just shown. Nines interjected and then brought the focus back toward the reason Ilyana had vied for this ‘audience’.

“I would love to own this club but I can see it likely benefits others like Cammy far more. As selfish as we would like to be and hoard this gem for ourselves, I can sense this place is much better in her capable hands.”

Ilyana took just a few seconds and then pivoted into the next sentence.

“I didn’t care much for Tia or the annoying civil war they perpetuated. It was bad for business and even worse for the citizens. Still, the city was not deserving of destruction. The vampires and humans that perpetuated the pain that led to its demise were. In any case, it is a pleasure to meet you Nines. This is Aislyn. Let us begin.”

Ilyana slowly began to sit down, the formation of a rather large black chair with intricate designs along the back appearing to support her. Black cushions comforted her form as she rested one leg upon the other and motioned for Aislyn to sit. Aislyn was a tad bit clumsier but managed to conjure up a simplistic chair that’s only distinct quality was the engraved roses along the metal frame. Adjusting her skirt, she too made herself comfortable. Ilyana took it upon herself to grab the bottle of Liquid Agony and pour herself a modest amount within the available glass. Before she took a sip, she decided to begin.

“It was unfortunate that I was unable to engage you during your recent event at your estate but I much prefer an environment with minimal distraction so that missed opportunity pales in comparison to now I assume. Unlike many of those who likely sought to court an agreement with you, I actually call Hell’s Gate home. The majority of my life has been spent enduring the hardship that comes from the divide catalyzed by the entitlement of nobility and the obsession with technological achievement. I was not born into nobility like you were Lady Glasmann not that that does not come with its own challenges. I have lived an arduous life among the community of eastern Hell’s Gate but have a deep appreciation and respect for what the city represents for Terrenus as a whole. I do not want to see it go the way of Ashville, Tia, or Last Chance.”

Ilyana would take a sip of the Liquid Agony now, feeling the intense burn throughout her throat mixed with a surprising sense of pleasure from the flavor. Her eyes closed and she smiled briefly before continuing.

“I fear that this brewing conflict between the automation championed by the Monroe Foundation and the hard workers of Hell’s Gate, most of which come from my section of this city will place us in a position for the diablerie that fell upon those cities to come here if it has not already possessed the hearts of those who do not have Hell’s Gate’s well-being at the forefront of their actions.”

Another sip of the Liquid Agony goes down much smoother than before now with her recovery time lessened as she spoke almost immediately again, the fingers of her right hand pressing just above the swell of her breasts in a gesticulation of apology.

“I apologize for being so long-winded and not getting straight to the point. I have seen the way the media portrays the eccentric Lady Caeceila Glasmann. An opinionated woman…a woman of devastating action and reaction. No lover of the Monroe Foundation or the evil that aims to consume the innocent. How much of that is true? I wonder. What I really want to know, however, is whether everything you have done thus far is for the good of Hell’s Gate or if it is something more personal…selfish even.”

The swirling black of her eyes barely ever left its fixation upon Cae’s form unless it was when she aimed to drink from the gift given by Cammy earlier. She would wait for Caeceila to respond, devoid of any concrete expectation and aiming to discern for herself who Cae truly was. She hoped the violence the woman was known for dared not stain what she hoped would be a meeting that could benefit everyone she cared for.

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Aislyn's skittish conduct evokes an unwonted gentleness in Caeceila.  The heiress glances at Nines, establishes eye contact, and glances at Aislyn thereafter.  While her expression is uncommunicative beyond all reproach, her action convinces Nines to divert her respectful scrutiny to Aislyn and Aislyn alone.  She transfixes Aislyn with her gaze, inspecting her with the sole objective of identifying anything discernibly extraordinary.  Squirming, cringing, and, seemingly, withdrawing from the conversation haven't exactly promoted Ilyana's cause.  Nines silently contemplates Aislyn's relationship with Ilyana and questions Aislyn's role in Ilyana's game.  Ilyana hasn't offered to share her drink with Aislyn despite Ilyana's apparent fondness for it, so it stands to reason that their relationship isn't a romantic one or, in the off-chance that they are a couple, that their relationship is extremely unhealthy.  Nines hypothesizes that Ilyana is Aislyn's boss.  Ilyana, after all, signaled for Aislyn to seat herself.  There is no doubt in Nines's mind that Aislyn is no outsider - she simply couldn't survive in this environment on her own.  Nines surmises that Ilyana, on the other hand, isn't human.  She's far too comfortable in this environment for a human.  She certainly isn't a Gaian either.

At first, Caeceila patiently listens to Ilyana's speech, but when Ilyana harps on the burgeoning conflict between the proletariat and the bourgeois, Caeceila's forbearance comes to a close.  Caeceila herself would testify that the loss of life associated with automation in Hell's Gate is abhorrent and untenable, but Ilyana, from Caeceila's perspective, assigned the onus for the predicament to the improper party.  The nobles of Hell's Gate were, first and foremost, celebrities.  The industrialists were a symptom of the disease, but the industrialists were not the root cause.  The root cause was a population that chose to purchase the cheapest goods on the market in lieu of goods that kept their countrymen employed.  It was human nature that was at fault.  Beyond that, Ilyana's hubris, showcased as she wastes her time throwing shade at Caeceila, reminds Caeceila why she is content with continuing her life as an acclaimed misanthrope as opposed to seeking the love of the denizens of Hell's Gate and the acceptance of society in general.

Man is evil.  Man must become better and eviller.  So do I teach.

This celebrated script tastes bitter on Caeceila's tongue.  In visceral disgust, she purges it from her body.  Rage roils in the pit of her stomach, precipitating festering bile that indiscriminately laces her language with mutagenic venom.  Her mood is shifting.  Her muscles are taut.  These are portents that bode ill for Ilyana and Aislyn.

Auch!  Why is it that your philosophers fail to perceive fundamental truths?  Good and evil are secondary.  Strength and weakness are tertiary.  Purpose is what matters, and my purpose, the single most self-defeating purpose I can conceive of, is to protect you backwards ingrates!

Caeceila plants her feet on the floor and pushes herself from her throne.  She rises to her full height, her scaly tail whipping her throne with such force that the palm is totally demolished.  Darkness and light commingle in a distorted waltz.  Fingers, wildly groping at empty air, tumble to the floor behind her.  Blood gushes from the shattered sculpture as its fingers pitifully writhe in tarry sludge.  In unchecked indignation, Caeceila points at Ilyana as if she means to accuse her of a grave sin.

And you!  Who do you think you are?  How could you condemn me or exalt when you don't even understand how fucked this city is to begin with!

With regard to Ilyana's agenda, this is scathing criticism, but Caeceila would argue it is well-deserved.  To her credit, Caeceila isn't contemptuous in her treatment of Ilyana; she merely appears incredibly frustrated.  Nines intercedes, once more hoping to stem the tide.

Caeceila, this is neither the place nor the time for-

Caeceila stomps her foot against the trembling floor.  A fountain of blood erupts from the point of impact.  Blood pools at her feet in a hollow recreation of the grisly centerpiece of the Red Festival.  Let the gods boast their forgiveness and absolution, their prayer and penance.  Caeceila will not abide their hypocrisy.

I don't care anymore!  If they're infested, all the better!  Let them alert the fucking hivemind!  Let them tell the hivemind that I will fucking slaughter every member of their damn species!  I'm done with tiptoeing around while so many people suffer!  Death would be a mercy for those they possess!

With every second that elapses, the fragments of the fingers writhing in the background grow more and more humanoid until, at last, they resemble the corpses of children bleeding out on the floor.  Someday, Caeceila would avenge them.  Someday, they would find peace.  Caeceila's chest and shoulders heave as adrenaline floods her system.  Specters loom in the darkness: wraiths, banshees, and other apparitions bathed in cerulean light.  The phantasmal army looks to Caeceila expectantly as if awaiting her command.  Caeceila locks eyes with Ilyana.  In Ilyana's eyes, Caeceila callously searches for something, some trace of emotion, anything that might prove she is in control of herself.

You've lived an arduous life in eastern Hell's Gate.  Tell me, how many of your friends, family, and neighbors have been consumed by parasites?  Go ahead, take a wild guess.  Now, permit me answer your inane question.  I am the rich, stuck-up, psychotic, selfish bitch who can't sleep at night because she can't accept this reality.  I am a self-loathing freak of nature that can't sit on the sidelines and watch people suffer, for I am tormented by their suffering.  And just look at me, Ilyana!  I know what I am; I am a monster pretending to be human.  I don't belong in this world, so do me a favor and kill me already.

Caeceila reclaims her high-frequency blade from the wreckage of her seat.  With deadly conviction, she advances on Ilyana, and without a word, attempts to thrust the grip into Ilyana's hands.




Edited by The Alexandrian

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Aislyn was starting to regain some semblance of comfort as she took her seat and then started to listen to Ilyana speak. At the sight of Ilyana pouring some of the Liquid Agony and actually enjoying it, Aislyn looked at the bottle for a few seconds as she contemplated whether to take a sip as well. The prospect of downing some alcohol after what she just went through felt enticing but she decided to wait until Ilyana finished speaking to rise slightly to reach for the bottle. It wasn’t about a need for permission more than it was respect for what her boss had set out to do for this meeting. She felt Nines’ inspection on her form offering a reserved smile now though she still found it a bit off-putting. The drow would not be able to discern anything otherworldly but plain Aislyn was not.

Ilyana’s companion would soon find herself scanning her surroundings in a methodical manner, occasionally looking behind both her and her boss as if gauging possible exists or maneuvers. This became all the more evident the more Caeceila began to immerse herself in that almost palpable rage. Her analytical mind, driven by the fear caused by those around her, caused her to grip on to her conjured seat as if she was prepared to run, her expression shifting from one of incredulity concerning Caeceila’s tone to one of anger as if she had been the one that was slighted.

Meanwhile Ilyana sensed Cae’s mood shift almost immediately, frowning in response as this sort of change was something that she had wanted to avoid upon coming here. She had believed herself careful with her words but now knew that it mattered little when faced with someone so volatile. The Redeemer had meant no offense and had tried to open with an approach that did not make things so hardline but here Caecelia was openly insulting her and perhaps all of Hell’s Gate. Lips quivered as the cracks in Ilyana’s otherwise steely composure began to surface. This did not help her efforts to quell Obtenebra either as the dress that she wore would ripple along her abdomen subtly.

The raw emotion battered both Aislyn and Ilyana, beckoning a rebuttal that at first both women seemed unwilling to give. As soon as Caeceila decided to pick up her high frequency blade and then advance upon Ilyana, both women stood from their seats, eyes widened and muscles tensed as they considered the Heiress’ threatening approach unwarranted. Both Caeceila and Nines would notice how Ilyana’s outfit seemed to lose its tight fit if not distracted by the purity of emotions that now emanated from everyone involved. Ilyana was prepared for some sort of defensive countermeasure not caring for the fact that the blade that was now thrust in her direction came grip-first. Ilyana quickly moved to grab hold of it, the right hand holding tight to the weapon. Ilyana’s black eyes stared fiercely into Cae’s now, narrowing as soon as the woman ended with a request to end her there.

“This bitch is crazier than we thought…….but please don’t fight.”

Aislyn let her response start with a hint of anger before a softer tone delivered the end. Cae would find that Ilyana gripped the weapon offered to her very tightly, so much that it might begin to shake in her grip as she clearly took offense to something spouted by the Lady Glasmann. Staring hard at the Heiress, Aislyn’s soft tone seemed to pacify the Redeemer just a bit but not nearly enough for the next words to leave her lips calmly.

“What a mess you are Caeceila. I can see why some might consider you an abomination or maybe a liability that deserves to be snuffed before they are burned by your fire. You clearly know how unique you are and seem to hate yourself for it.”

Ilyana sighed audibly and then continued.

“I might be executing a much needed service to the world by killing you here but who am I to decide your fate? That would imply that I am any better than you. Sadly I am not.”

She loosened her grip on the weapon then, not caring if it fell to the ground or somehow got back into Caeceila’s hands.

“I have seen the agony of loss and helplessness far too many times both in myself and others. These backwards ingrates suffer no less than the monster of the Glasmann family! You are not the only one that has watched people suffer, seen innocent lives extinguished by those…”

She raises a brow and then has a look of resignation before continuing.

“…more evil than we could have been at the time.”

Aislyn had inched closer to Ilyana throughout all of this, her gaze looking at Nines through her movement until she fixes her gaze on Caeceila again and speaks.

“So you don’t have any right to condemn us either Lady Glasmann. Let us stop criticizing one another and do something constructive now yes?”

Aislyn's lips quivered and her body shakes slightly given she knew who she was talking to but she stood firm. Ilyana now finally turned her gaze away from Caeceila to look at Aislyn in surprise. The seriousness in her face soon softens and the Redeemer looks somewhat impressed and then very appreciative. She knew she did well to bring Aislyn along. Ilyana grabs some of the Liquid Agony and pours some for herself and for Aislyn, eyeing the Heiress closely to see if they can shift into much more amicable dialogue.

Edited by Dolor Aeternum

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You fancy yourself no better than I?

Caeceila was poised to sustain grievous trauma as she tested the Redeemer's character, but the Redeemer, in an all too civilized maneuver, declined to bare her heart to the Wyrmsbane.  This outcome was neither unanticipated nor unproductive - Ilyana had, purposely or inadvertently, clued Caeceila in on the source of her dark metamorphosis and her emergent power.  All the same, Caeceila couldn't conceal how disappointed she was that Ilyana had not indulged in her suicidal lunacy.  Without exception, combat was infinitely more enlightening than the vituperative language and the polemics against the nobility Caeceila's presence, in isolation, solicited from the public whenever she deigned to walk among them.  Did Ilyana genuinely hope to realize her agenda, to understand Caeceila Glasmann, by trading honeyed words and banal insincerity?  To date, all who had attempted to do so had met with unmitigated failure.  What fantasy assured Ilyana that she would succeed where suitors, reporters, sycophants, and even psychologists had fallen on their faces and withdrawn in disgrace?  Ilyana may be plucky, even cocksure by some measures, but would her illimitable confidence help or hinder her this evening?

Caeceila was not disposed to entertain Ilyana's insults.  Ilyana had classified Caeceila as a mess, an abomination, and a liability; Caeceila had named herself a bitch, a monster, a freak, and a psychopath.  Just as no one was taken aback when Caeceila weathered Ilyana's abuse in cold indifference, none should be distressed when they apprehend that this indifference, commingled with just a pinch of disappointment, has yet to abate.  There is, nonetheless, a silver lining; Caeceila, who had not and was not prepared to forfeit her scabbard to Ilyana, pivots crisply and distances herself from Ilyana and Aislyn, allowing their minor victory to stand uncontested.  Surveying the shadows lurking beyond the shore of the artificial blood-marsh, with the digits of one hand wrapped around her scabbard and the digits of the other balled into a fist, she speaks.

If you are no better than I, you must be a killer - with a very exotic weapon, I might add.  Based on your history, I would deduce you target pimps and slavers.  There's an artistry to your methods, isn't there?  Of course there is; were your crimes crude and inelegant, you would not have escaped my sight.  Now, but not necessarily here, you're looking to extend your reach through the acquisition of legitimate businesses.  More cash flow translates into more money to fund your crusade, right?  That wouldn't have prompted you to, I don't know, acquire Ventrix, a corporation that must resign itself to obscurity until the body snatchers, the Enrele, have been eradicated.

Neglecting her comment on Ventrix, Caeceila was merely verbalizing a succession of educated guesses.  Whether Caeceila struck truth was yet to be seen.  Caeceila clasps her hands behind the small of her back, the little fingers of both of her hands resting on the base of her drooping tail, but she does not whirl about to face Ilyana and Aislyn. 

Over eight percent of the population has been compromised by the Enrele.  That amounts to more than six million bugs patched into various hiveminds that someone has to squash.  In Hell's Gate, they are approximately half a million strong.  For reference, our garrison is only fifty thousand strong.  Numerical supremacy is unattainable, but we must fight them.  We must kill them to liberate our countrymen from imprisonment within their own flesh.

Caeceila shifts, transferring her weight from one foot to another.  Dwelling on that unwinnable battle, on what seems to be the inevitable obliteration of Hell's Gate, Caeceila shields her face from Ilyana and Aislyn.  They should not know her fear.  They should not know how powerless she feels.  They should not know that this is killing her.  But they will.  As ever, Caeceila wears her emotions of her sleeve.  Caeceila's posture is impeccable and her bearing is militaristic - dispassionate and orderly.  Try as she might, Caeceila's eyes and they radiance they emit tell the tale at their leisure.  Like a dejected child, Caeceila casts her emotive gaze at her feet.

I won't interfere with your crusade.  If your wish is to save the people of Hell's Gate, I am obligated to lend a hand, in an official or unofficial capacity, but you too must act in our people's best interests.  We aren't Enrele, whatever we are; the same can't be said of the ranking members of the garrison.  Therefore, it is our responsibility to purge the Enrele from Hell's Gate and, if possible, all of Terrenus.

Caeceila's duty isn't enviable.  She would understand if Ilyana elected to ignore this problem entirely.  Many had.  Terrenus was rife with people who didn't, for whatever reason, give a damn.  Why would they worry about a threat they couldn't put down?  Had Caeceila expected Ilyana to behave any differently?

I have heard that they are murdering gods in Renovatio...

Nines notes Caeceila's accusations and Ilyana's rebuttal, observing their performance but stubbornly refusing to participate in their games.  Her arms are crossed over her chest in an expression of displeasure and disagreement.  Her breathing is rhythmic, orchestrated by a conductor who is unwilling, at this time, to change tempo, and her eyelids are embrasures from which her crimson glare rains down on all other parties, Caeceila included.  She has effectively written off this fraction of her life as idiotic and insane, and unlike Caeceila, she doesn't care who deciphers her opinion of current conversation.

Edited by The Alexandrian

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Aislyn sighed a bit in relief as soon as she felt the tension die down a bit, finally grabbing the glass of liquid Agony and taking a small sip. The burn she felt in her throat almost made her cough, but she covered her mouth quickly and then let it slide down into her stomach where a tingling sensation made her shift. She used the movement of getting herself into her seat again to mask much of it. Adjusting her skirt once she sat down, she glanced over at Nines wondering if the drow was as glad as she was that things had calmed down. Taking sip after sip, she would occasionally see Caeceila in a peripheral gaze just to make sure that the noble’s body language continue to die down.

Ilyana looked at Caeceila, entertaining the idea that Caeceila might have wanted to start a fight just to uncover the truth about what she wore or something else she could use for leverage during this conversation. She had initially come here believing that a hint of flattery and an appeal toward a kindred pride of their city might have driven something fruitful out of this conversation but that idea was soon discarded and in its place lay a new approach peppered with unadulterated truth that may or may not find purchase within Cae’s sometimes wayward intrigue. The Redeemer believed she had nothing to lose from being candid now and in truth found a certain sense of freedom from straying away from the careful election of words and pandering.

As Caeceila now went on to verbalize her own assumptions regarding Ilyana, she would not find any visible acknowledgment concerning what was correct but that was solely because she had trained herself to never surrender anything physically or emotionally unless it benefited her. Ilyana listened intently to Caeceila’s mention of the Enrele and the predicament she was already aware of concerning their numbers. The effects it caused had already begun to trickle in to her business operations, where she would had to forcibly execute a vetting process that was both biological and mental. The fear that anyone could have been snatched had begun to affect quotidian interactions already. While she considered all that, however, when Caeceila stated that she would not interfere with her crusade she felt a desire to respond with bravado, her pride in her own strength urging her to make it known that she didn’t need Caeceila’s permission. She bit her tongue this time.

Aislyn notices Nines’ displeasure in the distance and frowns. Ilyana’s companion found herself mildly concerned with the drow’s current temperament but given she was still too fearful to do anything about it she just sighed and poured herself another glass, this time of the Liquid Bliss. The sweet liquid masked the generous amount of alcohol present and she could easily tell given how her eyes became much heavier after a few sips. She’d have to be careful with that one.

Ilyana stepped backward a few steps before she decided to respond to Caeceila, taking in the entirety of the woman’s form throughout what would be a lengthy response. Caeceila did give her quite a bit to address after all.

“Your abilities aren’t exactly common either. In any case, pimps and slavers are not the only targets of my ire. Anyone who seeks to steal the freedom of choice or lord their power over the free will of others could decidedly gain my attention. More cash flow translates into more power. Power I can use to redeem others.”

Now she decided to step closer to Aislyn before continuing.

“So if you understand that then you can see that I, too, would consider the Enrele a threat worthy of my attention. The acquisition of Ventrix is just one of my approaches to aid me there. Since you have burdened yourself with protecting this entire continent on your own, allow me to at least alleviate some of it by lending you a hand where I can. If the investment of my time with you tackling this Enrele threat proves fruitful here in my home then I do not see why we cannot be ambitious and nudge the Terran government toward the victory that seems to elude them when it comes to these ‘body snatchers’.”

Ilyana slides her hand through her hair a bit before holding her chin in thought for a few seconds, then continues once again.

“How do you suppose we address the uncertainty of the garrison’s ranks? Which assets will killers such as ourselves utilize to remedy this problem?”

There was no hint of humor in Ilyana’s question nor was there any teasing. It would be clear that Ilyana stood to understand how Caeceila thought or felt and how that affected Caeceila’s decision making. Just because she may agree with the Heiress on certain points does not mean that she will condone or commit to everything this volatile woman could conjure.

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What an exemplary waste of breath, Nines inwardly moans.  Ilyana postures and preens without tendering a course of action, speaking much but communicating little as she confirms a handful of assumptions but balks at proposing a solution to the Enrele epidemic or, without deception or omission, elucidating the logic which led her to conclude that offering the Enrele a product line which was designed to impart superpowers to the mundane was the perfect con.  By the end of Ilyana's dialogue, Nines had begun to drum her fingers against her well-defined triceps.  She rolled her eyes dismissively.  Whatever.  She had already connected the dots.  Ventrix had nothing to do with the Enrele, the self-styled Redeemer was fixated on equality, and Ventrix was the slacker's shortcut to transmundane power.  It really was that simple.

Perhaps, one day, Ilyana would plot to overthrow the government of Hell's Gate for "restricting her freedoms" or other assorted malarkey.  At that time, Nines would not hesitate.  There was little Nines found redeeming where Ilyana was concerned.  At present, Nines viewed Ilyana was a diplomatic street tough who hadn't yet learned how to handle a blade properly.  She was of limited use, and Nines would have expelled her from the property if the Enrele epidemic was not such a dire threat.

Caeceila, in contrast, treated Ilyana no differently than she treated those of noble birth and lofty station.  She was willing to work with Ilyana not because she sensed Ilyana's potential but because Ilyana had confessed that she was willing to work with her.  The authenticity of this declaration, as minor as it would have seemed to anyone else, impressed Caeceila, who nodded solemnly as Ilyana threw in her lot with the righteous, yet hideously outnumbered, alliance she represented.  Bottom line, Caeceila didn't care if Ilyana could fight.  Hell, Caeceila didn't care if Ilyana was a decrepit troglodyte that crawled out of a charnel house on a witch's sabbath.  It wasn't often that Caeceila encountered someone who would go to war when the odds were so overwhelmingly stacked in the enemy's favor.  Ilyana had the courage to try, and that meant something to Caeceila Glasmann.  Ilyana's impeccable business acumen, sociability, guile, and, presumably, combat ability were just icing on the cake.

It is public knowledge that Caeceila Glasmann collaborates with the Terrenus Military in select, high profile operations.  She is not, however, a part of the organization.  Where the Enrele are concerned, the status of the garrison is irrelevant to her.  Traditional standing armies aren't the key to defeating the Enrele, and the comprehensive strategy Nines, Caeceila, and Cammy have devised painstakingly excludes the garrison from every crucial step due to unquantifiable corruption within their ranks.  Caeceila, therefore, quietly shakes her head from side to side in response to Ilyana's question regarding the future of the garrison.  The corruption within their ranks is uncertain, and uncertain that corruption will remain.

To kick start the process of bringing Ilyana up to speed, Caeceila glances at Nines, and Nines scrutinizes Caeceila.  Their eyes meet.  Nines quirks an eyebrow.  Do you really want to do this?  Caeceila nods.  The information would be in capable hands.

Please define victory for our new friends.

With a sigh, Nines rises from her seat.  Ilyana and Aislyn are tipsy; they won't comprehend or remember the battle plan!  They've been hitting that Liquid Agony and that Liquid Bliss hard.  Ilyana is two glasses in, and Aislyn, well, she's more of an accessory than a partner at this point.  This is pointless; they should just move the meeting upstairs and sing karaoke for the rest of the night.  But no, Caeceila insists something productive will come of this.  Nines will humor her.  This time.  Placing her hands upon her hips, Nines elaborates in her typical, cheeky manner.

Victory.  Noun.  An act of defeating an enemy or opponent in a battle, game, or other competition.

Caeceila turns, facing Nines head-on.  When she asked Nines to define victory, this wasn't what she had in mind.  Guessing that Nines is acting out, Caeceila looks askance at her.

That isn't -

Nines raises her right hand and extends her index finger, gesturing for Caeceila to wait.  Caeceila and Ilyana had their fun; it's only fair that Nines is afforded the same privilege.

I'm getting to it.  Campaign.  Noun.  A series of military operations intended to achieve a particular objective, confined to a particular area, or involving a specified a specified type of fighting.  Sun Tzu.  "In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns."

Caeceila purses her lips as if asking, "Nines, what are you doing?"

Caution.  If we provoke the Enrele, thousands may perish.  Solution.  We lobotomize all of the Enrele hiveminds at once.  Strategy.  Psionic warfare.  Requirements.  Distributed network of Xer'Orian queens.  Psychics specializing in psionic warfare.  Hivemind "battering ram" constructed in compliance with the plans and specifications provided by Lord and Lady Glasmann.

There we are.  During the following recitation, Nines ticks off the items she lists on her fingers, touching the fingers of her right hand with the index finger of her left.

Subjects of interest: Terrenus Military.
Victory ASI.  Artificial intelligence.  Infestation immune.  Targeted by Enrele.  Potential controller of the Terrenus Military's automated weapon platforms.
Michael Commager.  Peacekeeper.  Infestation unlikely.
Steel Metireal.  Terrenus Military contact - Hell's Gate.  Infestation unknown.
Cadmium Metireal.  Wasteland Border Patrol.  Infestation unknown.
"Bubble."  Terrenus Military's psionic warfare expert.  Real identity unknown.  Whereabouts unknown.  Infestation immune.  Capable of engaging Enrele hivemind in psionic warfare.
Warning. Hell's Gate's Peacekeeper may be infested.  Prepare to subdue Hell's Gate's Peacekeeper prior to commencement of operation.

Subjects of interest: Taen.
Aveline Singlance.  Noble.  Infestation unlikely.  May be willing to provide information on Xer'Orian nesting grounds in Taen.  May be willing to provide a letter of introduction to other contacts in Taen.
Thurgood SInglance.  Noble.  Infestation unlikely.  May be willing to provide information on Xer'Orian nesting grounds in Taen.  May be willing to provide a letter of introduction to other contacts in Taen.
Sebastian Heiliger.  Governor of Lunaris.  Infestation unlikely.  May be willing to provide information on Xer'Orian nesting grounds in Taen.

Subjects of interest: Other.
Irene DuGrace.  Deposed Queen of Orisia.  Infestation unlikely.  May be able to influence Genius Loci.

That's quite a lot of information for Ilyana and Aislyn to chew on.  With a smirk, Nines challenges Ilyana to act on it.

That is the gist of how we have defined victory, and we have done so without probing Enrele hiveminds.  It is possible, with proper warding, to anatomize the Enrele, mentally and physically, but if a hivemind discovers that a certain quality, mental or physical, exposes its swarm, the swarm will adapt such that they no longer express the targeted quality.  Paradoxically, the socioeconomic environment of modern day Hell's Gate, the very same inequity and injustice you rail at, is ideal for singling out Enrele.  The Enrele don't commit suicide.  Consequently, the deterioration of Hell's Gate, however lamentable, is advantageous to us until the Enrele are exterminated.

Nines is stating a fact, no more and no less, and she does so with the composure of a professor lecturing to a student.  Nines was harsh in her appraisal of Ilyana and doesn't feel the need to spare her feelings.  She probably wouldn't have spared Ilyana's feelings even if she was a treasured confidant.  Caeceila is quick to interject.  She is aware that this attempt to "make lemonade" will, in all likelihood, offend Ilyana.  She directs her full attention to Ilyana and attempts to interpret her body language.  Her own body language is much less aggressive than it has been of late.  Perhaps Ilyana had succeeded where so many had failed...

I acknowledge that you, Ilyana, would be the first to dispute the argument that the deterioration of Hell's Gate could, in a twisted way, save lives, and I want to make it crystal clear to you that we - Cammy, Nines, my parents, and I - are not perpetuating this condition.  Believe it or not, the public would rather pin their every woe on Caeceila Glasmann than on a descendant of Eustace Monroe.  Were it only that they had seen Eustace Monroe for what he was.  He was a ruthless man whose sole obsession was technological advancement, and it was a disgrace, contrary to public opinion, that he was granted title.  He cared nothing for people, yet he is venerated as though he is the patron saint of Hell's Gate.  It's asinine.  People blindly emulate him without questioning how far gone he was.

Caeceila's stance changes.  She softens, visibly.  She lightly bites her bottom lip, sighs, and at last, admits the painful truth of the situation to Ilyana.

I don't have enough pull with the media to go toe-to-toe with House Monroe.  Not yet.  Maybe after the Enrele are eliminated people will be willing to listen to reason.

Nines pipes up again.  The drow are no strangers to rivalries between noble houses - those are kind of the bread and butter of drow society.  She has considerable expertise on the subject matter, and it is evident that undermining, sabotaging, and otherwise bringing about the fall of a noble house would be second nature to her.  A devious smirk plays on her lips.

Or, and hear me out before you protest, we ditch reason at the nearest pub and dig up some dirt on House Monroe.  If that doesn't pan out, we smear Henrietta Monroe.  Henrietta is unattractive; we could effectively pare her off of Eustace's legacy if we painted her as a deviant, especially now that we have access to someone who might be able to convince some of her girls and boys to cook up a heap of supporting evidence for those scandalous claims.

Edited by The Alexandrian

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For all of the passion on display and the obvious research that had been done before this meeting, Ilyana still found herself wary of committing to anything. She knew it would likely pin her as a shaky ally or a wayward asset but, in truth, Ilyana was not so much concerned with what they thought as long as they proved useful. Sure, the pleasantries and comfort that came with actually establishing positive rapport would likely motivate her to edify the relationship further but she decided to claim the minor victory of establishing a calm baseline with the volatile Lady Glasmann in favor of not ruining this with a desire for more.

She had noticed Caeceila’s shift in behavior and tacit acceptance of her after their heated exchange but the Redeemer’s focus soon turned over to Nines. The drow’s negative reactions to much of the exchange had not been ignored. The businesswoman in her attempted to nudge her into trying to woo Cae’s dark-skinned companion but she found that desire drowned by an intense hatred that entered her mind. Ilyana knew these emotions were not her own which could only mean that her gift had suddenly begun to have a bit more agency in this encounter, trying to warn her…or even pit her against the drow who was surprisingly the less agreeable one now. Ilyana did not take this warning lightly but all it managed to do was sour her expression once Caeceila seemed to defer to Nines.

Ahh there it was. Ilyana had not been sure what Nines’ role in this whole meeting truly was other than being unappreciative of her presence here. The exchange the two had before Nines began might have been amusing to her were it not for Obtenebra’s potent pulsing in her mind as if it wanted to lash out at the drow for even the slightest action on her part. This caused Ilyana’s eyes to narrow as she listened to Nines. Not even Aislyn’s small giggle caused by the humor she found in Nines’ words managed to soften Ilyana now. The anger Ilyana felt from her clandestine companion forced her to focus on all of the drow’s movements and words.

The heightened focus allowed her to take in the majority of what Nines offered, oblivious to the possible attempt to overwhelm her with information. Aislyn would be seen attempting to jot much of it down of her own volition, somehow conjuring a notepad and pen. Feverish penmanship and a few tricks allowed her to jot many of the important points down, the woman employing a shorthand that will likely have to be translated to her boss later. The accomplishment caused Aislyn to smile soon after the mention of the Orisian queen. Ilyana’s companion was sure she just proved herself essential once again and would lord this over all of the other potential candidates that lost out on this trip when she had the chance.

Ilyana, meanwhile, made no visible sign of distress or disapproval at the mention of Hell’s Gate’s current circumstances and how they benefited the plan that had just been layed out. Caeceila’s attempt to ensure that Ilyana understood Nines’ comment did produce the smallest of smiles, the courtesy given by Lady Glasmann appreciated though it was not needed. Ilyana understood that there could be benefit to the continued chaos that she saw present in her city. Anyone with the business acumen she held could see how one could benefit from the unfortunate circumstances of others. What would a few more weeks or months matter as long as in the end this threat was neutralized?

Ilyana had focused her gaze momentarily on Caeceila then, letting her know silently that she was not offended in the slightest. Why waste time being offended or angry from the sound arguments of another? Still when Nines decided to chime in again and propose a smear campaign, Ilyana couldn’t help but use that as a signal to respond with a hearty laugh that lasted just a few moments before she turned to look at Caeceila and started to speak.

I have a few connections that might find investment into ending this Enrele threat profitable. Their image in the public eye is as challenged as yours is so they could stand with earning some favor. I would assure you both they are not infected but I doubt that would matter much verbally so I will be keeping them in the dark until this plan is fully solidified and ready to execute. This will allow us time to earn each other’s trust and make sure neither of us are a liability to its success.

Ilyana decidedly mimicked how Nines ran through her list, using her right index finger to touch the fingers on her left.

Monitoring Victory, Michael Commager, Steel, Cadmium, and “Bubble” I leave up to you given your military connections.

I volunteer to address the Singlance family along with Sebastian Heiliger. My last visit to the land of Ursa Madeum and Taen left me unfulfilled so I could stand with redeeming how poorly that ended with extracting what I can from them while exerting some influence there as well. I hear the economy there is evolving quite well in some areas.

The Carmine Empress Irene DuGrace is an unknown factor I do not believe we should focus too hard on at this time. Should we see an avenue to approach her on Terran soil then by all means but I do not consider her involvement ancillary to our victory.

Aislyn can be seen jotting some more notes down, with a different color this time but it would be unclear what she was actually noting from the conversation. Ilyana, now on her left index finger, looked at Nines then.

Henrietta’s far too engrossed in making sure Victory is a success. However, she is somewhat concerned with public perception given her recent tours and mentions in the Daily Weekly. Fashioning a story where she is painted as a deviant in search of compensating for her lack of physical appeal, while not difficult, will likely not be enough to convince the Lady Glasmann’s peers. Perhaps if something were to go horribly wrong with one of her Victory influenced projects? That might tip things in this beauty’s favor…with some added PR help from me if she desires.

Ilyana had motioned toward Caeceila near the end for emphasis, though never stopped looking directly at Nines. The Redeemer knew what she was implying should happen to supplement the smear campaign and didn’t seem like she cared if that lost her what little favor she had gained thus far, though admittedly she did not outright suggest there be any actual casualties to the suggested sabotage. Aislyn’s voice pierced Ilyana’s attentions despite its generally soft tone and nature now.

I am sure our family would be willing to come up all sorts of suitable stories. Hell’s Gate is well known for creating all sorts of new ways to meet someone’s desperate needs.

A smirk almost as devious as the ones Nines had offered before crept along Aislyn’s face now but once she looked at Ilyana who offered her an arched brow in response her cheeks reddened noticeably and she tilted her head downward to stare heavily at her notes.

First things first, however. I admittedly am limited in any techniques regarding how to identify someone infected with the Enrele. If there are methods already being employed that have not already been released to the public then please enlighten me. The ability to track and identify these creatures is paramount as is using the reported enmity of these hiveminds toward one another to our advantage I think. Again, you two are likely far more versed than I am regarding these creatures. The more tools I have at my disposal, the more success we’ll have ladies

That last sentence seemed more of a mantra than anything else as if she was a mentor imparting her own version of wisdom now. She understood that this duo along with both Cammy and Caeceila’s parents seem to have already structured a plan that was ambitious and required significant coordination. This sort of attention to detail was not foreign to her. She would approach this much like she approached any potential business acquisition, albeit with much higher stakes and a reward that was far more personal to Ilyana than perhaps even she realized.

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As Ilyana and Aislyn conspire, most demoniacally, to systematically demolish every pillar of credibility propping up the acclaimed House Monroe, a tantalizing aroma fills the preconditioned air flowing around them.  Of its own merit, this magnificent scent, the scent of a collection of gourmet meals delivered straight from the kitchen to their cozy corner of the club, might cause the pair to involuntarily salivate.  Liquid Agony, Liquid Bliss, and now a delectable meal.  Gossips could natter on for months about Camelia's abundant shortcomings, but they would be hard pressed to name a more gracious hostess.

Four large plates, loaded with lobster tails poached in butter seasoned with fragrant saffron, spicy garlic prawns garnished with parsley, filet mignon seared in a mixture of garlic, fresh thyme, and butter, savory fingerling potatoes abutting portobello mushrooms sauteed in butter, thyme, and shallots, and caramelized baby carrots and turnips painted with a rich cognac glaze, are gently placed on the faceted crystalline table that has unobtrusively displaced the unsettling eyeball that no one cared to modify in Cammy's absence.  The chef has masterfully prepared each dish, paying all due attention to plating and presentation so no aesthetics suffer despite the generous portions on display.  Cammy and her assistant, a comely catgirl with rosy locks who shares Cammy's sparkling pink eyes, quickly set the table for four,  On completing their task, Cammy and her sister transfer a carafe of cold water, an empty bottle of mature Merlot, and a decanter of aerated wine to the table.  Working as a team, they require no more than minute to lay out all of the place mats, cutlery, napkins, and glasses appropriate for a formal, but by no means a full course, supper.  Surf and turf, a hearty classic beautifully executed to consummate the budding alliance between the Redeemer, Aislyn, the Heiress, Nines, and the White Tiger, is served.

Camelia and Iolanda Sorina bow politely.  Cammy, like her sister, is now dressed in a spiffy, white double-breasted chef's coat, pressed black chef's pants, and polished black clogs.  Cammy affectionately rests her hand on Io's shoulder.  Io peers at Cammy and Ilyana in turn before flashing a knowing smile at Caeceila.  The concentrated burst of contagious giggling that Io surrenders to blazes the trail for Cammy's description of the complimentary meal.

To celebrate the imminyent annyihilation of all Enrele in Valucre, we have prepared locally-sourced, cruelty-free filet mignyon, prawns, and lobster - all sustainable and fresh - with caramelized baby carrots and caramelized turnips in cognyac sauce, crispy fingerling potatoes, and sauteed mushrooms.  To accompany this meal, we have supplied a bottle of Merlot, barrel-aged for ten years in the cellars of the Andronov winery, since it pairs so well with flavor of the steak and lobster.  Dessert will consist of a chocolate souffle with a lava center and raspberry drizzle served a la mode.

Oh my stars and garters, if the main course was just a touch more decadent than it is, dessert would be unobtainium festooned with gold shavings - not that the dessert Cammy has promised is any less impressive.  Chocolate souffles with lava centers are notoriously difficult to assemble.  Scarce few possess the skill to consistently and properly bake such confections, and if Cammy and Iolanda routinely cook food that is positively out-of-this-world, it is a wonder that neither of them are tubby.

Neither Caeceila nor Nines had predicted that Cammy would treat them to dinner this evening.  Cammy was eternally brimming with pleasant surprises and made for a crackerjack lucky charm, but she had genuinely outdone herself on this occasion.  Sure, Cammy and Iolanda whipped up a platter of melt-in-your-mouth sushi for Caeceila and Nines when they first met and did their best, without exception, to feed Cae and Nines whenever they visited the catfolk lodgings located on the Glasmann Estate, yet Cae and Nines had always assumed this was because they were on good terms with one another.  Ilyana and Aislyn were...

Sketchy.  Yeah, Nines was wise to the game Ilyana and Aislyn were ever so fond of playing.  They were fishing for intelligence.  As soon as Caeceila turned her back, they would plunge knives, forks, spoons, sporks, straws, and whatever other pointy objects they could hold with their stubby, lowborn fingers into it.  They would not hesitate to take everything from her, and in doing so, they would condemn Terrenus to a bleak and barbaric future.  Nines would call the couple sketchy, shaky, and faithless - to their faces if Cranky McSecretson over yonder didn't shape up.  Passion was palpable in Club Tablillas, and as sure as aristocratic vampires had abysmal tastes in men, Nines could feel Ilyana's rage raking her with such malignity that an assortment of veins, green and red, ought be bulging out of Ilyana's forehead by now.  Steam could've screamed out of her ears.  Blood could've rushed into her face like mercury ascending the capillary tube of a thermometer.  Somehow, and that somehow would have stumped Nines if not for one of Caeceila's acute observations, Ilyana preserved her calm veneer while she begged for information with hubris rivaling that which frolicked in her admission that she would withhold the same from them.  Lousy hypocrite didn't even have the class to warn her "new allies" (more like meal tickets) that her exotic weapon, her animate dress, had it out for Nines.  Maybe, in another life, that dress would have been ornamented with Patian gemstones and a delay or an error on a shipping manifest deprived it of that quality.  Well, boohoo, dress, boo-fecking-hoo!  Get over it, you garish potato sack!  Yeah!  IF YOU WANT MAKE SOMETHING OF THIS, COME AND RIDE THE PAIN TRAIN!  CHOO-CHOO!  REVOLUTION WOULD SLICE YOU TO RIBBONS AND USE YOU AS FLOSS.  OH YEAH!  NINES IS PSYCHING HERSELF UP TO FIGHT A DRESS!  IF THAT DRESS STARTS FRONTING WITH THE NINES, SHE'LL BURY IT NINE FEET DEEP!

Caeceila isn't psyching herself up to engage a dress in mortal combat.  Ilyana's dress has anger management issues.  Who doesn't these days?  Well, uh, Nines doesn't and Cammy doesn't and Ilyana and Aislyn probably don't but none of that matters because a headshrinker once told Cae that anger management issues are commonplace and are nothing to be ashamed of and, furthermore, that there is no reason to hurt people who ask other people if they have anger management issues.  He wasn't the first psychologist Cae had seen, and he wasn't the last.  Caeceila was a very troubled child.

Nines leers at Ilyana's angry dress.  Food arrives.  Cammy sets the table and the mood for supper.  Then, Nines signals to Ilyana's dress that she is watching it closely and it had better not step to her.  Her motion ends with Camelia gawking, her eyes as big as melons, at the general area Nines has pointed her index finger and middle finger at, a shocked Caeceila silently reaching out and lowering Nines's hand, one Iolanda laughing her head off, and Nines, in one of her iconic Nines moments, failing to realize she was pointing at Ilyana's "tibia."  Hey, if Ilyana didn't want people calling out her clothes, maybe she shouldn't transform them into sentient weaponry.  Enough said.

Io snaps her fingers, delivering Cammy from her trance.  Cammy "awakens" with a jolt and immediately busies herself with tidying her uniform.  Brush, brush the collar.  Pat, pat the elbows.  That was awkward.  Super awkward.  Cammy definitely, definitely wasn't gawking at anything, and she obviously wasn't talking like a cat again.  Heh, Io won't let her live this one down.

So a random lady compliments you, and all of a sudden, you're head over heels for her.  It'll never work, sis!  I mean, look at her!  She wouldn't survive your affection!  Whether you like it or not, you are a black widow.

Cammy's cheeks are beet-red.  It only happened twice!  That's two for two, but two isn't a statistically significant sample size.  It could be different this time!  Cammy expresses the statistics-driven downfall of Io's argument with elegant simplicity.

S-shut up!

Nines glances at Cammy, her expression unreadable.  It's impossible to decipher what she's scheming.  When she speaks, however, the dulcet tones of her voice and the inexplicable disappearance of her distrust and hostility are more ominous than a direct threat to Ilyana's person.

Ilyana, you've volunteered to negotiate with Sebastian and House Singlance, to seek their aid in our desperate affair.  You're in luck; House Singlance is organizing a pig hunt which shall occur within the month.  I don't foresee a beauty like you trekking through the jungle to terminate invasive pigs, so why not take Camelia, Iolanda, and some of their crew with you to take care of the pests while you reap the rewards.


We'll reimburse your expenses and pay you for your time.  Of course, I doubt your dress is a suitable uniform to wear in that environment regardless of whether you enter the jungle.

Cae presses her fingers against her temples.  My gods, Nines, this is your way taking petty revenge on Ilyana's angry dress, isn't it?

Here's something for your notes.  Between the jungle ticks, the jungle mosquitoes, and the jungle pigs, you'll probably want to pack bug spray and a reliable ranged weapon.  I've been informed that the pigs are aggressive and territorial.  They are opportunists, and they'll hunt you if you're under-prepared for your adventure.  Ten-foot tall dinosaurs and fifteen-foot tall apes live in the jungles of Taen as well, but Cammy and Io should prove more than a match for anything you run into out there.

Caeceila nods half-approvingly.  This isn't a bad idea, but for the love of all that is good and holy, stop taking potshots at the stupid dress.

Succeed, and we'll see what we can do about Victory.  Reveal who you intend to disclose the information we've provided to, and we might tell you how to detect the Enrele.  It's as simple as that.  Oh, and don't die out there.

Caeceila shakes her head.  She then moves to pour herself a glass of water.

That last part was her attempt at being nice.

Cammy and Io smile brightly as Nines impales a mushroom on her fork, sticks it in her mouth, and chews tentatively.  Damn, that's good.

I know Cammy speaks for the clan, but have you girls ever tried talking to Victory to find out what she thinks about the condition of the city?  She might believe we're in the right, you know, and if she's willing to issue a public statement supporting our views, we win.

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Ilyana was still trying to decipher the origin of the animosity Obtenebra held toward Nines though she masked the confusion well by focusing on the tasks set forth instead of whatever history her gift had with the peculiar drow. The introduction of food helped considerably as the aroma entered her senses and brought the slightest of smiles upon her face. The reappearance of Cammy alongside another pink eyed catgirl caused Ilyana to turn her attentions over to both feline entrants, watching as they weaved around and set the table with ease. The work ethic, regardless of motivation, was enough to widen that smile she held as she eyed their attire. It was when Io giggles and specifically looks at her and then the Heiress that the Redeemer arches a brow though she does not have time to contemplate since Camelia starts to speak.

The description of the meal seemed to have more of an effect on Aislyn than it did Ilyana. Though the assistant narrowed her gaze upon Camelia’s return, still holding the slightest of self-made grudges regarding how she had talked to her boss earlier, the fact that she was being such a gracious hostess seemed to wipe the entirety of that ill will away. The meal presented before her was the stuff of dreams. Few times had she ever had the luxury of indulging in food like this so she could not contain her glee at the sight, particularly the food items she had never tasted.

“This is…wonderful.”

Oh…did she say that out loud? Yes…yes she did and that fact caused her to blush slightly as she looked at Cammy and then Ilyana. Realizing her boss didn’t react negatively to it, however, gave her all the freedom she needed to start preparing herself to eat. She sat down, adjusted her skirt and blouse, and just marveled at all of the food before her while she waited for the others to join her.

Ilyana, ignoring the passionate malevolence of Obtenebra, took in the smells of the food and closed her eyes as she allowed herself a few seconds to enjoy the mixture of aromas. The focus Nines held on Obtenebra went mostly unnoticed by the Redeemer but Aislyn sure caught sight of it all. Aislyn was well aware of the exotic quality of Ilyana’s clothing but she couldn’t fathom why Nines seemed focused on it or why Cammy seemed enthralled…unless..?! Aislyn’s eyes widened and then she felt her fists ball up. She was about to return to a stand and call out the ogling women but Caeceila’s shock and the teasing that followed by Io converted the prepared tirade into just a small huff before she decided to stuff her mouth with a forkful of potatoes and mushrooms.

The Redeemer finally opens her eyes and was about to address Cammy but then heard Nines which prompted a turn of her head to look at the drow curiously while she layed out her suggestion. The plan was acceptable enough that no immediate objection was given and once she mentioned called Camelia and Iolanda by name, the swirling black gaze returned to them with a teasing smile before finally speaking.

“It is a pleasure seeing you again Cammy. Pleasure to meet you as well Iolanda. Thank you for your hospitality thus far. The food…the ambience…the company has taught me a valuable lesson I plan on employing at some of my newer acquisitions. I look forward to working with you in the future many times…”

The smile faded quickly once she returned to look at Nines but her expression was by no means negative.

“I’m not concerned with the wildlife of Taen. As you’ve said, I am sure Cammy and all of her sisters will succeed on their end.”

She started to sit down to prepare herself to eat then but continued speaking just after Io spoke up concerning Victory.

“There is a smuggler I know with the codename ‘Helldriver’ with ties to the fae, an early investor in my business who is currently away in Yh’mi and the chief technological officer of Ventrix that I had in mind to bring in to this endeavor. The smuggler has had trouble trusting potential clients so this might put him at ease. He has methods of transport exclusive to his ancestry that could be useful. If I can pull in the chief technological officer then he may be able to fashion a more distributable method of detecting the Enrele unnoticed.”

She sighed slightly before turning one of the Andronov wine bottles and smirking due to a brief memory.

“I will not disclose the identity of my early investor per his request but he is immune to the threat the Enrele pose as he is an unnatural with no biology that they can usurp. If that is not satisfactory enough for you then I will endure the handicap you place on me just because I do not fully disclose all of my secrets.”

Aislyn finished nearly half of her plate, some of the sauce lingering on her lips for a long time soon after those last words to look at how Nines and Caeceila reacted. Ilyana was not finished, however, since she would be rude to ignore the newest addition to this meeting.

“Victory might also do the opposite and become a hindrance rather than a boon to our cause simply because we humor the notion. I am by no means closing the door on your suggestion Iolanda, but if we do entertain it then I would prefer the inquiry be made subtly so that it cannot be traced back to any of us unless Caeceila here has means to be overt in this regard.”

Ilyana turns to Cae and looks at her curiously while finally taking a bite of a prawn. She sure wished she could hire Cammy personally after that.

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Trading words, be they heartfelt expressions of evocative sentiments reserved for the most intimate of friends or malicious misdirection presented with the utmost tact and delicacy, over the course of a single night - over dinner, over the wailing of the phantoms, and over a death knell - could only ever achieve so much.  Words are without substance; Caeceila values actions because they unveil the nature of an individual.  A case may be made for contracts, but such documents are primarily of interest when one legally bound party works to fulfill, or fails to fulfill, its obligations to another.  Ilyana declared she was on board.  She confessed that she was a killer, that she targeted those who would strip away another's basic freedoms and leave them without hope.  Caeceila was satisfied and allowed Nines to brief Ilyana on their campaign to combat the Enrele in and around Hell's Gate.  She implied that Ilyana would have the support of House Glasmann in advancing her personal agenda if she proved useful, and to top it all off, she threatened Ilyana, implicitly or explicitly she cannot recall, at the onset of their conversation.  She played her part.  Now, the Heiress quietly noshes on filet mignon, and when Ilyana looks at Cae, her demeanor is impossibly dissimilar to anything Ilyana might expect of her.

Caeceila is adhering, unthinkingly and without the minutest deviation, to every rule of etiquette suited to this occasion.  She prays, to what it is not clear, neatly spreads her napkin over her lap, selects the correct fork, holds it in that unintuitive, affected grip the members of the nobility positively adore, and cuts straight into her steak from above.  When she picks up the wine glass, she supports it by the bowl, not the stem, swirls it within the container, and inhales its scent prior to quaffing a single drop of it.  Her manners and her posture are ladylike, resembling not those of a commoner but of a prim and proper gentlewoman.  It is as though she has forgotten that Ilyana and Aislyn are present.  Looking into her eyes, from which light has ceased to flow, Ilyana will observe the telltale marks of the exhaustion she wears so well.  It takes her a moment to realize that Ilyana is staring at her.  She considers Ilyana's question, dabbing her mouth with her napkin to buy her time to reason out her response.

I am willing to incur Victory's disfavor.  It cannot damage my reputation; I've already seen to that.

Caeceila leans backward in her chair and steeples her fingers.

Victory may not have a soul, but I don't think it is so different from you and I.  If what I've been told is true, it even has a lifespan, and when it reaches the end of that lifespan, it will be forcibly retired.  Besides, Victory was programmed to love learning.  I suspect it would view our situation from a very human perspective.  It wouldn't be a very lifelike AI if it conveniently treated systems of ethics like that's a nonissue to the majority of the population.

Caeceila looks to Ilyana and then to Aislyn.  From the way she hones in on their every eccentricity, she seems to be assessing them again.  She exhales.  She hopes, sincerely hopes, she won't live to regret this partnership.

Ilyana and Aislyn, you are both invited to take up residence at the Glasmann Estate.  If you are serious about involving yourself in this affair, you'll need a secure base of operations, and I can think of no safehaven in Hell's Gate better than the manor.  Your image will take a hit, as will mine because the press will eat this one up.  "Caeceila Glasmann, heiress to the Glasmann fortune, shacks up with reformed prostitutes in her ancestral home."  Fuck 'em.  I'm going to do what's right.

Caeceila reorients herself and promptly returns her attention to her meal.

Nines is "rather unhappy" with Caeceila's imprudent charity.  It all strikes her as a STUPID gesture.  Can't Caeceila feel it?  Ilyana's dress wants to MURDER THEM!  Nothing would make it happier than STABBING THEM IN THE FACE!  IT HAS A GRUDGE, A MASSIVE GRUDGE, AGAINST HER!  What would it do if Ilyana wasn't present to control it?  What if she had a whole wardrobe of these things?  Fuck that!  Nines scrambles to her feet and glares daggers at Ilyana's dress.

Caeceila, you can't be serious.  That thing is bloodthirsty!  There are two minds inhabiting that body, and one of them would love to cut us open play jump rope with our entrails!  That's a goddamn symbiotic weapon, and both you and I know it, and whenever I speak, it gets angrier!  Do the math!

Nines is not going to risk life and limb when this threat can be controlled with a simple retraction of an invitation that Ilyana was probably insulted by anyway!  Cammy is not perturbed by Nines's outburst.  She defends Ilyana without relinquishing a speck of her optimism.  She is convinced that Ilyana Sevryn is a good person.

She's not Aleth.  The tentacles they have don't look like that.  She isn't one of the Enrele from here either.  They replace organs, not dresses, and they're all puffy anyway.  She's probably eldritch.

Iolanda pipes up, energetically bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet all the while.

It's true Ilyana's dress is weird, but I can't tell if it's eldritch.  Could be, though, if her friend has connections to the Fae, not that the Fae themselves are eldritch.

Cammy takes a step in Ilyana's direction, but remains a respectful distance from her person.  She squints at Ilyana's dress and inspects it with no small amount of curiosity.  Finally, she looks up at Ilyana with big, adorable eyes.

If I tell you that the Enrele here and in Dougton don't visit the doctor 'cause they're afraid they'll be discovered, will you promise to keep your clothes from hurting Nines?  I know she can be rude and weird, but she's like the big sister I never had.  She's always watching out for us and trying to keep us safe.  She tries to hide it from us, because she was born in the Underdark and caring for other people there buys you a knife in the ribs, but she changes color if you hug her after she does something nice for you!

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