Uncertainty Principle

Aniketos
Citizen of the World
Joined: September 7th, 2011, 11:53 am

November 12th, 2017, 8:51 pm #1

Ah! – gone were the days when he could come to the marketplace just for a bit of gossip! The nobles who used to congregate to mutter about Lady Alin or Alcidas or Councillor Hesperés himself kept to their homes these days, as it was the poor and homeless who thronged the streets now: hawking wares, hawking themselves, staring about with darting eyes and itchy fingers, sleeping against the walls and awaiting the endless vigil of night.

Sometimes, such as when a raggedy man carelessly bumped into him, Aniketos found he was still cruel enough to think, Don't they have anywhere else to go? His stride became purposeful; he plunged through the morning crowds towards the end of the street, which opened into the marketplace. His nurtured the glossy growth of his anger, taking offense at the way a woman ogled him, her mouth slackening open, and then, closing his eyes for a moment, he cut it down.

They have nowhere to go. Whole villages and towns destroyed, farmsteads succumbed to growth.

Despite the government's best efforts, they had been unable to resettle everybody. Now those who had spent last winter in warehouse and streets would do so for another year, until spring came.

Oh, gone were the days–! The cries of sellers in the marketplace seemed hoarse and comparatively weak, muddying the clear autumn air. Of course, they strained to shout louder when they saw who was in their presence. That head of golden curls had become lodged in the Sotoan psyche over the past two years, reproduced as it was in the wigs of actors, in portraits, murals and even a statue in Madrid. People used to notice him before this, yes, but there wasn't this strain to impress him back then. Now there was no way to observe the state of the local economy without corrupting his results. Still, he didn't exactly trust the reports of fellows and inferiors: he had learned, through tragedies and histories, that flattery was the insidious enemy of one in power.

In any case, he had come here to answer for himself a simple question: what was for sale in the marketplace? Interest in luxuries was low at this time: jewelers were largely silent and dejected over their depleted shows of finery, and some stalls that used to be there simply weren't present at all. As for food: there were those who brought in what they farmed. It was the season for apples (which were mostly small, hard and green), artichokes (stunted from a short growing season), and the first crop of persimmons (which actually looked somewhat tempting). Most promising were the beans, the eggplants and the cabbages – and awful lot of cabbage. By governmental decree, there were no root vegetables or gourds for sale – these were to be stored for the coming winter, and much of the crop was bought by the government to be rationed to the poor.

Then, on the other hand, there were mages making a killing by teleporting to other countries, buying from the markets there and selling here at a profit. It was easy to tell their stalls apart: Morrimian loaves fashioned in foreign shapes accompanied by eggplants as big as babies, fancy meats that had to go today, colourful spreads of foreign fruit and vegetables from the sunny markets of Ashoka and Angkar. Sending up a cloud of warm steam from the corner of the marketplace was an Ashokan man who came here simply to sell flavourful rice to hungry Sotoans – rice which he had got for a pittance and sold for a relative fortune.

Crowds parted for Aniketos, a woman called out for the gods to bless him. He smiled and nodded and walked on. In retrospect, he could have hidden himself under a cloak, but this had its benefits as well. A young mother came to tell him, over the intermittent shrieks of her grumpy child, that she had reason to believe that one vendor was using false weights and that the market officials were doing nothing about it. "Everyone's trying to make a bit of extra money," he said, shaking his head in sympathy, "I will ensure that this corruption is stopped."

As they parted ways, Aniketos reflected that – gone were the days when he was famous for all the worst reasons! No more did people gossip behind their hands that he had rejected Dermoulon as a lover but had stolen all of his silver cups or that he had cut off a pet dog's tail just for the sake of it. Now they grinned sappily at him, or else glowered, all because he had stood at the top of the Keep and concerted the defense of Reine and because he had let such and such battalion be obliterated during the hectic assault on Nemetona. He was a hero and a demon, he had emerged from the Pale Tree carrying Méadaigh's limp corpse, victorious and yet weeping. Yes, that was probably what people whispered about behind their hands. He was sure of it because he had been asked before: what had been the meaning of those tears at the end of the Battle of Nemetona?

Rather more quickly than he had intended, he had made his way through the intestinal looping of the marketplace and concluded that things weren't so bad as he had worried. Maybe the reports brought to him weren't just flattery after all. He stopped to buy some persimmons and was thankful that the farmer who sold them treated him as stoically as he would anyone else. Rather than carry them, he stowed him in his interdimensional compartment and hurried out of the marketplace before anyone could anyone could stop him.

He joined the flux of people traveling down the steep street: kitchenmaids coming back with the day's shopping, hollow-eyed children selling candles, a prostitute who saucily offered her services to the "Mighty Hero Hesperés," saying it would be an honour. Parting the crowds was a drayman's cart, heavy with two barrels of beer, being lugged up the hill by two straining horses, no doubt on their way to The Blessing and Club, a tavern that opened onto the marketplace.

Aniketos walked down the street, sinking into a haze of thought. As he often did, he became only aware enough of his surroundings to keep from bumping into people. His far-seeing eyes turned out the the sight of the city tumbling down the hill, down towards the docks, beyond which the sea stretched, but he comprehended little of it.

Abruptly a force hooked him around the stomach and wrenched him off his feet. "Unhand–!" he began to cry, flailing inelegantly. Just then, one of those huge barrels of beer came thundering past, clearing a path through the screaming people all the way down the hill. "Oh," breathed Aniketos, watching as the barrel clipped some unfortunate soul and sent them sprawling. He peered up the hill – the other barrel was still in its cart, but apparently this one had come loose from its moorings.

He has just begun to turn to his savior when there was a terrible CRASH! and then a sloshing, like the sound of the tide on the shore. The barrel had run into a building at the end of the street and had split open, and was now spilling its contents all over the street. Amusingly enough, some fool came forth with a tankard and scooped it into the carcass of the barrel. He drained it in a matter of seconds and, without stopping to think, had dived back for more.

"Ugh," said Aniketos, watching the foamy tide settle between the cobblestones at the bottom of the street, "What a waste of beer." Finally he looked for the person who had saved him, saying, "I am indebted to you, dear friend. Er – would you like a persimmon?" Already he was making the motions to open his compartment. Within a moment, the persimmon was in his hand and thrust forth towards his savior.
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Koam
Citizen of the World
Koam
Citizen of the World
Joined: December 2nd, 2017, 8:35 am

December 7th, 2017, 4:15 am #2

When exactly had it lost its charm? Koam supposed he knew the answer to that. The marketplace had been so full of wonder before, but now, as his restless eyes scanned the crowds, it was a dangerous place. The vendors were little more than vultures, picking the visitors clean of whatever meager coins they'd entered with. From his place behind the fleecemaker's stall, he could hear them shrieking like harpies and haggling like rats, both too cunning and too selfish for their own good.

He shifted his attention from the fleecemaker to the corn farmer. She was a beaky-looking woman with eyes sharper than her wit. Intending to get a closer look, he slipped away from the market and scampered through the shadows to the maw of a different alley. The starchy smell of fleece was left behind and replaced with a thick musk of manure. The corn farmer, he noticed, had set up her stall next to a pen of pigs for sale. He ignored them and focused instead on the farmer. How did she treat her customers? More importantly, would she be missed?

He cast a glance around at the throngs of people. The crowd had shifted, somehow, although he couldn't place the disturbance. Instead, he used the distraction, as slight as it was, to sneak to the stall of a baker and snatch a loaf of bread. Before the baker could notice, he teleported away, landing amidst the crowds. Immediately, he became a trip hazard; feet kicked him and elbows jabbed him as though he were an unwanted cat. As quickly as he could, he made his way to the edge of the market and slunk back into the shadows. A sharp spot on his upper arm told him that he would bruise. He glared out at the crowd. Had he known who exactly had hurt him, he likely would have tracked them down...but he blinked the thought away, and settled to wait, and to watch.

It was from there that he kept an eye on the people, munching on his foreign loaf. After a minute, he spotted the source of the crowd's disturbance: a man, seemingly unremarkable in most every way, parting the crowd without a word. Koam squinted, then scurried closer, keeping out of the way of the market's activiy. The man, upon closer inspection, radiated an authoritative beauty that was completely lost on Koam. He did notice the lion's mane of golden curls. Fragments of conversation echoed through his memory, but the gossip remained half-formed; he couldn't remember what he'd heard about the man, only that he had heard something. Instead, intrigued and otherwise bored, he followed him through the marketplace.

The man stopped at a stall and bought a small assortment of fiery orange fruits. Koam didn't immediately recognize them, but he didn't stop to ponder. The man was on the move. Instead, Koam busied himself with trying to remember what exactly he'd heard. A name flitted at the edges of his memory. He watched the man leave the market and make his way down one of the city's main streets. Reluctantly, Koam followed him. The councilor. He frowned, struggling to remember more. That would explain the man's presence: the way he carried himself, and the way the crowds parted at the very sight of him. His passing sparked conversation, and Koam crept closer in an attempt to catch their fragments.

"Isn't that the councilor--"

"--wonder what he's doing in this part--"

"--not too often you see them anymore--"

A shouted curse from farther up the street snatched away Koam's attention, and his head snapped around to see a keg of beer barreling down the street. For a few seconds, he was content to let it roll; he wasn't in its path, and at the very least, it provided him with some amusement as people scrabbled to get out of its way. Then he realized who was in its path: the very object of his mystery, the councilor himself, who seemed not to have noticed his impending intoxication. Koam briefly considered letting it bowl him over. It would amuse him to no end--but, he realized, he still hadn't solved this man's mystery. Besides, if anything were to happen to a councilor, Koam figured that he'd rather be a part of it.

As more people leapt out of the way, Koam squeezed between them and dashed up behind the councilor. He hooked an arm around him and pulled with all his might. Both of them went sprawling on the ground, tumbling roughly on the cobblestone street an instant before the barrel clattered past. Koam picked himself up first and sat on his heels, ready to spring away if things went wrong. He heard the barrel come to an explosive stop at the bottom of the street.

"Ugh." The man caught Koam's attention again, and he watched him brush absently at a smear of dirt on his loose-fitting shirt. "What a waste of beer."

Koam's eyes flicked back to the bottom of the hill. Not all of it had gone to waste, he noted, as a second reveler joined the first--only without a tankard, just his cupped hands.

The councilor's voice, rich and sweet like honey, brought him around again. "I am indebted to you, dear friend. Er -- would you like a persimmon?"

Koam's dark eyes blinked at the loosely-used "friend," but he remained silent for a few moments. The councilor made a strange motion--a twist of his hand, and a pulling at the air--and suddenly a persimmon was in his hand, glistening just as brightly as it had been in the marketplace. Koam's eyes flicked down to it, blinked in recognition of the offer, then looked back up at the councilor's eyes. The offer was genuine, and so he took it, holding the fruit carefully with both hands. Before he bit into it, he asked carefully, "Where did it come from?" He'd never seen anything like a dimensional compartment before. Still, it was cold in his hands, and he bit into it, a drop of juice running down his chin.

His tongue flicked out to collect the rampant droplet. Chewing on the fruit, he looked over the man before him with a careful eye. A small ring of spectators were forming around them--well, him, mostly--and Koam suddenly felt their eyes. To the councilor, he asked, "Why are they all looking at you? Who are you?"
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Aniketos
Citizen of the World
Joined: September 7th, 2011, 11:53 am

December 8th, 2017, 5:45 pm #3

Of course, Aniketos was confused when he looked around at eye height and couldn't see his saviour. It was only when he looked down a little that he caught sight of the adolescent who had been so brave as to pull him from danger. He was a dark child, with a face half-hidden behind an oily sheet of hair. The colour of his skin was indeterminate under the grime of the streets. Aniketos felt a pang of pity, the overwhelming urge to do something, to save him. Then followed resignation, like a mongrel sniffing at the heels of its master: if he offered everything he could to the poor and took them into his home, the sum of his accomplishments would still be a raindrop trying to wet the desert. No, he told himself carefully – for who really allows their comfort to be destroyed by a single interaction with the homeless? – There are better ways to help – by changing the nature of the state to help them survive this year.

The boy looked up from his persimmon and asked where it had come from. Aniketos smiled and made the gestures again, saying, "I have a spell that lets me store things in elsewhere, nowhere." The air opened as if a rent were made in cloth, revealing a dark little space with three shelves, pressing right up against their reality beyond a tear in the membrane between this and that. Arrayed on the shelves: a bottle of wine, some clothes neatly folded, his sword in its scabbard, his bow and arrows, a small assortment of unlabelled little bottles, a heel of bread he'd been meaning to remove and the persimmons he had just bought. With a flourish, he closed it, the air zipping itself seamlessly back together.

By the time the boy asked him who he was their scene had attracted a small circle of onlookers, who had lost interest in the scene down the street and wanted to know what Councillor Hesperés was up to. When the boy asked why everyone was so interested in him, a light chuckle rose up from their audience. Aniketos smiled too, wanly, at once concealing amazement that he was not known by someone in Reine and discomfort at the idea that he would have to explain himself. "Well, I–" he began to explain, but he was saved the trouble by input from those around him.

"He carried us through this war!" said one woman, eyes wide and sparkling.

"He killed Méadaigh – that bitch!" intoned a beefy labourer with blackened hands.

"He's an asshole," grumbled one voice, to another wave of laughter.

"We just like the way he looks!" joked a teenage girl, her whimsical face vivid against the darkness of her curly hair.

Aniketos smiled again, struggling to feel settled with himself. "Well, as you can see...it's a long story."

"You can say that again!" blustered an old man with a beard that trailed down his chest, "Two years of war and–" Off he went into anecdote, and where he went from there was anyone's guess.

Ignoring him, Aniketos asked softly, "I assume you weren't here for all of that then. Where are you from, and what brought you here? Surely there were other cities that you could choose – healthier ones, with more food."
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Koam
Citizen of the World
Koam
Citizen of the World
Joined: December 2nd, 2017, 8:35 am

December 12th, 2017, 10:42 am #4

He did it again. Koam watched closer this time as the dimensional pocket was opened. The air rent before his hands as though he held a hot knife to butter. He could see the contents this time; it held a variety of impeccably practical yet remarkably boring items. A deep indigo bow leapt out at him, but his gaze lingered instead on the sword. It was easily the least boring thing in there--intricate knots decorated the hilt and sheath, entwining and entangling across the surface. All too soon, the air sealed itself again, and Koam was left staring at empty sky.

Slowly, he returned his gaze to the councilor. "You're a mage?" His past experiences with magic-users had been less than pleasant, but they were nothing more than memories to him. He recalled them plainly, and he regarded the man before him as indifferently as any other. No hints of defence tinged his thoughts; the question was posed as a confirmation rather than an accusation.

Upon arriving at the topic of himself, the councilor momentarily faltered. The crowd was quick to take up his slack. Three voices chimed in near-unison; Koam's head swiveled to each of them in turn. He wasn't as familiar with the war as perhaps he should have been. Having lived in Ashoka for the majority of his life, it hadn't affected him or his family the same way it had ravaged the southern countries. The name Méadaigh resonated faintly with him, and he appraised the councilor with mild skepticism. "Politicians don't fight," he said bluntly. He was about to go on when the councilor let out the faintest of sighs.

"Well, as you can see...it's a long story."

Koam could respect that. If he stopped to listen to every long story, he'd never have any of his own. The councilor, on the other hand, seemed to be more of a listener; he leaned down close and murmured to Koam, "I assume you weren't here for all of that then." More directly, he asked, "Where are you from, and what brought you here? Surely there were other cities that you could choose--healthier ones, with more food."

"Nothing brought me here, Councilor Fae-Slayer," he started. He wasn't normally a chatter, but he'd talk enough when prompted. "I am Koam, and I come from Ashoka. I'm here because it is very far away." From what, he didn't say. "I have been to many other cities along the way. Extended visits become dangerous, and so I leave. I know I ought to stay away--but, Fae-Slayer, I get so hungry..." He took another hearty bite from his persimmon, briefly flashing too-white teeth, but the way he chewed it over made it seem rather unsatisfying.

He lowered his voice to drop beneath the crowd. "It wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for all the people. For the most part, they aren't so bad...but there are always those few." He ducked his head, donning what he hoped was a pained and pitiable expression. He didn't remember what it felt like; it was lost to him, and as a result, his eyes were rather too sharp. The effect was close, yet unidentifiably unnerving. It rendered his next suggestion unintentionally demanding. "But, being councilor, I'm sure you can name a few...those that only wish to prey upon the city's misfortune..."
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Aniketos
Citizen of the World
Joined: September 7th, 2011, 11:53 am

December 18th, 2017, 10:22 pm #5

Well, in this country politicians fought. It had been that way since the start, perhaps because the Sotoan political system made less of a distinction between citizen and statesman. It was his job more than others' to fight, simply because of his position, but in the war everyone who could fight had had to: their situation was desperate, there was no other way. He almost wanted to explain this to the child, but something about this kid compelled Aniketos to not want to seem patronising.

Sure enough, he seemed quite savvy; mature enough to travel from city to city. There was something else about him though, something that began to surface like a predator shaking off sand at the bottom of the sea. "I ought to stay away..." he said and Aniketos asked himself – stay away from what? A flash of white teeth, an expression of pitifulness that inexplicably wound a coil of anxiety in Aniketos' chest, the pleading for...what exactly? Food, or...names?

Aniketos glanced around him. The scene down the road had calmed down: all the beer in the barrel had rushed out onto the cobbles and all that remained was to clean up the dripping wreckage. The normal flow of human traffic was being restored, and the spectators on Aniketos' conversation had by now turned away and continued on their business. Feeling, despite himself, that what he was about to get into was unspeakably clandestine, Aniketos hunched a little towards the boy.

"It seems," he said, "you are asking for help with something, but I am not sure what. Are you in need of food?"
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Koam
Citizen of the World
Koam
Citizen of the World
Joined: December 2nd, 2017, 8:35 am

January 1st, 2018, 8:50 am #6

"It seems you are asking for help with something, but I am not sure what. Are you in need of food?"

Koam's dark eyes betrayed no reaction. He seemed to ponder the offer for a moment, but in truth he had already decided to trust the councilor. The councilor held power. Koam held power of his own: the power of anonymity, and the freedom of action that a politician could only dream of. If he played his cards right, he and the councilor could help each other out.

At least, that was what he thought. He would have to be careful, or he could easily end up on the wrong side of the ripping.

"Of a sort," he answered eventually, giving the persimmon a lackluster glance. "In truth, Fae-Slayer, I wish for the same as you: to better the city, and rid it of scum and scoundrels. So that the rest of us may live more peaceful lives."

It wasn't the first time he'd delivered that line. The emotion behind his last phrase fell noticeably flat; he was incapable of compassion, and, faintly, it showed. He didn't even notice. His grasp of emotion was limited at best. He'd only included the line because he'd heard it on the streets and it always seemed to work.

He stood up then, from his seat upon his heels to his full height. There was no flash in his eye, no spark of determination nor glimmer of heroism. His flatness remained unchanged. It was as if he was a puppet, lifelessly repeating the words of an unseen master. "In return, I only ask for your direction--" he narrowed his eyes to inscrutable slits "--and, of course, your permission."
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Aniketos
Citizen of the World
Joined: September 7th, 2011, 11:53 am

January 10th, 2018, 7:40 pm #7

The day was sunny but fingers of cold played a toccata on Aniketos' back. To better the city...rid it of scum and scoundrels... Why, he had heard such a pitch before – once, years ago, on a winter night he'd spent in a tavern. A woman had come up to him when he was half-drunk, a woman with round cheeks, dark hair and cold eyes – such cold eyes. She had said this sort of thing to him, with much the same tone: that of someone reading from a book, saying what should be said instead of what was felt. He had been younger then and he had laughed it off for a minute, until she realised he wasn't serious. Then what had he said? Well, what he felt he needed to say now.

"I'm not the only person in this government. I can't grant permission, I can't guarantee anything." Except now he said this quietly, with a tone of deep seriousness. "I don't even know how much I could help if you were to...fail." He was conscious of the fact that they were in a public place and that anyone might pass by and hear. But it was not like he could go somewhere private with this conversation – how would it look for him to walk into his house or an alleyway with a child? The last thing he needed was accusations of taking up a catamite. Such practices had been frowned upon for centuries by now.

"How good are you at what you do?" said Aniketos, stalling for time while he tried to make up his mind. Completely separate was the issue of whether he could trust the boy at all – it could be a ruse to catch the great Aniketos Hesperés in dirty dealings, or the boy could simply get caught and spill the truth at the slightest provocation. Still, Aniketos could think of some people, as much as it galled him to be considering it. Think of it – if he had come up to me when General Barillus was still around...It could have been a lot cleaner. He repressed a shudder at himself – How can I even be thinking of this?
– before going on to add, in veiled words but significant tones, "Are people likely to see you doing your job?"
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Koam
Citizen of the World
Koam
Citizen of the World
Joined: December 2nd, 2017, 8:35 am

January 18th, 2018, 8:47 am #8

A flicker of hesitation crossed the councilor's face. "I'm not the only person in this government. I can't grant permission, I can't guarantee anything. I don't even know how much I could help if you were to...fail."

Koam's expression remained unchanged, but he felt a surge of disappointment with the councilor. Even before they'd begun, at the slightest sign of adversity, he was already reluctant and making excuses. How...human, Koam thought distastefully.

"I won't fail," he announced bluntly. "It may take time, yes...but time is not a limitation for me. It will be done." He took another munch of his persimmon. He, too, was aware of the duality of their situation: the casual manner with which he held his fruit, and the seriousness of their conversation. He leaned back onto his heels. So long as they appeared to be having a mundane chat, he reasoned, people would leave them alone for sheer lack of interest. He cocked his head slightly to one side and watched his thumbs fiddle over his fruit. "As for permission, I do not ask it of you as a councilor." His eyes flicked back up to Aniketos. "I ask it of you, Fae-Slayer. I only seek your political council regarding whom, exactly, I should apprehend."

He let the last word linger a few moments. Despite the blatancy of his intentions, he knew better than to approach a councilor in the middle of the street and advertise himself as a murderer, even if the councilor seemed intrigued.

"How good are you at what you do?" he asked, proving his curiosity. A thought seemed to cross his mind, for he added, "Are people likely to see you doing your job?"

Koam shook his head. "Neither see nor hear," he confirmed. "I wouldn't lay a finger unless I was certain."
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Aniketos
Citizen of the World
Joined: September 7th, 2011, 11:53 am

February 16th, 2018, 1:46 am #9

Aniketos felt a meaty tremble in his chest. His vision shifted, as if suddenly doused with water, altering the apparent size and shape of everything around him. He could do it – just give him names. The boy had promised to be completely discreet – and wasn’t it in his best interests to avoid getting caught? But he was just a boy – wasn’t he? He chewed on that persimmon like it was dry chicken – with a sort of restrained grimace – rocking back on his heels with a nonchalance that seemed chillingly calculated.

Aniketos had to fight back a nervous laugh. Still, it bled into his expression as an overextended smile, which quivered and collapsed on itself as he said, “Still – if you were caught – and I don’t doubt your abilities–“ (except he did doubt them, because as far as he could tell the lad was only thirteen or so, and what had Aniketos been doing at thirteen but running amok and thinking he could hide it from his mother?) “–how am I to know that you would not immediately accuse me

He was stalling for time. Already he had begun to know who he would like to see die. Reneius Miletus – who had housed refugees on his land with the sole intent of soaking up all the monetary aide meant for the refugees. Well, perhaps not his sole intent. Rumor had it that he had reaped some of the refugee boys, forming a sinister covey for everyone-could-guess-what purposes. He was sure there were a few others as well, Reneius’ sins pressed on his mind like bad gas, expelling all other thought on the matter.

Still, Aniketos liked his life the way it was: free and not taking place in a prison cell.
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