On the Chain

On the Chain

Taiaka
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Taiaka
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Joined: 09 Jun 2008, 18:56

10 Feb 2017, 10:04 #1

For six hours, Taiaka had sat opposite of Tep, watching in silence as the young man fitfully slept. Every so often, Tep would cry out in slurred tones of rage and alarm and Taiaka would smile a feral smile at him. Truth be told, the old scavenger would have long since dispatched the spindly, foul tempered gang member into a silent, eternal slumber if it wasn’t for a simple, yet potent, piece of information he carried with him. In fact, it was of such dire importance that Taiaka had unceremoniously left the quiet sanctuary of his squalid underground hideout without so much as a word to any of his lieutenants. If Taiaka was correct in his assumptions, he would not be returning to the Rotting Monkeys for quite some time.

Now though, it was time to move. Taiaka seized the chain that was wrapped tightly around Tep’s neck and gave it a savage yank. The young man yelped and jerked awake, disorientated as scabbed hands desperately clawed at the iron links digging into his throat. The tunnels beneath the city had rendered him blind and the raw fear of being at the mercy of his captor, a renowned killer, caused his bladder to empty. Taiaka’s eyes did not struggle in the darkness and he could clearly see the dark stain sully Tep’s ragged canvas trousers.

“Get up.” The old scavenger’s voice was little more than a growl. He watched Tep’s eyes, pupils like saucers of obsidian, straining to see something other than blackness. Taiaka applied slow, steady tension upon the chain, choking any protest Tep dared utter. He let the young man, in truth little more than a boy, find his feet before setting off once again down the narrow tunnel.

“Please. Please tell me where we’re going.” An hour had passed and this was the first words Tep had spoken since Taiaka snatched him from Moss Mills, the Rotting Monkey headquarters. Beads of sweat rolled down Tep’s brow despite the damp coolness of the underground and his entire body was trembling. Taiaka did not answer the question, nor did he slow his pace or acknowledge that he had spoken at all.

“Please!” This time desperation drove Tep’s pitch up an octave and Taiaka felt the young man use the chain to walk himself forward. He was met with a hammering blow across his face. Tep stumbled, but his legs did not give way. Taiaka could see the welt already forming on his left cheek.

“Tell me!” A surge of adrenaline overtook Tep’s good sense and he stopped in his tracks, hands around the chain, and dug in his heels like a stubborn mule.

This time Taiaka used the hilt of his dagger, driving it into Tep’s temple with a muffled crack. Tep reeled and pitched over onto his rump. Taiaka took up the slack in the chain and continued walking, Tep half dragging, half crawling behind him.

“If you’re going to kill me, just do it!”

Taiaka stopped and rounded on him. Tep could feel the weight of the old scavenger’s pale gaze upon him and put his hands up in front of him to defend himself from another blow that never came.

“Ah’m not going to kill you.” Taiaka’s voice was almost kind. But the chuckle that came next was wry and hollow.

“No?” Tep squeaked, once again returning to his feet, albeit quivering slightly.

“No. Ah’ll let the king have that honor. But Ah will be eating your heart. That’s what we do to traitors.” Tep could smell the tobacco on Taiaka’s breath, “Now move.” His words were accented by a sharp tug of the chain.

Tep obliged, knowing he had no choice in the matter and followed the old scavenger like a broken dog. His head swam with questions as the left side of his face swelled and turned as purple as port wine. Silently he began to pray to his gods.

They walked together in silence for the remainder of the trip. After all the tunnels’ twists and turns, Tep felt fleeting elation as he saw a dim halo of daylight up ahead of them. But Taiaka led him away from the light, down another fetid corridor of pitch black, and beneath a series of warped wooden beams. Here, he stopped. Tep canted his head to the side as Taiaka tapped out an odd cadence on the seemingly solid stone wall directly in front of them.

Suddenly, soft amber light flooded the tunnel. Taiaka winced and hid his eyes. Tep fought against his tether as if he knew it would be his last chance of escape. The old scavenger let him flop and flail until his vision adjusted, his arm tensed and outstretched.

It was a door, of sorts, a secret portal beneath the Theatre de Immortalis that swung open on invisible hinges and was guarded by a sour faced little Tava Uzian named Otto.

“Hmm. Table for two?” Otto, the warden of the theatre and consummate asshole, hissed at Taiaka.

“Ah have a reservation.” Taiaka gave the elf a tight lipped smile. On any other night, they would have exchanged insults about each other’s mothers and lineage, but Otto could see the Star Gazer was obviously here on business. For all of the warden’s faults (and there were many), he knew never to come between Taiaka and Auereliano.

“He is in the Red Room.” Otto stated with a nod, passing his beady little eyes over Taiaka’s quarry, before stepping aside, allowing both men entrance. The stone door slid soundlessly closed behind them.

They were in one of the many basement cellars that peppered the bowels of the theatre. This one was filled with oaken casks of Amanese cordials and ewers of rice wine. It smelled of stale pine cones, candle wax, and the faintest hint of wild jasmine; for a moment Taiaka was overwhelmed with the intangible sense of being ‘home’. Both Tep and Otto saw the old scavenger’s hesitation, though neither had the slightest inkling as to why.

“Upstairs, past the-”

“Ah know where it be.” Taiaka cut Otto off mid sentence. He wound Tep’s chain around his forearm until there was less than a foot of slack between them. Tep recoiled away, strangling himself until his lips began to turn blue. Taiaka let him, knowing the boy lacked the stones to do anything other than make a fuss. And he was right, Tep relaxed after his realized his vision began to tunnel and his hands began to feel tingly. He promptly doubled over and vomited, yellow bile splattering on the clean floors and Taiaka’s old red boots. Otto sputtered something in his native tongue, but Taiaka ignored him out of pure spite and began leading Tep to the Red Room.

It must have been very late, or very early, because the grand halls of the theatre were virtually deserted. The old scavenger was relieved that he was not surrounded by questioning glances or pleasant greetings. He was no stranger to the theatre, yet his gang duties had kept him away for most of the year. Occasionally, he would drop by, catch a show and pretend like he was a normal citizen of Robani and not the notorious leader of the most violent gang of the underground. He would dress himself in fine silks and change his face as to not be recognized by Auere’s nosy harem of acrobats and contortionists.

But tonight he was himself, draped in full gang colors, donning the regalia of his rank and station. His head was shaved completely except for a thin strip of matted snarls that ran along the center of his scalp that was dyed bone white. A tattoo of a monkey eating a snake was inked into the left side of his pate, an owl with three eyes on the right, each one a symbol of his loyalties and dedication. He wore a full beard, it too matted and unkempt, yet peppered with tiny bundles of red feathers tied to the tips. There was a haggard hardness to his features, dark circles beneath pale eyes, a stiffness to his posture. His familiarly thin frame nearly skeletal from stress and lack of sleep. He looked like a man on the edge.

Theirs were the only footfalls on the carpeted stairs as Taiaka rounded the corner with Tep sulking behind him. The Red Room, as it’s name suggested, was a womb of nooks and crannies, the walls sporting the same clipped red carpeting as the floors as if organically grown. Only a few candles were lit, offering up a warm glow that reflected off the many bottles and decanters behind the cherry wood bar. There was no tender and there was only one other patron.

Taiaka elbowed Tep savagely in the solar plexus, causing him to double over in pain, a crude imitation of a bow.

“Your Highness,” Taiaka too bowed, however not as deeply, and with a sly grin on his thin lips, “This boy has something to tell you.” He pushed Tep forward and whispered in his ear loud enough for all to hear, “Tell him what you told Ah, tell him who be paying you.”

“The twins!” Tep chirped.
Name: Taiaka'kua Vin'Kai
Class: Ranger/Mystic
Race: Star Gazer

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Auereliano
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Auereliano
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11 Feb 2017, 02:51 #2

The king of Robani sat as still as death. He appeared as he had been for the last year, coiffed in the expectations of a city enamored in equal measure by the gilding of legend and the grit of the desert. When he took the throne, he had done so in a spray of blood and fire and became their living martyr, mangled flesh in the collective name of the ancient capital of the long buried Djinn empire. The story of his ascension bought him a moment of respite, a buffer between the person he was used to being to the person he had to be. That battle now had been long lost, the throne had stolen his name. Now he was Your Majesty, Your Highness, My Lord, Your Excellency. That man was expected to wear silk and satin, to carry gold at his wrists and on his fingers, to highlight the amber in his eyes with coal and lavender paste. He was the portrait, the marble bust, the face on the newly minted coins celebrating the death of hundreds for the good of millions. That changed when he heard the Stargazer’s voice.

Every day he would pour a glass of brandy and stare at it until one of his court would come hunting for him. All the secret spaces in the Theatre betrayed him, every door seemed to open to spitefully deny him a moment of privacy. Every day he decided to be king, he would push away his glass and accept the sacrifice of himself for the good of his adopted nation. When Taiaka’s pantomime patois tickled his ears, he immediately emptied his glass, unprepared for the burn, his throat virginal. The burn, the quickened fire that sparked in his belly, seemed to coil serpentine for a moment like the memory of a forgotten lover. He spoke slowly, as if his voice were made of porcelain.

“I,” he coughed once, standing from the carved bar stool. “I think I remember that voice.” Like a sleepwalker roused in an unfamiliar place, he blinked and looked upon the room with fresh eyes. “I was a different man when I heard it last.”

The king crossed the room in three steps and embraced the leader of the Underground’s deadliest gang, his arm circling around the back of Taiaka’s neck, his eyes closing for a moment. He traveled the shapeshifter’s world in a quick inhale of breath; the smell of tobacco and curry, sewage, blood, sex and steel. He pulled away, inspecting the taller man like a doting mother, his face twisted in a scowl.

“You look thin,” was all he said, returning to the bar, gait stiffening as he began to systematically remove the jewelry from his hands and his wrists. He poured another brandy.

“Your majesty,” croaked the filthy guest Taiaka had brought with him, “I beg for your mercy.”

“To my mercy,” he cried out suddenly, spinning toward them, scratching at his shirt with a palsy stricken hand, shaking, manic. He emptied the glass and poured another, pulling an empty glass beside his and filling that one as well. “What were you tasked to do, citizen? What did the those incestious Browndale siblings want you to do to your home?”

He could hear the boy crying now, the smell of piss and feces answer enough….for the king. Auereliano took a deep breath, for what felt like the first time in a year, and suddenly realized it was not enough answer for him. Slow, deliberate steps brought him beside Taiaka’s prisoner, he knelt in the thick red carpeting and with a mother bird’s insistence, assisted the mewing boy as he emptied the offered glass. Breathless, eyes watering yet trembling with the hope of survival, he confessed.

“The gangs…” he gasped, “we were supposed to infiltrate the gangs.”

“We?” Auereliano replaced the empty glass with his fresh one. The boy nodded enthusiastically.

“More than just me! More than just me, I swear it!. We were supposed to convince the gangs that the Twins would give them power, the city. They told us the city would belong to us!” Wide eyed, the brandy sloshing over the brim of the glass, he suckled noisly at the exprensive spirits, a sudden conspirator.

Auereliano spun the empty decanter in his hand, nodding, comforting, exuding the possibility of royal mercy in his demeanor.”Browndale paid you in magic?”

An enthusiastic shake of the head. “No, no, Rynthian silver and gold, a ship docked in the Queen’s slip. They pay us every week.” He looked up briefly to Taiaka before returning his frightened eyes to the king. “They want Lady Seyatte to take the blame.”

Auereliano smiled and touched the boy’s cheek with something strangely close to tenderness. It caused him to weep anew, lowering his filthy head to rest against the king’s chest. “I am sorry, I am so sorry.” Auere shook his head, patting the matted knots of the boy’s hair. Suddenly the prisoner lifted his head, straining against the chain at his neck, dropping the empty glass from his hands.

“Ill help you find them, I will help you kill them ahh….” Auereliano never dropped his smile as he pushed the glass into the boy’s chest, just under his ribcage. The gang member coughed up once, speckling the king’s face with shiny emeralds of blood. Gripping the chain around the man’s neck, Auere twisted his wrist, feeling viscera and muscle struggle for a moment before, with an explicit pop, he removed the glass from the gaping wound, the traitorous gang member’s heart still beating in the fine crystal.

“You have helped.” Auereliano cooed, standing as the body fell limply to the carpet. Beneath him, an ancient stone monolith even older than the immortal king writhed with the taste of the blood seeping into the wood of the theatre. An old magic, a totem of a lost age, crooned a dirge that shook the walls before quieting and returning the room to stillness. He slammed the glass down on the bar, hand gloved in crimson, and watched the severed heart slow to a stop. Auere was glad he was alone in the room with Taiaka; only the shifter would understand the madness that drug the ends of his lips into a smile. He wiped blood on the ruined shirt he wore and looked back at his Stargazer brother, his grin like the scream of a skull.

“I don’t see you for a year and you bring me a promise of war the first time you pass my threshold.” He drew two fresh glasses and poured them full, emptying the bottle and, after a momentary pause, smashing it against the wall.

“It is good to see you, boy.”
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Taiaka
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Taiaka
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13 Feb 2017, 22:37 #3

Taiaka took two steps back as the red rug began to creep along Tep’s cooling body like enthusiastic mold. Tendrils of fluffy shag slid across the corpse’s staring face and slipped into the hollow cavity where his heart used to reside, pulling it slowly down as it sucked out the remaining juices. In a few hours, there would be nothing left of Tep except a moist spot on the ground and a burning anger. The Heart of Robani received its tribute of flesh and blood, heaving a heady sigh beneath the Stargazer’s feet.

“He did not tell Ah all that, Auere.” Taiaka said with a slight shake of his head, pale gaze now locking on the sovereign king of Robani. The man looked delicate and well-fed, scar-less and bored. The cracked amber of his eyes dull despite the liberal umbra of stage make-up surrounding them. And yet, Taiaka knew he was still quite, inexorably, mad.

The old scavenger gave an exhaled chuckle and leaned his bony back against the smooth wooden bar top. “You look pretty Auere. Soft. Like a woman.”

He smiled, and began to systematically place the king’s discarded jewelry on his own long fingers. The friendly banter cause Taiaka’s throat to close, his pulse to quicken, his eyes to dart away; he had been down in the tunnels in the service of vermin too long, a place where whispers and screams carry the same weight and trust was a dirty word. Taiaka had ruled in blood while Auere ruled in silk. It was an ironic twist of roles, and from the looks of both the men in the Red Room, one neither much enjoyed.

“Maybe,” Taiaka began slowly, “you have been too concerned about your sobriety to see the inevitable. Me? Ah no pay attention either. Tep been coming and going from Mossy Mills and Ah not see his eyes.” Taiaka absently toyed with the heart filled glass on the bar and licked the viscera off the tips of his fingers before continuing, “The boy was tunnel blind.” which was unheard of for the denizens of the Underground: without a pendant or a spell or a natural set of eyes that could penetrate the inky darkness, one would be nothing more than prey.

“And now they sit in the Queen’s slip?” Taiaka frowned, fine lines around his eyes coming to bear, “wearing Rynthian colors? Paying in Rynthian gold?” He dipped a long finger into the heart filled glass, coating it in gore, before sucking on it thoughtfully. “Seyatte will be killing us both, yah?”
Name: Taiaka'kua Vin'Kai
Class: Ranger/Mystic
Race: Star Gazer

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Auereliano
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Auereliano
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13 Feb 2017, 23:40 #4

“Soft like a woman,” Auere mumbled, removing the shirt that was already beginning to grow cold and sticky against his skin. “Not like any of the scabrous tunnel wenches that follow in your wake, desert rat.”


He slipped over the surface of the bar with little effort, body warm and liquid from the reunion with the brandy numbness. Yet he could not deny that the trappings of royalty had made him hollow. The soldiers tasked to sparring with the king would gladhand blows and repose with lazy windmill strikes. They were glad to lose and, no matter Auereliano’s instance, would not follow through even when the king left avenues open in his guard. The patchwork of scars that used to blanket his skin were gone, the tattoos and brands were fading.


“The Queen’s slip,” Auereliano repeated, removing a long box from beneath the bar, latched with latticework of bronze and silver filigree. “The Queen’s guard, the Queen’s gold.” He shook his head and opened the box, revealing a series of stones marked with runes. He removed two and after a moment, one other. The moment he touched the third it glowed with bright, white hot light and then nothing, runic etchings burned away. He sighed thinly. “If Seyatte wanted Robani, she’d take it by force or by proxy. We are still her subjects, after all.” He gave Taiaka a warning glance as he slid the useless stone off the bar.


He took one stone and spoke aloud, “Maggie, bring me clothes.” and returned it to the box. The second stone he held for a moment, looking at Taiaka and speaking in the long fluid hisses of the Naga dialect.


“Papa Snake, I need you to make contact with the woman. Gauge her intention and report to me.” He looked once more at the stone that failed him on the floor and added, “Tell no one.”


Auereliano gave a long look to the Stargazer and silently removed his sword from beneath the bar. He could feel the vibration of steel and death humming just beneath the leather scabbard; his sigh held doubt, intent, excitement. And fear. Always fear.


“Seems like you and I need to take a trip to the docks.”
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Taiaka
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15 Feb 2017, 23:25 #5

Taiaka shied away from Auere’s sword; it was a promise of final solutions, as poisonous and as dangerous as a coiled snake. The Stargazer knew that, for as soft and coddled as the king appeared, the calluses on his hands were no doubt as rough and thoughtless as they had always been. And the blade, a monstrous ripple of Rynthian steel, would be as sharp as the day he left it cloistered beneath folded bar rags and chipped goblets.

Still though, it troubled Taiaka that Auere was moving so fast; and he was jealous that their reunion was marred by action and by calls to others. The king had looked him in dead in the eye when he spoke through the stones and gave Silo his marching orders. He even called the great bastard naga ‘papa snake’. Taiaka felt his cheeks warm with embarrassment, his nostrils flared, but his features remained unchanged and flat. Was Auere mocking him?

“Silo reports to you now?” He offered a half-smile, half-sneer to the king, “What ooman?” Taiaka was a gossip hound of the highest degree. Auere would not have spoken in such cryptic tones if he did not expect the old scavenger’s interest to be peaqued. Yet, before the king had time to answer, heavy footfalls could be heard pounding up the stairs.

Maggie’s arms were full with bundles of clothing, so she used her ample hip to bump open the door.

“‘Bring me clothes,’” she set the bundle on the nearest table, “next time you say ‘please,’” Her motherly correction to the king of Robani was endearing.

“And you,” she rounded on Taiaka and came at him with beguiling speed and strength. She threw open her arms and embraced him, hugging him so tightly to her bosom that he thought he heard his ribs break. Stepping back, hands on his shoulders, a scowl on her lovely face, “You look thin.”

“So Ah’ve been told.”

“I brought something for you to wear as well. Can’t have you traipsing around in…that.” And she was right. His gang uniform would only bring undue attention to himself upon the surface, yet…

“How did you know Ah was he-”

Maggie mouthed the name ‘Otto’ and rolled her eyes dramatically. Of course, Taiaka thought.
Name: Taiaka'kua Vin'Kai
Class: Ranger/Mystic
Race: Star Gazer

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Auereliano
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Auereliano
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20 Feb 2017, 03:28 #6

The alcohol was working The sobriety of leadership offered little room for diversion and consequently gave you the constitution of a baby bird. Auere clutched the rear bar giving his equilibrium time to catch up with the curvature of the planet, squinting at Taiaka.


“You should be worried.” He deadpanned, and belched, risking himself a moment without support, rocking from foot to foot. “Those Tequilla groupies that pass out in your gang hole, they are forgiving.”


Auereliano attempted to cross the bar as nimbly as before only to misjudge his momentum, catch a foot at the lip and slam to the floor. He gave a sea lion bark, repositioning himself to lean against the footrests, looking up at the gang leader with a fresh gash over his eye welling with reluctant blood.


“But this woman, this is the type of woman that leaves scars.” He allowed Maggie to help him to his feet, her fussing like a monk’s mantra. She pinched the wound closed as he tugged on the doe skin shirt she had brought him, the rough canvas pants, the boots that had seen years on the road and been long from his feet. Her exacting choices were sad. Maggie always expected him to go back to bad habits.


“Find your husband, I worry.” he whispered to her, smacking her bottom and ushering her away and out. She left, cheeks already graying with dread.


Auereliano paused, resting his hand on Taiaka’s change of clothes and the sword that lay beneath. He took the latter from the bar, drawing the weapon slowly, still not trusting his speed. He’d seen Taiaka’s hesitation, he could never be completely sure of the shapeshifter’s motivation and the feeling was mutual. Yet Taiaka was his friend. Auere knew the reason he had kept his distance was because of the crown. A king and a criminal worked on opposite sides of a long table. That awareness could only have made him paranoid of retaliation; Auereliano turned the blade in his palm and wondered if his friend believed the king meant to kill him. If he only knew that what he had to offer was much worse.



“When I first went to Rynth, Seyatte told me of elder scribes that kept record of every Rynthian blade commissioned since the dawn of time.” Auere smiled at the memory. “I had never seen such gilding, the room demanded attention, like the heart of a geode. Old men took my sword and told me my blade was old, older than them, older than the Queen’s blade, which was her father’s and his father's before him. They called it the Wanderer’s Blade and looked upon it like a sunrise after a storm.” He looked pointedly at Taiaka.


“They looked at me like filth. If the Queen of Rynth wasn’t at my side, they would have called soldiers to lynch me. They said I befouled it by touching it.” He returned the blade to his sheath, slowly and confidently belting it around his waist, listing with the weight and the drink.


“Fuck them. To me, it is my father’s blade and always will be.” Auere smiled, clapping the Stargazer’s shoulder jovially. “Keep drinking, Tai.” He poured two mugs of aloe beer, in deference to what had to be Taiaka’s painfully adjusting eyes. The lager would naturally cause the eyes to hood, help the transition and it would help Auereliano keep his buzz without passing out.


“You are going to need all the borrowed courage you can muster.” He took a long draught, it tasted like snake-oil medicine.”I have as a guest of the theatre a Serna Ji’rani and that has to continue. Serna must continue to be my guest because I have to ask the young lady a very important favor. A favor she will be hesitant to agree to, even less so if you act...as you do.”


He finished his beer and poured another, his eyes glazed. Auereliano paused, and for the first time since Taiaka entered the Red Room, he refused to meet his eyes. “No matter the answer, I am leaving the city. The king cannot leave the city. That, too, does not matter. I am leaving, boy, and I need something from you.”


He looked up now, still; sobered despite every attempt as the moment came to him as it had first come, a flash at the sight of the Stargazer. It was his only chance.


“I need you to be be King of Robani.”
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Taiaka
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24 Feb 2017, 12:55 #7

A week ago, the scavenger sat in his den, his ‘gang hole’, an underground bloc wound loosely around a loyalty to the highest bidder. He sat at the head of the table, with his back against the wall so no one would see his cards. Gang skanks abound. And he had killed, without remorse, without the slightest pang of regret; it was a practical, practiced facade, a role he could play because of how quickly he moved and as testament to the sharpness of his dagger. Auere, Taiaka’s friend, played the role of King. Yet, his role was different. Rather, his interpretation. He was the dangerous fool, an act, amongst many; a royal interlude filled with pratfalls and laughter that spared him the burden of ruling with grace. Taiaka admired the old pirate’s dedication to character, but did not fail to see how quickly Auere changed clothes and found his sword, that the king longed for the freedom of anonymity. Heavy hangs...

Now, Taiaka was here, being buttered up by the king who did not want to be king. Aloe beer was foul, and gave the average man the screaming shits- it was a favorite recipe of Silo. Still, it made his eyes feel less dry. The Stargazer was on his third cup before pawing at the clothing Maggie had brought for him. Auere mused about his stupid blade and his daddy issues as Taiaka began the arduous task of unknotting and unlatching the various bracers and straps that crisscrossed his sleek tunnel-wear. The scavenger nodded in thanks when Auere refilled his glass, fingers suddenly fumbling at the snaps at his collar.

“Serna, you said Serna?” His didn’t know if it was the beer, or the name that caused his vision to tunnel and his scalp to itch. “Serna? My Serna?!” Taiaka had freed himself from his chestpiece and it dropped to the carpeted floor with a muffled thud. He noticed Auere was not looking at him; he did not see the Stargazer clutch the bar with both hands as if not trying to get thrown off the world.

But the king-who-did-not-want-to-be-king was not finished. Their eyes met, cracked amber on sky blue, and he asked Taiaka to be king.

“King? Ah no be king. You leave, Ah leave.” He dismissed the notion with a shake of his bald head, accent thick as he screwed his eyes shut and tapped at the tattoo on his bare chest with his knuckles, “You said Serna, yah?! You would not lie about this.”

Taiaka knew Auere could not be so cruel as to invoke the name of the thorn in his heart so carelessly. Sure, he had been ribbed over the years, ‘Serna this, Serna that, call another whore Serna, you sap?’ because the Stargazer had never gotten over her. He knew this, he admitted it, and he had given her a legendary, mythical, status in his memory and never shut up about her. But it had been so long that it was becoming difficult to remember. The tattoo on his chest helped, the one he clawed at now, the one Auere had given him when the pain was so raw it was debilitating.

He took a deep breath, and opened his eyes, “Ah’ll be on my best behavior. A’m even housebroken,” then, a very forced smile. However, he was filthy. Taiaka noticed this as he tugged off his pants off and wrapped the sleeveless, Tenbian blue robe around his body, seeing that he did indeed seem a little thin as he knotted the belt. He also caught a whiff of himself in the process, promising himself he would bathe, yet somehow animalistically confident in his musk, the stink of his present.

“Ah can be excited. Ah am excited. This ooman, she will remember me,” Taiaka emptied his mug to chase the fear away, “She will. Or Ah will shift until I find a skin she does remember.” Sound logic.

Taiaka looked at Auere and there was no mistaking the terror on the Strgazer’s face. He could not remember how Serna and he and ended up separated; the memories that surfaced through the murky morass of time were refined until syrupy, pregnant with images of long summer nights and lips that tasted like ripe fruit. Taiaka didn’t mean to place Serna upon such a high pedestal, but was not apologetic. And she owed him nothing. Even as he stood to inherit a country by reason of good timing.

So, he just stood there, sweating and itchy, bargaining with himself to make the trembles stop, at Auereliano’s shoulder when the door was pushed open.
Name: Taiaka'kua Vin'Kai
Class: Ranger/Mystic
Race: Star Gazer

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Auereliano
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01 Mar 2017, 17:20 #8

“Your Serna,” Auereliano whispered, giving the moment long enough time to extend into awkwardness. It was uncommon to think the Stargazer would be anything but solicitous to what he was asking, Taiaka loved the city enough to make the sacrifice. And once the slow burn of leadership caught fire in his blood, it would be impossible to wrest back away control of the throne. Taiaka was a decent actor, deftly switching masks when uncomfortable fears threaten his calm; he was afraid but would step up to anything. Yet the gravity of ruling a Kian superpower was dissolved with mention of the woman. Even the mad, drunk king had a moment of pause to wonder if his plans were doomed from the start.

“She has in her possession a rather curious magical device. I thought her interesting enough to detain. Yet, with news of Browndale’s intentions…” he let the words hang, searching Taiaka’s face for any clue to Serna’s character. You would have to be a certain type of Stargazer to do business with the twins; they were practitioners of the old ways and Taiaka’s people were often better used as components for their magic than allies in their machinations. Auereliano gagged, belching raw alcohol and wincing at the grumble in his guts.

“We are spinning our wheels,” he rested his palm against the pommel of his sword, “because you will need to be king and I need to leave but none of it matters if Serna refuses to help me.” With his free hand, he removed an oak box from under the bar, much like the box that contained his magical communication stones, a gift from the forever boy, Tsukasa. This one though was marked with the long, curved body of a dragon. He knocked the lid with the knuckle of his index finger.

“So shift into whatever skin you please, boy, because I won’t bet on your behavior but I never doubt your ability.” He pressed his hand against the lid as if trying to absorb its contents through his skin. The alcohol was doing its work yet if he was going to be bringing a sailing ship into the Za, he would need to bombard his brain with the proper defenses from the magically poisoned sea. Or maybe it was just an excuse to get high. He wasn’t falling off the wagon, he was pulverising it.

“If I hated this place,” Auereliano said, gesturing to the theatre, clearly meaning the city, “I’d take you with me and we’d adventure, we’d make new legends, we’d take Browndale by the throat. Yet we’d leave the city to burn. That’s why you have to stay.” A smile threatened the corner of his lips as the door to the Red Room began to open.

“If anyone burns this city down, it’ll be me.”
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Serna
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02 Mar 2017, 03:39 #9

Tentative fingertips remained poised along the branded wood-grain as Serna stepped into the Red Room. It made the woman seem miniscule in her uncertainty, like a child tugging apprehensively at her mother’s petticoat. Graceful, yes. Posied. But pitifully lacking confidence. An ice cold sweat had begun to bead at the base of the Star Gazer’s skull, and a fidgeting along her spine. Tea-green eyes scanned the room without truly seeing - the anticipation was overwhelming enough that it took reality time to catch up. A queer sort of density hung within the room, a thing thick enough to slice. Blind for a series of haggard breaths, Serna managed to do little more than suck down lung-fulls of that ichor-thick air. Parting dry lips, the Gazer drew in scent to dance along her palette with the practice of a sommelier. Underneath the metallic tang of fluids…of thick, sickly-sweet offal…beneath the carnage, were subtle notes of sweat. Of bitter ale and anticipation. Of him…a scent that was as familiar as it was alien. It was that rich musk that drew Serna’s chin upward for one last inhale before she finally let loose her grip on the doorframe.

A nervous shed feathers started a slow spill from the nape of Serna’s neck – tiny droplets of iridescent down that stuck to her thin shoulders like a mantle of shame as she shifted her gaze, finally, to Taiaka. At first, Serna had meant it as a swift glance. Something to gauge the Gazer’s presence. Years of speculating and imagining this exact moment had made Serna less than hopeful the reunion would be a happy one. An active imagination had always conjured-up it to be met with hate…that Taiaka would howl and spit and curse her very existence. But now…she may as well have been looking in a mirror. Each of them was trembling and profusely sweating, swallowed up in the stink of their own fear. For an instant, a stunned surprise replaced the shame and the apprehension in that milky gaze. Caught like a startled doe, all Serna could do was stare. And shed a mess of vermillion pinfeathers all over the carpet.

Gaunt – that was the word for it. Taiaka had always been lean, but the hand of time or circumstances had robbed the Stargazer of what little meat clung to his bones. Serna found herself hungrily tracing the man’s features, searching for some comparison to the Taiaka she had left behind. She, too, looked a tad run through the ringer. Coyness and naivety had long since been scrubbed from her; those matcha-colored eyes were tired, skeptical. A tiny, silvered scar crossed the bridge of her smallish nose – only half visible in the wan lighting and underneath carefully applied mineral powder. Once, her hair had been long. Auburn waves, spattered with a countless amount of baubles, now scarcely brushed her shoulders where the tendrils lay longest. It was haphazardly cut, feathered out and thinned enough that the ends had a tendency to curl into ringlets. Time had been kind, however, and Serna’s features had scarcely changed. It was what lay beneath them that was different. Frown lines puckering the edge of her bowed lips were evidence that she was not quite as quick to laugh as she’d once been.

Another moment was lost to silence before Serna managed to pull her attention from Taiaka, though it was only long enough to give the second man a cursory glance. The King of Robani. Had the woman had thought enough to do so, she might have expected someone more…grandiose. More commanding. Wobbling, reeking of bilious-rank ale, Auereliano hardly set the mold of a royal. Though, really. How many royals had she met? Jerkily, and almost on afterthought, Serna inclined her head. It was a demur show of fealty – after all, she wasn’t sure just what had prompted the generous invitation. And it made this unrequited reunion more awkward than the Stargazer had envisioned. Still, little could pull her attention from Taiaka. A sidelong glance was all the more she offered Auereliano before her sight was set back on that rawboned Star Gazer.

Skinny lizard. A memory, that single thought, drew the ghost of a smile over Serna’s lips.

“It….” She faltered. The word snapped off, brittle, at the end of her tongue.

A thousand times Serna had practiced this moment – daydreams, sleepless nights – practiced what she’d say. How their story would end. Or begin. Stubbornly wetting her lips, she tried to conjure something…anything worth his hearing.

“…It's good to see you."
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Taiaka
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08 Mar 2017, 22:45 #10

She was beautiful. Even as her matcha colored eyes stared relentlessly at him. Even though he felt like he was being weighed and measured. Even though his heart felt like it was convulsing in his chest instead of beating properly. Serna was beautiful. And she was alive, standing in the Red Room in the Theatre de Immortalis. It was not a joke or a prank perpetrated by Auere and the Djinn; they did not snicker as they let a pot bellied pig wearing a brassiere into the barroom and call it his shapeshifted girlfriend. She was real. Taiaka’s own eyes, so pale and hollow, told him so. And his nose told him so; her heady scent stuck in the back of his throat, overwhelmingly and unimpeachably bearing witness to her presence.

Years ago, Taiaka had planned the words out to the last adjective that he would speak to her if they ever met again. Diatribes of regret and romance, sentences laden with apologies, and budding lies all had places in his speeches. As time passed, his monologues became sermons and his words, like prayers, would be whispered to Serna whenever Taiaka was alone or afraid. He would speak to her, tell her that he wished she was near to him, that he missed her, that he was sorry. She became to him like the Stars themselves, silent and cold, dead except in memory. But Taiaka, for all his whim and foibles, had never lost the faith, he simply had forgotten the words.

Standing at Auere’s shoulder, the old scavenger gave Serna a boyish smile. He wanted to rush to her and sweep her up into his arms, bury his nose into her soft auburn ringlets and feel her heat against his skin. Yet, he did not move, unable to even consider the implications of rejection.

Then she spoke.

“It is good to see you too!” He nearly yelled as he bounced a few times on the balls of his feet, “Ah’ve missed you, ooman,” he said around a sigh, “so much.”

Taiaka took two bandy-legged steps towards her, his features bright, before abruptly stopping. Before reconsidering. Before finding he was once again stuck in a morass of doubt and guilt. Before once again realizing she was a stranger and that she was more than likely not here to see him in the first place. He turned his bearded face away from Serna, and retreated, falling back behind Auereliano as if the man was some sort of living buffer between the pair. Taiaka licked his lips and hunched slightly, softly whispering something into the king of Robani’s ear in High Rynthian before straightening back up and meeting Serna’s eyes once again.
Name: Taiaka'kua Vin'Kai
Class: Ranger/Mystic
Race: Star Gazer

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Auereliano
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11 Mar 2017, 01:04 #11

When Auere was a boy, his days were spent at the mouth of the forge and his nights at a different maw of fire, educated by tomes of knowledge from a world locked away from him. Book learning wasn’t something often associated with the grungy despot yet when he finally reached Kia proper, the new world already had a well developed skeletal structure in his mind. Everyone that knew him knew him as the heathen outworlder, intellect relegated to jungle fancies of a man bound to ranger ideals because of a propensity for talking to trees. He was the pirate, never the politician. It was an advantage he rarely used. Now standing in the wake of two lovers’ reawakened memories, he was both secretly pleased and violently ashamed of how easy it was to manipulate them. When Taiaka whispered into his ear, his smile was genuine but plainly did not reach his eyes.


Auere cleared his throat. “I'm sorry to be the interruption to your reunion,” he began, carefully walking his fingers apart as he spread his hands on the bar. In the silence, he offered both of them his soupy drunkard’s smile. “You will have time to reacquaint yourselves yet there are some details….” Letting the words dissolve into silence, he removed three small glasses a rack just above his head; crafted like inverted pyramids propped on perfectly round coins of crystal. Auere spread them like a Three Card Monte hustler, touching each brim with the soft pad of his index finger.


“I think the two of you need a proper reintroduction,” he removed a jeweled decanter from under the bar and poured bright blue liquid, the consistency of molasses, into each. There was a hum from the bottle that passed to the glasses, each a scupper of insectile buzz. He pushed one towards the lanky Stargazer gang boss.


“Lady Serna, this is Taiaka Vin Kai, sovereign son of the black highlands, keeper of the Empty Hand and interim king of Robani.” Before the shock could settle, he pushed a second glass toward the demure Stargazer woman, his eyes on the subtle oily surface of the mead.


“Your Highness, this is Lady Serna, your former paramour and, if certain conditions are met, the next Prime Minister of Robani.”


Auereliano lifted his own glass to his lips, rocked on his heels by the strong fragrance of fermented honey. He smiled around the rim and eyed both of them like an adult rousing a couple of lovesick teenagers.


“I must be clear before we continue: I am, as of this moment...” He downed the Blue Honey mead in one fatalistic gulp, his entire body shuddering. He gasped and poured another; the natural magic in the fermentation process was a surefire way to cement a defence against the wild magic of the Za. “....no longer the king of Robani. I am handing the city to both of you.” Sweat beading on his brow, Auere swept his hair away from his face and allowed himself a good look at Taiaka’s young lady. She was indeed beautiful, delicate features and thoughtful eyes, buttressed by an intelligence that seemed carnivorous. She would have questions.


“You, young lady, are not in an enviable position. You do not know me or my intentions, have no loyalty to me or to my city yet I am asking you, begging you, to save it. To be the right hand of the new king, to care for his people. And to be warden to the Heart of Robani, our city’s magical core.” Auereliano’s eyes betrayed him as they darted momentarily to the construct acting as Serna’s bodyguard. Or was it her ward? No matter, details were for the politician, used to drown out dissent. He needed the pirate now, where the omission of details was the hook to lure in the biggest mark.


“I will hand you all of it and in exchange you will let me….borrow…. your construct. He and I will be needed in Browndale.” He set the glass against his lower lip and frowned; this was the dangerous moment. Auere needed the golem, he knew that the moment the Heart told him it had entered his city. But if Serna knew the risk, if Serna knew the probability her construct would never see the streets of Robani again….if either of them knew the danger that was approaching the city, the danger in which he would be leaving them. If they knew….


Both the pirate and the politician had similar solutions. They wouldn’t know, they couldn’t until it was too late to run away; until the only thing they could do would be to stand and fight. All Auereliano could hope for was that the weight he was about to set on their shoulders was not enough to crush them.
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Serna
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12 Mar 2017, 22:37 #12

Taiaka’s warm words and adolescent smile flooded Serna with relief. That impish exuberance made her giddy and the woman was quick to mirror his smile. Nothing more than a handful of kind words and a well-met welcome had dashed whatever insecurities the years had stacked upon her slight shoulders. Forgiveness! Rather than being met with animosity, with hard-flung curses and heartache, Taiaka was…glad to see her. It was good to see her, he had said. In that greeting, Serna was taken back countless seasons – there was a simpler time tucked in the crook of Taiaka’s bearded grin. Eagerly stepping forward to meet the Star Gazer’s coltish stride, Serna balked – Taiaka’s sudden withdrawal took the wind from her sails. The woman tentatively slowed her stride, the indulgent smile sloughing carefully from her features.

Like some hound too often rebuffed, Taiaka slunk into Auereliano’s shadow. Every tender motion – the downward tilt of his chin, the absence of the robin’s-egg pale gaze - was a rebuke. Serna had basked in the splendor of Taiaka’s smile only a moment, but it awakened old aches to watch him neatly put a wall in place; a reminder of the past that lay festering between them. A reminder, perhaps, that she was not just yet worthy of his forgiveness. Poise and caution were all that kept her cat-like stride toward the duo. Swallowing Taiaka’s dismissal, the woman watched with feigned interest as Auereliano poured them each a measure of queer colored liquid.

With quiet politeness, Serna’s fingers wrapped daintily about the spherical base of the glass – a motion that did not last. Auereliano’s words dropped like a stone into her belly. With frightening speed, Serna wrenched her hand back and away from the cool crystal, as if the glass itself had been scalding-hot. Whatever pride or decorum had managed to hold Serna steady thus far quickly unraveled; stark disbelief set those matcha eyes wide, a skeptical grimace peeling back bowed lips.

Interim King? Prime Minister? Warden to the Heart of Robani? Borrowing her construct…

“No.” A soft, genteel decline. The Star Gazer’s answer came as if Auereliano had offered her an unwanted cup of tea. Empty and thoughtless. “No. I cannot even begin to—no.”

Offering up a position of power to a perfect stranger…was this man mad? Drunk, certainly. But who in their right mind would pass off so grand a thing with such nonchalance? Either Auereliano cared too little for the people of Robani…or there was much the man was leaving unsaid. In what sort of dire strait had the King of Robani found himself? And what importance did the construct have? Serna was not so blind as to believe she had any weight in this scheming – that she was worth what meaningless title Auereliano spat at her. His inquiry about Eiji had come too swiftly. A thousand questions percolated violently within Serna’s mind, and her tongue could not settle on a single one.

Was it all some cruel ruse? Auereliano did offer one tempting tidbit…Taiaka. Seeing the Star Gazer’s reproachful gaze – tender in his doubt, just as Serna was - a chance to reconcile…to lick one another’s wounds…that was well worth an empty title and all the trouble that might ensue. Blindly stepping off that precipice and into the unknown should have been simple, but Serna was still swaddled in skepticism. Work alongside Taiaka. Be his right hand? He could barely stand to look at her!

A slow but vehement shake of her head expressed her disbelief. Serna was at a loss. “You’re right, you know. Saying my position isn’t enviable. I don’t want what you’re offering. I’ve never stopped in one place long enough to grow roots – and for good reason.”

With her tongue loosed, Serna regained enough confidence to place her fingers back ‘round the crystal glass. Having seen Auereliano drink, at least, gave the woman less reason to think it was laced with something unpleasant. Still, the glass did not raise up to her lips. Instead, Serna stared absently into iridescent film that coated the mead.

“But you conveniently offer the single, solitary soul that could tempt me to stay. I’m sentimental, but I’m not a fool. And The Stars do not shift their course for anyone.”

Shame kept Serna’s gaze averted, speaking of Taiaka as if he weren’t present – she couldn’t stand his attention stoking the ache, again. Carefully, the woman lifted her chalice. It rested against the curve of her lower lip, shielding a bitter grimace behind the transparent liquor. A soft sigh sent the surface of the Blue Mead rippling.

“You’re playing with me, and I don’t appreciate that. What’s worse, is you’re asking me to sell my conscience in exchange for…” Still, Serna’s lips refused to form his name. “…this reunion. My construct…I do not own Eiji…and I refuse to barter with an innocent life as my collateral. If its Eiji’s help you’re after, ask him for it.”

Casting that tea-green gaze over the surface of the mead, Serna sought Taiaka’s features. Did the Gazer truly wish for her presence? Or was he, too, some pawn in the once-sovereign King of Robani’s plan? Dousing the mournful fire in her eyes, the woman finally settled her lips along the curved lip of the glass and swallowed it – bitter liquid, pride, and heartache all in one, thoughtless gulp.
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Eiji
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13 Mar 2017, 01:46 #13

For the majority of the conversation, Eiji remained stoically tucked against the wall nearest the door-frame. A queer, quiet spectator to the drama that had begun to unfold. Shoulders stooped and chin tucked demurely, Eiji exuded a lanky sort of awkwardness. It was as if some child had merely rented that immense, gawky body. Now and again, the creature’s head would tilt silently as he gauged the scene; Auereliano’s besotted confidence, the uncertain hunch in Taiaka’s spine, Serna’s stunned reluctance.

A sad tapestry of lives had woven Eiji into the perfect servant. Watchful and unobtrusive – neither seen nor heard. Yet this did not mean there was no keenness or sharpness of wit about the construct. Though relatively new to life, stunted in learning, there was a certain perceptiveness that the creature had been lent. Eiji himself really wasn’t sure where that bit came from – this empathy and aptitude for gauging emotion. It simply was, and not a thing the creature questioned. Instead, Eiji merely pined mutely away at the theatrics…until the Star Gazer uttered his name.

Only the rush of crimson silk sounded as Eiji slowly traipsed toward Serna -like the hiss of dry leaves skittering over a gravestone. Ominous, but lacking any true threat. Carefully, the construct came to a pause behind Serna’s right shoulder. With an ungainly bend, Eiji twisted his chin to rest near the woman’s ear, half-covering her miniscule form in a flurry of red braids. For a breath, those molten copper eyes rested on the other Star Gazer, catching Taiaka where he stood in Auereliano’s shadow.

“This man…” An air-less whisper drove those soft words into the shell of Serna’s ear as she hissed, sputtering out the bitter aftertaste of the mead. “…he meant something to you.”

It was not a question – merely an observation. A blind man could have seen it. Eventually, with his gaze still stuck on Taiaka, Eiji felt Serna offer the barest of nods. The woman’s chin had dipped, the baubles in her hair clattering musically, but nothing more. It was a thing, Eiji mused, which must be difficult to admit aloud. He was beginning to understand the woman’s nuances; Serna was proud. And often went to great lengths to seem distant – to show that little affected her. Eiji needed nothing more than Serna’s mute acknowledgement. Stepping forth, Eiji offered Auereliano his quizzical gaze.

“We can speak, you and I. If there is…some way I can aid you…” That tone was nearly coquettish, despite the low, distance timbre of his voice. “...I will consider it.”
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Taiaka
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16 Mar 2017, 08:49 #14

It took a single glance at the construct for Taiaka to understand why Auereliano so desperately wanted to borrow him. It was a bold play, but the liquid copper eyes- the one’s that so carelessly met with the old scavenger’s own, really sold it: He looked like a Djinn. And a Djinn in Browndale would have all the appeal and open all the doors. No doubt, Auere planned on capitalizing on Browndale’s unbridled love affair with the wicked arcane and moraless chaos of...T’zah.

Taiaka gave the construct a tight-lipped grin accompanied by a slight narrowing of his eyes, despite not being directly addressed; Auere wanted to bring to poor beast, whose body language suggested no challenge or bravado, into the maw of the beast. And dress him in the costume of the notorious, ostentatious, and overdone prince of flash and pastry. This deserved a grin, and perhaps a touch of pity. Yet, it was a brilliant ploy, and one that demanded Auere’s presence on the swamp continent if the ruse was to workas intended.

A few lanky strides brought Taiaka behind the bar. His silence was not indifference; his gaze had passed from face to face, collecting the subtleties of expression, the hiccups of inflection. He dealt with his gang inside an aura of quiet alertness, never missing a tilt of the head or drop of the chin. It was this cultured watchfulness that had brought the Star gazer to the theater in the first place. The heart, sloppily coagulating in a fancy crystal glass sat there on the bar, soberly reminded Taiaka of the stakes and circumstances that brought him to the red room.

He watched Serna down her mead, dared by Auere’s reckless consumption. The pirate had his reasons, he knew the potential dangers of entering the Za without the proper precautions, but excessive could easily masquerade as medicinal. The aloe beer had not touched the old scavenger, but he had no reason to drink (other than, perhaps, to slow the spinning of thoughts and worry), and it was easier with a clear head to deal with the bowel clenching reality of the situation.

Long dark fingers, ringed with Auere’s stolen rings, walked their way across the cherrywood bar top and wrapped around the glass where Tep’s traitorous heart slept.

“This man, Auere,” he gestured to the drunkard but did not look at him. Instead, he locked his eyes on Serna, seeing the iridescence of her nervous molting for the first time. He couldn’t help but smile. Which caused him to have to start over.

“This man Auere is my brother. This city, be my home. You, ooman, be my heart.” Taiaka emphasized this by tipping Tep’s heart slightly in Serna’s direction. He shrugged, “Ah know that Robani is going to find war. Ah bring the traitor in, by my hand.” Taiaka let go of the glass, put his elbows on the bar, knitted his fingers together and leaned forward

"Auere be leaving. He stands here, but his heart be already in the Za. Ah stand here thinking my brother be smarter than he looks,” Taiaka glanced at Auere, then back to her “Ah lead men, Serna.” His accent retreated at her name, loathe to dull the edge of implication, “Many men. The beginnings of an army only Ah can muster. Animals, like Ah, sworn to this city by blood.”

The old scavenger paused, feeling the weight of too many sleepless nights and too many paranoid conversations settle upon his shoulders like a yoke. Serna was right, Auere was playing with them, savoring his own flavor of genius at the expense of two Star Gazers with uncannily bad timing. But Taiaka didn’t believe in coincidence, certainly not when such important fates intertwined, and he too knew the Stars did not shift for anyone. And the Heart of Robani, did not stir for no reason.

“A day ago if Ah was tasked to defend the city, Ah would not think twice before baring my teeth and bringing my Monkeys." He tapped the side of his skull where the colorful tattoo of a monkey eating a snake resided.

"Now,” Taiaka inclined his head to her, sapling dreadlocks, matted and filthy, slapping against his damp forehead, “Now you are here. Ah would ask you to please stay, as a guest of the king,” he stepped back from the bar and extended his hands, regally, and chuckled darkly.

He dropped his arms to his sides, “Ah do not want to have to choose between you, and protecting the people of this city, my home.” It was the truth, and it felt sour in his mouth to say.
Name: Taiaka'kua Vin'Kai
Class: Ranger/Mystic
Race: Star Gazer

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Serna
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18 Mar 2017, 22:27 #15

Could there be nothing simple between them? Cruel fate had come full circle, it seemed to Serna – their scarred history was beginning to repeat itself. War. It had been the very same strife that had once separated them. Or at least planted the seed of apprehension that had forced the Star Gazer to flee and leave Taiaka in the confusing aftermath of her abandonment. Giving no reason or explanation, Serna had given in to self-loathing and cowardice, painting it as altruism; this way, no one gets hurt... Staring unblinkingly back at Taiaka, Serna could see how wrong those actions had been. It had spared neither of them a thing. Each of them still sore with an echoing ache of nostalgia. A paranoid spark lit Serna’s turbid gaze – did she still lay within in the throes of madness out on the Za? Was all of this some sadistic dream spat on her by the straits? Could it all, truly, be repeating?

Idly drawing a fingertip through the oily residue on the inside of the glass, the woman traced transparent patterns along the rim. A distraction when Taiaka’s speech was already difficult to contemplate. The shivering warmth of the mead trickling through her veins made it impossible to stay keen. All Serna could manage was soaking in the undulating sound of Taiaka’s voice as he spoke. Underneath long lashes, the woman’s attention was rapt even as she fiddled with the glass still in her hand. At Auereliano’s name, that matcha gaze flickered momentarily to the once-sovereign king, though her attention lasted only a breath.

’You, ooman, be my heart.’

The emphasis in those words sent Serna into a doe-eyed shock. Watching unabashedly as the congealed ichor traced slow, syrupy lines along the glass, the Star Gazer offered a coy smirk. Tight-lipped and genuine. Taiaka dangled a chance at redemption before her – a second chance. But it was impossible to tell if it was those words that stirred a fluttering warmth from gut to fingertip, or the liquor. Whatever the reason, it tenderly tugged at her lips until that smile was impishly wide. Embrassed, Serna tucked her chin, if only to turn down the wattage of that gesture and hide the white flash of teeth.

Though Auereliano’s invitation it had been, when Taiaka did the asking it was better received. Stay. Underneath that dark chuckle, it was a plaintive request. No. Serna bore no love for the people of Robani – not any more than any other people in any other place on Kaia…circumstance had prevented the woman from setting down roots. And now, at that one genteel request, Serna knew she could finally spare Taiaka something – however minimal an ache it soothed; choosing between his loyalty to his people – his brother – and their unrequited past. For now. For now, she could stay.

“…How can I say ‘no’?” Gingerly, toes numbing and feet unsteady, Serna shifted and offered Taiaka the full force of her smile.

Succumbing finally to the overwhelming urge, Serna reached cautiously through the palpable space between them. A stuttering step brought her into the wake of Taiaka’s shadow. A single, dainty fingertip touched one of Taiaka’s felted dreadlocks. Rather than watch the Star Gazer’s face, Serna concentrated mutely on the gesture itself. Taking the end of that tendril between a thumb and forefinger, the woman spun it idly. Then, almost slyly, Serna followed the length of that strand up to the man’s face. Her smile had softened to something almost doting as she let her grip on Taiaka’s hair loosen.

“No matter what you asked of me. I never could.”
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Auereliano
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22 Mar 2017, 22:02 #16

The drinking did not and would not make him immune to his guilt. It helped his delivery, his approach both with a stranger and with family. It helped his bluff, straight faced on the surface, skulking underneath. It helped him block out the familiar smells of his home, the sounds of dancers’ heels above his head, the vibration of vibrato and fetching falsetto. The drinking helped him forget the innocence between the two of them as quickly as he perceived it; his invisibility began somewhere in the core of his palette and spread through his sinuses, his eyes. He wanted to breathe invisible, to see invisible, to present himself as a stone gargoyle and preside as such: quiet, stoic, and uninvited to moments like these. Like this very delicate now, violated with his gallant invitations and pointed threats. Taiaka and Serna were locked in the formula, it was physics that would dictate their actions. Momentum would bless them or doom them. Auereliano tapped his fingers on the sleeping dragon in the nondescript box to his left; would the drugs, taken as always in excess and with suicidal abandon, remove the flaw that seemed to have marred his soul?

To hell with that, he thought as he cursed himself and slipped the box away. If being king taught him anything, it was to offer no excuses for the smell of his own filth. Don’t start to bend because your plan is working, fool, follow through!

Auereliano stepped from around the bar, the bubble of intimacy between the Stargazers gently displaced his presence. Serna was a lovely woman yet unlike any Laskbian he had met. She was cursed with a fierce people; that fierceness often preceded blood and death yet this one was almost gentile for all her stature and bravado. Taiaka was her gallant vice, the crack in her foundation. He wondered for a moment if she had even been to their shared homeland, among the people, the trees and then, just as quickly, he banished the thought and looked into Eiji’s gaze.

Auere had been aware when the construct entered behind Serna, it was difficult to misplace his presence. Until you did. It was comical, almost, if it weren’t so physically jarring, watching a man that is not a man both exist and then, just as easily, drift into nothingness. It was alien mathematics Auereliano would never understand, despite T’zah’s incessant prattling and a full year of classes at the Laastag. The Heart of Robani was a construct, the city’s premiere magic school had attempted the pirate’s scholarship when the Heart first showed itself to him. Yet it was wasted effort, the Heart would not communicate more than heated, frantic visions, overwhelming and devastating like new lovers rushing hands, tearing clothes, fighting time. He never did understand what it attempted to tell him. But this one….a ghost and a man….would unhinge secrets.

“ I would offer you a drink, if I knew what wouldn’t cause you to…...” He waved away the feelings that wanted to intrude in his assessment, wondering if Eiji was a him, a her, an it, all of it would make this a juggler’s nightmare. He had once seen a construct tear off the arms of its master because of a poorly worded command. No wonder they were slave playthings to the Djinn, their cruel sense of humor was often sated by making golems like tripwire riddles. The construction of a golem was delicate, finicky work. This was a masterpiece he would not dilute with cheap spirits, washing silk with marrow soap.

“Forgive me if I insulted you by setting you on the negotiation table so callously,” he lowered his head for a moment, his words monotone and still. A die to be cast, because if Eiji comes with him and something befalls his mistress….

Tripwire riddles with no illusions on loyalty. And Auere was partial to his limbs.

“So let us be blunt and honest. I need you to leave your mistress, cross the Za and assist me in killing a rather large number of mages, magicians and other conjurers of the arcane.” He wore a kaleidoscopic smile, hiding passages of thought in every subtle lift of his features. “So as a final act of my abandoned station, what could I give to you to make you say yes?”
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Eiji
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Eiji
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Joined: 06 Feb 2017, 23:50

29 Mar 2017, 21:35 #17

Interest dulled within those molten gold eyes as the man’s plan unfolded, and was replaced with a gentle disappointment. A silent, crestfallen sigh ripped through Eiji’s useless lungs. Auereliano sang the same song as had countless men before him. And saw within the construct opportunity; a unique tool, little more. But it was accurate. For all intents and purposes, war was what Eiji had been created for. For unwavering obedience. For use. Truly, if Eiji hadn’t been so programmed, so complacently conditioned, he might have had cause to be irritated.

New found freedom had done little to entitle the construct, however. Even freed from the yolk of his previous Master, finding purpose was difficult. And faulting others more difficult still. Crafted for submission and simplicity, the golem seldom let his emotion rule him. Morality always weighed heavy on his un-beating heart. No doubt, if the monster could have slept, his dreams would have wakened him pitilessly night after night. No. The construct was no stranger to slaughter. Eiji detested violence – even when it was promised to be justified. Even when it was against his better interest to be peaceful. After all, his flesh would mend. Mortals were…fragile.


“What could I give you to make you say yes?”

Despite all of the reluctance, Eiji could only offer Auereliano a mournful, almost indulgent gaze. “…a reason.” That answer hung heavy in the air between them, Eiji’s head tilting thoughtfully before he conjured more words.

“I am…no stranger to violence.” Rubbing a talon-ed thumb and forefinger together, the construct looked dourly down at his hand. “But it is not something I seek. I cannot fault you for…ah…’putting me on the negotiation table’…I am not so dim. I know what my intended purpose is.”
Dry as leaves skittering over a gravestone, that voice was a dull, pleasant hush. Pausing, Eiji cast his gaze upward again, fixing on Auereliano. The mess of copper-capped bangles entwined in his crimson hair clacked musically together as he shifted to give another dogged tilt of his head.

“But…Serna is not mine. And so, I am free to decide on my own what it is I do and do not do. But I am…indebted to her. If it is her wish to stay…”

Eiji’s eyes panned slowly to the woman, an inhuman smile spreading to show the shine of ivory fangs as he watched her twirling the end of the rawboned Star Gazer’s hair. The joy was too raw in that simple gesture, too young. Ducking his head, the construct’s smile softened as he turned again to regard Auereliano.

“…then I will aid where I can. My only question is…why?”
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