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Desert Gods

 
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Mesteno
Old Wyrm
Old Wyrm


Joined: 09 Nov 2008
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PostPosted: Thu May 03, 2018 8:09 pm    Post subject: Desert Gods Reply with quote

[Adapted from live play.]

February 5th, 2016


Parliament was a popular retreat for local toughs in the city’s West End, a rendezvous Mesteno had picked because he knew they wouldn’t be bothered by the demi monde clientele. Tucked away in the basement of a vacant office building (turned safe haven for squatters and a base of operations for small scale crime rings) the bar itself remained free of strife, under permanent ceasefire no matter the gang symbols inked onto skins or embellished on jackets.

The galère already claiming prime occupancy were too busy making discreet exchanges to pay attention to other people's business. The only one to notice the necromancer and his Elf was the bartender, a slender, tall man with hair the shade of platinum usually reserved for Scandinavian children, eyebrows and eyelashes just as ghostly and eyes wholly amber, with not a scrap of white to be seen and no pupil apparent. He smelled like shifter to those with the right noses, and despite the fragile bone-work of his face, coupled with an almost elven grace, he seemed to have the respect of the patrons.

The lighting was deliberately low, the better to help obscure those who didn't want to be observed, and what illumination there was came through scarlet filters, making every bottle and glass appear full of suspect fluids. Chrome accents and black leather seating seemed starkly modern, though the walls were far from bare. Elegantly sculpted, bleached bone assembled into abstract shapes, yet more of it twisted into patterns along the ceiling. Even the coasters on the tables seemed to have been cut from thin, osseous slivers, chiselled with designs as intricate and individual as snowflakes. Mesteno had long ago come to the conclusion that it wasn’t mere abattoir waste.

Mesteno had taken Lexius there early by design, determined to arrive before Aiden for once. Still, he searched the sleek, urban establishment suspiciously, until he was satisfied that they’d beaten him there. He'd dressed darkly but casually, opting for black denim and scuffed boots, a steel grey Henley he'd yet to stain and his favoured, battered aviator jacket.

"I don't see him," Mesteno murmured, eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly. "You want to find us a table while I grab a drink? You're not gonna want one, right?" He flashed the Elf a lop-sided grin, knowing full well he’d more likely he'd abstain than ask for something just for show.

Lexius shook his head minutely in confirmation. "No." He’d seen no reason to dress in anything but his lizard-skin norm, despite their location and the obviousness of his pointed ears. The beads dangled and swayed by his thigh (albeit silently) as he moved away to claim an unoccupied table with a good view of the door. One chair kicked out for Mesteno, he settled into another and left the third for Aiden to sit in with his back to most of the room.

Before long, Mesteno dropped into his seat, absent any grace, with a glass of Dalwhinnie that he only avoided spilling in his carelessness via minor miracle. This night, he had no intention of starting an expensive tab. Where the Greeks were involved, he couldn’t afford to miss details due to ill-considered inebriation.

Thankfully, Aiden didn't make them long enough for Mesteno’s binge-drinking tendencies to overrule his good intentions.

"Wow," he greeted them glibly, "Look at them ears."

Whilst he hadn’t arrived with trumpeting fanfare, his very presence had seemed to electrify the room when he’d come strolling down the stairs into the Parliament’s carnally red gleam. The demi-god was dressed simply enough in faded and tattered jeans and a long sleeved, checked (red and black) shirt that would have looked right at home on a lumberjack. He had the height, if not the girth of one, and the beginning of a beard darkening his jaw that attested to the fact he only maintained a passing relationship with a razor.

His gaze, as he approached, was focused on the Elf, the unveiled points of ears usually hidden by hair distinctly less close-cropped to his scalp.

"At least he's never tardy," Mesteno commiserated with Lexius, before cracking a half-smile for Aiden that had to serve for greeting. "Thanks for coming. Figure you're probably busier than ever given current events, so I appreciate it." Not we. He would never presume to speak for Lexius.

Lexius levelled a steady, unblinking look Aiden's way and didn't say a word. Serenity incarnate.

Aiden only grinned more deeply. "Eyes, too." He remarked as he snagged the chair and turned it around to straddle backwards. He didn't seem to have an issue putting his back to the crowd. He folded his arms along the back of the chair and tipped it forward, towards them. The air around their table crackled a little with the vibrancy of his presence. "I don't think I've been nearly as busy as you two." He said it knowingly, flashing his teeth in an even broader grin, but didn't comment further on whatever he'd come to suspect just by looking at them. His attention diverted to the bar and the crowd.

"Mister Dark and Dreary" and there was no need to specify whom he meant, "has had his nuts in the twist the past couple weeks. I think he lost track of a toy he was saving for later. Know anything about that?" He shot his gaze right back to Mesteno, amused approval in his expression.

Mesteno did not intend to invite questions, or answer them it seemed. He occupied his mouth with another swallow of his whisky, and wished he’d thought to ask for a double. "Not like one of them to be so careless. Guess he should’a made the most of it while he actually possessed it." Those terrible moments when he'd been dragged from the temple and forced into grudging submission (even if only physically) were still fresh in his mind, and a distinct frown had begun to deepen across his brow. Resentment. Hubris. He went on before Aiden could pass comment. "I'd have thought he'd have bigger things to concern him at present, anyway. Rest of the family leaving doors wide open and making all these big plans for spring. There been much talk about that lately? I figure it must be throwing quite the shadow over the party your friends have been enjoying since your Boss came home."

"He tends to break his toys pretty quickly." Aiden assured Mesteno first. Not a threat, just a fact. "It's probably good this one got lost, but it does beg the question how that happened without someone else in the family stepping in to hide it from him."

Mesteno was missing something. The Titan's taint had been as obvious to Aiden as it had been to his Godly relatives. If there was any of it lingering, it was far subtler. Aiden knew what it took to remove that kind of tarnish, and it was probably fortunate he was ascribing the lack more to the Elf rather than wondering to which other God of the pantheon Mesteno might have gone to get it erased.

"If I were that toy, I'd make sure I stayed good and hidden, especially on holy ground, where all his other toys tend to wander about." It was a friendly warning, as evidenced by Aiden's continued grin, but his blue eyes were still questioning. He flicked another look to the silent Elf, as if expecting him to speak up.

For a wonder, Lexius actually did.

"There has been no direct contact with any of them." The Elf assured quietly. His words seemed to calm some of the crackle factor in the air and had Aiden relaxing just a fraction. Why he trusted Lexius' word on the matter was a mystery, but it seemed he did.

"Good to know." Aiden looked away again, searching for a server. "What's a guy got to do to get a drink around here? Answering your questions is gonna be thirsty work and you look almost empty, Whippet."

Mesteno’s mouth flattened, lips pressed tight in disapproval, but it was better than the sneering, foul-mouthed diatribe he'd been about to spill about Hades. "I suspect I'll need another, just to keep the house happy we're actually paying to sit here." Safer to comment on the drink until he had his temper in check. "He shouldn't break toys when he's made promises to behave himself. Other members of the family are after all, oath bound to make sure the toys are well looked after. It wouldn't look good if they didn't stick to their promises, right?"

There was another member of the bar staff collecting empties from a nearby table, a woman as pale haired and willow lean as the man and as similar of features as to make it a safe bet they were siblings. She seemed to spy Aiden searching, and moved across with an avian tilt to her head, and nails long enough (and dense enough) to seem talon-like curling over the edge of the tray. Unlike the male, she had perfectly obvious pupils, very wide and round. "What'll it be?" she asked absently. On closer inspection, there were feathers in her hair, as securely rooted as the strands themselves, with faint brown barring and spots so pale as to elude the eye.

Mesteno ordered himself another couple of fingers of Dalwhinnie before Aiden even opened his mouth. Unsurprisingly, the Greek flashed a charming smile at the disinterested server as he ordered his own whiskey with a wink. "Appreciate it, angel."

The waitress’ feathers lifted subtly amidst gossamer hair. She might not have been susceptible to his energy, but like most birds, a preening vanity was in evidence at his attempts to charm as she slipped away to fetch their drinks. Aiden’s gaze lingered, as if he wasn't aware of Mesteno silently seething just a few feet away. He was. It seemed to amuse him. His grin was back, wide and deep, when he finally looked back to the Sadist.

"My brother has a soft spot for humanity as a whole. My uncle never did, especially the ones that dabble in his domain and look like they might have turned against his interests" Aiden held up a hand. "I'm just saying how it looks, not how it is. I'll do my best to assure them it's not the case and I'm pretty sure the former will understand given your..." he glanced to the Elf again, "...associations. But the latter, well, he's kinds possessive, ya know?" Aiden decided it was time to move on from that topic, because he switched it up right quick! "Anyway, you're right about the Spring Fling keeping everyone busy. My side has been pretty intent on getting Miss Wisdom to come to our party rather than theirs since we can't really touch the Door Man. He's not really part of the family, ya know? But now their side if offering him a real place and there's no way he's going to be turned from that."

"I didn't dabble in his domain, he dragged me down there," Mesteno muttered, unwilling to let the matter drop as easily as Aiden might have liked, "but if you mean simply having associated talents, well *** him. He doesn't have a monopoly on that kind of thing." He polished off what was left of his first drink and nudged it away across the table before slouching back again and shooting a look across at Lexius, more than a little jealous of his talent for serenity.

"Miss Wisdom has been a loose cannon for months now. She's still sitting on the fence? And at least tell me you had some luck getting what you needed from the tech district. You guys are prepared for this party, right?"

Mesteno’s temper seemed to delight the demi-god all the more. "I won’t tell him you said that." He assured. The ‘*** him’ part, he meant! "He may not have a monopoly on it, and believe me, that really pisses him off, but that's one of the things he's looking to change." Speaking of change, Aiden thumped his chair fully back to the floor so he could shift and dig into the pocket of his jeans for coins. Real drachma. He offered them as payment for the drinks when they were delivered, the charm dialled up again for the pretty bird woman. "You are an angel after all."

Aiden swirled his drink distractedly, watching the waitress leave before he got around to answering Mesteno. "That's the thing about them wise ones. They think they got all the time in the word to contemplate a thing before making a decision." Aiden shot another grin to the Elf. "But then, when you live as long as that lot and others, I guess your world view is a little different." He made it sound like he hadn't been living just as long as the rest of them. A pause to sip his drink, to appreciate it. "That's pretty good for a dirt-side drink." And then back on topic. "The goal is to make it so the party can't happen at all. At least for them. We got some things to help out with that. The problem is placing them effectively. There's lot of security at their house right now."

"He won't.” Change things, Mesteno meant. A monopoly on death was a horrifying notion. “He's got all the attitude and temper of a spoiled brat. That's not a winning combination when you're looking to gain ground. T'be honest, if he wasn't the motivated type I'd wonder why he was even welcome on your side. Or is it just a case of tolerating him because if he wasn't under watchful eyes he'd be making trouble or trying to gain standing with the others?"

Aiden rocked his chair onto its back legs again with a low chuckle. "He doesn't need to gain ground in the conventional way, you know that. His power is built into the mortal condition and it's pretty much inescapable. Everybody believes in what he represents and the vast majority of those believers fear it, and thus him, even if he does have handmaidens who carry out the actual deed. But that works against him, too, which is why my brother has a say in things even though my uncle is older." He wasn't defending Hades so much as trying to caution Mesteno not to take him too lightly! "Try not to forget he was one of the ones who locked the Big Guys away before any of the rest of us were ever born. And while we don't want it to come to war, if it does, the results will only strengthen him all the more." Believers dying by the hundreds would only enhance Hades' power.

Resigned, Mesteno let his thoughts turn back to Athena and her frankly irritating indecision. If she were so wise, he couldn't understand why she hadn't picked a winning side yet. "She should know when there are mortals involved, the pace of things isn't so sedate. She'll get left behind at this rate, and might find she doesn't like a future she hasn't had a say in."

For now he kept both hands folded neatly around his tumbler, resisting the urge to feed his temper with alcohol, and perhaps more so than usual, since Lexius was sat right there with him. He watched the Elf, even when he resumed speaking.

"Well plainly we can't be involved in helping you organise things. You just told us we need to stay out of the temple district." And that was going to be a pain, for work commitments. "If it proves too difficult to pull off the plan in time, what can we expect? Is the *** gonna hit the fan hard enough that we'd be better off leaving the city for a while, or will it stay contained to Greek and Roman soil? I have people here I need to know will be safe." A pause. "You know, by RhyDin standards, anyway."
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Mesteno
Old Wyrm
Old Wyrm


Joined: 09 Nov 2008
Posts: 378
See this user's pet
Jobs: Undertaker
Can Be Found: Rhy'Din
41272.18 Silver Crowns

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PostPosted: Sat May 05, 2018 3:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

[Continued...]

Despite his roaming, absent seeming gaze, Lexius had been listening attentively to their conversation. There was a brightness to his eyes, tell-tale to those who knew to look for it, that his Will was being bent to a particular task or three. Making sure no one paid them any undue attention, ensuring there were no would-be followers Aiden might have unknowingly brought with him. He felt Mesteno's gaze though, and reached a hand aside to slide long fingers over his shoulder and let his palm rest there. A rather bold and open move for him.

It shut Aiden up for a second as he studied them thoughtfully, his grin sliding toward a smirk. "I think Miss Wisdom is having an identity crisis, which is what made her pull back in the first place. This city has a way of exposing things that were buried or forgotten, ya know? She might think, too, that not being involved will keep things from escalating." Aiden took another drink before he answered Mesteno’s questions. "If it gets that far, I think it's gonna spill out everywhere. That's why we're trying to prevent it. But His Royal Pain In My Assness refuses to relent."

"The doors are open...” Mesteno pointed out darkly. “I'd say it's pretty escalated, and that's since she dropped out of her team. You'd think if anything would make it clear it was going to happen with or without her approval, this would be it."

By the time Mesteno finished, Aiden wasn't grinning at all. The demi-god looked almost unfamiliar with such a rare, serious expression on his face. He shook before clarifying. "No. The doors, the ones that matter, aren't open yet. They're being prepped for it, though. The faithful over there are being led to believe it's already a done deal, but we have time. The change of the year opened the possibility, but the change of the season is what matters."

Finally, Lexius spoke up, his gaze swinging back to the pair. "Is he negotiating with other Powers?"

Aiden hunched his shoulders, grin finally waning. Lexius expression became sombre as the demi-god answered. "We think he is, yeah."

"Well you guys need to get some good allies yourselves," Mesteno insisted.

Aiden downed the rest of his drink in one swallow, then thumped the glass to the table so he could scrub his hand. "We can't do that." He stated quietly, firmly.

Lexius gave a slow nod of agreement, tightening his fingers soothingly against Mesteno's shoulder. He was pretty sure the Sadist wouldn't agree.

Aiden dropped his hand from his face and eyed Mesteno with something akin to tiredness in his blue eyes despite the way he rallied up another smile as he explained "The pantheons are separate for a reason. But RhyDin is one big grey area and my father is using that to his advantage. What he can't see or doesn't care about is the fact that what happens here will eventually reflect back into the countless Earths to which the nexus connects. And that's ok if you’re just trying to re-establish a pantheon that's already existing. It's not ok if you're trying to merge everything into one big mess. We can't be part of that."

"Well there must be other Powers who're like-minded, who understand the risks of what he means to do and would want to help you guys avoid that," Mesteno insisted, his shoulder tense, rigid as a lump of rock under Lexius' busy fingers. By this point he seemed to have abandoned all attempts to refer to the Powers as anything but what they were. The best he could manage was to avoid using individual names.

He left the whiskey glass well alone, not trusting his hand to grasp it gently enough. A broken glass would draw unwanted attention.

"If you ally yourself with them on the understanding it's finished as soon as the trouble's over, won't that be enough to avoid this big mess you're talkin' about? Because I really can't see how you guys, half a ***' pantheon are gonna fight the other half plus reinforcements that aren't just mortal supplicants. Counter-measures. Tell me you got some."

Aiden laughed. That was more like him! Still, the sound was oh-so-subtly tainted with wryness. "Oh, sure. There's plenty of sympathizers. But none of them are willing to act. The thing about Powers is, they're very insular and protective of what they got. Not many are willing to risk that even for the promise of more. Not when it comes to the way He's offering them more. But that kinda works for us, cause he's having a bitch of a time getting any on his side, never mind the fact he has to do it all on the down low. And down low is not his strong suit. That's part of the reason all of this is taking so long."

Aiden lifted his empty glass off the table and waggled it at the pretty bird woman, mustering up another charming grin to send her way along with a pleading look that he really didn't have to work hard to manufacture. He went on as he waited for the next round to arrive. "We're more focused on preventative measures right now. If the season passes without them getting the doors open, all of it is moot. Don't get me wrong, we do have worst case scenario plans, but the bulk of the effort is geared toward heading things off at the pass."

Mesteno’s chin ticked upward a half inch, nodding his understanding, and yet his mouth remained grimly flat-lined as he toiled to come up with a solution Aiden's team might not have already considered. Doomed to be a fruitless endeavour. A mortal's mind finding some loophole, only half-aware of their rules.

Lexius smoothed his hand along Mesteno's rigid muscles as he spoke again. "What of the Company?"

Aiden barked a harsher laugh at that question. "Them *** want proof. Without proof, they won’t do ***. Believe me, it’s been brought to their attention, but when it comes to penalizing other Powers, they got a strict measure of evidence that has to be met. My Boss was an idiot ‘cause he kept the damn horn on him and he got caught with that. But His Assness is actually being more careful."

The bird woman delivered Aiden his whiskey with a subtle wink before drifting away to the bar, and taking her sweet time about it. Aiden watched her go, this time with something of a salacious grin only partially masked by the glass of booze. Nothing like an intriguing bit of sexiness to perk a man up, especially when discussing the dire fate of millions of Earths.

"Wait wait...,” Mesteno stalled them. “This is what you were explaining to me about a Board, right? A collection of judging Powers intended to keep the others in line?" That he asked specifically of Lexius. It had been some time since he'd explained it, courtesy of some insight from Sulphur. "There must be someone on that Board who dislikes y'Dad enough to be willing to look into him a little more closely than the others. They can't just ignore it when the consequences would be potentially devastating." Right?

"It's more about keeping the rest of us in line and ensuring the proper course of earthly events than it is about policing themselves," Aiden explained. The harshness he'd displayed moments before seemed to have mellowed somewhat, but grimness lingered at the edges of his expression and subtly sharpened his usually good natured mood. He'd personally suffered the Board's brand of justice, yet his resentment didn't seem to run too deep. He had, after all, known the risks.

Lexius offered Mesteno a confirming nod. "The Powers are, by definition, autonomous. But a collection of them existing in one place, such as Earth, requires a certain amount of cooperation in order to ensure the world is not ripped apart, thus destroying all the faithful."

Aiden jumped in right on the heels of the Elf's statement. "That doesn't mean they all play nice together. Mortals think their politics are bad? They should try it on a supernatural scale. It's got more twists and turns than a ball of snakes. Getting one power to actively move against another not of the same pantheon is about as easy as herding cats in the middle of a hurricane. Honestly, it'll take something actually happening before any of them will rally to a particular position, but by that time..." Aiden trailed, shrugged, downed his drink and finished. "By that time, the *** has already hit the fan and the wall and half the universe."

"So the collection of deities on Earth have a Board, and those of other planets have boards... Let me guess, one from other origins wouldn't be willing to interfere with those of other realms because it'd *** up some kind of overall balance again?" Mesteno seemed to have slipped into his usual pessimistic role with pleasing reliability. He finished off his second glass of whiskey, but seemed content enough at that not to bother with another. Instead he slouched in his seat, lacing his fingers over the flat of his abdomen.

"It doesn't sound like anything Lexius or I could do would hold any bearing on the outcome. In a way that's a relief, it gives us the perfect excuse to lay low the way you advised." Silver linings had to be found somewhere. A pity it was at the edges of such an ominous looking cloud, one swollen with the promise of ineffectuality should they poke their noses in too far, and the worst kind of trouble ready to splash down over their heads. "There is another thing I'm curious about though," he went on, hooking an ankle over the opposite knee as he slouched there, "now that you guys can't sense me the way you did before, if I happen to have a stumble across one of your Dad's pet screeches, would they still recognise me? I'm guessing there wouldn't be any happy vulture coincidences, either."

Having the taint stripped away, even if not entirely, had seemed like nothing but a relief at the time, but if Aiden's side weren't able to sense him, how were they to maintain their offer of protection?

Aiden tipped his glass to and fro studying the few drops of liquid left within, more than a little troubled by the possibilities inherent in Mesteno's presumption. The Elf's steady, somewhat knowing look certainly didn't put him any more at ease. His disquiet was compounded by the fact that both of them already knew far too much. More than mortals should! But then, neither of them were precisely mortal and given Lexius' distinctly non-Earth origin, it put the demi-god in something of a quandary. Their involvement might help given the knowledge they possessed and the very fact Mesteno could no longer be traced.

"If my father’s going to get any real help, it's more likely to be from a Power from one of those other realms." He predicted quietly, dread underscoring the words. So much for being perked up by a piece of ass. "Especially considering those other realms attach to here."

"Not all the Powers arrange themselves in the same manner from planet to planet, but each realm does remain separate from the rest in the Prime. Except for here, in the Nexus,” Lexius explained. “Imagine the chaos of this world spread to every known world and dimension that exists." That was what Zeus was courting in trying to find allies outside of Earth. It would indeed severely compromise any sort of balance.

Aiden nodded suddenly, as if he'd reached a decision just that second. "So, yeah. That would suck. It's also a reason to have both of you more involved rather than less, despite what I said earlier. You guys know more about all the others than we do. And since you can't be tracked anymore," he pointed to Mesteno, answering his question roundabout, "it'll be harder for anyone to recognize you. Which means you shouldn’t need those vulture coincidences."

Mesteno was caught off guard, unsure whether to feel relieved at the possibility of being productive, or wary of being dragged back in again. Inaction tested his patience and made him prone to a surliness he didn't truly want to inflict on anyone. Closing his eyes, he spilled a quiet sigh, and unlaced his fingers to pinch at the bridge of his nose. There was a headache setting in, born of tension he'd half expected.

"You can't draft us the way you did before," he pointed out when his eyes flashed open again in the low, sullenly red illumination. "It doesn't matter whether it'll be harder to recognise me again or not, the only way I'd agree to participate without thinking it was *** stupid, was if I knew what I was tasked with was definitely going to make a difference. Right now you can't guarantee anything, and I can't see that changing in the near future. All that is guaranteed is winding up further entangled with your people which, no disrespect to you 'cause you seem a decent sort despite the bad parenting," understatement! "is a terrible, terrible thing. It always has been. You don't hear stories 'bout that pantheon where mortals ever come through things with happy endings unless they're some Power's favourite, and I am not that."

Far, far from it. Instead there was Hades right there, out for his blood, or soul, or whatever gleeful torment he could extract.

"You agree with me?" Mesteno asked Lexius, hoping to hear that he was being considered sensible rather than a coward.

Lexius' fingers tightened on Mesteno's shoulder again. He might even have offered a fleeting smile before he spoke. "Agreed." A simple but firmly spoken word. He slanted a look back to Aiden and quirked his slanted brows at the man expectantly.
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Mesteno
Old Wyrm
Old Wyrm


Joined: 09 Nov 2008
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See this user's pet
Jobs: Undertaker
Can Be Found: Rhy'Din
41272.18 Silver Crowns

Items

PostPosted: Sat May 05, 2018 4:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

[Continued...]

Aiden laughed, the sound more in keeping with his usual carefree manner. It sounded like he was convinced Mesteno was all in. "You two ain’t exactly mortal." He thumped his glass back to the table as he held up his other hand, forestalling any argument. "Look, give me a few days to review what we have going. Like I said earlier, we're all about prevention at this point. Preventing the Doors from being opened, preventing His Assness from making any concrete alliances and preventing Miss Wisdom from coming down on the wrong side. And, before you ask, even if my side were to tuck tail and humbly go back into the fold, it wouldn't prevent what's been set into motion, so that's not an option."

Lexius ventured a supposition into the moments where Aiden was drawing another breath. "He has been planning this for some time."

The demi-god paused, looking startled, then gave the Elf a piercing look. Obviously, he'd been caught at something or other! Rather than looking abashed, Aiden grinned broadly. "Yeah, he's been planning this kind of thing for a while. It was part of the reason my group rebelled. We were hoping to lessen my father’s power and influence by splitting the pantheon. But in order to split them and make him look like a raging idiot, we had to make him do something unforgiveable. My Boss, he kept that horn on himself on purpose." Aiden didn't look repentant for that little bit of misleading he'd done earlier, but he also wasn't going to try to keep it a secret now that it looked like the Elf and the Sadist would agree to help.

Lexius' expression became remote. "So then, your capture and his were planned?"

Aiden shook his head quickly. "No. The Boss was meant to get popped the first time, not me. But there were...complications. And with me and him both incarcerated, those complications snowballed."

"If Miss Wisdom doesn't see the wisdom in maintaining order rather than sinking *** into chaos like y'Daddy has planned, that girl needs to resign her post," Mesteno muttered vehemently, and beneath the table he slipped a hand across to give Lexius' thigh a squeeze, well out of sight of Aiden's bright eyes. That the Elf had been able to fathom the unspoken parts of the pantheon's dirty little secrets only made him prouder to be sat next to him; he certainly hadn't drawn those conclusions himself, and he was usually fairly sharp. Purposeful capture was a risky plan, and to know that Ares subjected himself to it made him think a little more kindly of the chaotic war deity, and of Aiden for agreeing to join his ranks rather than sticking with his family. However...

"You and y'boss got caught ages ago. Your side has had more than a decade with the knowledge of the opposition's plans and in all that time you've uncovered nothing to go to the Board with. If you manage to uncover something, even small enough to stall your father while it's looked into, it's gonna be a miracle." In other words, he thought they might as well give up on that angle and find something with a little more promise. "I respect what you did splitting the pantheon, that took courage, but it doesn't make me feel any allegiance to you. For all you keep sayin' we're not mortals, I sure as hell am, and so whatever you come up with," and he was sure the smiling bastard would at this point, "just remember to consider that before you make any propositions about how we might help."

He slipped his hand from Lexius' leg and pushed his chair back and away from the table, reaching for the pocket of his jeans to fish out enough cash to tend to the bill. "Think I've heard enough for one night. How 'bout you?" he asked the Elf.

Aiden leaned back in his chair, planting all four legs of it firmly to the floor as Mesteno got up. He still hadn't said anything about how much closer the pair seemed, and he continued to keep his mouth shut on the subject given the temper still ranging in the Sadist's demeanour. Now was not the time for teasing.

Lexius stood smoothly, the beads clattering as they slid from his lap and his gaze still narrowed on Aiden. "We will speak again soon." He promised the demi-god. It wasn't a question.

Aiden's blue eyes danced with amusement even if his grin still wasn't as broad and cheerful as usual. "Sure thing. And I will take into consideration the talents and limitations you both have to offer." He said it like he had a list of them somewhere! Really, though, he was just reassuring Mesteno he wouldn't try to send him on some mission better suited to something invulnerable. "I'll let you guys know when I know more." He stood himself, but he didn't seem in a hurry to go. Instead, Aiden plucked up his empty glass and shot a look toward the bar where the pale waitress appeared to be waiting.

"Gratias, for meeting with us," Mesteno added distantly to Aiden, his thoughts already racing off along potential paths to catastrophe, "and for hidin' it from your side that you're keeping us informed."

In short order they were leaving Parliament behind and stepping out into the bitter chill of a February evening. The West End streets were still relatively busy with the customary eclectic mix of denizens, but they paid no attention to beings so simple as humans and elves amongst them, so the pair were able to slip away from the basement bar and the gang squats looming above it without so much as a glance their way.

Mesteno waited until they were on quieter streets, and turned to peer back over the sharp slope of a shoulder to be sure there was no one on their heels before he spoke. "Went there thinking the situation was messy, and now it turns out we didn't know the half of it, and the side we got dragged into helping have no cards up their sleeves," he muttered. "Disappearing into the desert is sounding like a better idea by the minute."

"I'm sure there is much he is not saying." Of that, Lexius was positive. "But I am also sure allowing his father's plans to proceed unhindered will make living anywhere unaffected an impossibility." He wasn't trying to discourage Mesteno from going to the desert, but hiding from this particular problem was ultimately futile.

"Well, they're not going to be unhindered according to him," Mesteno pointed out stubbornly. "You 'n I didn't figure into his plans at all before we met up at the bar. You heard 'im, he said it'd be better if we kept laying low. It was only after we really got into it that he seemed to think we might be moved around like a couple'a pawns on a chessboard. Again." How drolly he spoke that word! "And there's nothing really we can accomplish that someone else couldn't. I refuse to think they haven't got other mortal associates on their books that they could do the same damn job."

He sounded suspiciously as if he were trying to convince himself of his own words. It went entirely against his nature to sit back and not involve himself, even if only so he knew how bad the *** storm forecast was. Aiden may well have been right in assuming that he was already agreeing to team up again.

The beads, dangling from Lexius belt slapped out at Mesteno's thigh for no apparent reason. Lexius, as usual, ignored their antics.

"On their books." he repeated thoughtfully. "Making them knowable. We, on the other hand, are less so now that the taint had been removed from you and given the fact we have been steering clear of their District since the beginning. We are in the rather unique position of not being among the faithful while still being trustworthy of critical information and plans." Lexius wasn't advocating being a pawn, but he certainly did like having knowledge. "Your speciality, and mine, are rather rare." He added blandly.

Mesteno didn't deny anything, had in fact considered those reasons with some prejudice, and whilst he didn't technically re-evaluate his position, he did keep stumbling up against that grim conclusion that they were tangled up again and not getting out. "How long had you suspected Ares capture was on purpose?" he asked, seemingly out of the blue.

Lexius had folded his hands behind his back as they walked and he kept them there, gaze alone turning to Mesteno. "Since the beginning, but they were no more than feelings. The Earth Powers rarely operate as those from other realms do and it seemed...odd he'd been subjected to any sort of incarceration. But Aiden solidified my suspicions when he attested merging the pantheon would do nothing to solve the problem."

"What choice would he have but to be incarcerated, if the rest of the pantheon turned against him? Even if he'd protested it, he'd have ended up there faced with that kind of might," Mesteno reminded rationally, sliding hands into pockets in case the beads decided to make their next swing at his knuckles. "If we could just think of another way to try and limit the power of Aiden's damned father without having to get in too deep, or uncover something about his dealings with the other pantheons so it could get presented to the board and they'd never have to know it came from us." His brow was barred with a fierce frown as he mulled over the options... "Or if we could set up some string of ill omens at the Temple of Janus so that the sacerdos rethinks the damn doors."

He huffed a hard sigh out, the fog of it a rising testament to how damned cold it was. He walked a little closer to Lexius, unashamedly, to try and leech a little heat. "Any other feelings you've had and not shared with me?" he asked. There was no accusation, nothing sullen in his tone that suggested he thought he should share every little suspicion immediately, but if one had proved right, others might.

The Elf unclasped his fingers to slide one hand under the weight of Mesteno’s hair and around the back of his neck as he was wont to do on occasion. His touch held the desert's warmth despite the chill of the season. He pulled the man to a halt and kept right on pulling into an alley, to lure him in close to his body now that the shadows had fully swallowed them. The alley he'd chosen seemed conveniently empty, but he just might have used his mind to look ahead and ensure that before taking them off the street. "I have the feeling you are cold." He murmured then, in explanation for his actions.

Mesteno slipped his hands back out of his pockets, and shamelessly used the proximity as an excuse to wind his arms around, behind... and right up the back of his shirt beneath the jacket. Cold, cold hands.

Lexius' muscles tensed for the drag of those ice cold fingers across his skin and the Elf rumbled out a low laugh behind clenched teeth. "Disrupting their efforts with the Doors may well be the less complicated of all out options. How much do you know about the rituals and proceedings of such things given your heritage?"

The necromancer’s smile slanted more one way than the other, a rakish expression at long last after all the grim frowns and muttering of earlier. "My knowledge is poor at best," he admitted. "No religion where I'm from, so what I do know is from study alone. My study didn't really extend to Janus and only briefly touched on war due to the obvious connections to death. It's likely you know far more than I do."

Lexius coiled his free arm snugly around the Sadist's waist and paid him back for the cold hands by giving no warming whatsoever before teleporting away from that alley and back to Mesteno's cabin. The Elf's grip tightened for a moment to give Mesteno an anchor for the shift of positioning. Then he loosened them and eased back, looking mildly smug. They'd appeared in the main room, the breath of displaced air fluttering up against the walls. The beads just might be snickering.

"You'll have to do some research then." He remained on topic! "My own covered more Greek than Roman, so it will be an education for both of us. Coffee?"

Lexius began to step away, but Mesteno's arms hadn't exactly given up their wreathing. The necromancer pulled him right back, hard, up against his chest. "That'd be as good as admitting that we're doing this. Just... going along with it without even needing to be coerced," he complained, still dizzy enough that his eyes hadn't quite managed to refocus. "I feel like we should make him beg. Don't you want to hear him have to beg, just a little?"

The Elf smiled, full and deep and unguarded, burying his hands into Mesteno's hair to either side of his head and narrowing a look on his face. "He is not the one I wish to hear begging." Lexius dipped his head low to murmur his next assurance across the smooth line of the Sadist's jaw. "If you truly require coercion, I will set to the task shortly."

Chuckling quietly, Mesteno decided to try his hand at the drow tongue Lexius had had him studying of late. "Alu morfeth...coffee." He tried, scowling. Pitiable.

"Very good." A trace of amusement lingering in Lexius’ voice. "Do not scowl. They do not have a word for it. Kahve will work."

"Manere," the necromancer growled, reaching lower to seize him by the hips and hold him fast. "Sic volo, sic iubeo." Talking of coercion… Rather than give him opportunity to reply to the low, bitten out Latin, he leaned in closer, a hair's breadth from his mouth to growl, "Kahve can wait."

[End]
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Mesteno
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PostPosted: Mon May 07, 2018 9:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

[Adapted from live play]

February 12th, 2016


The days since their meeting with Aiden passed swiftly. The Elf had been largely absent, back in the desert in search of a new home, suddenly consumed by the need to find something sooner, rather than later.

Mesteno had kept himself busy by other means entirely. Discussion had made it abundantly clear intervention was necessary (because Aiden's people weren't nearly as prepared as they should have been), so he considered himself merely... pro-active. Not reckless. Driven. Let everyone else sit about on their laurels if they wished, he wasn't going to sit bemoaning the fact they'd failed to prevent a catastrophe when it came, unless he'd really tried. So while Lexius searched for a home, Mesteno had set about scheming, and then implementing some good old-fashioned tactical espionage. Sabotage was gleefully bouncing at its heels of course.

It'd been the auguries to begin with, a silent ceremony requested by the priesthood of Janus. A willing Alfar assistant had joined him from a fair vantage point of the proceedings and effortlessly taken the allegiance of the fine-bred, trained eagles to have them act as he wished and cause a ripple of troubled murmurs. No discernible patterns to their flight, just a chaos of talons and feathers erupting from the cages to fly far and away. The worshippers had been shaken. The augurs had refused to divine the meanings. Then there had been the ram, and the desecrated altars. Things crawling in the shadows that seemed to form skulls on the doors of the faithful when they returned to their homes.

Lexius had not pressed for details on Mesteno’s activities, but the results were already echoing through the District and, given he had more than a few sets of eyes keeping track of things down there, he wasn't terribly surprised by some of the reports he'd been getting.

The Mundus was Mesteno’s next target, though he'd yet to locate it, since it was always placed at the founding of a Roman habitation and their section of the Temple District... well it was part of RhyDin, ever changing. It was like looking for a needle in the haystack when you weren't privy to the information to begin with.

He was in the largest of the city's libraries when Lexius reached out to him, studying street plans that indicated the growing borders of the Roman sector. If he could just narrow it down to the oldest buildings...

The mental tie seemed to warm for just a second before Lexius voice slid smoothly across the endless miles to insinuate itself inside the man's head. Mesteno? He murmured quietly, as if he were whispering right into the Sadist's ear. Are you still in the city? The question came even before he had a chance to answer. Unusual.

I'd have told you if I intended to go anywhere, came the reassuring reply, lit with an undeniable warmth. And you're still in the desert?

I am. Lexius confirmed mildly, carrying on in that same tone. You've been busy. His work was rather targeted, after all, and hard to miss. There was vague amusement in the Elf's tone rather than any judgement. Jason has some news and is requesting a meeting. Apparently, Lexius thought it important enough to interrupt.

There wasn't even a smudge of compunction to be detected when he was accused! Plainly he felt his industriousness was not something he should be ashamed of, and there in the library

Mesteno smiled faintly as he turned the laminated pages of progressively older files, the line work fading, and the boundaries shifting. It didn't just shrink as he'd expected. It expanded in one direction for a few years, then lapsed back as an adjoining pantheon's worshippers nipped away a building here, or a piece of land there, like nations at war. Still, he thought he was beginning to see a pattern in which areas never shifted, no matter how the borders changed.

Your informants have kept you up to date I see, he almost sounded as if he might be laughing, certainly not a shred of compunction. Rippling humour abundant and pleased. When and where, Lexius? I'll be there.

That is their function. To keep him up to date, he meant, if not precisely on Mesteno's activities. The Sadist had simply crossed into their territory with his recent activities. Gather what you need. The Elf went on. I will bring you to us. Five minutes. Apparently, Jason was already there.

Sir, yes Sir, Mesteno replied, adopting a suitably militant tone, though in retrospect he wasn't sure it would spark any recognition from the Elf.

Gathering together his belongings didn't take long. A battered looking, khaki messenger bag with enough sand stains and fraying to suggest it'd been on excursions to dry places long before he met Lexius, comfortably fit the green tinted, leather notebook where he'd been recording his observations, his cell phone (the memory of which was now full of photographs of the street plans) and the assortment of questionable items he generally carried in pockets instead.

True to his word, the Elf waited only the five minutes before he reached out with his Will and stole the Sadist from where he stood. The teleport ended with Mesteno standing on hard packed earth. He'd caught at Lexius' arm with one hand when he materialised, and kept hold as his vision corrected and stationary objects ceased to judder. The Elf had him by the shoulder, ready as always to keep him the disoriented man from keeling over.

The lights of RhyDin gleamed no so terribly distant to the north, but all the lush and fertile growth so common around the city was absent here where the edge of the deserts began. Hardy folk carved out homes in the miles of scrublands, transitioning between the sands and the more civilized areas beyond it.

Jason flashed the Sadist a grin from not too far away, looking strange in his dust coloured robes and dirt caked skin. Beyond where they stood was what remained of a rough looking farmhouse with large pens around it. But the house was now nothing more than charred wood and ash and the fencing for the pastures was broken and largely destroyed.

"What did you two do to this place?" Mesteno asked as if it were their fault.

The Elf gave him a shake for his unfounded accusation, while Jason barked out a quiet laugh.

"He's got your number." The man quipped over to the Elf, blue eyes gleaming with good humour in the scant light of the stars and one of Rhy’Din’s twin moons. The other had yet to rise beyond the horizon. Lexius, of course, ignored him the way he did his beads which were even then rattling out their own little chortle of sound and slapping at the Sadist's knee.

"We did nothing." Lexius assured. "I'm fairly sure this is your fault." He added with the faint curve of a smile.

Jason was watching them closely, still smiling, waiting to judge Mesteno's reaction to that before he offered any explanations.

Mesteno, suspicious by nature, didn't seem willing to immediately refute that he'd had something to do with the destruction. The Elf's mind worked in particular ways, and he didn't think he'd simply accuse him of something without at least being able to claim he was correct in some round about fashion. He narrowed his eyes, a gimlet look that took in first the two males, and then out across the soot blackened buildings and ash-strewn ground. The beads he tolerated in his usual fashion, by catching them for a quick tug before they could retreat.

"You're insinuating that my actions caused this place to be razed, rather'n trying to suggest it was something I did by my own hand," he stated, then padded away from both towards the wreckage as if he intended to look for clues.

His focus drifted from the ground, where his eyes searched for impressions left by feet, to any remains that might be lingering. Was there still heat? Was there any hint of regrowth to indicate weeks or months had passed since the incident? He sniffed at the air too, just in case, and felt outward for any death, specifically of the more recent variety.

The deepening of Lexius' smile confirmed Mesteno had guessed correctly. Jason’s brief chortle cinched it. He took up the commentary as Mesteno stepped away from the Elf to investigate the charred remains and the ground around it.

"I don't think it was meant to be razed, that's just what happened when the owners put up a fight. The people here raised some pretty fine aurochs." He said no more than that, allowing Mesteno to look his fill without interruption. Mesteno was doing the very thing the Elf had brought him out there to do and he'd warned Jason to not interfere while the man did his thing. Jason was just as interested in watching the Necromancer work as Lexius!

The scene was fairly fresh, no more than two days old. At least seven people had died there recently, but the tracks left on the ground suggested there had been far more than that who'd walked away still alive along with a good number of the cattle. While the house wasn't smouldering anymore, the fresh scent of the burned wood still clung to the air.

Out in the distance, toward the desert, were the remains of the scattered herds. Closer, inside the wreckage of the house, were the burned remains of the human bodies. Splotches of dried blood in the hard ground suggested most had been killed outside and thrown into the fire. Four of them had been the occupants of the place. The other three were the invaders.

No sooner had the presence of the bodies registered on Mesteno’s metaphysical radar than there he was, standing over them and studying them for clues. He suspected them to be too crisped to have functioning vocal cords, and the damage was too extensive for him to try and accomplish a little rot-reversal. Burning was a great deal different to natural decay.

Traders of aurochs, approached by a militant group if the scraps of armour still recognisable on the deceased were more than just a bandit's finery-- no, they seemed uniform from what he could see, bandits weren't that organised. And an attack his recent actions were supposed to have sparked, if he'd understood correctly.

"So Sparky's foot soldiers come out here to try and get themselves some aurochs, but they probably don't want to pay for them... or perhaps the farmers didn't want their livestock culling for religious purposes. Doesn't matter, the fact is they said no, stood their ground and either the soldiers set the place ablaze or a stray bolt of lightning descended from the heavens and lit the place up. And it's my fault because I might just have released the sacrificial animals being penned up and redirected them to kinder pastures." He turned about to eye the pair and await their verdict of his primary theory.

"Sparky." Jason murmured it, his tone a little hard, as Lexius nodded once.

"That appears to be what happened." The Elf agreed calmly. There was still no judgement in his tone. He wasn't calling Mesteno to task for this incident or the events that had led to it. He was watching the Necromancer as if he might enlighten him more on any of the details. Jason offered a bit more explanation.

"When all those critters started getting loose, I started keeping track of as many sources as I could. I thought I could disrupt things from that end. They won’t take just any animals, so that made the job a little easier. This is the first time they've come this far." Jason shrugged, looking wry. "So really, it's kind of both our faults." He didn't seem too apologetic, but he wasn't precisely happy as he studied the remains of buildings and bodies. "I wouldn't have heard about it except for some of the neighbours talking about lightning out of a clear sky." There were neighbours somewhere out there on the scrublands, though none were very close.

"Can you get anything from them?" Lexius asked next, but without expectation. The bodies were pretty charred.

"I didn't force the soldiers to come'n steal livestock. That was their prerogative," Mesteno stated bluntly. "Or rather the priests who wanted to make sure their rituals were seen as legitimate by their worshippers.”

Jason held up his hands defensively. "I didn't mean it like that."

"Don't worry, I didn't take it that way, either." Now this,” Mesteno went on, “this is bad publicity for the Roman section. Attacking honest farmers is going to get them investigated by the Watch. Or should I involve the Watch? It'd slow down their celebration plans."

He was plainly torn. Whilst he wasn't exactly a law abiding citizen, he did know that there were some good men and women amongst the members of the City Watch, and he didn't want them getting fried because he'd deposited evidence in their lap. Of course it'd look even worse to the worshippers if they were connected to the death of watch members but... The notion spiralled, and he frowned as he considered it, stuck between motivation and conscience. Which was the greater evil?

Picking his way across the debris, careful to avoid leaving any evidence that he'd been there should he decide to involve the local law enforcement, he reached the first of the bodies and crouched beside it. The stink was atrocious, but he was acquainted with all manner of corpse related odours by this point, and it didn't keep him from close examination. The fire had burned away lips and tongue and cheeks. Not enough flesh left to form sounds. Taking a moment to memorise the way in which the corpses lay, he slipped loose some sinuous filaments of his energy, wired them through the two upper bodies and watched as, at his bidding, they peeled apart from each other with the crisp sound of charred skin splitting and flaking away, the rattle of bone against bits of armour. The body they'd been dumped across hadn't suffered the fire to the same extent, and one side of its face had been turned down, leaving it bloody but not destroyed.

"This one'll do," he declared, letting the others tumble like forgotten toys once they'd moved far enough away. The energy localised itself instead in the subject he'd chosen, directing the cadaver to straighten despite the rigor mortis and burns, to lay flat. Hair had all been burnt away, and the gleam of the jaw bone showed through the split flesh. "Must be one of the farmers," he remarked, noting the lack of armour and the practical nature of the scraps of clothing that remained.
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PostPosted: Mon May 07, 2018 11:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

[Continued...]

Jason remained silent, whilst Lexius repositioned himself, moving as carefully through the rubble as the Sadist had to crouch beside him, the beads gathered up in long fingers.

The corpse the Necromancer had coaxed back into faux life belonged to that of a teenage boy. Perhaps a son to one of the other dead. Lexius seemed no more disturbed by the carnage, the state of the corpse or the animation than Mesteno and was monitoring the man in that way he did when he was studying something. "The soldiers came and began to barter. The bartering grew heated and erupted into violence when they refused to sell. They killed three of them before falling themselves. This I have seen, but I do not know the reason they refused. Anything we can learn about that may be helpful."

For all Mesteno’s protestations of blame, it became a little more difficult not to feel a dark smudge of guilt when he realised how young his chosen subject was. Still, he knew full well in some cultures he'd have been considered a man already. Had he joined the fighting, the soldiers couldn't afford to ignore him just because of his age.

He spun a sliver of shadow from beneath a fallen beam, solidifying, sharp edged, but tiny as a surgical blade. He rolled up his sleeve, used the shadow to slice the tiniest cut into the side of his forearm, and smudged up what beaded there on the tip of an index finger, before pressing it into the charred tissue of the boy's face.

There was a moment where nothing seemed to happen, save for that minute smear of moisture sitting wetly on the blackened flesh, but after a moment there was movement. Not regrowth precisely, but the shifting of less damaged tissue as his energy manipulated it like putty. This was clearly more difficult a task than simple animation, because the muscle fibres were stretching, the skin warping to craft itself over the damaged patches into a simulacrum of repair.

Lexius waited and watched, monitoring all the Necromancer did with a sharp gaze and a keen twist of Will. His energy was humming in a way it didn't normally as Mesteno worked his own and the darker side of the symbol on his back was burning. Only that kept him from extending a thread into Mesteno's body to more closely trace how he was working his magic. Instead, the Elf touched a thought to the corpse...and all that delicate, difficult work the Sadist was doing to regrow flesh and tendons suddenly became easier.

Muscles formed and re-knit seamlessly, bone filled and solidified, charred skin flaked away beneath fresh growth beneath. The drop of life mixed in with Mesteno's death energy was what did the trick before Lexius snapped the thread abruptly, grunting, and swayed just a little in his crouch as he straightened his spine. That had not been expected.

Mesteno knew something was different, and he knew it came of Lexius' link to him, somehow. ‘Fleshkrafting’, as his old tutor Mikhail had called it, was not an easy business. Harder on dead things than living, too, though he'd only ever attempted it on himself. To have it work so smoothly, and with such results the kid could almost have been mistaken for simply having slept in the filth, left him startled. He was turning to cast a questioning look the Elf's way when he saw him sway. A hand shot out to steady him, before he resumed his work.

"If he knows anything, he'll talk," Mesteno murmured, slipping a look across at him before falling silent. His fingers were passing harmlessly over the youth's throat, chest, towards the abdomen. Then they faltered, diverted, searching for that pinning point where the soul had been flesh tethered for all his short years. A secret core under skin and muscle and bone that he found his way to with the shadow slicing neat incisions to save his fingers the digging.

Frowning down at the spot where he'd felt out the anchor, his bare fingers were wrapped snug in cold flesh and jellied blood. It was with the physical connection to that precise spot achieved that he extended his energy, letting it spill out boldly around them so that the whole area became frigid, as if heat and life were being sapped from the ground, the air-- Lexius and Jason were safe from it though. It licked past them harmlessly despite the temptation they presented, and cast itself out far to find the straying souls. They'd gone slinking away, recognising something which might consider them prey even newly divorced of their flesh, but he recognised the boy's by the anchor, and coiled amidst unseen webs, it was reeled back in and thrust back into the corpse. Far more easily than it normally might have been too. He didn’t doubt it was a result of the Elf’s energy, bound to his own.

Lexius stood as that happened, the beads gurgling out a few enigmatic clicks of sound as he stepped further back. His expression was troubled, but he was still attentive to the proceedings.

There was a quiet moment as the soul remembered its old form, felt the limits of the flesh confining it, and then there came focus in the dead and sunken eyes, and the chest lifted to take a breath that crackled, foul smelling fluid sputtering out between lips to clear the airway. The dead thing saw them no doubt, but suffered the inevitable fear of being bound in decaying flesh.

"Be calm," Mesteno insisted firmly, leaning over the boy to fill as much of his vision as he could. "I'll cut you loose again, I promise. We're going to help you move on past the plane you were stuck in. That'll be much easier if you talk to us." He was so accustomed to interrogating dead people as a form of torture that he wasn’t entirely sure how convincingly he pulled off reassurance.

The corpse gasped as if it truly needed breath, focusing on the Necromancer filling its vision. "The men!" It exclaimed, as if the remnants of the panic the boy had died feeling still remained.

Something was wrong. Mesteno didn't like it when something he'd done so routinely suddenly became beyond his control, and whatever was happening to Lexius wasn't something he'd intended. The boy's remark went unanswered, mainly because he was still puzzling over what had come across that link and fleshed him out so fully. Had he been drawing on Lexius' energy unintentionally? Their mental tie suggested he found the notion abhorrent, and there was a moment where it looked as if he might lose his grasp on the soul simply because he wasn't concentrating. The tether was unravelling...

"It is well." The Elf murmured quietly as Mesteno grappled to keep the soul anchored, unwilling to distract him too much but certain he needed to hear that brief assurance. Despite the burn and itch along his spine, Lexius remained rigidly still as he continued to observe.

Mesteno caught the soul at the last moment, unwilling to have to go through it again and risk more damage, forcing it, binding it, until he was only steps away from a permanent fix of soul to flesh again. He'd done it before, rushed and desperate and wanting to make something better... but he knew how it went. How the soul never felt right. Never happy. Wanted out. That it had been Ivanya's sister had made it worse. This boy, he decided, determined, wouldn't be victim to the same error. He didn't smile at him, but he did manage to recapture his earlier reassurance.

"It's over," he told him with something approaching gentleness. "The men are dead. I just need you to tell me why they came, what they were saying, so we can make sure the ones that sent them are made to pay for their crimes."

The boy calmed and focused more intently on Mesteno's face and voice, on the meaning of his words. "The bulls." He finally answered, his head turning as if he would search out the animals he spoke about. "They wanted the bulls. Father would sell three, but they wanted them all."

"And no farmer's going to want to sell his stud animals if he means to have new additions to the herd next spring," Mesteno filled in the obvious blank, just to make sure the dead boy knew he was taking his father's side in the matter. The dead were always more cooperative when the living treated them kindly, at least those who'd nothing to hide.

"Did they say anything strange to him, or mention who sent them here? These are important things. I know it's hard to remember with what followed, but try'n think... Were the bulls needed for a particular day?" Maybe the boy hadn't heard it all - the more questions asked, the more likely they were to learn something helpful though!

Mesteno's voice refocused the boy, he nodded jerkily, limbs twitching and crackling. His face and neck had been largely restored, but there were still parts of him that were a charred mess. Lexius continued to remain distant and silent and Jason listened as he kept watch.

"The bulls." The boy repeated, struggling to either process what Mesteno was asking him or to better explain the fragments of memory he had left. Lexius fisted one hand and resisted the urge to reach out with a thought. "The black ones. They wanted the black bulls for their gods. Father said three but they wanted them all." The kid's body jerked then and his anxiety ramped up. "Adal! The sword!"

"Black bulls are usually reserved for chthonic deities, and Lemuria is coming soon," Mesteno murmured thoughtfully. It gave him something else to investigate when he got back to RhyDin, and made his idea for the mundus all the more pressing. He did his best to force the boy's body into stillness, reinforcing the strings of energy he had spanned out binding soul to the parameters of the flesh. "Your father was right not to let them have them all," he told the lad firmly. "Now tell me about the sword. What's this 'Adal' you mentioned?"

The boy' body stilled once again when Mesteno asserted his control, and any residual panic in him seemed to ebb.

"My brother. They stabbed him with a sword. For the bulls. To get the bulls. My father called the fire. The men went mad, called us heathens. They called to their sky god and the lightning..." The story trailed there as the boy seemed to run out of words. It seemed the lightening was the last thing he remembered.

To the side, the Elf hummed a thoughtful note before he spoke. "Your father called the fire?"

The boy's eyes shifted a little, but never quite left Mesteno's face. "He can call the fire sometimes. To light the wood."

Mesteno’s eyes lifted from the lad to peer across the burnt out building's innards to where another heap of corpses lay tangled. The brother had to be lost amongst them. Perhaps the father too. A whole damn family wiped out (and of course it left him feeling another stab of guilt, despite the earlier declaration that it wasn't his fault.)

"We'll make sure your brother is properly looked after," he murmured, dipping his focus low to the corpse again. It didn't matter, not really, because the souls of the brothers might well run into one another once he let their subject slip to where he'd plucked him from, but it was all part and parcel of the reassurance, something he felt essential to keep him talking.

Lexius seemed intrigued by the fire part, which was convenient since what the lad had said about the soldiers calling them heathens made him wonder... "Who is it you and your family worship?"

Once more Mesteno words seemed to calm the youth, at least outwardly. Within, he felt a tug on that anchoring point within the charred remains of the body. He recognised it immediately, though the insistence, and how soon it had begun was surprising.

"The Mother and the Father." The boy sighed the names and that subtle tug came again just as Lexius' beads gave a warning sort of rattle.

"Your time grows short." He murmured that to Mesteno, as if he could feel the pull, as well.

Usually Mesteno could keep them trapped for days, weeks before anything came to claim them, if at all... but then he didn't tend to interrogate children, and rarely ones who worshipped. He didn't need to be told that the seconds were ticking by - he could feel it every bit as plainly as the Elf.

"Well it's time for you to go to them now," he told the boy. "Your brother's probably already with them. I'm sure they listened and heard how brave you were telling us."

He let the soul slip free of him, calling his energy back in like a roaming hound to heel, and the cold dissipated as if someone had snapped their fingers and commanded it be gone. The beads swaying by the Elf's thigh gave another rattling sound as it went, or maybe just in response to Lexius shifting positons. He waited until Mesteno had fully gathered up and corralled his energy again before he spoke.

"What do you think?" His gaze wandered as he spoke, narrowed lids veiling the dark gleam of the amethyst color. The beads went quiet.

Without deliberate efforts to keep the corpse-flesh moulded, everything began to shrivelled, shrink back, blackened as it had been before. Still, Mesteno noted that even this process seemed changed, as if the power they’d spent repairing it had been so effective that it lingered even in the absence of directed Will.

Palms to thighs, the necromancer straightened up, absent the old crunch from his knees, and turned to face Lexius, considering the space between them. "Sounds to me like we should find out who his Gods are and appeal to them to aid Aiden's side on account of what's happening here. But all these sacrifices they're doin', it's to keep the worshippers happy as much as the Gods. Romans love their rituals, they had to be precise... right kinda sacrifice f'the right deity, the right time of year, the right prayers to go with 'em."
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PostPosted: Mon May 07, 2018 6:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

[Continued...]

A shiver passed along the Elf's spine, but it was a subtle thing. He gestured to Mesteno to follow him as he moved away from the rubble, nodding Jason on when the man looked their way again. "You mentioned Lemuria. That is a festival, yes?" The name struck a familiar note in the Elf's mind, but he hadn't done any decent research on it.

"Lemuria is the Festival of the Dead,” Mesteno explained, “it's not until May though, three days - the ninth, eleventh and thirteenth. Sacrifices are made to the Gods of the Underworld and to keep the spirits away, 'cause they lift the Lapis Manalis, the cover stone, off the mouth of the Mundus, the way to the Underworld, and the dead can come out into the realm of the living. Least that's what they say. They called it an Ostium Orci, the gate to Hades, and then further down you got the Gate of Horns and the Gate of Ivory, which is the false entrance. The living aren't supposed to go down as you can imagine, but there's a Mundus in every Roman city, usually on the spot it was founded."

Once they were well beyond the wreckage of the farmhouse, Lexius turned back to face it and twisted his Will. The closest parts of broken fencing began to shift across the ground, piling in on the remains of the house. Mesteno watched patiently beside him.

"And black bulls were used as the sacrifice." Not precisely a question given the circumstances, but Lexius paused long enough to allow the Sadist to correct him. "I'm going to burn this unless you have an objection,” he added.

For a long moment Mesteno considered the Watch, and how they'd be less likely to identify the soldiers if Lexius were to completely immolate the place. In the end he decided a proper cremation for the fire callers took precedence, and he lifted a hand to wave his agreement to the Elf. "Black bulls, or any black coated animals would be considered worthy sacrifices to deities connected to death. Even the household altars would probably have black beans 'n dark offerings made with the prayers," Mesteno lectured. "Of course the larger the sacrifice the more favour it was supposed to earn you with the God you were makin' it to. Mainly the more prestigious members of society who could offer that, though."

Behind them, Jason had pulled a small, leather bound book from his dusty robes, taking notes.

Lexius gave a subtle frown for Mesteno's observation, and though the man had waved his assent to the fire he didn't get it started just yet. Instead, he turned his gaze to Mesteno and stared for a moment before he spoke. "Can you find the soldier's souls here anywhere?" The mention of deities connected to death had Lexius thinking of a particular one, now.

The hesitation drew an arched brow, and Mesteno ticked a look across at Lexius. "They've strayed further afield if they linger at all. There's a limit to how far from one I can be in order to influence them, though having the corpse available lets me amplify it somewhat, gives me... direction." He didn't add that he suspected if they were Zeus' zealots, he'd probably already have plucked them away, far from his reach and into the custody of his current underworld guardian.

Lexius dark eyes were gleaming with the potential for power he still held in check as he studied Mesteno critically. "Do that mean you cannot sense them or you did not try because you expect them to be gone?" He wasn't challenging the man, merely clarifying his understanding of the Sadist's answer. "When you do what you've just done, recalled a soul that has not yet moved on, can you sense the path it will take once it goes? Any... feeling of the Power that will pull it eventually?"

"I was searching specifically for the soul of the boy I chose," Mesteno explained. "But, had there been others lingering close enough I'd have sensed them too. It's rare for any to stick around once I'm in the vicinity," he added, in case he'd never before mentioned how repellent they usually found him. Or perhaps fearful was a more accurate term. Lexius' more specific query left him frowning though, and he hesitated, recalling. "Usually my subjects are men who're stuck wandering. Their criminal associations and general lack of faith mean there's not often anything waiting to collect them. The boy wasn't though. He'd somewhere to be, a welcome waiting. I felt it start to pull towards the end of the questioning, recognised that I wouldn't have the capacity to keep him without having done any preparation."

Ritual, blood offerings, the sordid, dark natured things necromancers performed when their work needed to be powerful.

Lexius' frown was more thoughtful than displeased. He was learning quite a lot about how Mesteno practiced his necromancy even if he hadn't been able to observe the entire process as closely as he might have wished given the unexpected complication. The Elf shifted his shoulders lightly in remembrance of the burning along his spine, though the sensation had faded by then.

"That pull you felt, something you have felt before, yes? Though not often." Which made sense. "Was it distinctive in any way? Would you be able to tell, for example, if Thanatos was the one pulling the soul as compared the death god of another pantheon?"

Mesteno actually laughed, though it was not mocking. Only wry! He shook his head slowly, and wedged his hands into the front pocket of his hoody before explaining himself. "That would be like being able to recognise someone's voice without them ever having been introduced to me. I might be able to recognise the pull as familiar if it was the same one repeatedly, and I might even be able to guess at the Power if I knew which pantheon they worshipped, knew who was going to come for them, but just feeling a compulsion doesn't provide me with a name unless they decide to offer it to me."

The Sadist's laugh eased the Elf's frown and he nodded again. "Then you can come to recognize the particular...flavor of a Power." He paused a moment, canting his head as he considered what to say next. Given it was an area he had no influence over, Lexius formed it as a request. "I would have you begin doing that with those you handle. If you could identify what, if any, Power they associated themselves with while they lived." He paused again, eyes narrowing. "They cannot lie to you, correct? Also, if you do feel that pull again, I would that you start remembering the distinctive feel of it. I will have Jason research what Powers are worshipped in this area so you may give a name to the one that came calling today."

Behind them, Jason nodded. "Got it, Boss. I'll also see if anyone saw the soldiers and the herd moving along the road to see if we can track where they went."

"Flavour... that works," Mesteno murmured, staving off a shiver. "And I can try, but it depends on how long I have before they sweep in 'n snatch 'em. This one wasn't so rapid that I didn't have time to be attentive to it, but I wouldn't be surprised if some were less inclined to being recognised. I doubt a Power is going to let itself be identified if it knows what it's working against. At least the kid gave us some clues for you to work with," he pointed out to Jason, whom he was fairly sure must have heard all the corpse shared. "Mother 'n Father, and something to do with calling fire."

Jason smiled and nodded Mesteno's way. "Shouldn't be too tough." He agreed. "I'll get started now unless you have something else?" The question was more directed toward the Elf, but Jason waited to get Mesteno's confirmation as well before he took himself off, on foot, away from the farmhouse and down the road.

Lexius offered no further instructions to his protégé and turned his attention back to the house. It didn't take him long at all to get the fresh wood ignited with a thought and soon the blaze of a too hot, too bright fire was filling the night and clouding the air with dense smoke.

The first crackle of flames amidst the already charred timbers drew Mesteno’s intent focus straight back to the remains of the farmhouse, eyes narrowed against the glare of the blaze. "So are you gonna tell me what happened in there with the kid, or have you no more idea than I got?"

Lexius narrowed his own eyes against the glare of the fire, hands folded behind his back and the beads swaying idly by his thigh. He didn't answer for some time, but when he did, he shook his head a little. "I'm not completely certain. Were I to guess," he finally slanting a look the Sadist's way, "I would say it was a mix of energies. A drop of positive added to the negative you were already working."

When Mesteno moved it was without stealth, quite deliberate in resituating directly behind Lexius, sliding his arms around him to loosely lace them over his stomach. The fire, whilst far from romantic given its necessity and what they both knew was being cremated at its core, was still wildly fascinating to watch, as fires always were. "Balance then," he determined from the Elf's suspicions. "Taking from you without you consenting to it though? I'm sorry, it didn't happen intentionally I can assure you of that." And yet he found it odd that when Lexius had used his abilities just now in lighting the fire, he hadn't felt any pull in the other direction.

Lexius encouraged him nearer, curling a grip against the man's hips. There had been a minute tension in his when the first contact had been made, but that faded quickly when nothing seemed to come of it. "I don't think you took it, exactly. I know it was not intentional." He squeezed lightly at the hips he held, but the frown was etching its way back onto his lips. "They are drawn to each other." His grip eased and his tone became quiet as he continued. "Between us, we might have remade him."

Mesteno dipped his chin a fraction to settle it on one of his shoulders, and watched the flames lick high. "Could have, but there's no should have. Even if the flesh were whole, the soul never sits right. There's always some element of disconnection, an external pull, and in his case you can imagine how bad it would have been, with his Gods straining to bring him home and him tethered permanently." It was part of what set him apart from other necromancers, the unwillingness to do something just because it was achievable. His morals would never allow it. Not after his previous errors. "Still, it's impressive to think it's possible. D'you think it'll happen the other way 'round with anything? I haven't felt any pull in the other direction."

The Elf's frown eased some, but he was no less troubled. There was an intimacy to that hold that the Elf found appealing rather than off-putting despite the fact he wasn't used to it. He leaned back just a little against the weight of the Sadist's frame as he spoke.

"I'm sure that is how it is without what I provided." He agreed. That Mesteno could speak with such assurance of the outcome proved he'd tried it before. That was inevitable given his powers, such experimentation, as were the results. "Death alone cannot reform life. Not in the way it should be." That right there was his problem with vampires. They were not right. "The Powers might have complicated it. And I am sure there would be more involved" He went admitted thoughtfully. "And I'm certain it could work the other way were I to utilize the positive energy as you do the negative. My abilities are different." He sounded certain of that, but the thoughtfulness remained. He was still working over the entire incident in his head and trying to come up with some answers that weren't guesses.

A faint, thoughtful hum, and not too far from the Elf's ear given current positioning. The mental tie, the veil so flimsy these days, gave a hint of his thoughts, the inevitable wondering over whether it was something they should experiment with further or go to efforts to try and prevent. He wasn't even sure whether he found it a positive or a negative aspect yet, but the access to power beyond his own could have uses, he knew. Just another temptation for the thing biding its time in him.

"If you're around me next time I'm performing anything of that nature, I'll give you time to steel yourself against it," he murmured, narrowing his eyes as a gust of wind sent some of the thick smoke stinging at them. "There's no reason it has to happen if we're ready for it, and I'll do my best to make sure I do what I can my end." Just how he'd accomplish that he wasn't sure, but he'd damn well try.

The fire was finally starting to die down as the fuel for it burned away into ash. No charred timbers would remain from this burning, just ash and maybe bits of bone and metal scattered in among the soot. If there was one element the Elf was good with, it was fire. The place on his back where the symbol for that was etched was certainly warmer than the rest of him.

"We should have a care." Was Lexius' reply. He, too, was wondering if they should experiment at all. The temptation to do so was overwhelming if only to understand it better, but the outcome could be less than desirable. He tapped his fingers against Mesteno's hip absently and finally shifted a look to the side to catch a glimpse of the Sadist's profile. He put any decision over it on the back burner for now and switched the topic. "They wanted black bulls for sacrifice. Animals tied to death, as you said. I doubt they are trying to appeal to their former ruler of the Underworld and given the other we met offered to introduce you to Thanatos, I doubt he is on the Roman side anymore. As it stands, were the two sides to go to war, the deaths would benefit only one side. Unless they are trying to change that."

"Aiden failed to mention they were losing team members," Mesteno muttered darkly, as if he'd never considered the demi-God might pick and choose which scraps he fed them instead of being entirely open. Naive to assume that, and his head was a hive of auto-admonition. "So it seems safe to assume they're trying to elevate Thanatos to ruler of the underworld, and that they mean to accomplish that with some big ceremony with lots of blood and sacrifice." He straightened then, unwinding his arms from around Lexius to reach into the battered bag he'd stowed his things in. Rare for him to use his cell phone, but he was pulling up the pictures he'd taken of the Temple District street plans while he was in the library, skimming through them to try and find a particular detail.

Lexius half turned when Mesteno let him go. Enough, at least, to slide his hand into its usual spot around the back of the man's neck and tuck his shoulder in against the front of his chest. His gaze flicked down to the display to study the picture as he spoke.

"The Romans called Mr King of the Underworld 'Pluto'." Mesteno’s finger was indicating a temple called a Plutonium. "If I were them, and I wanted to replace one deity with another, I'd be in there pulling down his statue, erecting ones of the substitute, probably performing the rituals there too. We should probably ask Jason to get his spies to do some investigating in that area, but I'm in and out of the district a fair bit at present. I could probably head do it myself while I'm on other errands."

"Perhaps he does not know,” Lexius suggested. “Or perhaps it is another. The one thing either pantheon does not lack is likely candidates." There were so many damn gods to choose from, especially of the minor variety. Lexius agreed on the latter point. That temple was their most likely place to investigate.

"If you think you can work in the district undetected, then it will be worth a look. I would imagine they need to get everything set fairly soon, before the equinox. And given the other work you've been doing, such a ritual may well calm the doubting faithful. If it is successful." The Romans may well be trying to kill two birds with one stone! "If we can find where they are taking all the sacrifices, that could well ruin the plan."

Mesteno thumbed the phone off again clumsily, slipping it one handed into his bag so he could coil his free arm around the Elf's back. His eyes had hooded faintly. "They haven't caught me so far," he admitted with a touch of hubris. But just a touch. "And I've had some assistance. An old friend is visiting the city and one of Ivanya's people has been providing help of the sort that won't cause him too much risk. Hasn't been anything too ambitious yet, but that doesn't mean I can't take things up a notch." Escalating! And not without justifiable need in this case.

Lexius hummed a quite note of sound for that bit of hubris, but his frown had disappeared again. "As you say. But try not to get trampled by a herd of aurochs." He offered that comment with a vein of humour, fingers rubbing at the Sadist's neck.

"You make it sound like I'm slow and unobservant," the necromancer remarked, feigning indignant annoyance (poorly). He was too invested in the rubbing at his nape to make any effort into his already less than mediocre acting efforts.

Casting one last look toward the foundation full of ash, Lexius inspected the remains of the place closely. The fire had burned itself out, leaving barely glowing embers in its wake, but they were going cold even as the Elf performed his inspection. He certainly didn't want to set the scrublands on fire. "I think we are done here. Where do you wish me to take you?"

Mesteno sighed faintly, a look cast toward Lexius' handiwork for much reason the Elf looked himself, before answering. "Do you intend to go back to the desert and resume your search?" The Elf had been absent days, but not reported any particular success. His own desire to keep him there with him, even if only for a few hours was a selfish one, not to mention a distraction from his self-imposed duties in the Temple District.

At the mention of the desert, Lexius experienced the same clutch in his gut that had sent him out there in the first place. It didn't help that the beads chose that moment to give a little snickering rattle, slapping themselves between the Elf's leg and the Sadist's as they moved. For once, Lexius shifted a look down to them and scowled.

"I'd a thought to stay with you." Which just made those beads go from snickering to chortling.

"Oh you did, did you?" Mesteno asked. As if he were about to start proclaiming he'd far too many important things to do than play host.

Lexius looked away from them, back across the plains toward the distant sands invisible for the darkness. His brow furrowed faintly and his fingers tightened on Mesteno's neck, as if the man might try to get away. "The desert will be there." His gaze flicked back to Mesteno and he smiled suddenly, deeply. "And given how slow and unobservant you are, perhaps you will need some help."

[End]
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PostPosted: Wed May 09, 2018 5:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

[Adapted from live play.]

February 24th, 2016


The Roman territory at night was far more restrained than its Greek counterpart, still brash in its infancy. The streets and buildings in the area were older, well established and maintained despite their age. The cobblestone streets were worn by the tread of thousands of wandering feet belonging to both the devout and the simply curious. Lately, fewer of the curious had been welcome within the protective outer walls that ringed the ward. Some brave souls still wandered through once the sun went down, but they were almost always under the watchful eyes of paired guards, ensuring the peace and rousting any would be mischief makers.

It was risky to walk there, but to confirm the location of the Mundus, Mesteno had considered it a worthwhile undertaking.

He’d ingratiated himself with a portly, older gentleman of Mediterranean descent who’d taken him for one of their own due to the shared Latin tongue. And, perhaps, because of the disguise. Security was something of a hot topic of late given the superstitious nature of the citizens, and the necromancer couldn’t risk being identified, in case they already possessed a physical description of him from the Greeks. Thus he’d resorted to darkening his hair with a simple, wash-out black, binding it back severely, and dimming his wolf’s gold eyes with a pair of contact lenses, pigmented a china blue that would be memorable enough to emerge in any descriptions of him should his mission go awry. A few choice pieces of lavishly gaudy gold jewellery offered a suggestion of wealth, and attire befitting a pampered fop completed the deception. Whilst a glamour of some sort might have required less effort, he couldn’t risk some ward stripping him of the illusion before he’d done what he needed.

Lexius had heard out his plan, and promised not to interfere, though Mesteno knew that he would keep watch, in his own ways, in case trouble did come nipping at his heels. He was, after all, only a thought away. And while there was always the risk his teleportation abilities would be hampered by some divine protections, especially neck deep in Roman lands, the Elf seemed confident he either wouldn't need to test those boundaries or that he could best them if worse came to worst.

Given the promise of the priests for a momentous year ahead and the upcoming plans for the renewal (renewal had a better ring than replacement) of Pluto's reign, there was more than the usual activity after dark that evening. Most of it, including Mesteno and his unwitting guide (studying the bird’s eye view of routes via a cramped cell phone screen had been difficult) was headed towards the Comitium, ringed by the temples of the Roman pantheon’s most prominent deities. Security was tight.

It had also been tightened across the river from the Roman district, as well. The farmlands and residences there under closer scrutiny as a good deal of the pastureland filled with what seemed to be an endless number of black coated bulls being collected from far and wide. A staging grounds before the ritual sacrifice. More armed patrols, these mounted, roamed the dusty roads there and priests were ferried from the main District out to the animals for inspection on a daily basis.

The stranger Mesteno had attached himself to seemed mildly disappointed when Mesteno made his excuses, insisting that he'd a brother he must wait for rather than accompanying him into the Temple of Jove, and as soon as he was able, the necromancer slipped from sight. He'd sensed the first pluck at the threads of his energy, a strangely dimmed feel as of the aged dead. At last, something to follow.

His diversion from the main flow of foot traffic hadn't garnered much attention. There were extra eyes they kept watch over the territory however, namely in the sporadically placed creations that perched on the occasional rooftop. Hephaestus' work, without a doubt, they were metal constructs shaped into the images of the fanciful and sometimes frightening creatures to be found in Roman myth. Distant eyes gleamed pale amber or sullen red against the backdrop of a cloud filled sky as the golem kept watch on the streets below. Unobserved, Mesteno was able to skulk cautiously along the main forum toward the Comitium placed at its centre. Pluto's house of worship was too far behind that of Jove by way of extravagance, with sculpted columns that reached high from the sunken level of the temple floor. It was the only building where the steps led down.

Still, the energy wasn't centred within the confines of that structure. Instead, the tug to Mesteno's senses came from somewhere within the long, shadowed depths of a massive archway that bridged the space between two buildings where a street should have been. There were symbols aplenty carved into that arch, lit by torchlight that seemed to struggle to chase back the darkness of the night. There were no gates to bar the archway, but soldiers stood guard, sharing duty with two massive metal constructs perched on either side of the arch above.

These were soldiers who'd been promoted due to discipline and achievement, likely members of some first Legion beholden to whomever the Pontifex in Jupiter's temple happened to be. Still, Mesteno’s heart beat no more rapidly for the enhanced risk than it did at any other time, likely the reason he was able to act so genuinely calm. This was not a tight spot. He'd been in tight spots. This was... a minor difficulty.

There were some rather prolific shadows beneath the portico of the Plutonium that suited his purpose, and he ducked into the cover provided by one of the towering columns as soon as he was certain there were no other worshippers behind him. From there it was possible to concentrate on the tug he'd felt that led directly down the avenue beyond the guarded archway.

Yes, there...

And particularly conspicuous given the military and golem presence stationed there. Strange, to see everyone else traipse past as if they hadn’t even noticed the guarded route. Beyond the arch, he strained to see the details he needed to step through the shadowlands, hindered only by the distance. Tucked close to the column, he waited as long as he dared, then condensed the shadow it cast to envelop him...and it spat him out a good twenty feet beyond the arch, staving off shivers and immediately en guard.

The brief step through the darkness felt different. The chill was still there, nipping hard at his bones even for so peripheral a touch as he had taken to move from place to place. But it seemed a thousand hungry eyes had stared at him as he passed on through the blackness.

Still as a rabbit caught in headlights, he searched the location for some sign that it was occupied by more than just himself, but with nothing immediately obvious, he hadn't the time to waste pandering to his paranoia more than he already had. His feet carried him further in, aphonous upon a cushion of smothering gloom.

He’d appeared in a circular area open to the sky above and ringed by a dark grove of twisted trees with night black vines weaving among the branches like leafy snakes. What should have been brick blocking access to the space from the back of the temples was, instead, a craggy cave-like wall of speckled granite stone. It appeared as if some giant hand had cleaved off the side of a mountain and abandoned it right there in the middle of the buildings. Apparently, that had had brought the cave along with it, as well.

In the face of the wall was an opening, blacker than black, outlined by engravings and carvings that almost glowed with their own freakish light. From the depths of that blackness seeped thin, wispy tendrils of noxious mist. Set before the cave entrance was a raised stone platform balanced on sturdy iron pillars. A huge, bronze dish was tucked underneath the stainless, sacrificial altar, empty for the moment.

He'd read about it in his studies. Sulphuric waters near the temple at Avernus, the 'place without birds', an opening to the Underworld in an Italian crater. He knew full well going anywhere near those fumes would bode ill for him, but the grotto there had harboured a Sybil’s secrets. Could he really afford not to try because the air was poisonous? Maybe if he held his breath... He pulled the collar of his tunic up over nose and mouth, and approached the altar cautiously, eyes narrowed against the stinging fumes.

The sense of that energy Mesteno had tracked was everywhere, growing distinctly stronger as he moved closer to the fumes. It was there, beyond the supernatural blackness that even his keen gaze couldn't penetrate, shrouded from view by underworld magic. Its presence leaked, liked the mist, as if the opening wasn't completely sealed, permeating the area to warp the trees and the vines and completely kill off the grass, leaving hard packed dirt for the priests to kneel upon. To his left, there was an entrance in the wall to the Plutonium, but the doors were closed, isolating the worshippers within the temple. To the right and tucked between the mountain wall and the wall of the building was another set of wide, double doors without handles. Big enough to herd a few bulls through for the sacrifices.

Before he had chance to do more that look, somewhere behind him, something let free a horrifying screech. The golems hadn't seen him shadow stepping into that sacred area, but they knew that someone not properly anointed was now in there.

Mesteno’s spine stiffened and he whipped around sharply to face the archway the golems guarded. Up above he glimpsed it, the outline of a manticore giving another hideous shriek. No time. No time to attempt moving the stone. Nowhere to hide except the dead end of a cave. He swore bitterly, and cloaked himself in shadow once more. He needed to get close enough to the Comitium on the other side of the archway to be able to pinpoint an exit dark enough for another shadow step.

This time, there weren't a thousand hungry eyes watching Mesteno step through the shadows. This time, there was only one set of luminous, dark eyes staring at him from the ageless, pretty face of a woman with long, curling red hair. She stood right there on the path, between Mesteno's starting point and his destinations, and she smiled. It was not a pleasant smile.

"Who is this," she asked in a tone as cold as the shadowlands, her Latin was exquisitely perfect, "that skulks upon my threshold like a thief?"

Of all the things he'd prepared him for, this was not one of them. The woman need not say her name. There was too much adding up to a single identity for him to doubt the conclusions he'd drawn, and he froze again, compelled to put as much distance between them as he was able, but fully aware it was not something he'd achieve in her presence. He stood upon her land, just as he'd stood upon Hades' land and learned the hard way that trying to buck authority would not result in a desirable outcome.

Dormancy abated. He felt the sentience within wake in the wild-rush of his energy, sensed not fear, but an unexpected degree of shrewd calculation, machinations that made him concerned it might act against his wishes. While the manticore shrieked its warning above, and his escape route lay blocked by his unwilling host, he held his ground and did his damnedest to keep things in check, monitoring what stirred even as he scrabbled mutely for an answer to her question.

Hades’ wife. What was she doing working with the opposite side of the Pantheon? And then it struck him. Daughter of Zeus. A complex family if ever there was one.

"No one of consequence," he told her after his initial faltering, and lowered himself to one knee with an elegance he usually lacked. His current role as the rich fop required a certain amount of solicitous worship however; he didn't know for certain whether she recognised him. "I came not to steal anything, but out of eagerness to see what lay here where those I worship most vehemently keep their altar."

Maybe he should contact Lexius. Maybe--- damn it. He didn't want to drag him in front of a Power. He kept his eyes lowered, and the shadows wrapped about them.

The Goddess lifted one hand to run her fingers through those shadows, stroking the darkness like it was a pet she was allowing him to command. For the moment, anyway. She was tall for a woman, her ample curves draped in the shimmering green shade of spring. The dress flowed as she walked, leaving one pale shoulder bare and rippling about her feet like grass bending before a breeze that did not exist.

"No one of consequence." She repeated musingly, stepping closer to where he knelt. She didn't sound convinced.

Just beyond them, the manticore hovered in the sky still shrieking it terrible alarm, though it didn't seem to see either of them there at the edge of the Shadowlands. The guards who came in through the archway lingered at the edge of the sacred space, torches held high as they searched in vain for the interloper. No one, it seemed, dared to actually cross into the area fully. But the closed doors to the Plutonium did finally open, admitting the robed figures of three priests who came shuffling forward boldly. Kore ignored them all in favour of the would-be fop kneeling at her feet.

"You lie well, for no one of consequence." She accused softly, something of a laugh in her musical voice. It was easy to see how Hades had become so smitten with her charms. "And my pets seem to favour you." She spoke of the shadows, his control of them. She gave a little yank at the darkness, as if threatening to strip it right off him and leave him exposed to the searching priests. "Did that wretch send you here, looking for me?"
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Mesteno
Old Wyrm
Old Wyrm


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41272.18 Silver Crowns

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PostPosted: Sun May 13, 2018 10:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

[Continued...]

The charade was up. Kore seemed to intimate that straight talk would be appreciated over charming deceptions, so Mesteno rose again, and faced her from his shroud of shadow, uttering a soft oath when she teased him with its destruction. He didn't fight her for it, but waited until she released it of her own accord before drawing it in the way it had been, as if she'd dared peel back a physical cloak he wore without propriety and he meant to recover some decency.

"They've long been amenable to assisting me," he agreed, his eyes darting towards the trio of priests, but only long enough to note their obliviousness before granting her his undivided attention. "The 'wretch' did not," he confessed, and though he'd been tempted to add that the bastard couldn't even locate him, some wise voice lurking behind his usual impulse warned him off it. Admit to no aid? Oh he'd be picked apart in moments. "I am here of my own volition."

Kore didn't quite know who he as, much less his associations, but she knew damn well what Mesteno wasn't. He was no worshiper of hers or her contemptable husband (even if there was a certain, stirring taste about him that thrummed with a darkly inclined affinity). Perhaps it was that sense which had intrigued enough to coax her into conversation. There was more, of course. Something else that she, a divine being, could sense lingering about Mesteno's presence now that she was so close. It kept her from touching him outright, but her fingers swept perilously close to his face as he ordered the darkness about them once more.

"To what purpose?" She crossed behind him, circling about his position like a beautiful snake looping him loosely in the gleaming coils of her scaled body. The vibrant green of her dress trailed her, exaggerating the effect. "This place is sacred," she continued knowingly, "and you are not a priest."

The three priests had clustered together before the opening in the cave, able to see the unusual clump of shadows there that would not be dispersed, but they were uncertain what to do about it. The manticore had landed atop the arch to observe, while soldiers awaited orders anxiously.

Now Mesteno needed to construct a lie, and at these he was terrible, even with his own hide at risk. The energy twisted restlessly, as much the snake as she seemed to be, and his fingers curled up, balling into ineffectual fists as he dipped another look towards the staring priests. Any hope then of finishing his self-appointed tasks would be thoroughly extinguished if she revealed him.

"The auguries went awry, bad omens abound, and yet the sacerdos seem intent on pressing forward with the renewal at the Plutonium," he murmured, offering no lie (yet) in the hopes that she would seize upon that fact and be more open minded with what he constructed to follow. "I meant to learn why they shrouded this place, in case something they did here was sacrilegious. There are whispers running rife that they are not following the will of the Gods, but are about some business of their own to cause such ill-fated signs. Now you call your husband 'wretch' and I wonder what it is they keep from us that is whispered to their ears only. I meant to bring truth back to those who would hear it, to set minds at ease. I suspect the opposite may occur." If he were permitted to leave, he seemed to imply.

Finally... Lexius. Watch. Urgently, he sent the mental command. He wanted him to see what he saw, heard. No time for pleasantries!

The Elf had already been attuned and waiting for Mesteno's call. Even with the curtain shrouding the tie between them and distance making it thin, he could sense the sudden tension that had tightened the other end of the link. The moment Mesteno said his name, he was there, in the man's head and tapping into his optic nerves to see. I am here. He assured in a whisper of thought that really could have been Mesteno's own.

The moment Mesteno knew Lexius had the benefit of his sight, he turned his focus to the priests, across the open cave mouth with its noxious fumes, across the doors to the Plutonium and the altar with its bare ground. He meant to reap the benefits of having a second pair of eyes see what he saw. Likely just in case he didn't make it out, and the knowledge could still be of use to someone else.

Kore paused, a frown turning her full lips down in an expression that was still lovely despite (or perhaps because of) its displeasure. "The renewal must go forward." She insisted, suddenly intent. Maybe even a little petulant.

Mesteno’s eyes snapped back sharply to her. The problem with the Gods the Greeks had created was how very human they were at their core, with all the flaws associated with the race paired right alongside their impressive powers.

Kore seemed to recall herself, suddenly haughty as she looked him over. Her expression took on a note of distaste. "Or do you oppose the return of spring?" He suspicions of his presence had turned down a different road, now. Perhaps she could taste the deception he hid beneath his words so cunningly twisted with the truth. She didn't pause long enough to allow him to answer despite her doubts, hinting toward the fact she might just be a little unstable. "The Wretch is behind these ill omens, but he may wail all he wishes. Dis shall be the saviour of all and you," she stabbed a long, blood red nail in Mesteno's direction, "will tell all it is Our will."

It was too late to be obsequious, but Mesteno thought he might at least cool her anger with a lie of compliance. Before it could work its way of his twisted tongue however, she curled her hand into a fist, and pulled the shadows away from him and back into her full control. One of the priests exclaimed loudly as the Sadist's outline suddenly became visible.

Lexius did not immediately snatch him away, despite the danger, though Mesteno wasn’t sure whether it was because he couldn’t, so deep in controlled territory, or because he had faith in his abilities to worm out of an awkward situation. Whatever the case, he couldn't drop the act now. She'd never let him loose of the guarded avenue if he acted as suspicious as to bolt.

The guards went immediately on alert, but they still didn't come rushing in to swarm over Mesteno. The manticore on the arch flared its leathery wings as if it would take flight, but it remained poised and ready rather than recklessly swooping down into the sacred space. Its amber eyes were locked on the Mesteno from on high, as were those of the priests, who fanned out a little and were chanting some nonsense as the shadows fully fled from Mesteno's location. Here, in this space, the darkness would act so for only a handful of reasons and they weren't about to neglect saying a prayer or two, just in case.

"As you command," he offered to Kore, keeping tight control of the timbre of his voice. Let the priests hear that, and wonder to whom he spoke.

It was time for one of the biggest bluffs he'd ever attempted. He turned to the priests and schooled his features into a serenity even Lexius might have been proud of. Never mind the mental mantra of so ****ed, so ****ed, was bouncing about his head like a pinball.

"Listen well!" He demanded of the priests with an edge of imperiousness and a hand raised to point, almost as if he were about to incriminate them of something. "Kore of Demeter, the Saviour Maiden would have you know the will of the Gods. She would have it declared that the ill omens abounding are the work of he who stole her. Dis will be our saviour. Do not falter in the tasks set before you. I am to inform those who whisper of doubt that this is the intent of the Gods, not to be questioned!"

Like he was some damn prophet!

He’d erred, using Kore and Demeter's Greek names rather than what the Roman, but his mention of Dis stayed the spears the guards had been raising, and stalled the curses the priests had been on the verge of uttering.

The ground beneath their feet rumbled and thicker coils of noxious mist suddenly roiled from the hidden cave behind the priests. Light flared there, crimson and gold, as if intoning their names had called up another god. All eyes turned to the cave where the mundus was hidden, the unnatural blackness now stripped away to show the ill-fitting stone that covered the opening into the realms below. Was that a face in the cover stone? Distinctly male and decidedly displeased.

You should leave. The Elf advised quietly in Mesteno's mind.

The priests dropped to their knees like their legs had been cut out from under them, babbling fresh prayers in Latin to the glory and the majesty of Orcus. The guards, too, had taken a knee, driving the points of their spears into the ground as they bent their head. Only the manticore refrained from making any sort of obeisance to the manifestation of the God, though it still didn't come winging down from atop the arch. Instead, it was shrieking again, a call of exultation rather than alarm.

But the Mundus! Mesteno's reply was impulsive, but with obvious frustration he followed the Elf's advice instead of his own reckless urges, slipping away down the avenue at a headlong run with the heavy gold jewellery he'd thrown on to play the fop clinking noisily. No shadows at his behest to muffle the sound nor pull about him for a trip into the Shadowlands, he relied on his feet instead and that preternatural turn of speed that took him out beneath the arch where the manticore had been stationed and back into the Comitium where he made immediately for the one of the cobbled streets leading off it.

The guards were too slow to impede his preternaturally swift progress past their ranks, but they were soon up and in pursuit along with the manticore. That dreadful roar that chased him was something new altogether, yet it was only the sounds that pursued the man. Free of Kore's particular sacred ground, he’d gone plunging back into the shadows, and used them to hop from alley mouth, to shadowed balcony, to distant rooftop, dipping in and out of that frigid plane more rapidly than he knew was safe.

The last jump took longer than it should have, the bitter bite of the umbra's natural chill leeching the heat from his already low-temperature body. He stumbled out shivering violently, ice crisping his eyelashes and making the damp at the hem of his breeches stiff where he'd splashed through puddles on his escape. He sank to a crouch as much because his legs demanded it as to hide himself from any pursuit from Hephaestus' creations, gritting his teeth against the reflex chatter and rubbing with as much energy as he could muster at his chest to try and build up some body heat.

I *** up, he muttered angrily to Lexius. Why the *** did I call her that? Disappointment ran thick as treacle, auto-admonition making him drum the heel of his palm against his brow as if to knock some sense into himself. I'm sorry. So stupid.

The activity at the Mundus had the distant streets lit brightly as a hunt for him commenced, and there was more than one winged shape now cruising over that domain in futile search of the man.

Lexius spoke quietly in the wake of the Sadist's apologies. I will bring you to me if you need. He could see Mesteno was, for the moment, safe. But he could also tell the man had pushed himself rather viciously with the shadow hopping. He didn't want to add the shock of a teleport without warning.

No. It was immediate, not ungrateful, but clear that Mesteno didn't need rescuing, and hadn't yet finished his activities in the Roman portion of the Temple District yet.

Lexius accepted the denial without complaint and with only a mild flash of disapproval which had more to do with his own need to see Mesteno clear of danger than it did with the Sadist's decision to remain neck deep in it. Lexius was certain he'd be having that battle with himself often in the foreseeable future, but at least he seemed to be accepting of it rather than raging against the inevitability of it.

Very well. He murmured across the man's mind.

Knuckling at his eyes as the ice began to melt and turn his lashes to spikes, Mesteno cast a cautious look toward the circling shape of the airborne manticore and grimaced. The thing might not be able to find any taint by which to pursue him, but they'd seen him, and he wouldn't have been at all surprised if what it saw was visible to its maker, too. Would it recognise him? How long before they pieced the puzzle together and deduced his identity? Not long enough, he thought.

I have to find where they're keeping the aurochs, he reminded Lexius in case he thought he was simply being stubborn for refusing aid. I'll be all right in a few minutes, though if you're at my place I won't complain if there's a fire in the hearth when I get back. It was only half a joke. He didn't expect the Elf to see to such menial tasks, or to be there waiting for him when he'd other things to do.

Another vicious shudder rattled him against the chimney of the building he'd perched on, and he bunched himself tighter, making as small a surface area as he could to avoid losing further body heat. The Mundus is too well guarded for me to try and uncap it, he deduced. That bitch was there within seconds of me slipping past the guards. I felt eyes on me before the alarm was even called. I have no control of the shadows when she's around. Gonna have to try and come up with another way to slow things down, instead of resorting to spooking the worshippers.

Have a care for the other temples, Lexius advised. She has probably advised the others of the intrusion by this time. If they are that strong and aware within their spaces, you would do well to avoid them. I doubt they will take to walking the grounds themselves given the distance they prefer to keep from their faithful, but their avatars will surely be about. Can you change your look?

Though the sky remained clear and unclouded, the streets below Mesteno were now active with guards and the faithful. The bulk of the activities were centred around the temples and where people were coming and leaving at the district’s gates, suffering inspections before they were cleared to do so. But there was a certain level of chaos amongst all that. No one had a good, clear description of Mesteno himself so soon after the encounter and thus existed some opportunity.

To an extent, Mesteno admitted. Enough to get by, I suspect. I'll see what security is like around the location I was given by my informants. If it's been increased because of some alert, I'll leave the aurochs for another night. But at the very least he meant to scope out the area with his own eyes.
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Mesteno
Old Wyrm
Old Wyrm


Joined: 09 Nov 2008
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41272.18 Silver Crowns

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PostPosted: Tue Jun 12, 2018 5:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

[Continued...]

The shakes had ebbed enough for Mesteno to be able to unfasten the catches on the gaudy jewellery, stow it in his pockets and rid himself of its eye-catching gleam. Hair ties were yanked out carelessly so that it fell wild, unruly and dark. The contact lenses were last, the piercing blue giving way to the natural wolf's gold, nocturnal gleam unguarded by all but carefully half-mast lids. Now he looked the wild man, but such minor adjustments wouldn't throw people off for long. He stripped off the Roman tunic, and made do with naught but the forest green beater top beneath, steeling himself against the lingering chill. He found a place to stow the tunic under a loose tile, then began the slow, cautious descent across the slick roof, crouched like a skulking cat to get a look out over the adjacent buildings.

Keeping well away from any formal looking edifices that might have been temple facilities, he went bounding on foot from ledges to roofs and down via balconies and windows until he was back on the street and out of the wind. A lone pedestrian headed home for the evening and reeking of cheap wine made an easy target for a change of clothes, snatched into an alley and struck soundly, a practiced blow that put him out without an unnecessary kill. Let whomever found him think he'd stumbled over drunk.

Lexius had fallen quiet, but his presence hadn't receded. In fact, the link became less thinly stretched by distance as he teleported to a closer location. In the city somewhere, if not within the Roman territory itself. Mesteno felt it of course, a little resigned to what it might imply. The Elf was not content to let him throw himself headlong into danger without at least being somewhere close at hand, and whilst his pride prickled at the perceived insult, he knew striking a balance was only fair. It was Lexius’ instinct to have control of a situation fraught with risk, and Mesteno had denied him that. As changed as he was going to get without a glamour, he moved on towards the farmland he'd heard had been restricted for the sacrificial animals.

Hiding out in the open as he had before, he attempted to act naturally and not succumb to the urge to slide out of sight whenever the passing forge-born flew overhead. The coat he'd stolen stank of more than just spilled wine, and a hot shower climbed swiftly to the top of his to do list, assuming he made it home.

Think I'm getting close, he murmured mentally to the Elf, as the buildings began to give way to pastureland. He paused to look for the bulk of the aurochs' dark shapes in the fields, but it wasn’t long before he found himself confronted by a guarded gate.

Luckily, there were only two guards at this point of entry to the district. The pastures beyond belonged to the Romans, and were worked almost exclusively by the faithful. Given Mesteno's quick exit from the Plutonium, no one had seemed to be anticipating that he might go deeper onto Roman lands, so most of the searching was taking place on the exits that led back into RhyDin city. The only complication was a small, mechanical crow sitting on a perch just beside the guard position.

Mesteno avoided moving directly into their view, and was not over-hasty in approaching. Surveillance was all he'd intended for it that evening, to gauge how well guarded the facilities were and the number of animals being housed there. Tucked away amongst a copse of fig trees where he could delicately draw the shade of their tangled branches about him, he studied the equipment the guards carried, and their mechanical companion. Spears, short swords, helmets carelessly cast off. Despite the alerts, they seemed only semi-invested in their duties, more involved in their conversation than keeping vigil on the road and the skies. The crow was a cunningly crafted little creature with unblinking amber eyes and an unnaturally smooth way of moving for a construct.

I'll have to find another way around, he told the Elf as he studied the avenue. There must be some rear entrance, this way would be far too obvious if we were going to try and relocate the herd.

It wouldn't have been beyond his skills to defeat two meagre guards, but the crow made him cautious. Unsure whether it was another of Hephaestus' pets or the toy of another of the pantheon, he didn't even want to attempt blinding it by surrounding it solely by shadow. Knowing his luck the wretched thing would panic, or its maker would be alerted by the sudden blank visuals and decide to pay a personal visit.

Leaving his cover behind, and keeping his distance from sentries, he found his way to the rear of buildings adjacent to the wall. The gated avenue he’d avoided was the main thoroughfare between the pasturelands and the temple grounds, but it wasn't the only way, and it wasn’t long before he found a suspiciously unguarded gate, man sized, and leading out into the rear of a row of buildings beyond.

He didn't like what he found. Why guard one entrance and leave the other so invitingly open? Back to the rooftops, he engaged in a little more light-footed free running to bring himself above the pathway the unguarded gate led into, dropped low and peered cautiously over. Several fenced acres for cattle, pigs, sheep and goats, and plenty of arable land, expansive and completely walled in. There certainly had to be gates in those outer walls, pathways where the cattle were herded in from elsewhere. He just needed to find them. He scowled down at the place darkly, palms resting lightly on knees.

I'm not going to be able to get the Alfars’ brothers through here, no matter how silently they move. They're just too big to play sheepdog-- gonna have to think of another method, he confessed dismally. The evening had been something of a shambles so far.

Lexius replied after a thoughtful pause. If the perimeter pastures are not warded or patrolled, you may be able to bring them in that way. Getting to the barns may be easy enough, but getting them and the aurochs out again will be a problem. Unless you gate them. Another pause, watching still through the Sadist's eyes. Can you get to the barns?

That's a lot of wall to walk, Mesteno thought back, troubled by the distance. I could ask Eorlund to send a bird and have it look for gates and patrols, but discovering whether or not there are wards in place won't be possible without a more personal visit. Still, if he can narrow down which is our best exit route, we can make a single visit to that spot and figure out if there are any that need dismantling.

'We', he'd said. Because not only was Mesteno incapable of such a feat, but he wasn't sensitive to such things and had no way of detecting them via other means. As much as he loathed having to drag the Elf into it, he wasn't going to be foolish enough to suggest they not investigate for wards.

We'll need somewhere pre-planned to herd them to just to keep them out of sight, he added as he walked along the roof's edge to find the safest way back down to the ground. It's too far to the Alfar settlement to think they won't get spotted. Gating that many animals isn't going to be easy, Lexius. Considering the work you had to put in to create gates from my place to the desert cave, is it even feasible?

He turned to clamber over the edge of the roof, lowering himself to a window and then down again, catching the edge with his fingertips to drop the final five feet and land cat-crouched opposite the barns. From there it was a soft-footed prowl across to the nearest barn, where he tucked himself tight to the wall and began to circle the perimeter to find the way in.

There was a note of approval in Lexius tone when he responded. Mesteno had after all (in a roundabout fashion) asked for his assistance. I cannot create a gate from one place to another within an existing realm without preparation, he explained, but I can create one on demand to another realm or dimension. Making it big enough, without being detected and sustaining it long enough to move that many aurochs and men, however, will be a challenge.

The barns weren't locked down, but there were herdsmen meandering about to watch over the animals during the night. These were plebeians though, not soldiers. The first entrance Mesteno found was unlocked and easily slipped through, revealing an orderly collection of about twelve black aurochs being watched over by a drowsing herdsman. The bulls seemed calm, and the barn was quiet as he roamed the central aisle, steering well clear of the handlers and avoiding getting too close to the cattle. It would only take one of them vocalising to draw attention. Through the open main doors, he glimpsed other barns, one of which had soldiers standing guard.

Lexius spotted it when Mesteno’s gaze panned that way. There.

Mesteno did as the Elf bid him, and abandoned the first barn to approach the new target stealthily. This time he searched for windows - there'd be no getting in via the front doors. They were clearly closed, guarded by well-armed, but bored looking, sentries. Two were dicing against the side of the building, speaking in hushed but excited whispers over the clink of coins and the rattle of bone dice. One of the other two was keeping half an eye on the game, the other on the wide path between the barns. The fourth was carving at a piece of wood with a wickedly sharp knife, looking up every few seconds to keep an eye on his half of the street.

Mesteno had just slipped into a shadow when that last guard straightened abruptly and squinted in his direction. The necromancer took care to hold particularly still until the man averted his attention, persuaded himself it was nothing. With a soft sigh of relief, Mesteno slid smoothly back into motion.
Having skirted along the side of the barn, he came across a smaller entrance, only to find it locked. He crouched to attempt some lock picking under the watchful eyes of the Elf – former assassin quite ready to critique if needed (there was a briefly distracting comment about a hacksaw being quicker) before finally slipping inside, door pulled gently closed behind him.

Inside the barn, it was impossible to hear the whispering of the gaming guards. All sound was swallowed by the shuffling, breathing and occasional snort or brief lowing coming from the four aurochs assembled there. At first glance, they seemed no different than the rest, with pitch black coats and impressive, arcing horns. The bulls were entirely separated from each other in stalls, though, rather than grouped together. A closer look revealed each of these specimens was a prime example of the breed, larger than any of those seen in the first barn, and each and every one had a white patch of fur on its broad forehead along with more white hairs decorating their backs.

The markings are close to identical, he was remarking to the Elf as he paused by one stall. Either that's significant, or they've dyed patches for some reason...I wonder if--... If he could get close enough to see if it looked natural, maybe to steal a strand of hair. Instead his sentence cut off sharply as the animal beside him lowed long and deep, and he substituted a curse for what he'd intended, moving away from the traitorous creature with deliberate slowness in order to avoid alarming it further.

Lexius had gone rather still in Mesteno's mind, keenly observant and just a touch...troubled? He’d seen those points of pale fur. They are looking for, or trying to create, Apis. He murmured.

No obvious alert sounded from the guards outside, whilst the bull, leaning against its stall door, stretching its head toward the Sadist. The wood creaked and the other animals shuffled about, snorting. Beneath that ruckus, he caught the sound of someone moving from a store room up front. Roused from his slumber, a boy stumbled out rubbing the sleep from his eyes, whilst outside, the guard who’d almost glimpsed their trespasser had begun a tour around the barn’s perimeter.

That name's supposed to mean something to me, isn't it? Mesteno remarked wryly. He'd seen it written somewhere, and recently too, but he couldn't recall it from the great tangle of schooling he'd embarked upon.

It will. The Elf assured calmly.

Reaching towards the stretched nose, Mesteno rubbed swiftly up towards the bright star of white on the aurochs’ brow, dislodging some of the hairs and coming away with them quickly, painlessly, so that he could make his escape towards the hayloft. He chose the one towards the back of the barn, as far from the herdsman as he could get. Again came the biting cold, the shadows enveloping him as if they wanted to keep him in the umbra permanently, and he was gone. It was too soon since his rooftop shadow hopping for his body to be happy about being plunged into those impossible temperatures again, but at least this time he had the stolen coat to offer some protection.

He emerged momentarily, near the edge of the hayloft, and immediately flattened onto his belly, sliding backwards and out of sight, eyes narrowed to hide their nocturnal gleam. No falling strands of hay to give him away, no movement. He lay still as a sniper.

Below, the guard slipped in through the unlocked door to investigate. The boy was patting the stirred up bull, and he was as startled by the man's appearance as the animal was. The aurochs tossed its head and the boy darted back. The other three bulls thrashed in their stalls. Peace and quiet, it seemed, was over. Toward the front of the barn, the main doors were being pulled open enough the other guards could look inside and investigate the commotion.

Inside the Sadist's mind, the Elf hummed again. Your time grows short.

Daring to dart a glance away from the disorder below, Mesteno rubbed his fingers together so that the hairs twirled into a clump (the better to avoid losing any). There'd be no getting out downstairs now, with the guards alerted.

They’ll be up here soon. Got what we needed, knowledge and samples. Fancy hauling me out? He almost sounded cheerful.

A moment. The Elf counselled serenely, without any explanation. Down below, the suspicious guard was gesturing to the others at the door. The youth was rubbing at the bulls back with a long cane to try and calm it, while the guards at the front of the barn came walking in further, lanterns in hand and raised high to chase back some shadows.

To his credit, there was no sense of impending panic from Mesteno's end of the link. He might be outnumbered, but he'd talent enough to survive bad odds with a few of his more unsavoury tricks, and knew he'd make it out so long as there was no further interference from watchful Greek deities.

Lexius came through however, finally gave something like a mental sigh. Be prepared. Was all the warning Mesteno got before his thoughts wrapped around the man from afar. It took a little longer than usual for the teleportation to take effect, and unlike before, when it happened there was a distinct feeling of being wrenched before the barn dissolved between one blink and the next.

The cabin appeared less than a heartbeat later and Mesteno appeared on his own porch with an Elf standing right in front of him. "Breathe" he reminded, as if he might have forgotten how.

A gasp stuck in Mesteno’s throat. He felt as if he’d been knocked off his axis, and couldn't have said why. The cold of earlier certainly hadn't helped but it wasn't the sole cause, and he caught himself on a clumsy backward stagger that had Lexius having to move forward, grabbing him by the stolen coat. "That was a rough one," he managed between clenched teeth, eyes closed. He was breathing as instructed though. "Everything's moving."

Lexius’ grip eased once Mesteno seemed steadier, one hand sliding around the back of the man's neck in warm support. "They are warding the area." He explained quietly. "I'm sure they felt me pull you out." He looked the man over, a vague smile curling across his mouth. "You were not dressed so when you left." He commented blandly. Of course he'd been there for the entire thing, but he was still amused with the drastic difference. Still, he wasn't letting Mesteno linger too long outside in the biting cold. "Come. You need coffee." He tugged the man into motion, toward the door and inside.

"Won't take 'em long to start gettin' suspicious about who it might have been lurking in there either," he remarked, a skewed smile slanting his mouth. His eyes were still shut, guarding against the wild-spun world, entirely trusting of wherever Lexius might lead him, even if by neck and coat. One hand lifted to find purchase in the front of jacket or shirt, whichever his blindly feeling fingers caught at the Elf's chest, and inside they went.

It appeared Lexius hadn’t forgotten Mesteno’s demand. A fire was burning. The necromancer felt the warmth before he saw its source, thanks to the self-imposed blindness, and his smile broadened significantly. "Y'so good to me," he declared on a low laugh, and leaned forward with eyes open to the narrowest bars of gold to smudge a kiss against his mouth, little more than an unskilled knock of heads with the way he almost reeled into him for the effort.

Surprised and pleased both, Lexius squeezed the man's neck in response before carefully letting him go. The beads, of course, got in a stinging slap before the Sadist moved away to the hearth rather than the kitchen, keeping the unsanitary coat on despite the smell.

"So many Powers are gonna be pissed about all this," he remarked brightly.

"You are correct on both counts, I think." Lexius stood and watched Mesteno for a moment, but soon was moving into the kitchen. His next words came along the link so there was no need for raised voices. That sense of distraction remained as he set to work on the coffee. There may well be implication to this upcoming ritual that reach farther than we anticipated. There was a note of grimness in his mental tone. I expect you to be out of that jacket by the time I return.

Mesteno settled artlessly beside the flames, the light glancing of the dark-dyed tangle of his mane in faint brown and auburn glints, as if even the dye couldn't quite smother all the vibrant colour that wanted out. Not a true black, not like the Elf's. Focusing on one spot on the bare floorboards to help stave off the last of the vertigo, he considered the Elf's ominous sounding supposition quietly, and reluctantly shrugged loose of the stolen jacket.

This is gonna have something to do with what you mentioned back there, isn't it? He asked. You said a name. Trying to recreate... He couldn't remember. He was tired. It'd sounded like... An ape or something.
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Mesteno
Old Wyrm
Old Wyrm


Joined: 09 Nov 2008
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 14, 2018 3:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

[Continued...]

The Elf left it the coffee to brew and joined Mesteno in the living room. The beads were already gone from his belt, perhaps banished for their bad behaviour, and he removed his jacket as he walked, tossing it over the arm of the couch. He moved to crouch behind the Sadist, flanking him with bent knees. He curled his palms around the man's arms to rub slowly up and down and he answered.

Mesteno turned, profile limned in firelight briefly, but rather than suspiciously trying to observe, the moment he felt the hands smoothing over his scarred, rigidly sinewy arms, he offered a low, appreciative grunt and leaned back, head swung toward the flames again.

"Apis." Lexius confirmed. "Or Hapis, depending on the text you read. An Egyptian Power." Mesteno's hair was a wild mess and the wrong colour entirely, but that didn't keep Lexius from trying to press his face into the softness of it as he spoke. "Aurochs bulls with specific markings were revered and said to embody his power." His explanation paused and he went suddenly still, focus turning keenly away for a moment as he listened to another mental communication.

"Egyptian, of course," Mesteno muttered, as if that very fact had been just out of reach; he'd known! "But this clarifies what Aiden mentioned about the attempted allegiance with other Earth pantheons, so we can't be too shocked. Perhaps those animals aren't sacrifices if the bulls were revered. Perhaps they intend to introduce that deity to the Romans when they establish Dis as the new chthonic Power. Spring... renewal. She kept talking about that. Wonder whether she means at the equinox though, or whether it's going to be at Lemuria."

He'd been rambling on, voicing mind-spill, only to realise that Lexius' attention was split, the hands gone still on his arms. "What is it?" he asked, as the seconds ticked by.

Breaking his stillness, Lexius slid his fingers up and into the thickness of the Sadist's hair as he answered. "Jason reports they are shutting down the territory and working some kind of magic within. They will not be able to track you here, but they will undoubtedly strengthen and reinforce all their wards before opening their gates again." He eased back and shook his fingers loose of the hair with reluctance. The coffee, was waiting. "She implied spring may not come if the ritual is disrupted." He observed as he stood again and stepped back toward the kitchen. "If that is so, it may cause more problems than allowing the war."

Mesteno eased out of his kneel, parking himself on his underpadded rear, and watched Lexius as he moved off to the kitchen. "Why the Hell would their screwing around with the order of the pantheons prevent the arrival of spring? They can't stall the seasons. Even if the Grecian, Roman, Egyptian mess are all allied, there's so many other pantheons here--- oh you mean on Earth?"

The Elf didn't answer until he made his way back into the main room with two mugs of steaming coffee in hand.

"Hundreds of Earths, if not more. It depends how many dimensions these Pantheons still hold sway in." He offered Mesteno a mug then turned to drag his satchel closer with the toe of one boot before he settled beside the man. Coffee set down for the moment, he procured a small, capped vial from his bag and held it up for the hairs the Sadist had managed to steal. "Spring was related to her release from the Underworld, a contract dictated between the pair from the beginning. With the Split and the fact she did not go with her husband, it may well be she is stuck below." It was one possibility, at least. "Aiden will know more of the intricacies." He added with a steady, meaningful look.

"I remember the story," Mesteno admitted, setting his mug down so that he could push the little twist of hairs into the vial Lexius held out. A mere five or six strands, but something to work on at the very least. "So she's trapped, or at least her power to bring forth the spring is," since he'd obviously seen her above ground despite the shadows! "Unless Dis is raised up, grants her release and then the seasons flow as normal." As for Aiden... "He always knows more, he just fails to fill us in on things we should know in order to be as effective as we can be." He picked his mug up again, letting the heat of it seep through the fabric of his breeches into his thigh where it rested, steaming.

"Now that they're increasing security, I'm going to have to call it quits on the sabotage for a while," he admitted darkly, brows knotting and a faint, forward stoop to his sharply boned shoulders. "Maybe the bastard will have some idea how we can still be effective thorns without falling under the scrutiny of more Powers. Maybe giving him information about the Apis bulls will give him something to go to the Company with though," he pointed out.

The Elf took up his own mug, holding it close enough to let the steam curl against his nose and lips as he continued to watch Mesteno past the rim. His smile was faint. "We did tell Aiden we do not wish to be overly involved." He reminded.

"Well, that's true enough," Mesteno conceded with only minimal grumble to his tone. "Though I suspect he probably figured out that the sabotage goin' on has been my doin'. Or maybe he assumes it's a joint effort. Either way, it's not something he or his people instigated, and maybe he just told me exactly what he knew I needed to hear in order to spur me into action. He's a demi-god. Anything with 'god' in the title tends towards a certain measure of manipulation."

"Holding off on any more outright interference seems prudent.” Lexius smile deepened, and he tapped his fingers lightly against his mug and finally braved a slow, careful sip as he pondered other possibilities. His eyes narrowed with pleasure for the taste. “And perhaps informing him, as you say, will help the situation in other ways."

As usual, Mesteno wasn't quite ready to scald his tongue, so he waited a while longer to drink, and took the opportunity to observe Lexius, to quietly relish his satisfaction in the coffee.

"Did Jason happen to mention while you guys were talkin' whether he had any luck tracking down the Powers that farmer family worshipped?" he asked, loath to abandon his uncharacteristically chaste voyeurism, but still very much focused on business for the time being. "We shouldn't waste the opportunity to tell Aiden who they are in case he can find time out of womanisin' to approach them. If they're not an earth origin Power, he might be able to secure some kind of allegiance, or at least make life more difficult for ol' Thunderbolt's lot by makin' 'em unpopular. Imagine if they started stealing worshippers. Defamation of character and that kinda thing."

Resting his mug atop a bent knee, Lexius reached to drag his fingers through the loose, flyaway strands of hair rippling about Mesteno’s face. He just might be losing interest in business, though he didn't try and change the subject or deflect Mesteno's questions.

"Unfortunately, it seems they are just names for the earth and the sky, both of which are tied into the elements rather than any particular Power. It helps them understand the manifestation of magic among some of their people. It may still be worth mentioning to him, in case there is any way his side can manipulate things to their advantage. The Greek way of life may appeal to those of the herdsmen and those who work in the wilds."

The news seemed to disappoint Mesteno, and he sighed quietly as another idea bit the proverbial dust. "Spring is right around the corner. Trying to indoctrinate people to a new way of worship isn't going to be easy. Missionaries would take way too long. Direct interference by the Powers? Well we know that's not allowed. They have to do everything in their round-about, convoluted ways." He traced vague and tangled shapes in the air with one hand to demonstrate.

Leaning his weight into one knee-propped elbow, he became quiet, introspective. Always some machination afoot in his busy head, and of course these days, Lexius was effortlessly exposed to it when he chose to look. Could Vadriel's spooks move the Mundus cover? Maybe they'd get harmed by Kore... Perhaps they could pay a visit or ten to other earth-born religious areas of the Temple District and encourage them to cut any friendly associations they had with the Romans. Maybe it wasn't too late to call in the Watch and have them investigate the stolen cattle? Or perhaps--

"They're screwin' around with Egyptian deities. Would those things we found in Jetrell’s lockbox be worth something to 'em? A bargaining chip?" He meant the crook and the flail. And there came the focus back in his eyes.

Lexius had been sat waiting patiently, applying a little Will to the dye coating the Sadist's hair. It was a delicate, precise exercise, breaking apart the molecules without destroying the base. Little by little, dark flakes began to coat his fingers, leaving behind the usual crimson and gold glow.

He looked back up to the Sadist's face when he finally proposed an option, thoughtful. "It would be better if we understood what they did, but that may well be an option." His brow furrowed and his gaze skated toward the fire as he continued. "They are not strongly worshipped here. And in most Earth cultures, they were subsumed by the Romans. They may well welcome a foothold elsewhere.”

There was a single, reddening lock amidst all the sombre looking, near black. Mesteno observed it, quietly fascinated. "How many months have you had those things, and not yet discovered their function? Mi Magister, how very unlike you." His turn to tease, eyes bright and deviant, but he lifted his coffee at last to hide the growing smile behind the lip of the mug.

The Elf slanted a sidelong at him, attempting severity. The expression lacked it usual dire potency. "I believe I've been rather distracted with other, much more pleasant pursuits." He just might have winked at the end of his defence.

Gentle mockery aside, Mesteno considered the Egyptian potential again, albeit briefly, and reached to knead with his free hand at the nape of his own neck. "They've already suffered one setback here, when Sobek's attempt to get a foothold *** up. He'll speak out against us if he knows we're involved, and chances are he'll have found out Aiden was schmoozing with his worker bees months ago and think the timing is strangely coincidental. Whatever happens, he's not gonna be too happy with any of his pantheon taking the side of someone that stood opposed to him. You in particular should lay low." He'd killed the son after all! "You'll have to sit it out and play safe." More tease.

Lexius snorted softly. "I will sit out as gracefully as you have." He quipped in return, giving a light tug to the new strands of hair he'd captured to strip clean of the dye. His fingers were blackening for the effort, but he didn't seem to care. "The Pantheon is desert born and Sobek is a minor player amongst them, his powers far less potent amidst the deep sand. That I bested him and his progeny may well work in my favour in coaxing the major players onto another path." Ideas were solidifying in the Elf's mind now that Mesteno had offered his suggestion.

"That or they'll think they have to make an example of you," Mesteno pointed out, cautious of having Lexius exposed. "I say we send Aiden in to test the waters first. He should be able to gauge the mood and see how important those items really are. If they don't bite the bait, there's no harm done. It's just another avenue to explore."

There was a flicker of amusement writhing through all that concern and business-like seriousness though. He took another swallow of coffee, and this time the grin was broad when he lowered the mug. "A pleasant pursuit, huh? You make me sound like a hack out in the country. Maybe a picnic or a leisurely Sunday afternoon stroll." He considered reaching across with a foot to nudge him, but knew he'd risk coffee spillage, so he simply leaned back, slouching with a hand parked just rear of his own backside so that the hair pulled free from between Lexius' fingers as if he were staging a mock protest.

Lexius narrowed his eyes again, this time with suspicion, but it was the hair being pulled from his fingers that sparked a true frown. There was no real heat behind the displeasure, but the words would not go unaddressed. "You are far more compelling than a picnic or a stroll." He assured, raking his gaze with slow meaning across the new post Mesteno had taken. There was far more to it than the physical, of course. The type of discourse they were currently engaged in was equally attractive to the Elf.

"Look't you all silver tongued," Mesteno laughed, a warm and intimate sound. Lexius had been more complimentary with his eyes than with his denial, though that'd pleased him too. That simple word 'compelling'. He didn't think anyone had ever called him that before. "How long d'you think we oughta leave it before we contact Aiden again?" He asked, deliberately changing the subject.

"Not long." The Elf decided. "He may be able to take some advantage of the current bit of chaos you've stirred up."

"I'll leave the liaising to you again,” Mesteno agreed with a nod. “You can pick the place this time. Best to keep switching up the rendezvous point. I'll be curious to know what Hades has to say about his wife, too. Maybe you should mention that bit of business when you get in touch. Might inspire his Uncle to go on the offensive if he isn't workin' on something already."
Mug tipped up, and he emptied what was left of the coffee from it with a final swallow. "Needed that," he admitted wonderingly. "Gratias." As if he'd never thought he'd actually come to appreciate the stuff.

Lexius finished his own coffee then leaned to take the empty from the Sadist's fingers and set both mugs aside, well out of the way. "Of course." His response simple, and he eyed Mesteno over again in a lingering in the lean that had brought him closer. "You are warmer." It wasn't a question. "How can I entice you to become cleaner?"

Predictably, Mesteno didn’t require much motivation.

[End]
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