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Greatest Gift

This forum is locked: you cannot post, reply to, or edit topics.   This topic is locked: you cannot edit posts or make replies.   printer-friendly view    Red Dragon Inn - Dragon's Mark Forum Index -> The Catacombs -> Sovereign Legacy
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Sofia DeMuer
Young Wyrm
Young Wyrm

Joined: 05 Apr 2009
Posts: 88
See this user's pet
Can Be Found: Teobern, St. Aldwin or New Haven, RhyDin
5083.74 Silver Crowns


PostPosted: Sun Jun 30, 2013 12:24 pm    Post subject: Greatest Gift Reply with quote

“Your name is Maxx Strike?”

Maxx looked away from the scantily clad dancers on the stage of the Capri Lounge in the Flame Tree Grove Casino to the exotic beauty at his side dressed in nothing but a sequined bikini. His eyes roamed her body before they found her face to respond to the question. “It is,” he replied with a smirk.

She purred as she found his gaze, turning her body more fully towards him. “Sounds like a hacker’s name. Are you a hacker, Maxx?”

Situated in the lush tropical gardens on the tiny world of Telee, the Flame Tree Grove Casino channeled Havana’s Tropicana Club of the 1940s and 1950s, serving as an oasis for the wealthy looking to waste money on craps tables and drink to their hearts were content while watching risque burlesque shows. The women were beautiful, the drinks were cold, the men wore suits.

It was like living out a scene from Mad Men and that was exactly why Travis “Maxx Strike” Hawthorne loved spending his down time at “The Grove” as regulars tended to call it.

Maxx coughed out a laugh as he reached for his glass of bourbon, allowing his eyes to leave the beauty beside him on the couch to take in the plethora who were attending to him and his trio of body guards. His eyes never made it past their necks. “Not at all,” he replied without expanding on what it was he did to earn enough money to afford to be a regular at The Grove.

He couldn’t blame the question. It wasn’t just his name that set him apart from the typical patrons -- overweight middle age men sometimes with a women young enough to be their daughters at their sides. Instead, Maxx Strike was a skinny twenty-three year old African-American kid from upstate New York whose father served as museum curator sparking the love of all things arcane in Maxx. Unfortunately for his father, Maxx didn’t use his lessons in entirely legal ways.

He also couldn’t blame the fact that she thought he might do something illegal. After all, he had been nowhere this weekend without his three bodyguards -- ‘No Neck’, ‘Bubba’, and ‘Alpha’... or at least that’s what Maxx called them since he couldn’t seem to remember their actual names.

“Travis is a thief,” a voice informed the small crowd gathered in the balcony.

The voice caused Maxx’s stomach to twist. His eyes finally lifted to the faces of the women gathered among him until they met a pair of pale blue eyes. Dread hit him in a vicious wave, threatening to tug him under into a sea of panic. She was dressed like the rest. Cleavage was gathered up for display and framed by sequins in baby blues and purples with feathers and tropical flowers of the same shades decorating her hair. Her bare midriff and legs were exposed by the tight fitting cabaret costume. Now he noticed that those legs weren't as lithe and shapely as the other women. Instead, her muscles were lethal and taut, poised for action. These legs were not like the others. These legs were not built for dancing, these legs were built for violence.

“Sofia DeMuer,” Maxx stated evenly.

The identification of the woman among them spurred the body guards into movement. No Neck was the closest and he immediately reached for the gun holstered beneath his ill-fitting suit jacket, causing the women to duck for cover. Well, all the women with the exception of Sophie. The heels of her palms were launched out as she pushed herself to the side. Her attack caused his wrist to twist to an unnatural angle with a sharp crunch. No Neck howled. With both of their hands on the barrel, the gun fired in the direction that Sophie had shoved it. Bubba fell as a bullet struck his shoulder.

The gunfire caused screams to erupt from the women in the balcony hiding behind couches and fake palms as well as shouts of alarm from the greater lounge. There was a rush of movement as the lounge began to clear of guests escaping whatever was happening in the VIP balcony.

Both No Neck and Sophie lost their grip on the gun and it rattled to the floor tiles as Alpha charged in with a growl. His first massive punch missed as she dropped to a low crouch. An uppercut to the gut as she rose only seemed to make the big man more irritated. Her feet planted and she tried to twist her way out of the incoming attack but Alpha had surprising speed for his size.

A shot of hope warmed Maxx’s veins as Alpha slammed Sophie’s back into a wall, drawing her stilettos off the ground as his thick hands wrapped around her neck and lifted her from the floor. Her left hand reached up and grabbed his forearm as she tried to gasp for relief but there was none for her.

Just in the instant Maxx thought he might have collected himself a baroness, the tables turned. Her right hand struck out, the heel of her palm catching him in the neck while the right knee swung upward in a groin strike. Alpha buckled and lost his grip on the neck of the woman, doubling over in pain. The opening was seen and taken. Her foot was drawn up and then straight down with the heel thudded against the man’s skull. When Sophie’s foot landed back on the floor, Alpha lay face down and unconscious on the floor.

With his broken wrist wrapped against his body, an angry No Neck was bearing down on the brunette. With speed and grace, she continued her violent dance. Reaching down she grabbed a bottle of rum by its neck from a side table and launched into a tight spin. The bottle crashed against the side of No Neck’s head splintering in an array of glass shards and rum. No Neck fell at her feet.

Bubba had struggled through the pain radiating from his shoulder to yank free the gun from his holster with his non-dominant hand but just as he was able to finally free it, Sophie rose with one in her own hand, having stripped it off of Alpha’s prone form. Bubba’s gun was pointed at Sophie. Sophie’s was pointed at Maxx.

“Tell him I’m crazy enough to shoot.”

Maxx swallowed back the lump in his throat before glancing towards Bubba, offering a slow nod. There was whimpering from women in the balcony who hadn’t been able to dart for the stairs. Maxx ignored them. He was the only one in danger here. “Put your gun down,” he ordered Bubba.

Bubba complied, setting his gun down on a side table with one palm up and pulling away with both held out. Sophie’s blue eyes returned to Maxx. “You have ninety seconds to give me a good reason why I shouldn’t shoot you.”

“I thought you were supposed to be pregnant,” Maxx stalled as his mind worked in overtime to avoid telling her what he knew he would have to in order to live.

“The rumors are incorrect,” Sophie growled.

“I don’t know about that,” Maxx scrounged up a droll tone. “You’re looking a little tired and bloated.”

Sophie’s brows tightened in irritation, tilting her head ever so slightly to the side. “You just lost thirty seconds. Better think of a way to make yourself useful to me real quick.”

“Wait, wait, wait,” Maxx quickly replied, lifting his hands palms facing out towards her in a gesture of innocence. “C’mon. You know me. You’re not really going to kill me. It was just a prank.”

Exasperation filled Sophie’s tone and the gun remained pointed at Maxx. “You let a golem loose in an office building. People died. That’s not a prank.”

“Two people died and they were jerks anyway.”

The increasing irritation that tightened Sophie’s features gave Maxx pause. Two red marks marred her neck where Alpha had wrapped his hands. She was in no mood for his jokes. That was apparent. He was digging his grave, not finding a way out of it. There was only one possible route out of this mess. His lips tightened into a frown and before she had a chance to shoot to shut him up, he relented. “Fine. I know about Ad Lucem’s grand plan for the multiverse.”

Interest sparked in Sophie’s eyes which after a moment lifted to Bubba, motioning with her gun towards the stairs. “Get the girls out of here.”

The remaining several women and Bubba wasted no time in making for the stairs, leaving Sophie, Maxx, and the two unconscious body guards on their own. The band had stopped playing and had made a hasty exit from the stage at the sound of gunfire. The place had emptied on a busy Saturday night. Maxx listened to the sounds of the women and Bubba heading out of the lounge, silently lamenting the fact that after this mess he would most certainly be banned from The Grove.

“What do you know?”

Maxx drew in a breath, concentrating on the feathers dangling from Sophie’s hair rather than the gun pointed in his direction. “I know they’re trying to create good zombies. They want to rid the world of humanity’s evils but in doing so they will also rid it of God’s greatest gift -- free will. They need the Tree of Life, the Medallion, and the Book to do so.”

Sophie’s eyes rolled in the lack of details offered. “I know all of this. None if it is enough to keep you alive.”

“You are so impatient,” Maxx complained with a huff as he dug deeper into the meat of the story. If he concentrated on feathers, cleavage, and exposed skin, he could almost forget there was a gun pointed at his head. He leaned forward, setting his forearms on lanky legs. “Obviously, Ad Lucem knows where the Tree of Life is. Nobody knows much about the Book. The Maraharan monks protect it and since the fall of the Emperor they have gone into hiding. The Medallion was stolen when the Emperor fell and has changed hands several times since then.”

He had her interested. He could tell by the tone of her voice. “Do you know where it is now?”

“The Marahans got their hands back on it. They put it back where they believe it belongs. It’s in the Icecrestian Cradle of Life. My sources say that Ad Lucem knows it is there but they want the key to the box to release the Medallion. I was actually going to contact them to negotiate a contract because I discovered where it was,” Maxx explained.

The gun was slowly lowered to her side but remained in hand. A dark smile played out lips stained a deep red. “You know where the key is?”

“Funny you should ask.” A grin split Maxx’s lips as he eased back to rest his spine against the couch cushions. “You have it and the great Goddess of the Arcane doesn’t even know what is sitting underneath her nose.”

Realization dawned across her features, sparking life and humor to her face. For the first time in the span of the confrontation, Maxx stopped worrying about an imminent death. Excitement wormed its way into her voice. “The puzzle box that we took from Icecrest. The key to the Medallion is in the puzzle box.”

“It is. If Ad Lucem only knew you had it,” Maxx stated with an entertained grin taking over his face. The grin lasted only a moment before dying an early death. “You’re not going to let me go home, are you?”

The gun was lifted back to Maxx’s head and a gesture with her opposite hand was made to encourage him to stand. “Afraid not. Look at the good news. Instead of dying today, you will be spending the foreseeable future under the hospitality of the Baron and Baroness of Saint Aldwin.”

Maxx drew in a breath as he glumly rose to his feet, allowing one last look around The Grove’s lounge as he straightened his tie. The breath was released in a steady, relenting exhale and with it he watched his freedom die in a strangled heap.
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Sofia DeMuer
Young Wyrm
Young Wyrm

Joined: 05 Apr 2009
Posts: 88
See this user's pet
Can Be Found: Teobern, St. Aldwin or New Haven, RhyDin
5083.74 Silver Crowns


PostPosted: Tue Jul 09, 2013 5:25 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

When she had crawled into bed in the wee hours of Sunday morning, the cover of darkness had allowed the red marks around Sophie’s neck to escape her husband’s notice. A high-necked dress, an ornate necklace and makeup had done the trick to hide it through church. But the makeup and the necklace were peeled away after their official duties as Baron and Baroness were over on Sunday. She inspected the bruising in the mirror with a slight frown and paused when changing from her dress to shorts and a tank top to inspect her midsection. Maxx was wrong, right? She wasn't actually looking bloated, was she?

With a huff, she shook her head at herself before stepping away from the mirror to finish changing. It was time to face her husband with the truth of the trip.

Barefeet pad down the aged hardwoods as she approached his office. She did nothing to soften the sounds of her footsteps. It wasn't safe to sneak up on people in this household and she knew right where to find him.

Stressful as Alain’s schemes were, there was something oddly comforting about them after playing politics with his fellow parishioners after Sunday Mass: there was no subtle talk with aristocrats, feigned laughter or fancy airs, only the problems before him and the manipulative mind he used to solve them.

He had his feet kicked up on his wide wooden desk, reclining comfortably in a leather chair and frowning at the tablet in his hands. His headphones were plugged into it, one ear listening to a recent recording of Maureen Rae's phone conversations while the tablet display provided visual clues: her body language, the way her lips moved, and any sign of any person she trusted enough to be in her presence while she took these calls.

So far, it appeared she trusted no one.

"Hey, Soph," he said as she approached, pausing the video for now and popping the single earbud out. Once she was closer, he noticed the angry marks on her neck. He'd seen their kind before, and knew how long they took to fade. These were fading.

"What happened?" he asked, setting the tablet down and lowering his feet to the floor. His brow knit itself into a frown, an expression that was leaving slowly growing signs on his face.

She didn't even have time for a tease. He launched right into the interrogation. An interrogation which she deserved, she reminded herself. A hand fell to his shoulder to gently encourage him to turn his chair enough for her to land in his lap. "I went to go see an old associate. He's been up to trouble and I thought he might have something of some use to me. I sort of thought it would be fun to take no back-up. It... may have been a miscalculation."

He didn't take even a moment of convincing, letting her into his lap and encouraging her to settle in close. "No back-up? You're right, it is fun," he sighed wistfully. "But we know what it means. The less back-up you have, the more you're leaving to luck."

He circled his arms around her middle, looking up at her face. "What were you after and what did you get?"

She settled in facing him, a leg dangling on either side of the chair. A content sigh was released. Truth, Alain, and the safety of his arms. Now she was home. A soft smile echoing the newly refound internal peace settled on her lips. "It was more of a hunting trip. I didn't know what I would find. Maxx Strike. He's from my New York. Deals in the arcane. Mostly stealing it and selling it to the highest bidder. Well, one of his bidders stiffed him so he let a golem loose in the building. It killed the bidder and the bidder's jerk of a son. Did a couple hundred thousand in damages before a Rhovnik team was able to destroy it. They didn't know who did it but it had Maxx's fingerprints all over it."

"So I tracked him down to The Grove... which, by the way, we may not be invited back to anytime soon. There was a little incident."

"Anyway," she continued, breezing past the resort ban, "he brought up the Tree of Life. All the correct terminology. All on his own without any prompting."

Alain felt confident that they were banned, but the thought was squashed by the infinitely more pressing matter of the Tree of Life. "Ad Lucem hired him, or a rogue family?"

“Neither. He was going to contract himself out to Ad Lucem. This guy doesn't like working for one particular person. He's a free agent. You give him a job, he gets it done and moves on." Her hands settled at his shoulders, absently straightening his shirt. "He knows nothing about the Book. It sounds like he knows even less than we do about the Tree but he's got information on the Medallion. In fact, he knows where it is and where the key is for it."

"He could be lying. He could be a plant," he suggested, but for now, worked off the assumption that Maxx was telling the truth or an approximation of it. "But we can test his honesty later. Where are they?"

A shoulder was lifted in a shrug to acknowledge the possibility of there being truth behind his doubt. Her hands then slid over his shoulders and down his chest. The pretense of straightening his shirt had been lost. This touch was for the pure enjoyment of feeling her husband's solid form beneath her hands. "Well, the Maraharans believe the Medallion belongs in the legendary Icecrestian Cradle of Life. I'm not really sure where that is but I think there might be enough clues in those ancient writings that you and I... you know, 'rescued' when the Empire fell." It had been their first meeting. It had been the day she had found out her sister was dead.

"The key is right under our noses, though." Her tone turned playful, ignoring the bitter taste that someone else had come to the discovery before her. Her game was off. The marks around her neck, the failure to figure out the clues before Maxx, and the bone-weary exhaustion that had infected her were all proof of that. Her eyes shifted towards the puzzle box sitting on the corner of his desk.

Alain considered the puzzle box, loosening his hold on her long enough to scoop it up one-handed. He tilted it from side to side, squinting at it under the light. "You'd think we'd be better at figuring this thing out... I guess it's because knowledge, or this knowledge, is a means to an end. I know I want what's in that box... but I want it for something else. I can never just focus on the puzzle box. You know what I'm talking about, right?" He turned his eye to her and grinned. "Look at it with a real hunger for knowledge..."

He trailed off on those words, his gaze moving to the window. "Of course. I've been an idiot."

The workmanship that went into the box at its ornate carvings was beautiful. Her eyes lingered on it for a moment before lifting back to him. "What?"

"I've had someone work for me before who is starving for knowledge, never seems to be sated..." He grinned. "Zahra Khoury."

((With thanks to the player behind Alain.))
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