Ascension

Faerie tales from beyond the veil to the streets of RhyDin

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Bailey Raptis
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Ascension

Post by Bailey Raptis » Sat Oct 13, 2018 6:32 pm

I used to have nightmares about Faerie. The Keepers, the Manor, the torturous way They transformed my body. It took years for Fletcher and Lyeorn to banish them, through a combination of magic, medicine, and talk therapy. Even so, they never went away entirely. Rather, it was a matter of degrees. I could go a week, then two weeks, then a month, then three months, then six months, until eventually they became irregularly occurrences. Once a year, perhaps, or once every year and a half.

The frequency decreased, and so did the intensity. I no longer found myself bombarded by the odor of plaster and wet grass, the sight of gray clouds sucking up all the light overhead, the cold blandness of porridge, the itch and prickle of calloused fingertips on my shoulders, or the insistent tick-tick-ticking of hammer and chisel against marble. Eventually, I could feel the volume being turned down, the color fading, my skin thickening against the mental incursions. The dreams became unpleasant, but tolerable, and I no longer woke up with cold sweats and shivers when I dreamt of Arcadia.

I would like to say that Fletcher and Lyeorn deserve all the credit for this, but that would be a lie. Some of it is the simple fact that I am older. I forget who it was, or when I heard it, but I once heard the words "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things."* Although I do not subscribe to the overall system of belief that saying comes from, I do find it to hold true. I lost my family, and had to find my own way through the world. Night terrors would have been a liability, and so I found a way to bury the fear. The magic of makeup, and dressing up in a more feminine fashion. Medicine from a bottle, or the back alleys. Pillow talk between lovers, in that space between falling asleep and waking up, between two bodies in bed and waking up alone.

Things improved further when I moved to Sao Amador, and left behind all the reminders of all the tragedies that had beset me in RhyDin. I no long had to walk past or through the Marketplace, or the cemetery, or the old Raptis home. I was free from all the obligations of the Courts, and made my way up from retail associate to owner of my own dress boutique.

But, of course, RhyDin pulled me back in, as she must do for so many other expatriates. I let myself be smooth-talked into coming back into the city by an overly charismatic @#$hole of an elf who cut me loose in the midst of a major personal breakdown. I let myself be convinced that my fetch could not possibly be in Sao Amador anymore. I let money motivate me, more than friendship, even more than personal pride in my work. And I unleashed a new set of (figurative) nightmares into my life.

It has been nearly five years since I decided to come back, and even though I have spent large chunks of that time outside the city proper, both physically and mentally, it does not feel like RhyDin has left me the way it did when I lived in Sao Amador. It haunted me, and still haunts me, in a warped reflection of my dreams of The Lands. It is not that my senses are heightened here, no. It is the fact I suffer similar torments to my past bad dreams. Only now, my tormentors are the ones who should be protecting me, and should have protected the Raptis family. My fellow Stolen Ones hunt me down, night after night, down rain-slicked alleyways and crumbling brick roof tops, from Seaside to the Marketplace to New Haven, and every space in between. I run down the hallway of my apartment building, dimly lit in a way it never is, but I never reach my room, nor do I make it to the fire escape before I am cut down, shot in the heart, struck in the back of the head and beaten to a pulp. "Sic semper proditores,"** they whisper to me as they lower my body to the ground, into the ground, shoveling fistfuls of dirt into my face.

I still fear the Fae, but in a different way now. I fear Them the same way that I fear death. If the Gentry decide that They want me back in Arcadia, well, there is not much I can do to stop Them, so why worry about that? And besides, I have been given little indication that They are planning such an abduction. The threat from my former comrades in arms, though, is more immediate.

A little more than a year ago, I was banished, under pain of death, from RhyDin City. Three months ago, I returned in spite of my sentence. The fact of the matter is simple. Either they kill me, we find a way to peacefully coexist in this city, or they leave. Because despite everything I have suffered through here, one other fact remains. RhyDin is where my friends are, and I will be damned if I abandon them one more time.


*1 Corinthians 13:11
** "Thus always to traitors."
It's the disease of the age
It's the disease that we crave
Alone at the end of the rave
We catch the last bus home

Protect me from what I want

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Bailey Raptis
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Post by Bailey Raptis » Sun Oct 21, 2018 11:55 pm

July 22, 2017

I woke up with a quartet of guns pointed in my face.

"The Sandman wants to speak with you," the group's apparent leader said, his words dripping in honey. He dressed and groomed himself like a stereotypical villain from a melodrama. He wore a brown tweed three-piece suit, complete with pocket watch and chain, black top hat and cane. His moustache twirled out into a handlebar, and he wore a monocle over his left eye, the glass of which had been thickened and tinted so the eye behind it could not be seen. I might have spent more time admiring his commitment to his fashion choice, were he and his companions not levelling weapons at me.

"He could just call? Or write me a letter?" The leader, and two of his henchmen (who went for mobster chic in oversized pin-striped suits and matching gray fedoras), said nothing. The fourth man clucked his tongue, shaking his head. He had not received the memo that he should dress like a criminal. Balding, he wore a blue polo and khakis that screamed "office worker", if he were not holding a pistol. The index and middle fingers of his other hand had been pressed to his temple the entire time I had seen him, and I quickly put two and two together.

"You ensorcelled them, did you not?" I pointed at Hoodlum 1 and Hoodlum 2. Their guns did not waver, but the enchanter's grip shook. The leader nudged him with the tip of his cane.

"Don't let him distract-"

"You really think I intend you harm? I keep telling y-" Stars burst in my vision as one of the puppets cracked me in the face with the butt of his handgun. I turned my head, spitting blood onto my pillow.

"Sandman tells us you've been quite naughty, Bailey. You don't tell us when you leave the city, you don't tell us when you come back, you don't kill the Empress when we tell you to. Not only that, but then you killed Cy, Vince, and Copper."

"If you wanted to kill me, you would alr-"

"Shut up!" The outburst was punctuated by another pistolwhip. I groaned, tried to press my face against the sheets, but rough hands hoisted me up into a seated position. "And if that wasn't enough, there's this." My chief captor reached into one of his jacket pockets, pulling out a familiar sheet of bright white paper. I watched the glyphs on the flyer shift into Common, revealing the manifesto I had distributed in the city less than a month prior. "Actively fomenting rebellion? Tsk, tsk, tsk."

"That was not rebellion, that was trying to find a third way. Between your Sandman's autocracy and laziness, and the overreacting fear of the rebels in painting all non-humans with the same brush as the Fae."

"Then- Ah, Heinrik, please read this for me?" He held the paper up in front of the sorcerer, who stared at it for a moment or two before he finally, slowly, began to read.

" 'There will be...contingencies for those who try to infiltrate,' " Heinrik said in a quiet, squeaking voice. " 'Be serious, be honest, or be dead.'" He looked down, his fingers still pushed against his head. The boss folded the flyer up and returned it to his pocket.

"Now that doesn't sound very friendly, does it? In fact, it sounds suspiciously like a revolution."

"...Just get it over with," I sighed, right before both guns slammed into my face and drove me into unconsciousness.

***

July 23, 2017

The next time I woke up, I was in some sort of makeshift holding cell. I say makeshift, because the walls did not appear to be made of solid steel or brick, but sheet metal. There was also a window in the center of the wall opposite the bars that had been hastily blacked out with a tarp. It did not matter much how slipshod my prison was. I was cuffed in cold iron, and I did not know where I was.

I spent the next few minutes staring at the naked light bulb flickering, just off-center in the ceiling. I glanced back at my "bed" -- a cot with no sheets, no pillow, no blankets, just a lumpy yellowed mattress on a rickety frame. The toilet was made of some dull metal, and closer examination revealed there was no water within it. The walls and poured concrete floors were totally bare.

I turned towards the cell door, hearing heels clicking somewhere down the hall. Eventually, a woman walked into view. She was a few inches taller than me, but still likely on the average side for RhyDin women's heights. She dressed gun moll chic, with a red-and-white horizontal striped blouse, a gray skirt, and red stiletto heels. She bobbed her blonde hair and accented her dull brown eyes with purple eyeshadow. She stopped, grabbed hold of the bars with both hands, and leaned forward.

"Good day, Bailey. Or is it morning? Or night?" she asked me in a haughty, clipped tone. She rattled the bars a few times, then stepped away as I walked toward her.

"You have me at a loss. Well, you have me at a number of losses." I swung my bound hands in a circle around my body. "Let us start with the obvious question. Who are you, and where am I?"

"Mmm, no. You won't get my name, and I won't tell you where we are."

"Then why exactly are you here? Are you here to gloat? Are you here to torture me? Are you here to kill me? Are you here to bring me to the Sandman?" I rattled off the questions as fast as I could think of them.

"I'll answer in reverse order. No, no, in a manner of speaking, yes."

"...Are you here to gloat about capturing me?"

"No. That was simple."

"Well, it certainly took you long enough to catch me." My gaoler responded by tapping the bridge of her nose twice. A blinding light flashed out of her eyes, and I reflexively stumbled backwards onto my cot. After a few rapid blinks, I could at least see the general shadow of her form, if I held my hand over my eyes.

"What was that?"

"...Nothing."

"Good." I could now see her as smears of colors, and it made me nauseous. I burrowed my face into the mattress, ignoring the faint odor of mold. She did not seem to care that I was not facing her, and continued to speak. "You remember your meeting at Český Domov? I was there."

I lifted my head and glared at her. "Bullshit."

"Oh, but I was." Her voice turned breathy, quieter, higher-pitched. She dragged each word out as she cooed at me. "You remember me, don't you, Bailey? The shy girl, the-"

"Snow Princess. You are a mirrorskin. But-"

"Your contingencies failed you." Arrogance seeped back into her tone. "They failed you, and they failed your friends."

"What did you do with them?" I did my best to growl out the words, but it was hard to intimidate with your hands fastly secured inside a jail. The faux princess laughed, tapping and scraping her long red-painted fingernails against the metal.

"They have been banished from the city. The same as you will be. And it's all. Your. Fault."

"Do-" The punishment she presented struck me dumb momentarily. "Don't I get a trial?"

"Oh, Bailey. Bailey, Bailey, Bailey." Each repetition of my name dripped with scorn. "You're from RhyDin, and yet you forget. There is no law here, but power. And the Sandman has the power here. Think about that for a while. Think about that, and your impending departure from RhyDin, and your failures, and how it's only the Sandman's mercy that keeps you alive. Think about it." She turned her back to me and walked away, the click-clack of her heels dimming as she disappeared.

***

July 25, 2017

They bought me a one-way ticket to Gruvebyen, in the far northern wastes of RhyDin, and brought along two orc guards (dressed in full leather armor with knife sheaths, naturally) for the ride. We sat in business class, all the way in the back of a a discount airship, so my guardians' elbows were perilously close to my ribs the entire trip. As if the escort was not enough, I had been handcuffed again. I tried to crack a joke I had seen on television ages ago about airline food, but either it was not funny, I told it poorly, or they just had no sense of humor. My suspicions lay with the third theory. Rather than risk further bruising to my face, I shut my mouth.

I assumed the guards would unlock my restraints once we were in the air, but they fell asleep in the middle of our takeoff. Their snores were trumpet blasts, loud and fast and unpredictable, and made even the thought of sleeping seem impossible.

Instead, I looked out the window. The guards had not pulled the shade down, so I could look outside as my city slowly floated out of view. The buildings grew smaller and smaller, like children's toys, until finally, they were fully swallowed up by white clouds. Something broke deep inside of me, brittle and sharp like glass, when I thought of never seeing RhyDin again. I felt a sob rising up but I strangled it - I didn't want to wake the orcs.

A flight attendant made her way back to our seats and offered me a drink. I held up my hands, pinned together at the wrists, and shook my head, watching as she scurried back to the galley. It took me a few tries, but I managed to pull down my tray table and rest my hands on the plastic. A few minutes later, I shut my eyes and bowed my head, resting it on the knuckles of my thumbs. For all the world, it probably looked like I was praying. Maybe I was.
It's the disease of the age
It's the disease that we crave
Alone at the end of the rave
We catch the last bus home

Protect me from what I want

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Bailey Raptis
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Post by Bailey Raptis » Mon Oct 29, 2018 1:13 am

October 13, 2018
Black Magic Burger


One of the many skills I have developed over the years has been the ability to live through life-changing events. The Raptis family killing, multiple moves to and from RhyDin, coming out of a coma, being exiled? I have always found a way to live through it. It has not always been pretty, but in the grand scheme of things, I stayed alive. I am still alive. That used to be enough.

It isn't anymore. I know that some people would say that this return has been far less successful than previous ones I have made. I did not escape the Courts and become a model, I did not leave a pleasant beach town for the hustle and bustle and bright lights of RhyDin high fashion, and I did not even emerge from a coma to return to the status quo. No, this time, I came back to the city in pretty terrible shape. I came back without a job, a place to stay, or having said much of anything to my friends in the past year. Even now, I am still barely making ends meet, between a pair of waiting jobs at Delectable Craving Catering and Black Magic Burger. Mason took pity on me and gave me a chance with the former job, and then passed my name along to one of his former workers and proteges when she opened her own restaurant. I even lived with Mason and Eva for a time, and it was good for me. It gave me structure and an incentive not to fall back into the self-destructive habits that plagued me in Gruvebyen.

I also lived with Eden for a spell, and in that time I spent split between those two residences, I managed to rekindle those friendships. Through work, I planted the seeds for more friends. There is Per, another waiter at Black Magic Burger. His arms are covered in tattoos (and I am guessing he has other tattoos in places that are typically covered by our work uniforms) and a big, bushy beard. He took me under his wing when I was starting out at Black Magic Burger, and I appreciated that. I also met Grethe, who works as a hostess there. She is a little less friendly than Per, a little more sarcastic, but I feel like she has been warming up to me. It helps that we have a shared interest in make-up artistry. Finally, there is Max. I could not tell you the precise reason why we hit it off so well on our first night working together, but we did, and they asked me to be their roommate less than a month after I started. I am sure some of that was necessity (their lease ended rather abruptly) and some of it was financial (it is cheaper to rent a two-bedroom apartment than a one-bedroom), but they know plenty of people beside me. Perhaps they saw me as a kindred spirit of some sort, wearing make-up and nail polish with my work t-shirt and jeans. I mean this as no disrespect to Mason or Eva, but it is nice to room with someone closer to me in age, someone who feels more like a peer of mine and less like a cool aunt and uncle. And it is an even give-and-take: no charity, no obligation, just a genuine friendship born of a shared sense of style and mutual introversion.

Why do I mention these things? I want you know how strongly I feel for these people, and therefore how much it pissed me off when the Courts sent someone to attack me at work.

***

"You can't hide in there forever, Bailey!" Through the wooden closet door, I could hear him shout, his footsteps slamming against the ceramic tile. They grew closer and closer until they culminated in his body crashing against the door. The wood bulged, the lock strained, but my refuge held up. For the moment, anyways.

"I only have to hide until the morning, Royse!" I bluffed. I need an escape plan. Some sort of weapon. My choices, however, looked slim. A large mop and bucket, a plunger, a pantry cabinet filled with cleaning supplies, the weak light bulb barely throwing off enough light for me to see. I squeezed my left hand around the chef's toque currently serving as a makeshift bandage for my slashed palm. Shutting my eyes, I tried to picture the tell-tale drips of blood, from the sink where Royse had sneak-attacked me, to the service area, doubling back deeper into the kitchen towards the refrigerator, freezer, and my current prison, the closet. As soon as I had felt the knife carve into my hand, I had tried firing off a blinding blast of magical energy, only to find the spell fizzling out on my fingertips as I stumbled backwards. Royse had planned this well. He landed himself a job here just a week ago, found a night when we closed up the restaurant together, convinced me to help him with kitchen break-down, wore a magic nullifying necklace or ring of some sort, and nearly stabbed me in the back while I was putting dishes away. It was dumb luck that I turned to face him as he brought the knife down, and even then, I only partially dodged the blow. The blood on my clothes and throughout the kitchen served as proof of that.

"I'll wait until hell freezes over. You're going to pay for what you did!"

"Get in line," I said, trying to sound bored. Instead, my voice squeaked, and I winced. Despite that, I tried out some bravado. "The Sandman did not tell you I killed three of his men before? What chance do you have? You should probably go and get reinforcements. Do not worry, I will be right here when you get back."

"No! You're mine and mine alone!" The door rattled again; that lock was not going to hold up too much longer.

"What did he promise you? Money? Some sort of title? From what little I know about the Courts these days, there is precious little of value left. You can just walk away, like I did. Leave the city, and you can be assured of a peaceful life." Rather than a spoken reply, I heard laughing from outside. "What is funny?"

"You don't remember me, do you?"

"Should I?"

Royse laughed again, higher-pitched and strangled. "You killed my brother, you killed Cooke, you nearly killed me, you burnt down the diner, and you don't remember me?"

"Royse, I did not do those things."

"But your rebels did!" His fist pounded the door, and I scurried deeper into the closet, searching desperately for something, anything, that might form a makeshift weapon. "They knew Cooke was a source of intelligence, and they killed him! Him and Rowan..."

"Royse, I am sorry, but I was not one of those rebels." I pawed over cases of Bar Keepers Friend, Pine Sol, industrial strength bleach, and bug spray. Wait. Aerosol. I can use this. I ripped the plastic off of the top of the case and pulled out a can. "The Sandman lied to you. I did defend myself against the Sandman, I did defend myself against Cooke and his men a couple of years ago, but I swear upon the names of Fletcher, Kaskia, Lyeorn, and Boris that I did not kill Cooke, and I did not kill your brother." Even as I spoke, I tip-toed over to the door, unlocking it as quietly as I could. I took a few steps back, my finger on the spray can trigger, blood dripping down my other hand onto the stone. I steadied my body like a statue and waited.

"Lies!" Royse's shoulder hit the door. As it swung open wildly, one of the hinges popped loose, tripping him up and sending him staggering into the room. I did not allow him a chance to recover. I pressed down on the trigger, shooting the pesticide right into his eyes. He screamed, dropping the knife and clawing at his face. "Kill you!" he gritted out, but I was already hip-checking him into the mop and dashing towards the island. The knife clattered and scraped against the floor as he accidentally kicked it in his fumbling search. While Royse was recovering, I grabbed a wok from the rack, then rushed over towards him and swung my makeshift weapon as hard as I could at his skull. He grunted, dropped the knife he had finally found a grip on, but did not go down. I lined up a second shot, slower, more deliberate. *Crack*! He fell in a heap.

The wok sizzled like a cymbal when I dropped it. I hunched over, heaving and sucking in deep breathes. Eventually, I caught my breath, as my flight-or-flight instincts were replaced by the searing pain in my palm. With the fog of war gone, I saw Royse as he must have actually appeared: a tall man with deer horns just above his eyebrows, his dark brown hair now mottled with blood. My rage bubbled up and boiled over.

"Stupid..#$%!..." I unleashed a stream of curses as I dragged him from the closet to the walk-in refrigerator. The antiseptic smell of the cleaned-up kitchen was now replaced by a medley of ground beef, lettuce, green peppers, and cheddar. I propped Royse up against a rack, and punched him in the face. Again and again and again and again and again.

"Stay. Away. From. My. Friends." The message was likely lost on an unconscious man, but it made me feel a hell of a lot better growling it out. I had my fist cocked to resume the beating when the room started to spin. Somehow I managed to drag myself out of the refrigerator, through the kitchen, and behind the bar, where the house phone was located. Each button press left red smears on the numbers as I dialed our sous chef.

"Indrian...I need you to come in, and I need you to call the guard...Royse attacked me...Why? How the hell should I know? How am I?" I looked at my wound, felt a wave of dizziness wash over me, and squeezed my hand as hard as I could. I yelped as my flesh turned to marble, neatly preserving the gash under layers of rock. "I'm okay. Really. Just...come in, please? The kitchen is a #$@! mess, I'm sorry."

I shoved the phone back into its receiver and, with the assistance of the bar rail, hauled myself to my feet. The beer refrigerator door creaked as I opened it and retrieved two bottles of Silver Mark. I cracked one open, took a long sip and smashed the other one against a stool until the bottom was all jagged edges and dripping beer. Hopefully Indrian would get here before I had to use this.
It's the disease of the age
It's the disease that we crave
Alone at the end of the rave
We catch the last bus home

Protect me from what I want

User avatar
Bailey Raptis
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Posts: 199
Joined: Fri Apr 17, 2015 9:25 pm
Location: New Haven and Twilight Isle

Post by Bailey Raptis » Thu Nov 01, 2018 9:38 pm

October 29, 2018
I’Yulna

My brain screamed at me with each footstep that took me closer to Old Market. Do not do this. Don’t do this. You @#$! idiot, don’t do this. And really, I should have listened to myself. I was about to stick my head into the mouth of a lion. Nothing good could possibly come from marching through the market, into Little Elfhame, and trying to “run into” the Empress at one of the businesses she owns. Still, I did not have her phone number, nor her home address, and I did not think she would be at the one place I had ever met her at in Little Elfhame. The Royal Rabble Club was not quite a going concern these days, to the best of my knowledge, and I was not about to ask around her formal business concerns for an appointment. That left one place.

The neighborhood had changed since my last visit. It was not something one could immediately see, but rather, something sensed out of the corner of one’s eye, in the details the average eye missed. Down some of the side streets I could see task mages levitating new bricks onto damaged walls. A little farther in, I noticed more “For Lease” signs than the last time I had been here, including one that brought a smile to my face. The streets did not feel quite as crowded, the passersby a little quieter than usual for the city. I know it is not scientific, but the energy just felt different. Almost the same way the Raptis house felt the first time I went back there alone, with the rest of the family dead or disappeared. The bones were here but the heart had been cut out. Some people were clearly trying to transplant some new energy to Little Elfhame, but there was a long struggle ahead for them.

I’Yulna, however, looked untouched by whatever turmoil had befallen Little Elfhame. The bricks were worn, red almost faded to brown in spots, but everything seemed intact. The wooden door was open, and an elf dressed in a sharp black suit, shiny shoes, and a white dress shirt with a couple of buttons undone leaned against the frame. He wore a purple-banded black fedora that covered most of his face, looking for all the world like he was asleep. I paid it little mind as I walked past him and through the door -

He blocked the door, arms folded across his chest over the hat. “Are you on the list?”

“List?” I took a step back. “I was not aware there was a list. I thought you were open to everybody.”

“Yes, and no.” He looked me up and down with eyes so dark they might have been black. Then again, it could easily have been a trick of the mage lights hanging overhead. “You look like trouble.”

“Me? Did I dress wrong?” Further proof of how little I had thought through this plan lay in my outfit: plain black boots, simple blue jeans, and a blue/black rugby striped sweater. Passable for casual Fridays at an office, perhaps, but not exactly clubbing material.

“No. You-” The additional emphasis made me take another step away. “-Look. Like trouble.” He waved a hand in front of his face.

“What-”

“Look. I let you in there, half the people in there are gonna wanna kill you on sight. The other half are probably gonna wanna slip something in your drink, sweet-talk you into the bathroom, club you on the head, and carry you back to The Lands. Neither’s good for business.”

“Hey.” I puffed out my chest some, even though the doorman had at least six inches of height on me. “I am...friends with Jewell Ravenlock.” I turned away slightly, hopefully enough that he did not see the way my nose wrinkled at the words.

“Sure you are. You and half the city. And half of them wanna kill her. Go on, get out of here. I’m giving you a chance to leave with your limbs intact. Take it.”

I sighed. I hate doing this, but he leaves me no choice. At least he is somewhat handsome. I shifted my posture, loosened my limbs, and let my hips sway more than usual as I sashayed up to him. Three steps, two steps, one step. I leaned in, got up on my tip-toes, opened my mouth to whisper in his ear-

“Nice try.” He had slipped to the side and grabbed me by the throat, before I could even react. I pawed at his arm as he held me aloft, my legs also kicking in my attempts to escape. “Consider this a mercy.”

He flung me through the air, across the street, and into a street vendor’s wooden cart. Several apples bounced off of my head, as a goblin yelled at me and smacked me with his pageboy hat. I glanced back over at the bar. The elf leaned against the wall again, a near-mirror of his earlier stance save for the tall cup of RhyDin Grind coffee in his right hand. I hauled myself up onto my feet with a grunt and handed some silver coins to the disgruntled fruit seller. I spared one last peek at the bar and bouncer, then dusted off my shoulders and started walking home. Well, that could have gone better, but at least I am still in one piece.
It's the disease of the age
It's the disease that we crave
Alone at the end of the rave
We catch the last bus home

Protect me from what I want

User avatar
Bailey Raptis
Proven Adventurer
Proven Adventurer
Posts: 199
Joined: Fri Apr 17, 2015 9:25 pm
Location: New Haven and Twilight Isle

Post by Bailey Raptis » Wed Nov 07, 2018 6:03 pm

November 3, 2018

There is a checklist I go through each and every time I wake up in an unfamiliar place. The fact that I have such a checklist should say a lot about my propensity for putting myself in these situations. The fact that I was going through the checklist at this moment says something about how intoxicated I got last night at the rave.
  1. Is there someone sleeping next to me? I turned my head to either side, even though it felt like there were weights bouncing around in my brain, and looked. No. Good. All right, next question.
  2. Am I wearing all of my clothes? My run of luck ended here. All I was wearing, underneath a rough gray wool blanket stained with red paint, were my tights. At some point, either I had taken off my boots and dress, or someone removed them off for me. The blue paint daubed on my face, neck, chest, and arms had been joined by a rather primitive looking brown door on an orange backdrop. It did not quite square with my answer for question number one, but it also would not have been the first time someone left me alone after an evening together. I decided not to linger on that thought any further. Massaging my throbbing forehead with my fingers, I moved on to the third question.
  3. Where am I? The lack of support on my back made it clear I was sleeping on the ground. I touched it tentatively. My fingertips found a cool, slightly damp surface. I rolled over, groaning, to get a closer look. Faded green-and-white tiles, coated in a liberal dusting of plaster debris and God knows what else, greeted me. A hint of mildew and must hung in the stale air. I dipped my face into the crook of my elbow and coughed to keep from retching. Then, I lifted my eyes.
I appeared to be inside of a giant warehouse or factory, far larger than any such structure I had ever seen or been in in the city. This building’s best days clearly resided in the distant past. All the drywall and finishing had been ripped from the walls, leaving just the wooden frame and concrete. Where windows once sat, jagged shards discouraged urban explorers from climbing in, allowing sunshine and long thorny branches to penetrate the interior. Dark puddles of water glittered nearby with the remnants of broken glass. Deeper inside, spray paint covered nearly every inch of exposed surface inside. Much of that graffiti consisted of crudely drawn words and figures, but some of it happened to be quite stunning: a green-and-red dragon spitting out what appeared to be acid, a monarch butterfly sitting on a pink bubble, an abstract shape whose tentacles seemed to dart out in all directions in a neon riot. A little ways down, the floor had collapsed in on itself, proof of time and decay’s decisive victory. A black pit divided the halves of this story. Unless one could fly or leap great distances, they would not be crossing over to the other side. Sadly for my curiosity, I did not possess those skills.

A rattling noise caught my attention, followed by a hissing sound, like compressed air escaping from a can. I followed it through an archway, down a hallway, and into another abandoned chamber of this building. A humanoid figure stood by a wall filled with elaborately designed nicknames written in spray paint. ARTemiz. Ragnar0kk. WyrdBern. On a patch of empty concrete, this artist put the finishing touches on his tag in purple: B-BO1.

“Welcome.” The word came out filtered and muffled, as if spoken through some obstruction. “You like what I’ve done?” The figure turned to face me, and I saw why that was the case. A respirator mask covered the bottom half of their face, while thick shaded goggles kept their eyes from view. Between that and the formlessness of their gray hooded sweatshirt (hood over their head, of course) and black-and-white striped track pants, it was hard to tell their gender from appearances. Although assuming what they had just painted on the wall, I could probably wager a guess. Still…

“Hello. I do, although I must confess that that is the least of my current concerns. Is that your name?” I pointed at the freshly written signature, the letters and number(s?) splashed and swirling on the wall.

“A name.” A throaty chuckle emanated from behind the mask. “You’re wondering ‘Where am I?’, aren’t you.” The intonation almost approached that of a query even as it zigged up and down in pitch.

“I have an inkling.” I cast a glance at the dark branches dripping water on the ground, tasted the ozone in the air. Not ozone, I corrected myself. Glamour. “I am in the Hedge. I must have sent myself here after the rave last night.” I paused. “Assuming time is still flowing the same here as it is there.”

“Very good.” Sarcasm? I shook my head, unable to tell through the clicks and hisses. “And do you know who I am? What I am?”

“Bee-Bee-Oh-One?”

“B-boy. Or b-boy one.”

“Does that mean you prefer he/him pronouns?”

“Sure.” I thought I saw his shoulders shrug through the sweatshirt, but it might have been a trick of the morning light. “That’s fine. A bit simple, but fine.”

“Well, if that is not what you would like to be called-”

Laughter seeped out of the respirator. “Strange. You wake up partially undressed, in a place that’s not your home, covered up and painted on, and you’re concerned about pronouns.” Again, his voice straddled the edge of asking and not asking.

It was my turn to shrug. “Assuming you are Fae, it is always...prudent to be polite and not offend.” I narrowed my eyes. “Did I sleep with you?”

“In what way?”

“The, , biblical one.” He stood there in silence as I waited for an answer. Staring at me, I could only assume. “Sexual intercourse,” I added, hoping he knew enough of Common to know those words.

He doubled over, slapping his knee and wheezing. “Please. As if I’d sleep with you. I just made sure your clothes stayed clean - it’s hanging up somewhere…” He trailed off as he straightened up, then waved at nothing in particular. “...over there. I gave you a blanket, and a way out.” Red mitten-clad fingers pointed at my midsection and the painted door now adorning it. “But I think you’re missing an important question.”

“Why.”

“Yes!” He clapped a hand against the can, causing the contents to clatter around inside. “Why here? ‘Why me?’ Why me. Some people would say it’s random. Chance. A coin-flip. But we know better, don’t we.” His voice dropped to a whisper as he leaned in closer to me. “It’s the Wyrd.”

“Fate?”

“If you must be so crass. ‘Fate.’ He stepped back, making a spitting noise, though no saliva escaped his mouth. “You’re here for a reason, I’m here for a reason, and I’m going to tell you why.”

I folded my arms across my chest, but nodded for him to continue.

“Because I know what you want, and I know how you can get it.”

“What would that be?”

“You want to become Fae.”
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Post by Bailey Raptis » Mon Nov 12, 2018 5:58 pm

((Trigger warning: Contains a mention of potentially disturbing violence))

November 3, 2018
The Hedge


Situations like this are precisely the reason I hate dealing with anything even remotely connected to the Gentry and Arcadia. I knew there was a 99% chance B-BO1 was lying, both in his claim that he knew how I could become Fae and in his insinuation of being Fae himself. Yet because of that 1%, against all odds chance that he was not lying, I had to treat him seriously. I could not challenge his claim, I could not insult him, and I could not just leave the Hedge without another word. Instead of asking the questions I really wanted to ask, I asked the ones that played into his hands.

“How do I become Fae, then?” I unfolded my arms and held them behind my back.

“It’s simple, really,” he said, circling me slowly clockwise. “You kill one.” He reversed direction, began walking backwards, now in a counter-clockwise wheel. I resisted the urge to fold my arms again.

“Because that worked out so well for me the last time I tried it,” I deadpanned.

“You lacked conviction. You were afraid of Them. You were afraid of Her. You’re not anymore.” He stopped on a dime, spun around on his heels, and strolled back to his tag. “I wonder why that is.”

“I am still plenty afraid of Them,” I said to his back. He did not bother turning around. “If you think I am going to just try again with Jewell, I cannot. I would not anyways, but even if I wanted to, I swore a Contract to Her. I cannot betray Her in word, thought, or deed.” I immediately cringed when I realized how much information I had given him.

He glanced back over his shoulder, just for a moment, and I flattened out my expression as best I could. “Interesting. Go on.”

“There is not much more to tell than that.” A blatant lie, to be sure, but one I hoped he would not press me on. Fortunately, he did not. He turned around and leaned against the wall, away from the fresh paint.

“Hmm. Well, I doubt it matters anyways. Jewell didn’t create you, did She.” Now I crossed my arms and glared at him. “That look says everything. She didn’t. That’s okay. We can work with that.”

“Why do you even want me to become Fae?”

“I can’t have your best interests at heart?” I watched as he clasped both hands against his chest.

“You will forgive me my impertinence, but you have only your own best interests at heart.”

“Forgiven.” Silence settled over the warehouse, as neither of us seemed ready to take the next step in the conversation.

“May I leave now? And may I have my clothing back?”

“Ah, yes.” He slid a few steps to his left and waved his hands around erratically. The concrete cracked as B-BO1 conjured up a brass closet rod that impaled itself into the wall. The only hanger on the rod held my peach sequined dress. The shoelaces of my boots had been tied together and draped over the bar, while my brass knuckle clutch bag sat impossibly balanced on top. I donned my clothes again, pulled my cigarettes out of my bag, and reached back through the Veil to retrieve my lighter. I lit a smoke, exhaling a lazy gray ring in B-BO1’s direction. He did not noticeably react, but there was no way for me to see his facial expressions behind his respirator and goggles.

“Thank you.” I should have taken that as my cue to leave. Instead, I stood there smoking and watching him. He itched his neck underneath the sweatshirt and pawed at the ground with his paint-splattered hiking boots. I was waiting for something, but what it was I could not articulate in that moment. As I finished my cigarette and flicked it into a puddle, he spoke again.

Fine.” His tongue clicked behind the mask. “I used to be what you are. Lost. I escaped my master and returned years later with my motley to kill Him. I did.” He spread his arms out, and all the scene needed was someone to shout out “Tada!” I did not. “What more do you want?”

“How did you kill Him?”

“We brought a cross of cold iron and nailed Him to it.” I did not need to see his face to hear his satisfaction. “Listen, the old ways are dead. The Painter, The Printer, The Sculptor.” My flesh turned to goose bumps when I heard the last name. “We’re burying Them, one by one. And we’ve got one lined up, just for you. What do you say? Are you in?”
It's the disease of the age
It's the disease that we crave
Alone at the end of the rave
We catch the last bus home

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Post by Bailey Raptis » Wed Nov 28, 2018 12:09 am

November 26, 2018

The bar was gone.

With the advent of the holiday season, I started feeling nostalgia for some of my past haunts. It did not surprise me to find that many of the clubs I used to dance and drink at were gone -- warehouses and factories rented out on the weekends are not what anyone would call stable, permanent homes for businesses. Sometimes, the name and theme of the club would change -- Purgatory had changed from Hi-NRG dance to hip-hop to gothic industrial in just three years. Sometimes, the neighborhood changed. RhyDin was gentrifying, and once-worthless industrial land butting up against run-down apartments became considerably more valuable when those apartments were merged together into fewer, larger condominiums. Either the building got knocked down in favor of something shinier and glassier and cleaner, or they buffed out the rough edges, replaced the windows, knocked out the walls, exposed the pipes and ducts in ceiling to sell new residents on factory-chic.

Sometimes, though, businesses just disappeared. And not in the ways I previously mentioned, or even the more prosaic “Out of Business” papers plastered in the window, soon to be followed by “For Rent” signs. Sometimes, the buildings just vanished. Literally. An ornately designed brick church, with two tall towers, a portico with four round columns, and a gigantic copper crucifix at the top, could wink out of existence one day, replaced by an ordinary square mixed-use building. Victorian style houses might be replaced with bungalows, and then those bungalows might turn into split-levels.The city is always changing, whether the method be mundane or magical.

Still, it did not make it hurt any less when I went to the address of Český Domov and found a vacant lot. To the left, a four story building sat. The top three floors were dark brown, with tall windows, fire escapes, and a patch of ivy struggling to climb from the top floor to the roof. The first floor had a pair of stores: a barber shop that appeared closed for the day, and a convenience store that promised cold beer and hot coffee. On the other side of the empty lot sat a one-story gray ranch house. A sidewalk snaked from the wrought iron fence at the front of the property, branching off between the front door and towards a wooden barrier beside the house. In lieu of grass, the homeowner laid down artificial turf and plotted out a small rock garden

I knew it was futile, but I looked around the street for somebody, anybody, who might know what happened to my favorite beer hall. It was late, though, and the handful of people I saw walking through had that fast walk and dead-ahead stare that indicated they were not the chatty type. I sighed and ducked into the bodega.

The short ceiling, narrow aisles, and shelves packed to the rafters with all manner of food and beverage combined to make the shop feel both cozy and claustrophobic. Near the front counter, a tortoiseshell cat slept by the cash register, her lazy tail flopping against the drawer in near-regular intervals. A red-skinned tiefling with long straight horns springing from his temples was kneeling and stocking packs of cigarettes. I left them both alone momentarily, stepping over a twenty pound bag of rice on my way to the back of the store, where the refrigerators and freezers were located.

I found the beer cooler and traced my fingers against the glass. Silver Mark. Badsider. Baranduin. As tempting as it was to fall back on the old tried and true brews, my heart needed something to remind me of what I had lost.

I carried a six-pack of green bottles with the world “PILSNER” embossed on silvery foil. My free hand patted the snoozing cat as I set the beer down with a chorus of clinks. The tiefling looked back over his shoulder then and stood.

“Anything else?”

“A pack of Red Cowboys, please?” He nodded and twisted back around, retrieving a pack of cigarettes with a desert background and the crimson silhouette of a man on horseback. I handed over some silvers, hoisting the six-pack up above my head in a makeshift toast/salute, and exited the shop.

I took a few steps toward the empty lot and sat down in front of it. The beer rested besides me, as I took out a cigarette and lit it. After a few drags, I opened two bottles of beer. I took a long swig from the first one, then tipped it so the liquid within splashed onto the asphalt. I let it flow and thought of everyone I knew who had died. My parents. Fletcher. Kass. Lyeorn. Boris. Cooke. My fetch. Lirssa. The names kept coming and coming, until the bottle emptied out. I splashed a little more liquid out from the second bottle, then took a small sip of my own. I wasn’t going anywhere for awhile.
It's the disease of the age
It's the disease that we crave
Alone at the end of the rave
We catch the last bus home

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Post by Bailey Raptis » Mon Dec 17, 2018 7:11 pm

December 15, 2018
Hakodate Snow Palace


“Bailey?” The cigarette-kissed voice of a young woman snapped me out of my own smoke break, leaning against the side of the Hakodate Snow Palace. I blinked a couple of times to refocus myself in the here and now, glancing over at the woman who addressed me. She stood at my height, brown-eyed with black-hair streaked reddish-brown. She wore a white silk bomber jacket with a melange of patchwork prints on every inch of exposed surface: tigers, bluebells, daisies, and begonias on the front, a red, blue, and gold abstract linked chain on the back with the word “Hollywood” stamped across the shoulders. She smoothed out her dark jeans as she slipped in beside me and matched my posture.

“Yes?” I kept one eye on the Ferris Wheel, but shifted the other to look at my new smoking companion. Snow fell slowly but insistently, melting away to nothing whenever it touched us.

“We have a gift for you.”

“Thank you, but I am being paid more than enough to work on the dress. I am perfectly satisfied right now.” I finished my cigarette and flicked it away towards a snowbank. Even before it struck the ice and sizzled out, she had stuck another smoke between my lips and lit it with her own lighter, then did the same with her own.

“We insist.” She smiled a toothy smile, one that clearly said You turn this offer down at your own peril. I exhaled some smoke with a sigh.

“All right, all right, I accept. Thank...you?” As soon as I agreed to receive the gift, she slid off the wall to face me directly. She bowed her head and held her hands out towards me. Pressed between her thumbs and her index finger was a cream-colored business card.

Hajimemashite! His name is Andre’ Kheems, from Y Goron a Gwaywffon.” Her arms stretched forward a little more, beckoning me to take the card.

“What?” I tried to buy some time to think by picking up the card and looking at it. Indeed, it appeared to belong to an Andre’ Kheems, who worked (works?) as a kitchen manager at Y Goron a Gwaywffon. The right side listed his phone number, e-mail address, and a physical address near the Westbridge in Old Temple. The left side was dominated by the black stamped image of a crown and a spear. A bloody thumbprint obscured some of the detail of the picture.

“Annoying person. He came to the palace, said he wanted to talk to you. We tell him no, you’re busy, you’re not to be bothered. He tries to demand to be let in, push past us. We grab him and dangle him over the Ferris Wheel until he promises to leave you alone. We bring him back down, smack him with a folding chair, turn out his pockets, and send him on his way. We waited until after we were sure the dress would be perfect to let you know what happened.”

The pieces suddenly slid together, between her story about the thwarted wedding crasher, the name Kheems, and the restaurant Y Goron a Gwaywffon. YGG. Kheems. This man worked with the men who tried to kill me a few years back.

“You know this man?” She must have seen the recognition dawn on my face. I pocketed the card, sighing.

“I know of him. What did he look like?”

“A little taller than you or me. Business suit. Cheap, ill-fitting. Like he’d be able to crash the wedding in that!” She spit on the ground. “Brown eyes, brown hair, cut short. Boring.”

I spared a glance over my shoulder -- my break was nearly up, and I needed to get back inside to help with the dessert trays. “Thank you, Miss…”

“Akane.”

“Akane, yes. Thank you. Tell your boss, or Eri, or Mallory -- tell them all I suppose. Tell them that Bailey sends his thanks, and that he owes them one.”

Hai!” She fired off a sharp salute, followed by a V-sign with her fingers, and scurried back inside. I found that I did not have quite her energy when I returned to the reception.

((The Kabuki Street Delinquents are the property of Eri Maeda, and used with her permission (and my gratitude!). Dialogue written with assistance from Mallory’s player, also with gratitude :) ))
It's the disease of the age
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Post by Bailey Raptis » Sat Dec 29, 2018 10:13 pm

Late December, 2018

The first punch caught me by surprise, right underneath my right eye. The portal I had been summoning winked out of existence in a blink of purple and black, and I stumbled back into the stone wall separating Dragon’s Gate from New Haven. I did not waste time licking my wounds -- I knew my surprise attacker would not be satisfied with merely stunning me. My instinctive head bob paid dividends, as the second punch struck stone and sent granite chips flying around my face. My attacker took a step back, shaking out his hand.

“Trying tae escape?” he asked, adjusting the brass knuckles on his right hand. He stood about half a foot taller than me (and that did not include the six tall mohawk spikes on his head), but his build was much scrawnier than mine. That was likely why he had amplified his strike with an accessory. He wore a jean jacket adorned in sewn-on patches with the sleeves cut off, faded blue jeans with several rips in the knees and thighs, and some heavily scuffed black boots. I reached for the short sword on my right hip but before I could pull it free from the sheath, he smashed me in the stomach on the left hand side. I staggered backwards, coughing and gasping. Instead of pressing his advantage, he gloated. “I’m gonna receive a big reward from Kheems fer this. Hell, maybe the Sandman hisself will reward me.” Small showers of sparks kicked off of the wall as my assailant scraped his brass knuckles against the stone. “We won’t even have tae hurt yer friends. Jes’ sit still and let me beat yer brains out.”

I could feel the rage boiling up inside of me at the veiled threat to my friends, but I throttled it. I remembered my training -- all of it. Fletcher and Lyeorn and Boris. Sparring sessions at the Royal Rabble club. The hours I spent alone in Gruvebyen honing all of my skills. I called upon it all. Leaning against the wall behind me, I clutched my side and feigned a serious injury from his previous jab. I bit back the urge to smirk as he sauntered over to me. He cocked his fist, looking for a knockout blow, and while he prepared for the punch, I tapped the inside of my forearm. When he swung at me, I raised my arm up just in time to parry him. He struck solid marble, and cried out as his flesh and blood knuckles began bleeding where the metal smashed up against his skin. Before he could recover, I drew the Talon of Redwin and stabbed him in his right shoulder. He threw a wild left-handed hook, but I ducked it easily, pulling my short sword free as I did so.

I cracked him upside the head with the flat of the sword, dizzying him, and then ran it through his other shoulder. He fell flat on his butt, scooting backwards and trying to remove the knife still lodged in his shoulder. I did not let him. I rushed forward and delivered a running knee that rendered him unconscious.

“Dammit,” I wheezed, sheathing my sword and the Talon, too, once I had pulled it free. “God dammit.” I wanted to beat him up further, but his second blow had taken more out of me than I had anticipated. Rather then kick him with all my might, I nudged him into a snowbank with my shoe. “I am going to be late, dammit.” I grit my teeth to block out the pain, punched out at the air beside me, and finally got that portal open.
It's the disease of the age
It's the disease that we crave
Alone at the end of the rave
We catch the last bus home

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Post by Bailey Raptis » Wed Jan 09, 2019 2:32 pm

I told Eden what I am. What I really am. Oh, she had an inkling, from previous conversations, but I always elided the full truth. After that night, though -- after yet another attack from the courts, after yet another threat from them to kill me -- I just could not keep up the facade.

“Friends are stronger when they are together,” she said to me. I want so desperately to believe that, but the world is more complicated than that. I would be dead if Kate had not rescued me from Cadentia and yet I have done nothing to repay that debt. I have not even stayed in contact with her. Fletcher, Kass, Lyeorn, Boris -- we were all friends, maybe closer than friends, if such a thing exists, and they all wound up dead. I tried to start my own revolution and I all succeeded in doing is getting myself banished from the city upon pain of death, with my co-conspirators as collateral damage.

But I’m starting to see a pattern in my life, a cycle, and it needs to be disrupted. A problem emerges and I made plans to face it head-on, with little regard for my own personal safety. I am somehow rescued from my foolhardy mission, only to repeat it again months or years later. Faerie is built on stories like these. Expectations, norms, etiquette, rules, contracts. Hubris, tragedy, destiny, inevitability. I need to tear all of these down if I want to be free.

So when Eden immediately ran inside and told Mallory I was being threatened, I did not dodge the truth with her either. I glided around bits of it, tried to keep as much of my personal story out as I could, but I told her about the Stolen Ones. Who we are, how many of us there are, what we are capable of. Almost certainly treasonous acts, if the courts were to find out. More treasonous than the actual crimes they accuse me of committing. Collaborating with the Fae? My time back in RhyDin -- really back in RhyDin, in the nitty-gritty day-to-day life here -- has shown me that precious little can actually be painted in shades of black and white.They are not inherently evil, and we are not inherently good.

Mallory also told me I needed to tell my friends, my colleagues, my co-workers, starting with my roommate Max. I probably would not have, if Eden had not gone with me when I finally returned to my apartment. We were standing around my kitchen, drinking some kombucha that Max had brewed, when she nudged me in the back.

“Tell them, Bailey! Tell them what you are!” And so I did. They only seemed mildly surprised to learn that I was not quite human, but I suppose when you have previously been a Keeper and an Archmage, one might assume that you possess skills beyond those of a normal human. Max insisted that I tell everyone at Black Magic Burger, which, after more enthusiastic prodding by Eden, I did. And once I had done that -- and received another promise to protect me against my enemies -- I felt I had no choice but to tell the rest of the Delectable Cravings crew.

I do not want to say that it felt like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders, or anything cliche like that. Nor do I feel that the opposite happened, that I had burdened myself with so many more people who might be harmed because they know what I am. After all, my enemies might harm them regardless of that information. Now, though, they have some preparation.

I would not say I have an army behind me, not quite. But I am not alone, and for once that feels like a strength and not a weakness.

((Adapted from and inspired by live play.))
It's the disease of the age
It's the disease that we crave
Alone at the end of the rave
We catch the last bus home

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Post by Bailey Raptis » Sun Jan 20, 2019 7:37 pm

What am I becoming?

I do not mean this in concrete terms, in the way B-BO1 might frame the question. I have not done the thing he said I must do, if I wish to transform from Stolen One to Fae. I told him I would, and yet I have not. I keep waiting for that shoe to drop -- I keep waiting to be summoned to the Hedge, or perhaps Arcadia itself, and be chastised. Or enslaved. Or annihilated.

Or maybe nothing will happen at all. I suspect he is lying, after all. It may just be a seed to plant to sow chaos in the Lands, among the Gentry, among the Stolen Ones even. It may have just been an idea he threw out there on a lark, a test with no correct answers. The Kindly Ones -- if that is what he actually is -- are not known for rationality.

No, what I mean when I ask that question is more abstract. What kind of a person am I becoming? I may not be on the path to turning into Them physically, but in my heart, in my mind, it feels like I am.

There is the hedonism, for one thing. Oh, I have never been much of a saint, when it comes to matters like that. I have been an avid club-goer since my fellow models introduced me to the pleasures of the beat, of strobe lights and bass drops and a hundred or a thousand people in one room, one parking lot, one warehouse, all dancing and cheering and screaming and waiting for the DJ to play the next song that would change their life, six minutes at a time. I have drank and rolled and smoked and screwed more times than I could possibly count, and never once did I feel guilty. So why do I burn with shame now? I am not even engaging in that last activity, and yet my clubbing feels as much like addiction as it does catharsis. It is like telling my friends what I truly am ripped the veil off of my world, and descending onto those dance floors in makeup and dresses (or boots and jeans and bodypaint, as the muse takes me) shields me from having to face that reality.

I worry that I have flung my friends into the middle of a war that they are utterly unprepared for. Sure, they have an inkling of what is coming -- the Courts and their heavy hitters -- but they cannot possibly be prepared for the Old Gods. Our homes and businesses are warded and runed, but what use are such things against Them? I know that Eden said that friends are stronger together, but I fear not even her, Mallory, and I could possibly stand against one of the Fae.

Or worse, I dread that I might be forced to chose, between my friends and myself, and I might chose myself. Time and time again, I have tried to shield them from the enemies that stalk me, the foes lurking in shadow and waiting for the right time to snap me up. But now, I am not sure that I would not sacrifice them to save my hide. How else to explain my recent behavior?

I could have asked Mallory for a scroll to open a portal to Twilight Isle when I covered her shift at the Golden Perch Inn. Instead, I asked for something to boost and stabilize my magical power, and the Lyceum provided me with a potion that did the trick. So I opened a portal to Twilight Isle -- one that routed through the Hedge -- and I let someone go through it. I let someone risk taking a wrong step off of the Path, through the Thorns, and into Arcadia. And I do not even have a good reason for it, except that I could. A part of me wanted somebody to know that I was powerful. That the year I spent in Gruvebyen teaching myself to open portals was worth it. All that misery, all that depression, worth it. Even if it might cost the life of a stranger.

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” * I can hear Fletcher’s words echoing in my head, and I do not know that I have an answer for his questions.

*((Mark 8:35-36))
It's the disease of the age
It's the disease that we crave
Alone at the end of the rave
We catch the last bus home

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Location: New Haven and Twilight Isle

Post by Bailey Raptis » Thu Feb 14, 2019 5:27 pm

I should be over it by now. It has been almost six months since I returned to RhyDin, and I only spent a year in Gruvebyen. Still, the place haunts me. I feel like someone has lodged an icepick in my chest every time I bring it up, and I know it is irrational, that I am giving the memories more power over me than they deserve to have, but I cannot help it. Almost every memory I have of Gruvebyen has, at a minimum, a pinch of pain. Sitting on a rickety fishing pier by a frozen pond, bundled up and alone to watch the northern lights move across the sky, bands of green with splashes of red and pink mixed in. Slamming shots of home-made aquavit with my co-workers in silence, then running to the local convenience store the next day to buy a bottle of my own. Singing along when the jukebox at the bar played a song I have heard a thousand times in RhyDin, locking eyes with a fellow barfly, and receiving an upnod from the man. Even my best memories of Gruvebyen are shot through with bittersweetness. The worst ones?

***

Halloween 2017
The Brickwall
Gruvebyen, North RhyDin

At first glance, little about The Brickwall indicated that it was a gay bar. Located about half a block down a side street connected to Gruvebyen’s High Street, it sat beside a small apothecary and a dry cleaner’s. Unsurprisingly, the exterior was entirely brick. A large window, curtained from inside, sat in the center of the first floor, and two arched doorways flanked it. The one on the left held a simple single door, while the one on the right was a double door, with nine evenly spaced glass panel windows on each. Both doors were painted black, and curtains were also hung to block most of the light on the right-hand side. If not for the bar’s dedication to privacy, as well as a small rainbow flag sticker in the lower right corner of the window, one would find it hard to determine the clientele it served.

My first visit to the Brickwall came during my early days in Gruvebyen, when I still held out some hope that my exile from RhyDin would be tolerable. I found drinking at the busier downtown bars a touch too overwhelming, so I ducked down some of the city’s backstreets to explore. I saw the rainbow in the window, remembered seeing it at some of the gay bars I had visited in RhyDin, and immediately went in.

The owner later told me my fearlessness in stepping inside the Brickwall made him want to hire me, even though my bartending skill was limited. “I can teach you how to make a Long Island Iced Tea -- I can’t teach you not to be judgemental, not to be afraid of what you are.” He said he had lost count of how many times men walked up to the door, hesitating, before finally pulling the handle. Or how many times they would walk around the block, slowing down just a fraction as they passed by that central window, and then finally set foot inside. The Brickwall was his first salvo against a town that wanted to sweep him under the rug, push him back into the closet, and lock the latches tight.

Even so, it had little of the flamboyance I often saw in some of RhyDin’s gay bars. No garish lights hanging from the ceiling, no drag queens sashaying on cabaret stages, no televisions showed Madonna videos, no jukeboxes playing Eurodance music. Save for a few extra rainbow flags placed high up on the walls, the drink menu that had a few more mixed drinks than the average local place, and the overwhelmingly male clientele inside, it looked just like every other cozy pub in town.

I spent the rest of the summer falling into a tolerable rhythm. Nothing could fully replace what I left behind in RhyDin, but those early days at the Brickwall kept total despair from falling over me. The owner liked me, the other bartenders seemed to as well, and most of the customers preferred to keep to themselves or each other. I spent most of my evenings pouring pitchers of beer, with the occasional shots of aquavit and vodka and rarer mixed drink orders. When necessary, I turned on the charm, but I learned fast that most of these men had been coming here for years, and they were just as suspicious of outsiders as everyone else in town. I could live with that, though, being overlooked.

Jacob turned everything upside down. Not right away, no. His first time at the Brickwall was like almost everyone else’s. He lingered outside the door for a solid minute, smoking a cigarette and pretending to be waiting for something or someone at the apothecary. Even after he finished, he held the handle for a moment or two, before finally tugging the door open.

The story did not change the first two or three times he came in. He would come to the bar, order a beer (when I asked what kind, he always said “I don’t care” or “Surprise me”) or two, drink it in near-silence, and settle up his tab. As summer turned to fall, and he shifted from being a newcomer to a regular, he opened up to me, bit by bit.

Jacob looked to be a year or two into his 20s, and worked in the orichalcum mines. He had that rugged look one would use to stereotype manual laborers: faded and ripped up jeans, muddied leather work boots, plaid flannel shirts, and a beard he did little with style-wise except keep trimmed. Little else about him stood out to, neither his short brown hair nor his dark eyes nor his average height (although that did make him noticeably taller than me). Mining work kept his build muscular, but not in a way that stood out to me.

Besides the usual work complaints everyone hears from patrons, the only other real insight I got into him pertained to his love for the duels. He preferred Swords, and I did not tell him that I previously held titles in Magic. He told me his favorite duelist -- Sabine Gabrielle. He liked the fact that she had held so many baronies, while still working and modeling Baroness Beauty. I could not bring myself to mention to him that I faced her in the Madness tournament the year before. I stayed noncommittal when he asked me for my favorite duelist, but my time in the rings allowed me to pretend to be a fan with ease.

Things might have stayed like that, and we might have forged a quiet friendship, or at least an amiable acquaintanceship, if not for Halloween. The holiday was one of the few times the Brickwall let its hair down, and even its most conservative customers could be seen in costume. The owner loosened up too, clearing out some floor space for a makeshift drag queen review. Even I got into the spirit of the day, wearing fox ears, brown and orange makeup, and a fuzzy suit with a small bushy tail attached. The whole place felt charged, like someone stuck their finger into an electric outlet and spread that energy around.

The change in the air also seemed to affect Jacob. Instead of sitting at the bar, nursing a beer, he sat at a table with three of our other regulars: the apothecary’s assistant, dressed like sexy Frankenstein; a waiter at our local family restaurant, wearing a construction worker’s costume; and a tailor, who kept telling me loudly that his white dress and blonde wig were “a Marilyn Monroe costume.” I did not recognize the name, but we shared a career in common and he manage to fill out the dress well, so I flirted with him a little as I brought over their pitchers. I brushed against his side as I slid over to other tables, shifted my laughter at his jokes to something more like a giggle, and bit my lip a time or two as I glanced at him. He took the playfulness in stride, but as the evening progressed, I noticed that every time I bantered with my friend, Jacob’s eyes grew narrower and narrower, his lips pursed, his countenance brooded. I chalked it up to his being a sulky drunk, and went out on the back dock for a cigarette break.

About halfway through my cigarette, Jacob joined me outside. I raised an eyebrow at him, not so much at his costume (a red suit, a pitchfork, and horns that clearly marked him as some sort of demon or devil) but at the fact he was on our loading dock.

“How did you get back here?” I asked him, tapping ash over the concrete edge.

“Erik let me back here. I told him I needed to see you.” At the mention of my boss’ name, I relaxed some.

“There are other bartenders inside, you know.” I turned a little bit of the teasing I had used with the tailor on him.

“I don’t want the other bartenders,” he said, stepping closer to me. As he did, I saw the last part of his costume: a thin black whip of a tail, ending in the shape of a playing card spade. I gulped as I watched it dance around his backside, barely even hearing what he said next. “I want you.”

“Jacob, you are drunk.” I rested a hand against his chest, but did not push him away yet. My eyes fixated on the tail -- a real tail, not like the fake one currently anchored to my costume.

In response, Jacob leaned in and over, his face hovering near mine. I could smell beer on his breath, but it did not overwhelm me, and it was balanced out by his sandalwood cologne. He whispered, almost into the corner of my mouth. “I’m not.”

I should have pulled away, taken a step back, given him the shove my hand on his chest promised him. Instead, my fingers curled against the fabric of the suit, and I pushed up on my tiptoes, crushing my lips against his. He wanted me, and in that moment, more than anything else, I needed to be wanted. The consequences could go to hell.

***

I immediately knew when I woke up the next day in Jacob’s bed that I had made a mistake. He was enthusiastic but clumsy, so I wound up taking the lead, which is not my preference when sleeping with men. He also fell asleep immediately after we finished, which was a second strike against him. The final one cropped up when I looked at him in the morning. His chest rose and fell erratically, randomly, like each breath happened deliberately. I risked waking him up and pressed the palm of my hand against his heart. No beat. It repulsed me, and the fact that it repulsed me shamed me. I wanted to flee the apartment and never see him again. Perhaps I should have. It would have spared me the awkward breakfast (burnt eggs and toast, weak coffee) that Jacob made me and the equally uncomfortable hug (when he clearly wanted another kiss) we shared before I left to “run errands.”

He only came back to the Brickwall a handful of times, and on each visit, he avoided me entirely. Erik sussed out what happened between me and Jacob, and chastised me for breaking the (unwritten) rule about “fraternizing with customers.” I did not get fired, but I found myself working fewer shifts and less desirable ones, Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons instead of weekend nights. I also discovered that bar patrons talked to me even less than before -- little more than drink orders, pleases, and thank yous, and sometimes not even the latter two. Either Erik had spread the word among his favorite customers, or Jacob had talked to his new-found friends from Halloween. Regardless, it turned one of the few sanctuaries I had into a nightmare.

***

I’m still haunted by the thought that I might have broken the campsite rule that Angelo, the first man I ever slept with, taught me. “I’ve gotta make sure that, when this arrangement ends, if it ends, that I leave you in as good or better shape than you were before we met.” And he stayed true to this mantra, even after our “friends with benefits” relationship dropped the last two words. I still talk to him today, even if it is not as frequently as when I first started modeling alongside him. I cannot say the same for Jacob or Kass.

Eden and I talked the other night at the Annex, about her and Nat, the Governor’s Ball, and my roommate Max. I think she knew I had a crush on them even before I did, and yet nothing ever came of it. They’re my roommate, true, and I have always heard that it is a bad idea to date a roommate. Still, there are always exceptions to every rule, and the fact I did not try to work around it is telling. I told Eden Max met someone over the holidays, and she immediately asked me if that made me sad. At the time, I said I wasn’t sure. Now, though, I know. It does. Dany is nice, and I want Max to be happy more than anything else. But I want to be happy too.

Eden said something that keeps sticking in my head, even as I bum cigarettes and neck with strangers at the Callow. “You've had a lot of things happening and maybe your heart didn't have any room for thinking about being romantic with anybody even if you liked Max a lot.” I think that may be true. I hope it is. I fear something else might be true, though. I’m afraid I’ve ruined my heart.
It's the disease of the age
It's the disease that we crave
Alone at the end of the rave
We catch the last bus home

Protect me from what I want

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Bailey Raptis
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Posts: 199
Joined: Fri Apr 17, 2015 9:25 pm
Location: New Haven and Twilight Isle

A Letter to Mist Gul

Post by Bailey Raptis » Sun Apr 07, 2019 9:09 pm

April 7, 2019

I have a hard time understanding forgiveness. After all that has happened to me, can you blame me? How do I forgive the Keeper who stole me from RhyDin, denied me the love of my biological mother and father? How do I forgive the fetch who took my place and stole that love, that life that by rights should have been mine? How do I forgive the Snake, whose men murdered the closest thing I ever had to a family in RhyDin? Or the courts? They stood by and did nothing, leaving me alone to bring those collaborators to justice. They turned on me after I left and then returned to the city, unwilling to submit to their authority and be chastised for the “unspeakable” crime of being seen near a Fae. When they could not bring me to heel through efforts merely targeted at me, they went after my friends, acquaintances, the places I work and the allies who assist me. The sins committed against me were mortal, and I have repaid them where I could with death. I hunted down the Snake’s kidnappers and murderers and killed them without remorse. I tracked my fetch to the edge of the universe to do the same. If the court thinks that I will just lay down and die for them, or let them shuttle me out of the city into exile once more, they have another thing coming. That would be my sword, for their throats.

So naturally, I also find it hard to forgive myself. Even where money, gifts, kind words and hugs should be enough to cover my debts, it never feels adequate. Eden’s wing, Max’s abdomen, Dany’s shoulder, Roshie’s arm, Mallory’s hand. If I could heal them all, or take all that pain in on myself, I would, and yet I know it would not be enough. What good is money, flowers or candies, “I am sorry” and arms wrapped around someone? And if I cannot be absolved for even those things, why should I be pardoned for what I did to Kass and Addison?

Let alone what I tried to do to Mist. This man, who committed no crime against me save for suffering from similar circumstances as myself, got rewarded by me with a panicked escape after he tried to check and see if I had suffered any injuries. Then, the next time I saw him in public, I attempted to attack him, with two of my statues in tow. Thankfully, no one was injured (even if Eri got tossed over the bar by one of them), but I am still shamed by my behavior. How could I be forgiven for that?

Yet Mist did just that. Without hesitation, without conditions, just a request to start over. I do not think it is something I will ever fully understand, but I also realize I have been given an incredible gift. Mercy and kindness where wrath and punishment would be absolutely deserved.

Such a gift deserves more than mere words spoken during a busy party, and yet I am embarrassed to say he has not received more than that from me. With the Archmage Tournament looming, and my time in the Tower potentially drawing to a close soon, I decided to take advantage of my station and write a letter to him. The envelope resembled the twilight skies of the Isle, with ribbons of blue, orange and red. The letter itself was written on on white stationary graced with yellow stars scattered around the margins, with my name and title of 67th Archmage written in the header. I kept my handwriting as neat and precise as possible as I wrote.

***

Dear Mist,

I apologize that this letter has taken me so long to write. Know that this delay, as much as the delay in seeking you out to ask for your forgiveness in person, comes not from malice or dislike but from a place of extreme busyness on my part. It is only now, with the potential that my stay in the Citadel of the Stars may be coming to an end in mere days, that I find myself with a sliver of time to take advantage of the wonderful stationery the goblins here have created for me -- and for anyone else who may hold the rank of Archmage in the future.

I do not wish to re-open old wounds or re-hash the past, and I know that you have accepted my apology in person during the Fashion Week kick-off event, but that somehow does not feel like enough to me. I will always be grateful for your grace and mercy, even if words -- written or spoken or otherwise expressed -- feel inadequate for the task.

Enclosed within this letter is a small token of my appreciation -- a small black star sapphire, pulled from the Circle of Genesis within the Tower. It is forged from quintessence, the heart of magic itself, and should keep its power for roughly a week or so. You may use it how you see fit to power any spells you might need to cast in that time. Once a week has elapsed, you will have a gem that I would wager would look nice in a ring, or perhaps cut into a pair of earrings.

I look forward to our next meeting, when no clouds will be hanging over our heads.

Sincerely,

Bailey Raptis
It's the disease of the age
It's the disease that we crave
Alone at the end of the rave
We catch the last bus home

Protect me from what I want

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Mist Gul
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Posts: 25
Joined: Sat Jun 23, 2018 10:04 pm

Re: Ascension

Post by Mist Gul » Sat Apr 13, 2019 12:31 am

A Fat Little Unicorn Thumb Drive

It was lovely to receive a letter that wasn't official business, one that spoke rather than directed, was for him rather than at him. Mist took the letter from the offering tray that served as his mailbox, and returned to his cave to read in the kitchen.

A smile flickered over Mist's quiet features. He paused to find the black star sapphire and admired its dark luster and bright star for several moments.

It had become obvious to Mist that Bailey had lived hard, struggled through a life that seemed dead set against him, and left him in a place where he could take no chances, despite having risen to become powerful enough to hold one of the baronies.

Those things, he could understand. To be so powerful and yet entirely vulnerable.

Mist picked up the sapphire and carried it with him to his meditation room. A small chamber hewn from the stone under the hill, it had originally contained the former shaman's alarmingly vast collection of porn. On taking over the position, Mist had made the room over.

A thick Persian carpet covered the floor in glowing jewel tones. Plump cushions were scattered about. Small altars stood at the cardinal directions, each bearing symbols of the elements. Mist didn't remember the gods of his youth, and the gods of the villagers bore the aspects of the seasons.

Mist lit the candles, then a small bowl of incense, and knelt in the center of the room, the stone resting in his palm. One of his cats walked in after him, and took advantage of the situation, draping herself over his shoulders. Laughing softly, he patted the animal, then fell quiet and still, exploring the potential of the black star sapphire.

Finally, he smiled at the stone and pulled himself to his feet, minding the cat on his shoulders. He extinguished the candles and incense with a quiet word of thanks before walking out.

Soon, a little package arrived for Bailey, with a short note: 'I thought you might like to see how I made use of the black star-safire. I left the instrutions in case. Love, Mist.' And he had, within the small box was a thumb drive disguised as a fat, happy unicorn with rainbow mane and tail, complete with the instructions for use.

On the unicorn drive was several photos, and two short videos. The first video showed the entrance to one of the teen sanctuaries in the city. Youngsters walked by, many smiling and waggling their hands into the camera's viewfinder, others made faces. A few came in close to hug the elf. The scene went dark for a few moments.

A weary faced middle aged man appeared, already speaking. His voice was soft. "...a few wizards and witches in, but the curse she put on him works on his own self image. They haven't been able to find a way to break it without destroying his identity. All we can do is try to keep him alive, but the pain the curse causes him, I think we're just tormenting him more. Likely what that wretch of a mother wanted for him."

"I think I can help," Mist's voice sounded. Then, the camera turned towards a young boy of perhaps fifteen. His face was bruised, battered, tubes ran from his nostrils and mouth. He lay twisted under a weight of technology and magic alike, barely alive.

Mist placed the black star sapphire onto the boy's brow. He drew back, whispering strange, arcane words until a blue miasma haloed the camera's point of view. Illumination drew away until all was shadows, focussed on the polished stone.

The golden star gained in brilliance until the six rays of the star showed six more. The full power of the quintessence of magic contained within the stone bathed the young man, directed by the energies of the stone, itself.

The curse upon the boy shattered, overcoming the hateful screaming with a powerful, calm confidence. Mist's hand came into the frame, laced with pale blue energy. His fingers flexed, his voice sounded in a soft droning of words.

He reached over and gently touched the boy's cheek. The bruising and abrasions, the swelling, all retreated at that careful touch. The boy's eyes opened, wide and wondering hazel. He swallowed hard, a few tears sketching down from the corners of his eyes. He tried to smile.

"Leo?" the older man rasped. The boy's gaze ticked aside and a few more tears fell, but his eyes smiled. He moved his hand and tried to mumble 'Dad'.

Mist placed a Batman Band-Aid over the black star sapphire, securing it to Leo's brow. The boy tried to cross his eyes to see what was going on. The older man choked on a laugh.

"...What...?"

"He needs to keep this with him, to help his heart and mind and soul. It is a stone of protection, of healing and grounding, of serenity and self confidence. I'll have it set in a necklace or something later, but for now, keep it on his head," Mist explained, chuckling softly.

"Will he be okay now?" the man asked, moving to gather the boy up into his arms.

"He'll be okay now," Mist replied. The video cut off. The photos were of young Leo sitting up in bed, standing with his father and a few of the nurses. Then with him holding up the black star sapphire, now set in a necklace.

A second video played, it was of a cuddle puddle of Mist's three fluffy tabby cats purring before the fire.
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Bailey Raptis
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Joined: Fri Apr 17, 2015 9:25 pm
Location: New Haven and Twilight Isle

Re: A Fat Little Unicorn Thumb Drive

Post by Bailey Raptis » Thu May 16, 2019 8:10 pm

April 15, 2019
RhyDin Public Library, New Haven Branch


I sat in the magazine alcove of my local library branch flipping through back issues of RhyDin Wear Daily while I waited for my computer reservation to come up. Part of me was grateful that I had taken a step back from modeling and designing, particularly since nearly every article written about me -- even the most recent ones about my work during Fashion Week -- led off with my unceremonious firing from L.D. 50. But another part of me -- the part that loved that attention, the feeling of having those eyes on me as I strutted down the catwalk -- wanted to have it all. I wanted them to write about me, and I wanted them to stop bringing up oldnews.

My free hand fidgeted with the unicorn thumb drive in my jeans pocket, as I killed time turning the glossy pages. Mist had left me instructions on how to operate the device, but I still did not fully trust my skills with technology, and so I decided to go to the library in case I needed help accessing...whatever it was that Mist had left me. My eyes kept drifting up towards the clock and then over to the bank of computers, my foot tapping despite itself. What had Mist done with the black star sapphire?

Eventually, my turn arrived, and I sat down at the desk, typed in my library card number and PIN, and logged on. I stuck the USB drive into the port on the front of the PC and waited for it to install the software necessary to open it up. When it finished, I double-clicked on the icon and played the videos first.

I saw the first video Mist loaded on, but when the middle-aged man began to speak, I heard no sound. I pressed pause, frowning, and looked over to the reference desk. A grey-hair elvish woman in a cardigan and cat-eye glasses was helping an elderly kenku holding some sort of tablet computing device. I queued up behind them and waited two or three minutes before the kenku squawked its thanks and shuffled away.

“Can I help you?” the elf librarian asked me.

“The sound is not working on my computer. I am trying to watch a video, but, ..no sound.”

“Yeah, you need headphones to listen to anything. Don’t want to bother the other patrons.”

“Do you have headphones?”

“They’re a silver.” Even as she answered my question, she reached down into a drawer at her desk, plastic crinkling as she pulled out a package of clear headphones. I pulled a coin from my pocket and set it down in front of her.

“Thank you,” I said, as I gathered up them up and headed back, ripping the plastic off as I went. Once they were plugged in, and I could properly listen to Mist’s video, I turned it back on again.

***

As it progressed, I felt the tears begin to brim in my eyes, threatening to shed with every passing second. I glanced around the other computers, at a pair of human teenagers leaning over each others keyboards to type in messages and laugh their boisterous laughs, at a middle-aged orc in longshoreman’s clothes laboriously typing something in letter by letter, and a half-elvish woman with a stroller by her side. Our eyes accidentally met, and I turned away with a sniffle, but then I felt a tap on my shoulder. When I looked back, she had a packet of paper tissues for me.

“Your makeup’s running,” she said with a soft smile.

“Th-thank you.” I sniffed again, and began wiping at my eyes and cheeks to try to clean up the mascara and eye shadow that had probably already made a mess of my face.

“No problem.” After one more smile, and another pat to my shoulder, she turned back to her computer, and I to mine. I sat there in silence, contemplating what Mist had done. I would never have thought to do something like that. What does that say about me? I need to do better with the power I have. I need to help more people. I need to do good, to be good. Otherwise, there is no point to me being Archmage.

After a deep breath, I played the second video, and as Mist’s cats slept by the fire, I felt a smile curl up on my face once again.
It's the disease of the age
It's the disease that we crave
Alone at the end of the rave
We catch the last bus home

Protect me from what I want

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