Text: You don’t have to die alone
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Text: 37911 don’t do this
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Text: I wish you would come home. I know this numbers not working but you’re an idiot.
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- - - - -
Enough was enough. She was a wizard and a gods damned queen! She would not let a man like Mach ghost her, would not let a man like Mach come into her life and fuck around with it and just… No, she would not just let him vanish. Not when she had the means to do something about it.
Scrying, a calling on the immutable threads of etheric connection, of binding between the underflow of magic and the world... or worlds so as to discern location. It was a powerful magic as much as it was an uncertain one as little ever existed through the flow of time without change. Souls, names, connections... such fleeting characteristics made for poor targets of that magic which listened to the thrums of the ether. It was why scrying after people was so hard, requiring much more fresh or concrete connections which to focus upon. For this reason it was much better to scry after inanimate objects which experienced time on a far more subtle basis, which changed gradually over time. Better still was to scry after an object that had personal value to the scryer, which already had a connection with which to pluck and listen.
This was the favor given to the hunter so many months back. A thread of silver; filled with meaning and yet easily forgettable for such an apparent sleaze as Mach. And yet when he vanished more thoroughly than usual, fell off the grid with more permeance that thread could not only be easily found, but it was moving. Or had been at least though after a few days it seemed to settle down in a more slummy neighborhood just outside the Old Temple district. A nest egg of seedy businesses and shady dealings; a place where folks both good or bad could vanish within, never to be heard from again.
Why would he settle there? And what more as time carried on it was obvious he wasn't moving. Had something happened? The questions would mount though no answers could be gleaned from the scrying alone. No, she or someone in her service would need to get eyes on the situation with the man... and somehow look past the fact that it was quite apparent the scrying placed the schmooze squarely in a house of ill repute.
Her nose wrinkled at seeing such a declassee place, she was a royal she could not be seen anywhere near such an establishment and she moved her hand over her scrying ball almost about to dismiss the image. To once again sink in the disappointment of what she saw before her and know that her friend was just up to her usual shenanigans. So why then did he turn off his phone? Her hand held over the ball mid swing the arcane words on her lips not coming to fruition as the gears in her mind slowly began to turn. Her brain was trying to come up with a reason to check on him. "In a whore house." She said scoffing but still she could not command the word to dismiss the image in front of her.
She checked to make sure that her door was securely locked and she moved through the words, her silver hair turned long and dark and her eyes went a vibrant green. Her silver clothes changed to that of all black but other than that she looked still like herself. Illusion magic was not her area of expertise but she was proficient enough to at least make a minor disguise work, so long as she didn't speak she might even be able to walk by someone she knew in a crowd without getting noticed.
The next spell was one of translocation and she found herself about a half block away from where the sign was hanging over the tavern door. It gave her the opportunity to walk up to it from a distance away, she was just another person on the street. Pushing inside she wasn't sure at all what she would find but Mach was here and she could simply go knock on the door, see that he was alive, and then well her imagination got away from her at that point. Would she slap him, scold him, or outright kill him herself? If he was on a job she worried that she was going to be blowing his cover but god damned it this was getting out of hand.
The tavern was exactly as one might have expected from a house of ill repute - private booths ringed the commons with couches and a few tables filling the space away from the walls. In the center and at each corner were small stages where woman, men, human, and elf in barely any sort of coverings swayed and danced in time with the sultry music that the sytarist plucked from their seat by the hearth. At the back of the commons was a hallway to the back rooms as well a double set of spiral staircases leading up to the second and third floors, folk in various states of undress lazily hanging out at the balconies lazily watching the proceedings below.
To the left of the door was the bar with a couple of tieflings in standard bartender getups serving drinks, potions, and other... consumables... to the patrons. To the right was a podium manned by a halfling in a fine smokers jacket with an ogre next to them in equally as fine garb though the shimmer of magic could be felt emanating from their large, bulky form. The halfling, a middle aged looking fellow with black parted hair and a long nose which provided ample base for their glasses, appraised her as she entered. "Welcome ta [i[The Siren's Call[/i] darlin'!" Their voice was nasally and shrill, titled with a lazy, ill-educated accent. "What may we be of assistance with for ya? You lookin' fer a Johnny? A Doxy? We got lads and lasses of all shapes and sizes, up and down thar if'n ya get my drift." They waggled their brow suggestively before breaking into a cackle. "Or maybe a sweet thing like you are lookin' ta break inta the business? We ain't lookin' but we ain't turnin' folks way either... if you can pass the interview of course!" Their grin was lurid as they settled back. "So what 'ave ye?"
Her head turned to the voice, only if she could have something to distract herself from the state of the place. “The interview.” She said trying not to sound absolutely disgusted with the idea as she walked up to the halfling. Her hands resting on either side of two pouches, one containing silver, gold, and platinum. The other her spell components, and she considered what she might do here. She smiled and tried to seem as friendly as she could as she counted out what she assumed would be a small fortune for this place.
Quietly she looked at the halfling as she was counting the coins before holding them out for them to take. Bribery was a bit boring in the way of plans and schemes but sometimes it was best not to overthink things. “Johnny, specifically one with an eyepatch and a mechanical arm. Chances are he’s been drinking you out of house and home.” She prepared the spell that she would need, but halflings in her world could be peskily immune to such things. Charm spells would get her five maybe ten minutes before it was broken and the ‘jig would be up’.
She almost laughed, this wasn’t some covert operation this was her coming to chide her friend for not calling and she had followed him to a whore house of all places. She kept the subtext of her thoughts to the back of her mind and continued. “It’s not a bounty, and there’s no trouble, and no I’m not his wife. Just a delivery I need to see gets to his hands then I’ll be gone quickly and quietly as I came.” She waited for the halfling to take the coin. “Half now, half when I come back, and part of why I make so much is I put the package without questions into their hands.” The lie was flimsy perhaps in a normal establishment but with a depraved place such as this? She thought she might as well try pretending to be some high class drug dealer.
The halfling was certainly distracted by... other wealths the woman had though likely only in the service of making more of the ones which she actively counted out before him now. Beady green eyes watched each coin with rapt fascination while the muscle next to them remained stony and indifferent, their loyalty obviously paid for with something not material based though the gloss over their eyes perhaps hinted as to what. Leaning back the half-sized man watched her as she spoke, that slimey grin never leaving them as they seemed to exude a half and more again swagger even if they continuously looked to the pile of coins. "Well, that thar may be yer policy but ain't one of a fine and proper gent as myself, eh? And deliveries, even from classy birds as yerself ain't usually so lacking in trouble as ya would blow up my ass."
Oh how their teeth shone as they smiled, framed with the lurid sights and sounds around them. King over their little hole of depravity. Considering her words for a moment though and the halfling finally shrugged. "But I'm an upstanding and magnanimous sorts so I can't see why we can't cut a deal, even iffn ya may be a witchy sorts." And that grin only grew as they tipped... a suspicion? Something they saw? A bluff? Whatever was the case they didn't seem terribly disturbed at her potential ability to use magic though then again they were running a brothel situated just outside the old temple district. "Half now, yeah?" And they held out their hand expectantly.
She thought for a moment on the fact that she hadn’t yet gotten told where a Mach might be but she knew he was here, or at the very least the ribbon was. She also didn’t have time for guessing games as she knew that should Bellamere find out that she was out chasing her friend that she might have to have a very long and awkward conversation that she was not looking forward to, best to keep this whole skulking about in brothels but a secret.
“Aye.” She said dropping the coins into his hand. She had experimented with drugs and their creation but not taking them herself. While she could analytically look at the conditions of the halfling in front of her the still very naive princess only really had an immature idea of what went on in places like this. “Upstairs or down, what room?” She didn’t bother making a threat, if this one led her to the wrong place she had a glass cage box in the morgue beneath her house. Magically enchanted she was more than willing to make use of her more depraved arts, besides when you warned a victim they were more likely to run. The element of surprise they called it.
She tapped her foot however, trying to indicate that she was on a bit of a schedule.
The half-man took care to count the coins before her like a cashier, each one dropped into a slot in the podium. They took their time to do this, obviously uninterested in whatever schedule the woman may have been on. Sliding up behind him an elf with hardly anything on at all draped themselves along their back, a pleased purr escaping as he took a moment to flick the rune inscribed collar about their neck. Looking back at Xune the fellow finally shrugged.
"Johnny, one eye, one armed, and of appetites... quite the vivid picture ya paint thar, I'd love ta see such myself one day." His smile grew. "But sorry love, ain't seen that sorts round here and we ain't in the business of collecting names, ya see?" And now their hands clapped together. "Well then, is thar something else I can help ya with?" Nothing about their demeanor spoke of them lying though if anything she may have gotten from knowing Mach it was probably that lies could be just as much as what was said as what wasn't.
Not that such was of much help now other than maybe to make her just a little more paranoid as the schmooze was. Still, it was a dead end and a costly one at that. Would the queen really risk their image lashing out at the owner of a brothel over a man not their king? It seemed this may have been a fool's errand save for a full scratch at the back of her mind, words not her own coalescing.
'Mechanical arm? See me at the bar.' Turning around another elf in slinky lingerie twiddled their fingers at her from down the way, a knowing smile curling on dusky features. 'Casually.'
“I don’t recall giving a name but alas, it seems you have the upper hand well played.” She said with an annoyed sigh brushing the currently jet black hair she wore out of her face. “Makes things a bit more awkward for the interview part of it, how can I work for someone I don’t trust? I’m getting a drink unless you have objections?” She rolled her eyes and made her way away to the bar without waiting for a response. The arena and outback were almost in similar conditions and she supposed she might as well get fleeced one more time before she gave up on the whole escapade.
She sat down looking over to the elf “Buy you a drink? Pretend to be interested in me long enough so I can forget all my troubles?” She said with an easy going laugh and did her best to pretend that this was just like any other bar in Rhy’din and not the cesspool of debauchery that it implied.
The drink she bought tasted and quite frankly smelled like watered down paint thinner and she more pretended to drink it than actually drank it.
The halfling shrugged once more, their grin more cruel than apologetic. "Sorry love, something tells me ya wouldn't make a fine addition ta my lads and lassies. No hard feelings, eh? But if ya wanna spend more of yer big bucks here than by all means yar coin is well welcome." She could almost feel their laughter as she turned and moved over to the bar joining the tanned, olive skinned elf.
The woman did well to display themselves, angling and sitting so naturally in a way which invited the eyes to roam. "Oh, I can certainly do that love..." A wicked like smile played upon their angular features, their own drink pushed aside as it looked very much like colored water. Drunk prostitutes weren't working prostitutes after all.
Leaning in, the woman pressed themselves to her, warm breath riding up their neck as they leaned in to a pointed ear to whisper. "Two gold and we'll go upstairs and I'll show you what you desire..." Their voice was full of sinful promise even as the voice that rasped in her mind was tired, disinterested. 'Three for the one with the mechanical arm. Come.'
Already they pulled on her arm nestling it between their breasts, nuzzling into her neck in an attempt to pull them towards the stairs.
Three gold was essentially a pittance to the young royal, especially now that her individual brand was starting to flourish. She gave the woman three gold and lifted her glass in the direction of where the stairs were as though she were eager herself to relax. She paid no mind to the halfling as she knew that her meager disguise would not last for very long and time was of the essence.
“Well we’ll have to be quick, but not too quick, I’m supposed to be doing deliveries.” She said as she made her way to the stairs with the woman. Xune had dressed provocatively herself on more than one occasion but this seemed different. More of a uniform, and she found that she respected that.
She said nothing but cajoled a few spells to the forefront of her mind. One quick glance confirming he was alive, maybe a good slap across the face, and she could be on her way and pretend like this never happened.
The woman guided her, slinky form clinging to the royalty's in a gaudy,lurid display which fell apart the instant they rounded the banister and moved out of sight of the halfling and their ilk. "I don't know why you're looking for something like that and I don't care. Room 304 is who you're seeking." Stopping at the top of the second floor the woman tucked the gold away amongst their ample bosom. "But if you're looking for a real good time just find me after..." A lean back and a kiss was planted on Xune's cheek before the woman strode off to find more coin elsewhere.
The inherent sin on display on the second floor was nearly palatable as it assailed the senses. This was not a fine shop of escorts providing balms for lonely hearts. This was a house of carnal desire interested only in the buying and selling of the pleasures of the flesh. It was probably no secret that Mach very much walked in such dark and seedy circles but to see such so blatantly on display was probably a little disheartening and maybe disconcerting given the warmth of the schmooze’s smile.
Moving on to the third floor the action was much more muted, contained, with most the rooms doors closed and locked like any other seedy apartment save the sound of business from below. Room 304 was just one such of those rooms, the door closed tight with no inviting decorations around the frame.
“It’s the hand, it vibrates.” She said making the only crude joke about Mach that she knew. She moved and tried not to move like a dainty half elven but a meandering human. She was no longer the virgin princess but still, her experience was lacking and the things and scents she picked up made her feel ways that she didn’t understand.
Up the next set of stairs her disguise would fade and she was all silver hair and silver eyes once more. She stopped to quietly and quickly recast the spell. Checking over her items to make sure they were properly concealed.
At the top of the third floor she stopped in front of the door, another basic spell on the door to unlock it, as long as it wasn’t resistant to magic. She stared at it for a moment, listening, the last thing she wanted was to be mistaken for one of the girls and have to talk her way out of that. She took a deep breath in and reminded herself of time constraints and tried to push the door in “Housekeeping.” She said quietly looking around.
The woman chuffed at the joke in a mildly amused manner. Apparently the royal got about as much utility out of that joke as the schmooze did and he was the one with the vibrating hand! Nor the woman or anyone, really, cared about the momentary fading of the glamour. It took all kinds coming to a place like that, from the morally depraved to the innocently curious. Someone wanting to disguise themselves wasn't anything to be suspicious of. If anything some of the sights she passed may have hinted such was even offered as a service... if not with a tawdry twist.
The unassuming lock popped open easily to her manipulation, almost too easily as though it were glyphed to do such. Opening the door revealed a simple room with off-white walls scribed with a few shallow glyphs and runes that looked there to augment a spell then activate one. Against the one wall was a king sized bed, stripped of it's waterproof silken sheets leaving a stained mattress behind. Across the way the curtain which usually hid the small kitchenette was thrown open leaving the old, an used appliances in plain view as well as one of only sources of natural light open to compete against the garish colors cast by the silks tacked to the ceiling crisscrossing the sole light room.
Across from the door she entered in through was a bead curtain cutting off the rest of the small apartment. And between the two was an anemic looking coffee table that was probably tucked away during business. Upon the table sat an overflowing ashtray, each butt stained a different color of lipstick, a number of papers, a gunmetal black hand covered in dried hydraulic fluid... and blood. The dismembered limb was so very familiar but it couldn't be Mach's, right? For it to be in such a shape had to mean it was hit with excessive, very lethal force which the splattered blood stains suggested just that. No, no, this couldn't be Mach's, and yet peeking out of the warped panel of armor could be seen a silver thread... her favor gifted to the bastards months ago.
Any questions of why or what or where would be quashed though as that bead curtain flailed wide admitting a gangly looking woman into the room. Emerald eyes shot wide at the intruding Xune as they swung a snub-nosed revolver to point at her, the hammer cocked back with a snap. "Who're ya!? What'dya think you're.." Those bloodshot eyes grew wide as they spotted the arm on open display. "G-G-Get out! I swear I'll fucking plug you!!"
(A special thank you to Xune for writing in this scene!)
"Who're ya!? What'dya think you're.." Those bloodshot eyes grew wide as they spotted the arm on open display. "G-G-Get out! I swear I'll fucking plug you!!" The threat was snarled angrily and yet their hand quivered and quaked.
"You're most certainly welcome to try but that would be most unwise." Her eyes shimmered dangerously and she was glad that she had cast her magical defenses. It wouldn't stop a bullet but that one didn't know this, deciding that the most intimidating thing she could do was drop her concentration on her illusion. She transformed back into her silver eyed silver haired self again, and knew she wouldn't be able to cast the illusion again until tomorrow. Dropping the illusion allowed her to show that she was a magical being but without verbal, material, or somatic components.
It was a gamble and she could already feel her heart hammering in her chest. She used her foot to close the door behind her in hoping that it would cause some of the sound of her shrill screaming. "I'm not here for you. I am here for that-" She said pointing to the arm "-and the rest of the being that it was attached to. Now I would prefer to pay you for that information, have you speak honest and true and plainly and we can both walk away from this at least happier than we are now." She paused a few moments listening for the sound of footsteps coming up the stairs or any other noises or ambushes before continuing. "Or I can tell you about my particular school of magic, seeing as you are human or elven perhaps you're familiar with the dark art of necromancy? Now that I've seen you it would be easy enough for me to find you, as I found him, and, well, necromancers don't need people to be alive to get honest answers. It's quite a bit of work though taking a body to a morgue to do such things." She spread her feet to shoulder width apart.
"That man is someone I care about, and I will have my answers." All feelings and daydreaming of how this situation might have been turned into her worst nightmares. Now the question was if she was here to save him or collect the body.
There would be no footfalls that came to investigate the yelling if only because there was much more spirited yelling going on elsewhere in the house of ill repute. There probably was a way to summon the bruisers but either the woman couldn't reach it or didn't want to raise attention themselves given they were a prostitute with a dismembered arm in their room. No, the woman simply watched with those large, emerald eyes, features tensing as they worked through some estimation or another. That tension grew seeing the glamour fade and at the mention of necromancy and yet that revolver didn't drop.
"Ya going to pay me for that, huh? Like ya sent me after him when ya knew I'd get in the way…" Their voice came out hoarse, bitterly angry. "And then what? He vanishes? Or ya''ll kill me and raise me for answers? Quam bellus quod puella…" Those last words held a tired, resentful note to them. "Maybe I just shoot ya, yeah? See if ya really are prepared for bullets. That'll bring tha toughs too for ya to deal with. Or maybe…" Their free hand shifted out of sight, not reaching for anything though the tension in their features grew as a cold grin pulled upon them giving them a mad look with their rainbow colored pixie haircut.
"I teach ya why I met Eli in a fuckin' mage penitentiary? Hmm? Libidine..."
Magic flared from the woman who earned their living on their back, pulsing with that one word of power. Waves of energy caressed across her, aiming to multiply that odd feeling she'd felt along her way to the room, to bring inappropriate thoughts demandingly to the forefront of her mind. Dominance. Not exactly a school of magic for mere whores but given the creation of monsters like Mach it was probably little wonder how someone so blessed in magic would be stooped so low where they hailed.
Despite how strong that command of lust may have felt Xune could feel that the word was yet still relatively weak. Could feel that the woman was holding back, flexing their own prowess and danger without outright assailing her. It was those last words that stayed their hand though their expression remained angry, fueled by sleep deprivation which showed on the gaunt shadows that traced their angular visage. "Important to ya… but not 'nough so that ya could trace his flesh…" They called her bluff, shaking their head as their own shimmering orbs thinned. "Who are ya and what do ya know of tha owner of this hand…?"
Xune listened and her stance relaxed instead of taking on a more aggressive posture. She was listening with her ears as well as her eyes, the woman was holding back and she while not in her own lair did have ample defenses. She smiled at the intriguing magic and made a mental note to look more into glamour and other erotic magic’s as an offensive spell option in the future.
She shook her head and noticed that while this woman made her living the way she did her deductions were incredibly accurate. She was either incredibly intuitive or she was just on such a high flight or flight response she was able to craft answers and questions out of thin air. She had in fact not tried to trace to Mach directly but instead to the item as it was much easier to find as it once belonged to her. “That ribbon in the arm, was a gift from me to him. Mach is my friend, a companion of sorts. I am looking for him, I’m trying to..." What, save him? Well maybe now actually. She looked grim and knew that she wasn’t going to make it back home in a reasonable amount of time. “Yes, we could do battle and you could kill me here. I however would reform as I am a necromancer, and well I’m sure you can deduce what that means. Divination-[/color]” She hissed the word. “-is not part of my strengths, it was easier to trace that there instead of the man." She stood in front of the door not moving.
She took a chance and decided to say something to try to get them to see eye to eye. “Look, my husband doesn’t know I’m here looking for him. Mach and I are friends, but men are men right? My husbands going to be crushed if he finds out I’m here and Mach could very well die if he’s not dead already. I hate to say this in such a tacky fashion but you're either with me or against me on this. Yeah?"
The woman listened mildly, the revolver still held traced to the intruder but as time went it likely became more evident how little the woman wanted to pull the trigger. No, they were very much more on the flight end of the spectrum and they'd likely run away with that only trace of the hunter if push came to shove. "So ya got yerself a hubby and yet here ya are, inna brothel, chasing after some fella ain't them who you've given a ribbon to as a favor?" The woman chuckled softly, tiredly. "Either yar blowin' a veritable fog of smoke outta yar ass or you're rather taken with him." Another tiredly amused laugh escaped them as they seemed to consider things for a long moment.
"He's in trouble." The words escaped in a hiccup, a couple of tears rolling down their angular checks as that facade of having everything figured out started to crumble. "I… I was there, when…" A motion to the arm. "But he's still alive, I saw… I saw them shoot 'im. But weren't no corpse they took…" And now they tapped their temple softly, knowingly. It made sense that one who was versed in Dominance could tell about a persons still living mind as such was the plaything of their magic manipulations.
"Ya think ya can help?" The words came out soft, bitter yet a touch hopeful. "And… and ya ain't with them, right? If Delorno finds out Gaines took him and didn't just kill him..." They shook their head at that thought. "And his folk would just punish him for fuckin' things up I think. Bastards already did once even if he did fuckin' right by folks..." Their voice quaked a little in anger before they pushed such down. In perhaps the first sign of trust the woman at long last lowered the revolver. "I'm Talila. Who're ya?"
“It’s not like that." She said shaking her head but a smile came to her face, one that turned into laughter as she put her hand in her face and shook her head. Completely letting her guard down was foolish but she was just so overwhelmed by it all. “It’s complicated." And she motioned over the arm. She had seen Mach in pretty rough shape but never that bad.
She tried to think back the many months ago now that it had been since she had seen the hunter. She didn’t even recall what adventure he was supposed to have been on. “He’s alive, good. How long ago?" She said, starting to move around the room to see if she could find some other signs of where or what might have taken him. The woman was at the moment a font of knowledge but memory, when scared, is a funny thing. The mind plays tricks or is hyper focused on details that matter or don’t matter. “Tell me the big picture." She said as she started to paint her own.
“I can help him." She said searching for notes, blood, anything that could give her a better lead. “Then once I’m sure he’s good and alive I can slap him with his own hand for being stupid enough to get caught in the first place. That will be reward enough on its own." She said delicately moving his arm into her pocket dimension casting a spell on it to keep it in its current condition.
The lack of a returned name hardly warranted a shrug, the woman quiet used to not getting such from folks in their profession. Of course the fact that she was acquainted with Mach kind of had them assuming she was just as cagey as the schmooze was which was certainly not a flattering view. "Complicated, huh? Ain't it always with their lot." They chuffed at this but their grin was knowing, conspiratorial even.
As the questions came the woman finally set aside the revolver so as to grab a pack of cigarettes from next to the arm. One was plucked before offering the pack to Xune though they'd not wait to light up with a thin electric lighter fished from the pack as well. Cigarettes and worry looked to have been the only things the woman had been running on for days now. "This was weeks ago but I've been creepin' close as I can an' I still feel him…" The cigarette in hand was waved about before the question could be asked. "Yes, I know where he's at… an' a fat lotta good that's done me. Tracked down another of his friends but they ain't exactly a fightin' type either so I've been sittin' on my thumbs spinnin' and hopin' they might have come through with someone who could help." They took a drag, letting her investigate the arm and the room around it. There didn't appear to be anything else save the arm; no files or evidence or anything - the woman was a prostitute not an investigator.
"As for the big picture, well, I'd like ta know that meself. What I can tell ya is that he's huntin' a madsci, and a grade A one at that - a hunter killer though I only learned that bit recent. Apparently it's personal… why I got brought in - ta help Turner see sense. What a fuckin' joke that was..." Their voice cracked bitterly, another drag taken to take the edge off. "They bein' Del-" Hesitation took hold, a look to Xune before they shook their head. "The syndicate me and the lug're part of." And now they flashed the inside of their wrist, showing off the intricate circuit tattoo that may have seemed similar though on Mach it would only have been glimpsed in passing as the man seemed keen to keep it hidden.
"But I think the syndicate would happily sell Turner ta Gaines if'n it got them in their good graces. And I can't go to the U.T.R.A because they'd pinch me for breakin' parole. Plus I get the feelin' they'd punish Turner for fuckin' up, kinda like the last big thin' he did here… blowin' up a blood cult or another. That's how I met 'em, doin' time in a penitentiary."
The last bit of what Xune wanted to do to Mach when she found did have the half-elf cringe slightly. "Look, you do you but maybe 'member that what the lug does is dangerous, ain't no two ways about it..." The woman's hand began to quake at that as they thought back, gaze transfixed on the remnants of the arm before it was mercifully taken out of sight. "I-I'd be glad he's just alive… know I've heard of my fair share never comin' back..." Their voice grew solemn as they took a few drags from their cigarette, looking at the elfess. "If ya thin' ya can really help I can take ya where he is but I don't know what ta expect, I just know it's guarded. I got some support from 'is other friend but ain't nothin' to write home about an' I wasn't keen on tippin' off Gaines by tryin' to do recon or stuff."
Xune’s lack of paying attention to the formalities of name giving and title flaunting could and would have been a decent warning sign to any of her friends that she was well and truly perturbed with life and the manner of things at the moment. “Why can’t things ever just go smooth eh?" She said shaking her head, tying up her hair into a ponytail which of course somehow magically made her more focused on the task at hand.
She declined the smoke but with a polite smile so that hopefully she didn’t seem ungrateful. “It’s not something I judge on but not a personal choice for myself." That and Xune wanted to make sure it wasn’t some sort of trick. She knew that her friend went through as many of those as a human probably should have been able to and still stay standing, it would have been an easy enough bait for him. “You know where he is?" She said looking at her, wondering what kind of tie this woman had to her friend. The thought that they might be related somehow swept through her mind and she looked at the woman again before shaking her head, Mach would probably die before he let someone he knew stay in here in his backwards sense of nobility. At least that was how she painted the man in her head. “Another of his friends?" She tried to keep the tone of her voice light and friendly, implying that what other friends could Mach have? With an easy banter in her voice.
“That’s what he does though.” As she listened to the story of Mach chasing some big bad. “I think he thinks if he’s not out saving the world he’s taking up too much space in it. Well not the world but his preconceived notion of what the world should be.” She almost choked on the irony of her saying it and was glad that this woman did not know her from a hole in the ground. She looked at the tattooing, well branding, of the woman and nodded. She didn’t really know the details or the mess of it all that he had gotten himself into only that he had. She nodded along though and acted as if this were all relevant information that would help her in the search.
“I don’t expect much, but if you could take me to him.” She placed the rest of her gold pouch down on the table. “I’ll make sure that if I live you’ll get another one of those for a good long while.” She let the woman consider it as she took out her spellbook and prepared for a potential extraction, or failing that a fight.
"'Cause life's a bitch..." A withered smile curled behind the cigarette as the woman finished off the cancer stick, Xune's refusal of one simply meaning there was another for them which they greedily pulled out and lit with the remnant of the prior. Going through the story the woman didn't exactly pay much mind that the elfess' gaze may have glossed over at points. She wanted the 'big picture' and that was it by their vantage. A picture mired in a lack of information, where apparently Mach and they were mere pawns of some others machinations. The incredulous question though did warrant a scrunch of features. "Yeah, an' I ain't fool enough ta try an' fight my way in. More guards than none and while I can make a fella jizz themselves at ten paces I ain't a fighter... I'd still shoot ya dead ya get any ideas but..." And finally a shrug as he they took a drag off their cigarette. "'Sides, I try and poke my way in and loose my nerve an' book it or get chased off even... Gaines is certainly the sort ta just cut loses an run... an' Turner would be those loses..." They shuddered at the thought. "Naw, I need a big hammer that can get her done in one... sorry." And finally they offered Xune an apologetic grin as they owned up to exactly what they were hoping from her.
Grabbing the revolver the woman moved back through the bead curtain, not exactly moving out of sight as they quickly changed out of the chemise they wore into jeans, t-shirt, and leather jacket. "Friends? Yeah, somethin' like that. He helped me out in prison when I was 'bout to be made inta fish food. Came in like a fuckin' white knight or somethin' just kickin' pricks. Was pretty cool till he took a dive inta a fella's fist but, well, then Theo found us an' gave us a place..." Coming back into the living room they themselves smirked softly at the elfess' description of the hunter. "An' here I was thinkin' ya didn't really know him from any other dildo inna bin. Guess I was wrong... Glad for it... that fool works so hard ta keep folks away its good to see that he fails at that every so often." Eyeing the bag of coin that was dropped on the table the woman just sort of processed that for a long moment before a sneer rolled upon their angular features. "Maybe ain't so glad the sort though. You wanna throw yar money 'round ya do it ta save that lug. An' if'n yar tryin' ta buy move off, well, then I'll make ya jizz yar panties... before I put a bullet in ya..." Perhaps not the reaction expected but it was the one given nonetheless as the woman signaled for Xune to follow. Through the bed curtain would lead into a small, dingy, claustrophobic apartment though they would hurry them back to the bedroom with the only sensibly sized window in it.
Crossing to the window they'd open it up and slip on through to the fire escape outside. "Come on, this way will avoid Leon the squat-dick at the door."
(A special thank you to Xune for writing in this scene!)
"It will just help me sleep easier at night knowing that he dies somewhere not on the job." She said with a grimness and a waver to her confident voice. "I give what I have, I have gold. If there is something else you want just name it but please take me to him first." She followed behind her and tried not to think of the time or how long she had been gone from home. She knew that she would be afforded some privacy because she often studied and needed absolute silence just in case something went awry. She turned off her cellphone and tucked it away into a pocket and inwardly sighed. "Married." She said trying to sound like she was turning down a tempting offer as not to hurt the woman's feelings. She moved down the fire escape with her nimble as a cat.
"Ya really believe he's the sort for a gentile death inna a bed?" An incredulous note pervaded the tone of that question as the woman eyed her, letting her pass before reaching back in to grab a purse so as to stuff the revolver into before shutting the window behind. Afterwards they lead the woman down gracefully, a few smiles to other women, men, and beasts passed who were hanging out by their windows so as to catch a smoke between clients. "Just sayin', most hunters I've ever known were always tha 'die with yar boots on' sorts."
On the ground level the woman would let their long legs carry them off speedily away from the brothel down a back alley. "Yeah, married is more'n half my business." A smirk at that thought. "Or is that ya convincin' yarself 'bout the lug? I ain' here to judge or nothin', yar reasons ain' any of my concern so long ya deliver..." If there was an offer to turn down or feelings to hurt the half-elf had neither.
No, they were focused on avoiding gazes as they led Xune down one twisting alley to another, crossing streets only when it became necessary. There was a paranoid air to the path they took though the three more cigarettes they had along the way should've been a hint to just how stressed the woman was. After a while the sound of lapping waves and the smell of grease and brine filled the air as they entered the industrial part of the docks district. Weaving among storage yards for shipping crates and warehouses alike the woman would finally flatten against the side of one, bidding Xune to take cover as well. "We're here..."
They motioned across the way to a small, concrete building nestled between a couple of freight yards.
"That's the entrance to some maintenance tunnels though I thin' Turner's bein' kept in a machine shop jus-" And suddenly the woman paled, flattening hard against the warehouse wall as they covered their mouth with quaking hands. From around the building tuddled a small, white creature that looked to be more fur and massive tongue than anything. Vacant eyes lulled about as the creature panted happily, sitting back on its haunches so as to scritch behind a pair of curved horns set on either side of it's head... Body? It was hard to make a demarcation.
"No I think Mach would prefer to go kicking and screaming into the night. Though it gives me peace of mind to imagine that he might find somewhere less loud to die." She didn't really know that much about hunters aside from the fact that they did indeed hunt their prey. Circle of life kind of stuff, and in the circle of life there was a small chance that one could simply move onto the next life. If there was one anyways.
The word marriage got her thinking about her husband who had just been holding the hands of a scantily clad demoness writhing and twisting in front of him and she used that anger as a justification for continuing her search. "With Mach I actually don't know how I feel about him. Part of me wants to strangle him with my bare hands, the other parts remember the time we danced in clothes far too fine for the rogue." Why was she being so straightforward and honest with this woman who could be leading her to her death? Perhaps it was the plaguing thought that she would arrive and he would be dead and that she needed to tell this to someone, anyone, that would believe her. She looked at the concrete building and then to the woman. "You're gonna feel sick and probably throw up but you're gonna be okay."
Forsaking her first few moments and actions she started to cast and reached out to touch the woman, sending her with a teleportation spell back to her bedroom if she was able to reach out to her in time. If not the spell would fizzle and they both would be standing there likely with a greater problem coming their way as she tried to figure out what the creature was.
"Peace huh... yeah, that definitely don't jive with what I know o' thar lot and Turner in particular..." They shook their heads in disbelief at the very suggestion. As for that second bit of banter, well, that had the woman chuckling. "Now that sounds 'bout right. Aggravatin' lot the whole of them... but Turner certainly has his good points. Pulled my ass outta a sling even not known me from Eve..."
The jovial banter though ended in the docks, tension all but radiating from the woman as they came to that small concert building. It probably should have been little surprise when they deftly dodged her touch, a dirty glare shot. "I ain't goin' nowhere!" A hiss, bold and full of mettle even as they hid away from the knee high critter vacantly panting before the building though it did seem to sniff about as Xune cast that missed spell. Standing from its haunches the critter began tuddling towards the alley which held the two woman prompting Talila to quickly sidle their way down and behind a garbage dumpster effectively leaving Xune to deal with the adorable creature herself. A little more sniffing about and the creature purred as it's almost comically sized tongue to furry body ratio popped out while it peered at though not quite into the alley.
Xune realized that the fear that came over her was perhaps her heightened nerves from the entire situation and tried to remind herself that she was a combat wizard. "It looked like an intellect devourer." She muttered trying to salvage some of her pride. Mentioning a creature deep from the underdark that ate peoples brains and piloted their bodies like fleshy suits. "Turner?" She said after blinking a few times, wait was Mach's name not Mach it was ...Turner?
She bent down to one knee and held out a hand to the creature while wondering where it had gotten the silver for it's horns. She was not good with kids, animals, or stupid people on her best days even when she tried to deal with all three with a smile. "Are you intelligent?" She said in a low voice wondering if the thing could be reasoned with. If not she was tempted to try and capture it for herself and find out more about it. "Turner." She said again suppressing some laughter. "Wait what else do you know about him?" Finding a bit of sunshine in this dark moment and frustrating timeline she clung to it.
She spoke to no one as the half elf had hidden away further down the alley leaving the combat wizard to well and truly deal with the vicious, dastardly... derpy creature by herself. There was a disconnect there to the response elicited in the prostitute and the actual apparent threat of the creature as large and threatening as a rotund corgi. Seeing the offered hand the creature bound up and sniffed towards Xune, large eyes very much seeming vacant of anything more than a desire for snacks.
"Poro!" A purring chirp as the creature romped around in a circle, apparently overjoyed to have made a friend. "Poro![/color]" Another circuit and the creature galumphed back merrily towards the concert building seeming excited to let it's occupants know about the exciting new person it had met. That... couldn't be good…
"P- what?" She did not understand the creature's language but she could guess enough by it's demeanor now that it was some sort of house pet. "Treat?" She tried mimicking her friend Sylista and how they sometimes spoke with their animal when rewarding good behavior. She had a rations bar somewhere in her never ending bag. She pulled out the bar of food. "Nice....thing. Come here." She had no idea what she was going to do with it. Perhaps a polymorph spell could turn it into a harmless house cat for a while and they could get in and out without notice. Xune felt like she was at best grasping at straws and said "Why can't it just be a straight fight. Why must the enemy use cute and adorable creatures." Wondering if this was part of some tactic.
The woman who had been so ready to stay was less than ready to help and she sighed but maintained her pose and tried to smile at the thing otherwise she was going to have to banish it to another dimension. It wouldn't stay there forever but it likely would be terrified for at least an hour and on top of that it was one of Xunes stronger spells. She really didn't want to have to go all out for such a cute little thing.
The creature seemed to understand the concept of 'treat' as it paused in it's merry mosey back to the concert building, turning about as its tongue lulled out in a pant. "[b[Poro?[/b]" Those large, vacant depths that were its eyes shimmered in delight as it eyed the ration, twirling around in glee. Hopping left to right it seemed the creature wanted the wizard friend to follow it, especially if said wizard friend was bringing treats! Was it being duplicitous? Hard to say though the rather innocent manner of the creature may have done much to assuage such concerns. Pet very much seemed an accurate description rather than guard... critter... or other such.
Bouncing around a bit more the creature galumphed back to the concert building, circling about before settling on its haunches before the door while it panted in her direction.
The half elf was still there, hidden away down the alley. They were most certainly not keen on assisting but then they'd made no secret of what they wanted Xune there for and how little help they would probably be. Not a fighter, more a concerned friend of the hunter. Still, she may have sensed the eyes of the other on her during her interactions with the creature, seen a flash of that steel revolver barrel sticking out from behind the garage bin as they readied to try and help if only from a safe distance and only after things had gone pear shaped.
She felt like she was in some sort of bad comedy and had to lift a hand to her own face to hide her smile. It was a moment that she probably shouldn’t be finding humor in given where they were. “Wisdom is my dump stat." She said in a joke and gave the creature a piece of it. “I’m going to make us invisible, it doesn’t mean we can’t be detected. They will still be able to hear us or use other methods." She was burning through spells today more quickly than normal and she frowned but made sure her face was away from the woman. “Follow this creature. I’ll be following it as well." Where is the science in following a fluff ball? Logic, science, and not spells were what was missing from the equation and now she knew she was bordering on true stupidity.
Casting as quietly as she could she and the half elf would no longer render visible and she waited for the creature to move. Mentally going through a checklist she had one general antidote for poisons and one healing potion that wasn’t anything special. One woman and one fluff ball and going possibly into another area where she wouldn't be able to call for help because it could be some super secret ninja magic killing club that specialized in wizards. She sighed at the calamity of it all and bit down on her lip using the pain to focus.
The creature squeaked in surprise at the weird feeling of magic weaving around it’s rotund body, turning it invisible. Given it’s lack of a neck though this seemed to do little to perturb it or hide it really as the area where it had been happily continued to pant in a way that made it easy to picture the creature just sitting there still, ever waiting for it’s newfound friend.
As Xune stepped out and followed after the creature though she would finally hear the panicked scrapes of the other there rushing from their hiding spot. “Are ya fuckin’ kiddin’ me!?" Their voice an incredulous hiss, the sound of the revolver hammer ratcheting before decocking once more as the woman required the ability to aim through its sights not having the spacial awareness just to ‘wing it.’ Certainly not a skilled fighter, just an overly cautious individual bred from a hard life on the streets.
Of course that hard life may have been proving more a boon in such a situation as halfway along the crossing the door seemed to just slide open like at a convenience store, likely driven by the same technology which used radar and infrared rather than vision to detect the presence of something… or somebody there. It was probably the same technology which fueled the strange mechanical object on the other side which whirred and ground to life as the door exposed it.
Wisdom was her dump stat. That probably would have warranted a frown from the hunter were he there, maybe even a playful chop to the head. A tongue and cheek reproach to the woman’s blase attitude to the dangerous and unknown. One of the reasons why he didn’t participate or even really watch the duals for how much they sanitized the business of violence which was his daily struggle, decoupled its ends from its means or consequences.
Consequences such as the barrel of the turret lifting up and doing a quick XYZ check before tracking after the sketchy heat and radar readings it had… and opening fire. The sound of the fire was odd; a collection of whirs, sharp cracks, and resonant whiffs as it released a hail of heavy subsonic parabellum rounds, the lower speed reducing the attention drawing halestorm of regular rounds though they were no less deadly. An invisible hand would try to catch hers, to drag her from the tactically poor positioning of standing in front of a fully automatic rail gun though there was no cover between the alley they’d just been in and the small concrete structure. The only hope was to either destroy the turret or get to the side of the small building and out of it’s firing arc as quickly as possible. And beneath all this violence? Invisible panting as the creature seemed unperturbed and generally ignored by the turret.
A breath of a word of a spell to throw up a magical shield and she was more determined now than ever that she would never have a pet. The shimmering shield was one used to deflect missiles and was a wizard's last defense against magic missiles and arrows but she had never really had a chance to test her spells out against things that were non magical. If I live through this I’m learning about guns she finally decided as she was pushed backwards.
Xune had very little understanding of technology. Most of what she did know was woven in with magic so she could try to essentially create a golem but with mechanical parts. Television was her instructor now and she recalled something about heat seeking and guns in some terrible movie she had probably watched with Mach as she was falling asleep. The half snow elf called upon her own abilities and dropped her temperature as low as she dared before harshly whispering. “You should go, this is dangerous!" Like she hasn’t just avoided becoming some sort of Swiss cheese display herself a few seconds ago. She could no longer feel the subtle variations in hot or cold but even this was a bit much for her. Casting made the invisibility spell drop on herself and she had to recast it and focus through the chattering cold that was affecting her limbs. Her body was still trying to warm itself up and she focused on keeping the gestures of her spell right and intricate.
Call for help she thought to herself and pushed away the thought again. She had precious few defensive spells left and only one or two offensive. The rest were cosmetic or not truly of any use for this situation.
Or are they? Enlarge spells were usually used for warriors or front liners. She thought about the magical creature in front of her and smiled. It would be a last ditch effort but now that her body temperature was cooler she made her way back to the turret and did a quick sweep of what it looked like. A quick magnetic and electrical pulse and she hoped that would be enough to knock the thing offline or disable it. Her heart started beating faster and she thought for a moment that she was scared. Concentrating on her surroundings it became more and more evident that simply was not true. She was angry, angry at whomever was capturing her friend and she had to concentrate to not open up a pass wall, a tunnel of sorts, straight down and drop a delayed cast fireball. Instead she waited wondering if she had any magical items with her, knowing that while most people could be bought off she simply didn’t have that much gold on her.
It was probably a blessing that the turret seemed designed to murder intruders stealthily as those subsonic rounds, while still deadly, did not have the same kinetic force of a proper rifle round or whatever monsterous force had rent the arm in her pocket dimension clean off the hunter. Of course her trick of cooling off appeared to help throw of it's aim too. It still had it's simple radar and the sheer amount of projectiles it spat out which made it sound like a hail of golfballs was punishing this particular spot of the docks but it missed more than it struck.
Her instruction to the other appeared little more than preaching to the choir as they had most certainly skedaddled evidenced by the lack of anyone there when that invisibility spell dropped. The little fluff ball was still there though, galumphing merrily around the turret that was intent on killing the snow elf though it may have been giving the creature too much credit to attribute this as some great ploy on its part. No, it appeared the critter was overjoyed it's two friends were playing and it was joining in too!
Sweeping out from cover the device homed in on where it thought she was but not quick enough as the electrical pulse of magnetism struck it causing it to swerve sharply to the side before a loud pop was heard preceded by a fizzle of smoke from the horizontal rotation axis.
The turret attempted to correct, it's barrel and body attempting to swivel this way and that though it could no longer rotate on the horizontal leaving it only capable of rotating up and down though the sensor globe up top seemed to glare lifelessly at the wizard.
The poro, for its part, yiped in surprise as the electricity licked across it, the creature in the line of fire obviously. Falling over with its tongue flopped out the creature wasn't stunned for long before it quickly scrambled to its feet and scampered down the stairs leading to the maintenance tunnels beneath the docks. There went the element of surprise.
"Are ya daft!?" The voice rose from behind the building as Talila warily stalked back around to the front. "I thought ya were goin' ta… I dunno, try somethin' not just wakin' through the front door! Certainly one of Turner's friends though maybe less so if'n ya don't even know his proper name. But yeah, Turner's his surname though he don't like it..." A touch of warmth curled into their smug smile as they thought on that. "But we gotta hurry! Now that they know someone's here they may try to escape with Turner, or..." The drain of pallor spoke volumes of what other fate the woman thought may await the hunter. Still, it wasn't enough to have them venturing down first as they left that honor to Xune.
Weather by stairs or pass wall below would be a long service corridor lined with pipes of various size, material, and age which carried as varied an amount of materials which buzzed, bubbled, and rushed. Alcoves and jutting machinery pocked the dimly lit corridor giving plenty of places to hide more traps or ambushes. It may have seemed impossible to tell which way to go save for the pad of paws and heavy panting which echoed down one particular passage leading to a far off metal doorway.
(A special thank you to Xune for writing in this scene!)
She marveled at the creature as the shock and reality was setting in it was incredibly interesting what the mind focused on during a crisis. The creature happily walking around as though this were some sort of game brought a smile to her face and she shook her head holding in her desire to laugh.
Her head turned over her shoulder to the woman that was advancing in the other direction and wondered why she was so insistent to put herself in harm's way. Then back to the Poro when it yelped out loud. “Shite.” She said in unison as the voice rose from behind her. “Contrary to popular belief bending the will of reality is not an easy task." She hissed back more upset about being called out on her lack of power. Xune had put together the basic elements of magic and had made leaps and bounds in necromancy she was not as equipped for infiltration as a war wizard.
Regretting the lack of training in evocation and invocation. “I don’t know anyone who knows his name. He's not that kind of guy. He makes a killer breakfast though." She muttered under her breath still wounded emotionally if not physically because of her inexperience and ineptitude.
She moved through the door into the hallway that reminded her of a terrible horror or thriller movie. She knew she could move faster without the woman, she could translocate down the hall but she felt attached to the woman. She gave her hope that Mach was still alive but talking about him in the present tense. She had more than a few personal reasons to rush this on her own. “Okay." The metal doorway she could deal with. “This is going to suck." The passwall spell wasn’t subtle but since the element of surprise was long gone she figured they had about ten minutes or so before all hell broke loose and she’d have to teleport them all out. A small circle appeared in the door and grew larger, she sent a small pulse of magic down the hall and moved in her banshee form as quickly as she could down it. Something she did in the Arenas and would give her at least partial physical protection if something attacked her from the walls in an automatic fashion as before. The pulse of magic was a total guess about if it would actually draw attention from such things.
"Yeah, I know." A blunt retort from the woman who was a mage themselves though of a vastly different manner than the snow elf. "Well, 'bout manipulatin' the world through the ether. My bitches tend ta be much more singular than reality itself though." Credit given where credit deserved it seemed. The woman was well aware that had it been them leading the charge they'd already be dead. "Though as told by Turner this land's supposed ta be chock fulla folks that regularly leash and walk reality." A tall tale or Mach's honest assessment of Rhy'Din, it was hard to tell.
Eyeing every shadow passed the half-elf scoffed at that next statement. "Really? Never really seemed the sorts ta me to hide such… though certainly not one ta put it out there either. And I'm pretty sure he said he'd had a few relations out here, can't imagine he'd have kept his true name from folks like that..." There was a mild scowl though at the mention of the man's breakfast, a tinge of jealousy in their expression. Then again given where they'd known Mach it couldn't have been all that surprising.
Down the hall that pulse of magic seemed to attract the source of the pants as the furball hopped out merrily from an alcove just ahead of where the snow elf was striding. Innocence is what shown in those deep wells as it looked at her… and then back to the alcove to bark merrily. She'd only have a moment to react to whatever friend the creature had found before a sword angled and thrust at her from the inky shadows.
The man that followed after snarled a curse at the poro, kicking at it before falling into whispering soundless as they drove the blade at Xune's core. For the poro's part it yiped at the kick, skittering down the hall and hopping through the hole she created in the metal door, a motionless figure strung up on the other side.
The sexual manner in which the woman was speaking might have added to her accelerated heart rate if it wasn’t already loud enough to the point where she was certain it was what went off the first automatic weapon. Maybe I’m not as close with Mach as I thought. the thought hit her but for the moment she needed to roll with the punches. “Perhaps our friendship is more one sided than I thought, but friends do things for friends because they want to help not because they expect anything in return."
It was almost a boringly over simplification of what she was thinking of but the words out of her mouth helped her stay steady. Trying to not let the lecherous feelings in her stomach boil to the surface with the fact that this woman knew him better than she did. She had been about to say something else but it came out as “He-oh fuck you!" The once princess who nearly fainted at curse words nearly six months ago had been startled senseless and perhaps through adrenaline, luck, or the Poro giving her enough warning she jumped back and sent out a returning lightning bolt. It was perhaps a touch overkill but her flight or fight responses were at war with her at the moment.
Her ears rang, the air smelled of ozone, and the bright flash nearly blinded her but she had enough wit about her to close her eyes at the right moment. She opened them again running down the hall, was it him? She thought she would be screaming his name or calling out but her tongue had turned to lead in her mouth.
The truth of the matter was probably more complicated than either were giving it credit for but then Mach did have a pretty shitty way about him. For the half-elf they simply nodded sympathetically to her plight. "Ain' that the truth of it with all hunters… though suppose there ain't really that many round these parts, not like Tur-um, Mach." Were they trying to make her feel better? It seemed that way as they hazarded close enough for a comforting pat on the shoulder though they missed as the woman shifted into that wraith form which had them recoiling their hand as though they'd just touched death itself. "Shit! I, uh, sorry, um, but yeah, I know that. Why my ass is here!" They thrust their modest chest forward perhaps trying to shore up their own pride at being nothing but a damsel again when they were supposed to be returning the favor to the hunter.
The exclamation from Xune worked to have them focusing on them even as that brilliant light flared into existence, a resounding boom rattling down the enclosed concrete tunnels. Talila yelped in pain, covering their abused eyes and ears while the assailant grit their teeth, the arc of electricity catching their blade and sending it flying down the tunnel. The bolt should have done much more damage but something about the way the lightning reacted to the sword seemed off, like it was being absorbed rather than struck. It probably should have been a red flag not to charge past them as they hit the wall, their form turning but not collapsing to the ground. No, they caught themselves and lifted their hand at the woman's back.
"Celeri - Flamma!" Ozone twisted and curled, collapsed into a shimmering lance of flames which erupted from their fingertips and after Xune. And through that door the poro did prance around the captive, yipping at the motionless, masculine form with only part of a prosthetic arm.
Xune was sweating and her tiny shoulders were heaving, this was so much different than what she had experienced inside the rings. The magic there was dampened and there were glyphs and wards to help one recover at a faster rate. Seeing the folly now of training in such places she had spent a day spell casting and while she had had time between most of her spells to recover she was still feeling quite depleted. Her wraith form dropped shortly after the spell was cast and she was once again flesh and bone. She heard the cry of pain, the sound of air being sucked from the vicinity near them as flames ate up whatever was left from the lightning bolt she had let fly. She struggled for a moment to breathe, and she was thankful that the passage way behind them was open because the first few breaths were labored and she knew if they were in an enclosed space such spell casting would have perhaps won them the round but they all would have suffocated.
She looked at the Poro wondering how this thing could be remaining so calm despite all the calamity around it. Her eyes went from the man on the ground and then to where she saw what the bloody creature was yipping around. Her vision had white spots in it and she felt a bit dizzy. Seeing that he was lifeless made her wobble for a moment and she tried to think clearly. He was down but the half elf was still up and people could be coming at any moment. The expression between a rock and a hard place flitted to her mind but her legs refused to answer, she was off running towards him. Staggering at a mild jog really but she was breathing air again and every step she took forward brought with her a bit of clarity. Casting spells wasn't going to be about just effort anymore, there was going to need to be some sacrifice to bring her arcana to life.
She thought about killing the man behind her and raising him into an undead minion to fight if things got too far out of hand. She checked for a pulse looking over him for signs of life.
The assailant was down but most certainly not out. Dropping to a knee they rasped as the oxygen in that enclosed space vanished, consumed by their torrents of elemental might. Their fireball veered off course, drawn towards the air that remained elsewhere rather than crisping the royal as was intended. It showed the mage for what they were, a goon little better versed in the use of magic as a tool for combat than she was. Still, they didn't succumb as they raised their hand once more to the woman's back, somatic elements chanted beneath their breath as they pulled a pocket knife out from their hoodie, grasping the blade ready to make the sort of sacrifice she merely considered.
"Et colligentes percuties eam F-" She may have been surprised by the short, thunderous crack that reverberated down the hall swiftly cutting off the man's words as they were flung forward onto the ground, a spatter of blood proceeding them. Behind them stood the half elf whore, glaring, with teeth gritted and barred as they aimed again, thumbing back the hammer before pulling the trigger on the revolver again. Another boom, the man's head exploding across the concrete floor in a violent, gruesome display. The woman looked ready to shoot them again, a kick issue instead before they sidled past the body.
“F-F-Fucker..." Even with those words the facade of vicious anger drained into mortified shock at the act they had just done, the woman visibly shaken but still pushing forward as they rushed to catch up. The small room beyond the door looked to be a repurposed machine room though the large steam pumps had long been removed, an antiquated yet powerful looking mainframe set in its place. To one side sat a table with all manner of medical supply, both mundane and grotesque.
Across from the door they’d entered in through was another metal door, closed and obviously leading off into another tunnel. In their dazed state Talila moved to twist the simple lock on this door, not keen that it would stop anyone from entering but it could at least slow them down.
And in the center of the room, strapped to a repurposed massage chair with extra bits welded on, was, unmistakably, Mach.
(A special thank you to Xune for writing in this scene!)
Old blood stained his pants, his shirt removed obviously to treat his wounds given the binding wraps around his torso. It also gave an ample view of the man’s withered form, atrophied from what looks like having spent weeks strapped, face down, onto that wicked chair. Still he was sweat covered, cold to the touch but breathing around the moistened sponge shoved into his mouth, his eyes crusted over with salt crystals.
A PICC line was taped to his organic arm, the tubing leading to an IV pump which was connected to multiple bags - saline, TPN, a few bags with long medical looking gibberish warnings and signs printed on them, a bag that looked like it had been contaminated with a green highlighter. It was a hideous sight to behold as all these were obviously meant to keep the man alive if not in such a subdued state. Though perhaps what was more grotesque were the wires tapped to his face which disappeared beneath his right eyelid… and the inch wide cable protruding from a hole drilled through the man’s skull which connected them to the large mainframe.
It may have been a blessing that the man was out cold though somehow such a thought felt wrong given how they twitched ever so slightly now and then, their organic hand occasionally straining for the burnt out caster of his suspended just out of reach as if placed there to mock his inability to escape. He whined and muttered into the sponge, his mutterings indecipherable yet very much pained.
It was a gentile, quiet, almost peaceful torture... yet torture nonetheless.
The half-elf could only gape at the horrid state of the hunter, juxtapositioned by the merry prancing of the poro around the base of the chair, a favored chew toy found once again in the mauled remains of Mach’s cellphone. They hardly noticed the shuffling from their purse as a small, rotuned little robot peaked out, sinking back as the mainframe whirred to life, the screen displaying nothing but technobabble as a voice crackled to life from some hidden speaker.
“Ooh~ so the hunter does have friends. Though I find this ‘cavalry’ a little... lacking." The faceless voice sounded flat with just a bare hint of amusement but something about it was just off. There was a pressure to the words, as though they were being forced out rather than flowing smoothly. “I take it you lot are here to try and take the hunter away?"
“I confess that I thought that fireball was yours."sticking a finger in her ear trying to see how badly her hearing was damaged. Xune very much agreed with the whole ‘fucker’ statement and was willing to completely get on board with that. The half elf surprised her with her spell casting capabilities and even with her brain trying to hold onto not only the aether and magic around them to form spells of her own but the treads of conversation and events weaving around her. “Thanks." Was all that she could stammer out instead of a more genuine statement about how she was thankful the half elf was there. Hopefully more was said in her eyes and her actions than the words that were falling incredibly short. “He’s going to be on our side now, don't kill the creature that arises." In the glowing light of machines that she had little to no knowledge of she pulled out a black book of shadows. Her eyes flickered purple with specks of gold and her voice changed to a more honeyed tenor as she channeled her dark masters need to raise more minions of undeath. “Guard the door." She commanded. The man would not have any of his spell casting or skills he had in life but for now he was one more thing in between her, the half elven, and Mach.
“Where is your scientist?" She said looking around for whomever could have done this to him. It was clear in her mind that he was being used as a lab rat or perhaps just being tortured in the name of furthering someone's mad schemes and desires. There was a part of her that sometimes wished she could work on more than just cadavers donated in the name of scientific and magic advancements but she never could see herself doing something on a living, breathing person. The cold metal setup and seeing him splayed out the way he was almost gave her some hope. “This is advanced." She said and a small part of her admired the handiwork and hoped that she could at least disconnect him from this without killing him. “I don’t suppose you took mechanical engineering or bionic engineering at all? I’m a tad behind on those classes. As well, my subjects are usually dead." She wanted to laugh in anger at the whole situation. Being so close to being able to save him and yet removing him from the situation would make her his murderer. “You look like shit Mach." She whispered, choking back her emotions for now.
Please monologue, please monologue, please monologue She thought to herself as she looked out for the faceless voice. “Ah there, Not really a cavalry." Noticing the cost of all this stuff she knew that she wasn’t going to be able to buy her way out of this situation. The avenues in which she had intended rescue seemed to be escaping down a dark tunnel. “I’m something of a scientist myself." She said both seriously and referencing some online humor from social media sites. “I work with those that have already passed from one realm to the next." Walking around the room. “Though I had always wondered who would have the stomach to work on someone like this." Gesturing back to Mach. “Yes, the idea is to get him out of here but you and I can come to an understanding." She called in her undead creature to stand closer to her. “I can show you things, things that someone like the ‘hunter’ can’t possibly show you." Fuck, fuck, fuck her heart was hammering.
“Not my kind of magic..." Was all the half-elf was able to get out between that sick feeling that flopped in their stomach from the death they’d caused and the state of the hunter. They’d known that this sort of affair would take them out of their depth, but apparently they’d underestimated just how out of it such would entail. It was perhaps only by Xune’s voice that they kept engaged in the situation at all rather than slip into shock as they finally took an appraising look at the man noting how integrated he was with everything. “Fuck… I-I don’ know nothin’ ‘bout the work of madsci’s like this..." A brow was quirked at the instruction, looking back the woman nearly screamed as the fellow they’d just shot was now standing at the door. Necromancy was all fun and games when it was merely hypothetical, much more horrifying when seen in practice. “B-B-B-But I d-do know that-that that can’t be good..." Eyes forward they moved over and ripped the IV line out from the pump, the mixture of liquids now spilling on the floor rather than feeding into the man’s arm for hopefully better.
The voice that rose from the console seemed to really excite the poro as its frolicking only grew, a strange juxtaposition to the horrors going on around it. As for the faceless voice it simply chuckled at the attempts at negotiations. “Your lessons would be wasted. I, like many from where he and I come from, am not magically inclined. The secrets of the ether are not mine to explore, unfortunately…" There was a hint of something more to that monotone with those words, an undercurrent of bitterness that was gone as quickly as it had come replaced by almost an air of elation. “... not directly at least. But this one, this one is a fine subject to study such, to learn from. Such resilience! Such anger! And a treasure trove of nodes!" One could almost picture whoever the voice belonged to salivating over the broken form of Mach, taking great pleasure in the work that saw the hunter as they were.
“Oh.. but this could be fascinating. Yes, yes… yes, this could work. Alright, I accept your offer, I will let you take the hunter so long as you remind them about their eight percent and that I will be waiting for them to finish what they started; wouldn’t want them to forget that see. I would even give them to you without further incident if you give me ownership of that black book you had summoned earlier." It didn’t look like there were any video cameras yet somehow the man had still seen that summoning when she’d raised the dead mage to act as a door guard. “Though I know how cagey and sneaky mages can be with such. Regardless, three more under my employee are on their way now and I do believe they had a fondness for the one you’d shot and raised. If you do agree to give me the book though just release it from yourself and give it to Egg." The poro it seemed as the creature stopped it’s frolicking, perking up at the sound of its name.
Talila looked wide eyed between Xune, Mach, the computer, and Egg, completely oblivious to the robot which once more popped out of her purse now that all parties were distracted. The thing, looking to have been cobbled together with trash and spite for nature, hopped down and shuffled it’s way to the computer trying to avoid the poro along it’s trek. And throughout all this the hunter had stopped twitching at random growing still save for the slow, methodical flex of their organic fingers even though they still remained unconscious.
She crossed her arms over her chest and did her best to position herself between the mad scientist and the half elf that had come with her. "You should go." She all but stage whispered to them wanting them to be able to get out of here alive. The woman had been beyond brave considering what she did for a living; she knew the woman had to have a backbone made out of steel and she was more than impressed that she had dared venture this far. It wasn't until she realized that the voice was coming out of a console that her shoulder slumped ever so slightly. She was formulating what she was going to say to keep the man talking and feeding into that hatred while her plan came to light. The thought of Mach being opened alive driving her to try to come up with a conclusion to this macabre scene with all due haste. That light; however, was however dimmed at the prospect of what eight percent might entail and then all together snuffed out when he requested her spell book.
Her book or Mach? The thought made her physically stagger and she felt like she had taken a punch to the stomach. Bile built up and threatened to bubble over. "You can't be serious!" All of her bravado vacuumed out as surely as the air that was removed from the previous spell casting down the hall. She looked down at the human that she would outlive by more than hundreds of years in his already near death state. She looked at the Poro like it was the one that had personally betrayed her and she was now more determined than ever to only have creatures near her that she could summon and control herself. With a wave of her hand the book appeared and she could hear the soft honey voice in her head and the black mist began to slowly seep out of it. Necromancy was so much a part of her she didn't really think that she could part with it and she could feel herself sliding it back into the pocket dimension safe and away where the only way it could be removed is once she was dead and the bag was turned inside out. At the last second her hand twitched and she dropped it onto the ground kicking it towards the poro harder than she thought she was capable of. "Fine!" She said, anger and bitterness in her voice and a tear streaming down her face. She knew it wasn't the book that made the wizard but she was sacrificing more than that. The chance that she would ever be or become what was her spoken destiny and that was absolutely terrifying to her. "I don't give a shit about your henchmen just give this one to me, you'll get whatever your eight percent is." She also silently vowed that she would somehow recover the book from his cold dead body but no matter how much she valued an item the book was not as important as the parasocial relationship with Mach she had developed over their brief encounters. "Fuck you especially." She even said to his body taking the opportunity to get out some anger while he couldn't hear her.
Talila gapped a moment longer before that stage whisper drew their attention, brows raising. "And leave ya here alone, are ya daft!" A hiss back, the idea obviously never crossing their mind up to this point. "We all leave together... o-or not at all..." The bravery of their words faltered at the end though the renewed grip on the revolver was likely a better indicator of their resolve. Still, they did pale at the demands of the madsci and the understandable anger of the wizard.
An anger that didn't seem to consume them it seemed as after a moment of angry soul searching they finally summoned that tome, kicking it at the poro which yipped as it dodged the assault but panted happily nonetheless apparently overjoyed to hear it's master if only through the speaker. As for the faceless voice it was simply absent during that moment of reflection until she'd produced the book and apparently gave it up. This seemed to surprise them, the silence deafening before an off-putting laugh that was maniacal yet lacking in emotion rose up filling the small room. "Oooh~ now this is unexpected! I hadn't planned for this. Such gifts, such gifts! Yes, this will work splendidly! Egg, to me with our prize!" The poro hopped excitedly at the command, the remnants of the cell phone spat out so it could grab the book and ferry it off through a poro sized hole in the wall that was hidden next to the large mainframe.
Those last words from her though seemed only to delight the voice... and cause the half-elf to pale ever more. "Oh, eight percent was what he had. With me? I'd probably say two percent, I wouldn't recommend it." The words were almost taunting in nature, spoken through an obvious smile. "Though I will await it nonetheless. No doubt were it zero percent he would still come… such a fascinating man. A moment's pause taken to inhale in self satisfaction before the voice sighed contently. “He is yours, you may do with the henchmen as you please. It has been a pleasure." And with that the terminal powered down, the whirring noise of technology falling silent as all the displays and lights ceased.
(A special thank you to Xune for writing in this scene!)
In that silence the exasperated curse only rang louder, both the one directed at the down and out man and the one directed at her. "Shit! Why did ya say ya didn' care 'bout the henchmen! He's a fuckin' madsci! He probably thought ya meant it was fine fer 'em to come!" The woman rushed to the door, straining to hear footsteps even as they tried their best to ignore the ghoul set as a sentry.
It was only once the coast was clear that the small trashbot hopped up onto the computer, it's lone lense eye assessing everything. A voice would emanate from this thing now, small and tinny given the minute size of the speaker it hid. "That wasn't what was meant?" Puzzlement before the robot bowed finally to the royal. "I am Reginald, an avatar not the person, Mach tells me it's important to make that distinction." This one spoke with that same pressured speech as the other though it felt somehow warmer, if marginally.
Hopping from the mainframe over to the stooped figure of the hunter a mild groan finally issued from the man, likely in complaint as small metal talons helped the robot keep it's purchase. "We will need to get out of here quickly and to my place, this cord is deeply integrated into his brain, it will require microsurgery to remove without scrambling anything." Crawling over the robot opened it's terrible little maw, biting down on the thick cable, a moment and grinding sparks began flying from its mouth as it cut through the girthy umbilical. "Can either of you cut the leads going into his eye? Also, either of you have teleportation magic?"
As all of this was going on the hunter began to rouse, their eye straining to open against the crust of salt which sealed it, his hand flexing as a grumble was muttered into that moistening sponge held in his mouth.
The other half elf woman was brave and she genuinely considered taking the woman on as an apprentice. She clearly had natural skill that if honed could become incredibly deadly. “You could be a hero of Rhy’din." She said perhaps a bit flatter than she intended to but she was being sincere.
She looked over her shoulder and she could feel the empty hollow space where the power of the book had once filled her and at the moment she did not need its fuel. Xune was a princess then turned queen; she had lost her temper probably more than a few times and had known the great sorrow and anger at the loss of her parents and what felt like her reign. She had never known the earth shattering anger that was building up inside of her and she almost didn’t recognize the sound of her own voice. And she couldn’t find it in herself to strike out at the small creature before it went through the door.
She went about what Reginald said to do with haste and precision and she was uncharacteristically silent. It was taking a concentrated effort of will not to do or say very unpleasant things. That seemed to soften when the hunter began to stir and she said “Yes, think of the place that you wish to be and I can make it so." The thudding of her heart hammering but not with panic. The anger still kept a steady pace to her hatred as she realized that she had not won this encounter. She was succeeding in the extraction but the cost of it would leave her near defenseless once the spells she had currently committed to memory vanished after their expenditure. “Hey it’s time for breakfast you’re a bit late." Trying to give him a piece of reality to cling on to not knowing if what he had endured had been a nightmare or if he had been medically put into a coma for the entire thing. “We still need to get you showered up and this stink off you, the hangover’s going to be a little shitty today but you power on soldier you here?" Her voice was steady but her hands had a tremor and she hoped that the blue eye that had looked at her so many times and had been closed this long did not look at her as she was prepared to cast whatever was needed, drops of sweat falling down the back of her neck the echoes of eternity now leaving from her mind as her timeline was now for the first time truly linear. Mach has given her the greatest fear she ran from her entire life, he had given her certain death.
"Pass." The answer was blunt and honest from the woman. "I... This is... too much. I-I'll help a friend, but... I couldn' do this..." A motion to everything around them, the life of the hunter and perhaps even Xune led, by their assumption anyway. "Nah, n-not my mule ass, I'll jus' make it on my back, thank ya."
Still, they seemed to gain a little color back as the hunter roused though they let the royal tend to him as they continued to hold watch, more than a little guilt keeping them at bay. Had they not shown up when they did, gave away the hunters position to the madsci that night then... no, they shook their head and redoubled their grip on the revolver in hand dead set to defend the two till their dying breath. Perhaps there was something of what Xune saw in them though they couldn't admit such.
For Machs part he simply continued to moan shakily, fingers flexing more as he tested the limits of his motion, putting together that puzzle of what was happening one piece at a time. But time was, as it had always been, not a friend nor luxury the man had. Finishing cutting through the thick cable, the metallic monster was quick to crawl to his shoulder, cable in tow. Pressing in against him and biting into the meat of his shoulder up and around there would suddenly be a flash accompanied by a searing sizzle and the smell of burning flesh and melting metal. In an instant the hunter roused, his cry of agony muffled by the sponge shoved in his mouth as the little robot fussed the other end of that cable to his shoulder. It was a cold, calculated move, the fastest way to stabilize the man for travel even if it was also the cruelest. But then given what Xune had witnessed of the other madsci who had been torturing the hunter for weeks on end it was probably little wonder this one had such a disregard for the sanctity of decency as well.
"Gods... fuck!" The first words to growl from the hunter as they finally spat out that sponge, eye breaking apart the crust to finally look around. The nightmare had ended, or at least shifted as he tugged on his still restrained arm. "Wh-what...X-Xune!? What-t are y-y-you doin-ng here?" His voice stuttered and halted with disuse.
"Regi!" The half elf hissed angrily at the robot as it crawled it's way to the man's face so as to assess the shape of the wires there.
"Ta-lila!? Wh-What, fuck, wh-what the h-hells!" He began to struggle more now, the half elf quickly moving away from the door to try and sooth him before his struggling scrambled his own dammed brains while also attempting to undo the restraints. Despite the attempts to assuage him the man whipped his head about trying to see who else was about. Was it really only these t-FFFF!
A groan escaped as his head flopped down, rugged features scrunching in agony from the whipped about cord still coming out of his head. "Match, be still, they're trying to help you."
"Regi!?" This was turning out to be quite the shitshow yet he still hadn't identified any real heavy hitters. "Wh-where's Gaines? Why are... you here Xune? Nnf, shit.." Another wave of pain washed over him knocking the wind from his sails once more. "W-We got a-a way out of th-this?"
She nodded her head still thinking that was incredibly brave that she had come this far at all. She looked around to the machines and knew that this was something that she might have to deal with on a more regular basis. Not because she thought that she was going to be in this predicament with Mach very often but she knew her adventures would take her to places even more dangerous than this. That the life of someone who was adventuring around would take her into the mouth of hell itself and back she imagined and she knew that she would walk that path willingly every single time.
"Gods do in fact from time to time procreate." She said with a shake of her head as she tried to assist Reginald. "Don't make me put you to sleep.” She didn't know why she had decided to trust the thing but she was glad that she had gone with her gut feeling. If Reginald had been the mad scientists last laugh after getting her book she might have lost all sense of self control. Feeling the need to hunt and kill whatever had taken from her the dark arts that were like sweet whispered words directly to her soul but she channeled that into energy to take them far away from this place knowing that she could always come and hunt this one down herself once she found out more about him. That was only if, of course, they could get Mach back in one piece and unless there was anything about to stop them she would do her best to get all three of them out of there right then.
"Ha!" It was probably hard to tell if that was a laugh at her joke or a pained gasp, probably both as the man worked his freed hand, the underworked tendons popping and cracking with effort. "I-I've slept enough... thanks... that shower s-sounds lovely though... scrub my crack?" Apparently he had been able to hear in that half roused state and had been kicked enough times in life to stand up kicking and joking even in such a sorry state as he was in. A miracle that, or a horror depending how one decided to look on such. Reaching forward he ripped the ruined caster from its perch, a shiver running down his body as he felt the charge still held within, perfect. A glance was cast to the half elf working on the restraints on his legs. "I take it there's a good story w-why you two are together?"
"Goddesses fuckin', gotta keep up face." They grinned though it did little to cover the raw relief and panic that lurked beneath the humor, the woman obviously not as good at just hiding everything behind a wink and a smile as the hunter was, or even a drab monotone as the wizard. The schmooze had words of comfort for them but this was no time for such as he quickly set to prying apart the burned panels of his caster, holding it out to the little metal monstrosity on his shoulder.
"Remove that." His tone blunt as he set to work soldiering on as Xune had so told him. Once the panel was removed he began tearing at the inner guts of the handcannon, parts ripped free and discarded with intent. A look from those emaciated features were cast up at Xune. "You got a teleport spell o-or something or we gotta l-leave the way you came?" His tone was hoarse, drab, and calculating - a voice the woman had never heard from the man before. He sounded like a proper professional, a far cry from the schmooze, the joker, or even the angry friend she'd seen before.
Gutting a few last components from the caster the man set it aside gently as the thing began to thrum with menacing power. Xune could literally feel the magical power emanating in unstable pulses from the slab of tech, like it were somehow alive and very ready to blow up. One leg, then the other, and soon the man sat up, wobbled, and fell back onto his stomach with a curse. "Shit, either of you see my potion belt with... the nest of my shit..."
A dim look cast to the very much poro nest looking mound of blood soaked clothing and discarded bits and bobbles including what appeared to be a few hunks of his prosthesis, his right eye prosthetic, some remnants of his phone, and his gun and potion belt.
As for the robot it seemed quite cozy just perched on the hunters shoulder like some rotund, metallic, vicious looking parrot. Chewing on the hunk of the caster the thing had helped tear off the small voice crackled to life once more. "If you do have a teleportation spell please come to my shop - Mr. Fix It down on Crete avenue in the market district, commercial part just south of the forge alliance."
The hunter gave the thing a look. "Y-You mean Rhy'Din General, I don't need a mirror to know I'm f-fucked up."
"Very." The blunt assessment warranted a scowl from the man though the voice cut off his rebuttal. "But they won't have the means to help you, not without questions being asked and likely even then…"
There was a knowing silence between the two, Mach growling slightly though the threat dissipated with a wince and a whine. "Point. Fine. Regi's place. But I swear any of your bots try to eat me.-!"
"Then I am sure I would then have to answer to Mrs. Vandree." The voice had a calm to it as it called out the woman though how did this madsci know of her? Still, it seemed they had a destination now if only they had a means. "Oh, and please don't bring that unleashed caster with you."
"I wasn't..." The man growled, a bit of vicious peaking through the cracks. "It's a gift I'm leaving for these fuckers."
"You are absolutely the man I have been looking for." She said shaking her head all though somewhat relieved to discover that this wasn't some sort of ruse and that the real Mach was hidden somewhere in a sub basement on level whatever. "No I'm sure his relentless jokes will be the thing that keeps his heart beating. It's the only thing in which he manages to keep pace with." She said at almost the same time as her new companion and despite the situation she grinned. "No I thought we might hang out for a while, get some tea with your friend. Talk about stock portfolios." She didn't know how to respond to this side of him or how to handle the sight of him. She tried her best to not look frustrated with the Poro but animals were animals and far beyond her realm of understanding.
She listened to the banter back and forth as she coalesced the energy she would need, sweat forming around her as she stretched out her now very limited capabilities. The fact that he was leaving a 'gift' for them she wasn't going to try and stop him. In fact she was quite positive that once the people she had brought with her were safe enough she was going to have a hard time not enacting a plan of brutal revenge. "You're gonna feel sick." This was not going to be a smooth ride for any of them and she truly hoped that he could survive the trip, but the options for all of them were quickly coming to a close.
Once again that smell of ozone would appear but even more burnt than the last time. "Now." She said if anyone had any parting words or devices to blow the charge on now would have been the time. Taking them to the coordinates that were described to her the best she could, all of them landing a foot or two higher than the actual ground.
"L-Looking for lil old me? Well, you certainly found me-" The hunter yelped and collapsed, hissing as the Talila smacked him! They glowered down at him looking half ready to hit him again.
"Don't be an asshat idiot!" They seemed to have different ideas about the man's sense of humor it seemed though it may just be that everything was finally starting to get to the woman. Still, they thrust out a hand to the man, a single vial dropped into his which he stared at for a long moment. There was a question there but the man didn't give it voice as he simply cracked the vial pilfered from his collection of junk and sipped back the contents. A shiver ran down his wasted form, steam rolling from his lips as he exhaled, the battle stim taking hold. Still, even with the liquid kick to his ass his getup and go wasn't very spirited as he stood, extracting himself from the chair that had been his home for the past month. "Stocks and fucking, huh, I'd like a recording of that." Grabbing the gutted caster he nodded to Xune. "Can't feel worse than I do, let's blow this popsicle stand." Tearing one last component from the caster he tossed it onto the mainframe, his hand coming to rest on Xune's shoulder apparently assuming contact was necessary for the teleportation. Talila seemed to assume the same as they put a hand on the wizard's other shoulder, or perhaps they were just copying Mach. Either way the trio slipped through the rip in the ether that Xune created, one moment in some maintenance tunnels out in Dockside and the next in front of a modest shop in the more rundown parts of Marketplace.
The half elf landed with grace, seeming barely phased by the passage... until they suddenly lurched forward and threw up their lunch on the cobbles.Machs travel was much less graceful as they simply went limp out the other end, their form collapsing with a solid thud against the ground. He wretched as he curled on his side, clutching his spinning stomach even as in the distance a very distinct BOOM was heard from the direction of Dockside.
Holy fuck was that his gutted caster detonating!? Either way Mach wasn't quiet in a condition to confirm or deny this as he shivered and writhed on the ground. From within the modest shop a new figure appeared - a lanky man that practically loomed if they weren't so painfully thin. Clad in a simple graphic t-shirt and plaid felt pajama bottoms with curly hair left matted, messy, and unkempt the fellow looked more like they'd just gotten out of bed then had been helping them moments earlier through their avatar which now wandered lazily into the shop.
"Come. You’re making a scene." The fellow motioned for the group to follow, seeming wholly uninvested in the fact that one was getting sick all over his curbside while the other was a literal heap on the ground. Then again they may well have been as bloodshot eyes kept looking about restlessly.
(A special thank you to Xune for writing in this scene!)
The boom she could feel underneath her feet as she had landed and went half down to a knee before pulling herself up again but she was thankful that hopefully the worst of it was over. She thought that asking Turner to not be an ass hat was appropriate but she wanted to stay silent and give them all some time to absorb what had just happened. She herself had been mostly on auto pilot. She let Turner catch up with his friend hoping that the banter between the two of them would provide her some comfort. It also let her try to settle her own stomach because she no longer had the power of the book feeding her and the adverse side effects of the removal of such a union would likely start to kick in soon. She knew this wasn’t the time to make things about herself and so she closed her eyes and took a deep breath steadying her nerves and her insides.
She didn’t know why but she smiled at the sound of the boom and she knew she was going to need to explore that black emotion. She looked at the person who was so casually dressed and didn’t argue, another few words of magic would have them moving with as little difficulty as walking but yet making the same speed as if they were running. With that last spell cast she could feel a headache starting to split down the center of her skull and she knew any further casting would start to deteriorate her physical being.
“Now we no longer need to be the center of attention." She said as she made way with the group of people who might never have otherwise met unless it were these unusual circumstances. She leaned against whatever wall or piece of furniture she could find to steady herself a bit before reaching into her pocket dimension for a bottle of water. She still had a couple of healing potions but they were meant for smaller wounds than Mach had. Still it couldn't hurt "Bottoms up." She said handing the two small vials to him.
The madsci gave a look in the direction of the explosion before a look back to the writhing hunter upon the ground. "Really?"
"Th-unf, they had it coming..." A cheeky grin attempted and failed as their stomach did another transdimensional somersault. Still, the man wasn't about to let a little thing like that keep him down as he knuckled his way to his knees, and even his feet though he felt the supportive pull magic assisting with that last one. He probably would have bitterly shut down such assistance usually but he just didn't have it in him right now. So instead he trudged along with the group, moving through the shop piled high with what looked like mechanical and electronic junk from throughout the ages, even those far into the future. There were price and/or info tags on everything which meant they had to have value to someone but it seemed the lean man's business tailored to a very specific sort of need. Passing a few benches with devices in various states of disassembly and finally they'd pass through a few bead curtains which lead into a back area that had oddly been very concealed by said curtains… for good reason.
If the front was messy this room was absolute chaos. Mountains of decayed technology were piled here and there with what looked like a human sized nest built into one of them! There was a sofa which Mach headed to and collapsed onto as well as a well lit repair bench which was the least cluttered surface in the entire shop. Of course the lighting only worked to cast garish shadows around the room which seemed to move and watch, the gleam of lenses or shuffle of metallic feet giving the feeling that the room was brimming with trash bots with one rather menacing looking cat sized one dropping into the hunters lap producing a curse from the man.
The madsci, Regi, moved to grab a barcode reader looking thing from off the repair bench and began scanning Mach's head while Talila played a roving game of avoid the shadows. "Did ya plant that robot on me!"
"Yes." The madsci didn't even look up from their work to give that dry response. "Could you buy food? Lots of protein and carbs, calcium too."
"That sounds like a chemical list than a food list..." Giving the fellow a soar look they glanced at Mach which helped to mellow that distrust. "Right… anythin’ for you?" Spoken more to Xune then Regi though they wouldn't wait over long before heading out through the bead curtain once more.
As for Mach they finally leaned back, the ill feeling passing now just leaving him feeling jittery and drained. He patted lazily at the fox tattoo on his chest, that frown of his growing as he realized he didn't have a shirt and thus didn't have any cigarettes. Fuck. With a sigh he sat back, a curse rising as such caused the cord sticking out of his head to shift, another as he finally felt back to determine just how screwed he was. Rather than contemplate the answer he finally looked over to Xune, a serious assessment taken of the woman before at long last he smirked. "You look like someone trying to go undercover." His tone tired yet glib as he made that observation, his hand waving off those offered potions. "I'm… fine. Ish." A shrug as he felt the smooth skin where his side had been blown out near a month ago. "Just be a waste to use those on me. What I need is steak, cigarettes, and this… fucking thing removed from my head." That last bit was growled with more vitriol than he'd meant obviously as he shrugged sheepishly afterwards. Don't let the royals see your junkyard dog vicious it seemed, an odd sort of censor to take with someone who'd come to rescue his ass but that was Mach in a nutshell - oddly self censored.
Giving the madsci a wary look as they shook their head at something on the scan he opted to keep his focus on the mage while the madsci moved to make some inputs on a trashed out laptop with far too many wires leading out and into another room which hummed menacingly. "So… um, yeah. Thanks for the assist there… you know, pulling my ass outta the brown creek." A friendly little smile offered up even as his overall expression dimmed, feeling the empty socket of his right eye. "Didn't expect you of all folks to be there. Talila I understand but you… why were you there?" Almost as an afterthought he looked around now. "And alone. Aren't you a queen? Shouldn't coming after some idiot be the sort of thing you send a knight along to do?'' There should have been a smile there but he simply watched her with that tired gaze trying to put everything together even as he cracked and crumbled.
She didn’t even try to refute the words as she knew it had indeed been coming, and the worst for them was far from over, at least in her mind. She cemented that thought away and tried to focus on what was happening in the present. For all her bravado and attempts at remaining cool and collected that was her first ever attempt at anything even remotely resembling an adventure. She had dealt with some of the monsters and even her own undead parents in Rhy’din; however, she had the strength of the community at her side and she hadn’t just overcome it on her own there had been literally dozens of helping hands. Also hand in Mach’s case since he technically only ever had the one made of flesh. She pushed beyond the beads and listened to the sound of them rattling against each other trying to figure out what the next step was. She had gotten him away from whatever peril she had suspected and now she would at least see the rest of it through and also find out: why didn’t you ask for help? I know I am not with your regimen but I would have come to your aid. It was an honest question, thought but not said as she simply didn’t have it in her to chastise him in his current state.
The insides of the room didn’t bother her so much unlike her companions she was now less acutely aware of what was happening around her and her situational awareness still had a long way to go regardless. Perhaps a bit easier to tune out as she had been in many different types of laboratories, her own being incredibly gruesome. At the mention of food Xune put a hand to her stomach and then lifted it up waving in a gesture to indicate no thank you. I will require a special diet when I do eat again. She didn’t want to burden the poor woman emotionally any longer and certainly did not feel comfortable sending the woman who had saved them all already out and about as she would a servant in her castle.
“Well it was my best attempt and still not very good." Looking down at herself and then back to Mach as he spoke. “You don’t need to worry about bravado with me, hmm? You’re hurt and it’s okay to be hurt right now fireball." The previous explosion a few moments ago and she couldn’t help but chuckle at the nickname she had given him so long ago. When the questions were turned at her she suddenly was wishing that she -had- berated him and sighed putting her hand to the back of her neck and tugging on it.
“I called you and your phone was off." Not knowing how to continue the rest of this without sounding incredibly stalkerish. “You had been gone for, well, I’m really not sure how long." That at least was the truth, with her new studies in chronomancy time was something that she was losing a grip on in general. “I asked around and no one had seen you in a long time either and I figured either you had gotten yourself in a world of trouble or maybe you were running from something and needed help." She took a deep breath and blathered out “So I did what any respectable wizard would do and stuck my nose where it didn’t belong." Another sigh she didn’t want to tell him about the spellbook and the rest of it until he was done healing. “Been locked up in the room all day and as far as anyone knows I’m studying in peace and solitude. This has been a lesson that is for sure." She said sitting down on the floor out of energy and doing her best to not seem deflated from the whole thing.
Those words about bravado drew a smirk from the man, hand lifting to loop about flippantly. "Darling, bravados all I got. It's the only thing that keeps a monster like me going." Literally it seemed as the man really did look like he'd been chewed up and spat out by life. Wasted, harried, shredded, exhausted and yet still at it with the wise cracks - that couldn't have been healthy and yet what else was he to do? Give in? What was crying going to do? What purpose would pity, either his own or others, serve? The two may have had a few heart to heart talks in the past but seeing the hunter as this might well have been the most educational, the closest the wizard may truly get to understanding what motivated and drove the man known as Mach… terrible a thought that must have been.
"But thanks for the thought, though in my line of work being hurt just means you fucked up. Gotta try better till you succeed or..." He shrugged mildly to finish that thought venturing that giving words to the line of logic would only worry the quickly deflating woman. And so it was that he shut up and listened to how they'd got involved in things all while ignoring that unasked question. Chewing through everything the man nodded solemnly, filing in the blanks with his best estimates while also working to slot the narrative into the bigger picture. The answers, he found, weren't much to his liking as his lips pulled mildly into a frown.
"One meddlesome mage and a prostitute are all the calvary a bastard like me warrants, eh..." He ignored the glance from the madsci. "Sounds about right. Still, I can't believe you got in and got me out with so little trouble. Maybe you outta be doing this job rather than me..." A grin as he held up the remnants of his prosthetic arm. "But suppose it is personal to me, not you, so..."
And now he motioned to his general state as evidence of why things were personal though it still avoided the unanswered question of why him, why alone.
"Yeah…though it's still very curious. How'd you two pull it off? Did you talk to Gaines at all?" Even as he spoke the madsci moved up next to him, a pair of clippers in hand which they proceeded to shave Mach's head clean with, likely in preparation of the surgery to remove his brain tail.
She spent a few minutes longer on the floor before finally getting a second wind and coming to a stand. Moving beside him to put a hand on his shoulder and it was meant to be comforting, a ‘there there everything would be all right’ sort of gesture but as her hand touched his shoulder she squeezed. What should have or could have been a delicate hand suddenly found itself containing a level of rage that was new to her. She'd look him in the eye to clarify that her anger was not directed at him, only whatever that thing was that had gotten him in that situation. "I know." She said, understanding that doing heroic things or even dastardly things came with an instruction manual for broken pieces to be put back together again. In Mach's case he could even order new parts instead of just waiting for time to heal all wounds.
She watched his face with a delighted amusement of her own because seeing Mach think and connect the dots together was something that she thought he made fun of from time to time along with logic, books, magic, and reasoning beyond the battlefield. "More like two meddlesome mages and one girl who knows how to have a good time." She winked at her partner in crime. When he wanted to come to the grand finale of it all she put everything into making sure that her face stayed cheerful "Oh just paying off some sort of debt and a trade is all. Nothing that can't be lived without." Her silver eyes going over to the other woman wondering if she would keep her secret or blurt out the truth before she had the chance to stop her.
The man simply smiled at that notion of them knowing. About being angry? About being broken? Whatever the implication it seemed a touch shallow, a touch naive to the hunter. Or perhaps he just felt it was such, as though the sort of pain and rage that made monsters like him was a privilege he shared only... or maybe he just wished such. Still, it was hard to ignore that the man obviously still saw her as the princess rather than the hardened queen, the neophyte than the wizard, the scholar than the fighter. Perhaps it was simply this disbelief in her reliability that was why he hadn't asked for her aid. But then what of those the man had to know were just as grizzled and badass or more than he? Or had he just simply underestimated the threat. All reasonable assumptions though if there was at least one constant about Mach it had to be how unreasonable he could be.
Such was well on display as he stuck his tongue out at her amusement. "Hey, my head ain't just a pretty topper to all this." He motioned about himself even if, at the moment, he was certainly no hunky beefcake. There was a look to where the mage spoke noting both the absence of the woman who'd slipped off to fill Regi's vague requests as well as the simple fact that the mage had even deigned to get so chummy with a lady of such standing. Maybe the princess was more world savvy then he gave them credit for!
Of course maybe not as they worried over the ability of the prostitute to keep a secret versus the madsci who now stared between them. "Whenever you're ready, Match." They cast a look to the woman. "I wouldn't wait, this will take a few days at least and could leave him a vegetable." Their assessment was mild and blunt. "Would probably be better served searching for your trade."
This seemed to peak Mach's interest, or add to such as his brow had lifted at the mention of a trade from the both of them. "Trade? What did you trade?" Curiosity and something more drove such a question as he watched her closely. "Madsci's ain't exactly the covetous sorts... and you don't look disassembled any so I gotta wonder what you had to give..." He watched her intently for her answer.
"I'm just glad that your head is still atop your head and that you can now officially answer your phone again." Sticking right back out a tongue at him. She couldn't even pretend to imagine what he was going through personally as her life had never been that close to danger on her own. The implications of what that might do to someone's mental state plucked a string in her heart but she knew now was maybe not the time to offer comforts but to put on a strong face. Heck maybe Mach might even view her as a grown up instead of some dumb kid, at least in her mind, she wanted to be something more.
She didn't shoot daggers at the beings in the room, in the heat of the moment she could not remember if she had asked to keep that a secret or not and again her hand stretched behind her head and she let out a sigh. "Well in addition to paying your debt, which I leave mostly up to you by the way." She figured he wouldn't take the 'charity' offered but she planned on paying it in full anyways if only to lord over his head in grandiose tales of this adventure in the future. That little daydream brought a grin to her face for a moment as she thought about how she would embellish this to ridiculous proportions because who was gonna be more believable in a situation where it was a he said she said? She knew that she likely held a little bit of leverage in that regard.
"My spellbook." She spat the two words out trying to make it sound as casual as she could. "I don't think he much cared for the book just knowing what it was." She kept a surprising strength to her voice. "Asides I don't even know if the book will stay with him. It kind of has a mind of its own." She could feel it was gone though, an empty void where it had been somewhere inside of her. It felt like she was hungry or dying of thirst even though she was physically fine.
"Well glad someone's glad for that..." His tone was more grumble than joy though given his brain tail he had a pretty good reason. It was a wonder just how messed up he was going to be from all this since he was walking around with a traumatic brain injury sticking out of his skull but he tried his best to steer away from such thoughts. Or any thoughts really as they tended to make his head throb though the mention of debt did have him quirking a brow.
"You charging me for pulling my ass outta the fire?!" An insulted look crossed him. "I thought this was done out of the kindness of your heart!" That look held for a moment longer before breaking into a lazy grin only slightly marred by the feeling of a knife turning in the back of his head. "Joking, joking. Yeah, you did me a solid Xune, really. I mean..." He started into that animated mode he always used when hamming up his tall tales but it faltered, stumbling either from pain or perhaps more just exhaustion. Even he had limits though he'd never admit to such. "Yeah… might have to do a strip tease for ya." He fell back onto that cheeky response though it still felt flat. "Or are you talking about debt to me which would be news to me. All I've given you is frustration and grief I'm fairly certain." An emaciated finger scratched mildly at his chin. "And Gaines will get his..." A touch of malice curdled in those words but this too was fleeting.
Those last, hurried words from the woman though caught the man by surprise. His brow both raised and scrunched in surprise. "Your tome… the shadowy number?" He didn't need to hear the answer to know it was true, her mannerisms spoke volumes. Well… shit. He'd always had notions of trying to separate the woman from the book, just knew the thing wasn't any sort of good news. There were plans and machinations he'd cooked up though to be honest he was always thought he’d be a much more active participant in the affair… or at least conscious of such! "Oh… damn. That's… huh..." A look was cast to the madsci in the corner who simply shook their head.
"They're very much sparked, no possibility they're not." They shrugged mildly, seeming puzzled by the demand themselves. "Said they'd let you go for the book and a reminder about an 8% of something."
Her words had surprised him but the others' words shook him; almost as though he'd just been struck with an iron pole. The '8%' obviously meant something to the hunter who suddenly looked very tired and very worn at that moment. "Bastard..." A dark fury burned behind those words, his lone cobalt staring down at his hand for a long moment before finally turning back to Xune.
"I'm… sorry about your book." The words felt appropriate even if he wasn't terribly sorry himself for her loss. "Are… are you going to be okay?" And now it was his turn to place his hand on her shoulder, a comforting squeeze given as he watched her. He may have seen only trouble in that tome but he also knew enough about mages to know what a personal connection they could have with such, trouble or no.
She chuckled good naturedly at his promise of a strip tease. "I think I have just seen you as bare as I will ever see you Mach.....Turner." She moved the name around her tongue trying to find a feel for it. She shook her head, she didn't have the history with the man and to her he was always going to be moving at Mach speed. The private joke brought back her luminous smile and she paced back and forth for a bit trying to do something with the nervous energy that she had accumulated. "The frustration and grief you have given me, as you so eloquently put it, is worth it considering what you have freed me from. My fate, the book, and all other things are all on my tab, this merely evens the scales a bit more in my favor." Waving a hand through the air as if they were back at the Red Dragon Inn speaking about bar tabs.
"When he does get his, be sure either to include me or let me know how you did it. As a once princess I am not used to having things go a different way then the ones that I command. As a Queen less so." Her face was smiling but there was a bit of disappointment in her tone. When he asked the questions about her book she nodded in assent to what he was deducing "The very same." She knew as a mage hunter there was only likely so much empathy that he was going to have on the matter. "It is only a tool, Mach. While an incredibly valuable and rare and...." She stopped herself from continuing on so that if there was any guilt it could be let go. "Not as valuable as you my friend. Though you knew that." She put her hand on top of his. Would likely have hugged him if it wasn't likely to kill him or break him in half, even with her partial strength as it were. "Right now what I need is non-vegetarian food to restore my supplies of all things." Casting left her even more frail. "A regular glass cannon." A gentle kiss on his cheek,
An anemic smile greeted that response, more so at the testing out of his name. "Yeah, no. Just Mach." His tone felt a little too final on that accord but then again he just didn't have the energy to hide away the less savory bits of himself behind a brow waggle and smile. He was bare? Yeah, probably, but it was certainly more Mach than Eli that she was seeing, the frayed ends of the monster he played then the tattered remnants of the man that he was - this much should have been evident from the bomb he merrily left behind in the docks upon their escape. “Talila just likes to use that name because it annoys me..." He rolled his hand flippant and dismissive as he turned his head away looking for something.
A bit more searching occurred as he listened to that heartfelt admission, a scoff escaping as his attention turned back. "I think this pretty much closes out any and all tabs, yeah?" Not even he could muster a smile at the prospect of what saving his stupid ass had cost her. It was hard for an idiot like him to wrap his head around the breadth of her circumstances on the best of days but even he couldn't miss the implications of what had transpired. She'd lost the book, and perhaps in doing so he may well have played his part in whatever prophecies had deemed him her downfall. Of course he could be very wrong on such, painfully so even given how his brain throbbed just considering this yet he just couldn't shake the feeling that this was a game changer for the girl... for the woman.
Looking at the hand on his which he couldn't feel, to the kiss he couldn't read for it's meaning and all the thoughts that swam drunkenly around in his throbbing brainpan he finally just let his head settle, his gaze losing focus as he gave up on trying to keep it all together, his piss and vinegar failing him and failing him fast as he ran out of steam. "I will, and I'll see about your book too when I do it." He wasn't sure which was the greater lie of those two but at the moment he just didn't care as he let his eye close against the panic that screamed within at the prospect of sleeping, and perhaps dreaming, a wink more. "Hey Reg, I-"
"Yes, the other has gone to get food, non-vegetarian for the cannon." The other seemed to melt in from the shadows, their voice, pressured as it was, holding a note of warmth as they reassured the failing hunter. “You need to go into the operation theater. The longer that cord is left in-"
Mach simply waved off the man’s concern even as he slowly rose to his feet and, for once, followed directions as he shuffled through the doorway. That tired amble hitched a moment as that lone cobalt eye looked back to the elfess one last time, a moment of study before at last he shot the woman a peace sign. “See you on the other side..." And with that he vanished into the shadows of the room with any attempts to follow after being blocked by the madsci who now rushed forth ushering her back out to the storefront.
“It… is best if you weren’t present for this, it will not be pleasant." Their tone had lost that warmth and was once more a drab and didactic in nature, almost robotic. “And, again, I would not wait either. The procedure itself will take several days and I will need to put Mitch into an induced coma for a week after so the swelling and hemorrhaging may subside. The other should be back soon with something to eat if you wanted to take a seat..." Ushering her through the bed curtain once more the man paused to nod politely. Was that their form of a thank you!? Perhaps, or perhaps they just didn't think of such things as the fellow disappeared once more through the curtains l, leaving her alone in the storefront.
Seeing him in his sorry state was upsetting but not for the reasons that would be typical to the situation. She had been around death but not the process of dying. When it found it's way to the cold table hidden in the glass box far below where she greeted guests that dance had already completed itself. Cadavers was the scientific term, looking at Mach thinking and hoping that he might live now that he was brought here she didn't know if she could be brave enough to face death in this way. Tailila when all is said and done I owe you quite a few glasses of wine. She smiled at the thought of the woman who in her mind had been brave beyond reason.
"Woah no way." She laughed using the excuse of a joke to push away those more foreboding thoughts that were creeping in around the edge. "You live your tab lives and if that isn't the motto of every bar in Rhy'din, nay the galaxy I'll eat my own wizards hat." She didn't have a hat. She thought about the book and shook her head. "I haven't had much time to think on that." The smile not quite leaving. "Though if I know my lord Vanion his book being stolen will either cause me a great deal of pain or more likely it will end up a curse to those that take it and can not properly use it's power. Vanion as far as I now know desires freedom above all else. I am willing to let this be an experiment to that fact. The book came to me, I believe it has a mind and power of it's own or controlled by the dark lord. Your enemy may not even have it any longer." She reached out with her willpower. When the book was within a certain proximity to her she had been able to make it simply appear in her hand. However, it did not appear and she could no longer feel the connection to it. She listened to his aids give their medical assessment and she knew enough of the human anatomy to know they were right. She nodded. "You better." She said grinning.
She looked at the seat behind the counter after being pushed out and her earlier thoughts of death returned. An instinct in the woman to bolt so she would not have to be right there and hear if the man had died but her feet froze. "Yeah I am starving." She took a seat and took out another book. Not a spellbook, a regular notebook, and began to write down the entire experience. It would be an excellent learning opportunity.
Live his tab lives, it was almost enough to make the man laugh if he didn't think such might cause his head to split open like an overripe melon. Instead he just nodded and listened as the woman spoke of her lost book. It was probably not in anyone's best interest that he told her that the man who now possessed her book could never possibly use it, that their very isolation from the ether is what drove their apathetic madness. The request for the book was probably, in a way, just a twisted joke on Gaines' part. If anything it would be traded off to the black markets before night even fell, a much more worrisome prospect now that he knew that someone, something, was sealed within. Would it make its way back to her? Or find itself an even more suitable host? Was this something he'd have to chase down? The questions only swirled in his mind beating what little strength he had left out of him. It would not be a restful respite as he had the cable untangled from his thought porridge, but then when had it ever?
Stepping into the small room that looked like a converted bathroom he cast a wary gaze over what, for all intents and purposes, looked like another torture chair… lovely. Though this one was different in it had a very daunting robot suspended above with an uncomfortable amount of sharp, probey limbs. Coming short of the bed he felt himself freeze, his body refusing to take another step closer as the voice in the back of his head screamed for him to run.
"Come on…" A mutter to his unruly form as he tried to take another step, his form unmoving. "Come on Mach, get it together. You can do this… you got to do this…" He grit his teeth, again trying to force his obstinate hand to the rail, the limb quivering in its resolution not to go. "Oh come on… come on..." Pleading with and cursing himself in equal measure he inched a little forward but made no headway into that chair. If anything he lost a little ground as he spied restraints for his hands and legs. Backing up a step he ran into a gentle pressure in his back, a look cast back to the madsci… to Regi. "O-Oh hey, um, I-I was just gonna see if maybe Xunie had a cig-"
The excuse was cutoff by a cigarette held up like a treat between painfully thin fingers. "This isn't an experiment, and I'm not Gaines." They handed over the cigarette before trying to push him to the chair. It was a comical attempt really given as wasted away as he was he still weighed more than the other even if they were drenched. Still, the contact and peace offeringb along with the theater of free will gave him enough courage to get into the seat, settling face down through a donut hole once more. Tucking the cancer stick between his lips he shifted to bring his prosthetic hand over out of habit forgetting momentarily that it had been blown off. 'Fortunately' a little trash bot hand jumped on the limb remnant clinging to the end, it's soulless lenses assessing him a moment before it's mouth open and it belched a green flame. Huh.
Considering the situation for but a moment he quickly lit the cigarette off that green flame. What? His life was one long kaleidoscope of weird and unsettling! Shaking the little abomination seemed to get it to quit belching flames but it stolidly clung to his arm. Great. The junk bots were probably gonna feast on his unconscious ass. "There's no way we-"
"The minute electrical currents between your neurons could affect the quantum level sensors."
He grimaced mildly as he took a drag, understanding much more of that then he particularly wanted to. Of course it had to say something about his mental state that he was literally asking for unanesthesiaed brain surgery though he was trying really hard not to think about that. "That integrated, huh…? Shit." Another drag taken, he could feel his limbs growing heavy as he finally relaxed. Damn, he really needed this smoke. Nursing that coffin nail that pervasive thought at the back of his mind rolled stirring him from his growing stupor. "Hey Regi, I… I won't dream, right?"
This have the madsci pause in their work poking at a pad which seemed to tickle the monster surgery bot above him. " While it's statically impossible to…" A pause, the man worrying their lip aggressively before at last they reached out and did something truly unexpected - they patted his shoulder gently, reassuringly. " You won't Eli, I… I guarantee it."
Now he'd seen everything because it almost seemed like the man, ravaged by that apatheticly driven madness which was the spark of madscism, was actually concerned for him. But that couldn't be right because… because…
The world swam, darkness taking him as his body slumped unconscious, that laced cigarette dropping from his lips into the jaws of the cat sized robot below. With that loss of musculature the madsci drew their hand back, an almost worried look cast to the limb. Wiping it off on their shirt their bloodshot gaze finally turned back to the display, their voice turning cold and clinical once more. " Let's begin."
(A special thank you to Xune for writing in this scene!)
One moment there was nothing, the next there was pain. A whimpering groan escaped the man as he instinctively sat up, hand moving for his throbbing head would find none making purchase… what? Against his better judgement that lone blue eye cracked open to see himself face to… face?... with a trashbot clinging to the stump of his shattered prosthetic. Oh… right. He sat up more, his left hand coming into the mix now to probe gently around his gauze encased noggin, the wrapping thorough as it was excessive. “Shit… I’m bald…” The dry observation rasped dimly, prompting the trashbot acting as his right hand to extend out a length of tubing to him. Damnit, if he didn’t feel so crummy he’d have tried to throw the abomination off. Instead he just laid back on the old, familiar sofa, sucking sullenly on the offered tubing which provided him with lukewarm water.
“That you are.” Regi spoke up from their ‘nest’ of monitors, cables, inputs, and empty food receptacles. Glancing over he could see the VR goggles pressed to their gaunt features, fingers twitching rapidly in the haptic feedback gauntlets strapped to their hands. “Had to drill some pressure relief holes due to brain hemorrhaging.”
“Lovely…” Stretching a little he set to testing out his range of movement with each limb and features, checking to see if he’d retained all functionality after having his head scrambled. Not the easiest thing to do given he couldn’t feel most of his appendages but that was a wholly separate problem from his brain jacking so he paid such little mind. Much to his surprise he seemed to have retained all the functionality he’d started with! Suck damage that brain!
Taking another sip from the nurse abomination bot he sat up once more feeling remarkably not dead. If anything he was surprisingly well put together with the jagged and broken bits of his sundered prosthetic smoothed over and welded in on itself giving it a neat appearance even if his shoulder rose unnaturally, crooked as it was still torn out of socket. “Seems like I’m in decent order.”
At his second rising the madsci finally extricated themselves from their nest, bloodshot eyes looking him over as they stood stiffly. “You are. My surgery robot performed impeccably, as expected. I was able to remove 98% of the foreign matter from your brain.”
He nodded though that last bit sharply caught his attention. “Whatdaya mean 98%? What about that last 2%!?”
The question made the madsci squirm a little, a pout forming on gaunte features. “The cord was highly integrated into parts of your amygdala and hippocampus, to the point of even taking the place of certain neural connections. If I’d removed them, well... I don’t know what that would do to your memory… or basic functioning”
Mach bit back a curse as he listened to the explanation. “So they’ve weaseled into being important bits of my gray matter - what the hells does that mean for me!?”
Regi shrugged apologetically. “I do not know. Unfortunately organic systems are not my field of expertise, the fact that I was able to do as much as I did is wonder enough.”
“I thought you said you’d be a better choice than a hospital!”
“And I was. If you’d gone to Rhy’Din General you would likely still have 40-60% foreign matter in your skull if not perishing outright from the attempt at removal. My method was much more thorough given my understanding, a little, of the method behind such. As for what the two percent means to you I would follow-up with a neurologist proper, or a psychiatrist, probably both."
He winced a little at that cold analysis, self deprecating and full of reasonable expectations. The man could have been hiding something from him for his sake but the madsci couldn’t - he knew what he’d been told was simply the cold, hard truth which made him feel a little bad for snapping at them. Scratching mildly at his ear he let out a tired sigh.”Right, right, sorry. Guess I’ll have to go see a… ugh… professional about the rest.” A look to the fellow, “And thanks, yeah? For helping me.” Looking from the fellow to the nest he shook his head. “Though why did you have something like that anyway?” Thumb jabbed over to the once more dark room which had been his home for a week as his brain was pecked clean.
To this the other simply shrugged. “It was a surgery bot from the Spaceport, decommissioned and mindless off some ship or something. I’d acquired it’s body and repurposed it, gave it a mind, a purpose.”
His brow dropped a little. “Yeah…but why? I mean, not that I’m complaining, but you said it yourself - organics ain’t really your jam. So why a surgery bot?”
The other shifted a little, a touch uncomfortable? Turning, they moved off to a small table, sifting through the chaos which cluttered it before pulling a thin piece of metal and glass out from it - a cellphone. They inspected it mildly before carrying back over to him. “A man in my position occasionally has needs to deal with the failures of the meat. Biological forms are inefficient, prone to damage, not very user friendly on repairs. So… I made a robot to deal with such.” They held out the phone to him. “A temporary burner. I’ve already included the numbers of those friends who came looking for you.”
That level stare held for a moment longer before he shrugged, giving up on worming a proper, or what he thought was a proper, answer out of the man. "Well thanks none the less." Shifting focus, he took the phone and with a little bit of fiddling made his way to the contacts. “Talila… Xune… Daniel?” A quirk of brow at that.
“Dubek. They were my point of contact for an Alexia.”
A groan escaped him. “How the hell did they get involved in this?”
“They were searching for you, I picked them up on my web listeners. I… did not think they would have been any help in rescuing you so…”
He saw the mild frustration play out as their jaw flex, the phone waved around quickly to dispel that thought. “You did good, you did good. Them and theirs ain’t really fighty sorts…” Looking back to the burner and he couldn’t help but frown a little as the list summarily stopped there. Ouch. He knew he’d been pulling himself out of folks' lives and all but to see how well he’d succeeded that only three people had come looking for his over a month missing ass kinda stung. Trying his best to shake away that depressing thought he shoved the phone away… um… into the waistband of the sweats he apparently now wore. The fact that this wasn’t what he’d been wearing when he went under rose more than a few uncomfortable questions but he shoved those back as well, the grumble of his stomach giving him plenty of distraction. ”Shit, you got any non-laced cigarettes? Or a fucking horse for me to eat?”
“The cat bot ate the rest of the cigarettes I had acquired.” A motion to the monstrosity with a ring of lenses strapped to it’s back. Wait, how... the damn thing didn’t even have a mouth!? “As for food I have an assortment of meal replacement bars.” Turning, the fellow moved back to their nest, rummaging through the piles of refuse.
Frowning mildly he opened his mouth to say something only for a rubber tube to be pushed in, lukewarm water trickling out. A withering look was cast to the nurse hand bot before finally he shook his head, letting out that mounting aggravation with a sigh. “Ya know, nevermind. I think I-" Tube inserted, more water dribbled. Okay, now he scowled at the thing, shoving that arm away "I think I'll just get on out of here, yeah? Maybe go put an all you can eat outta business or something."
This had the other pausing, a look cast back to him. "Milk, you're in no shape to be out on your own. You need to rest and recuperate."
"I've recuperated enough…" Lurching to the side he'd throw his legs forward, catching the floor. Another lurch would have him putting weight on those limbs which, woefully, proved him wrong as they crumpled beneath sending him to the floor with a thud. His vision flashed, blinding at the pain that throbbed in his head. On instinct he curled up but this did nothing for the jostled thought porridge, for that searing pain that hammered in his ears, rang to his very core. All he could do was whimper for what felt like an eternity before at last he once more grew cognizant of the world, of the long fingers pulling at his wasted shoulders hoisting him up once more unto the old sofa.
“I told you to be put.” Their tone held a subtle edge to it, uncharacteristic of the madsci as they huffed breathlessly. They may have been similarly sized but while Mach was wasted from a month of malnutrition and not getting his swol on, Regi had been riding the razors edge of just sufficient for life for over a decade - they did not have an ounce of muscle to spare et alone to drag his happy ass up off the floor. The fact that they did only aggravated him more.
“I...I to...told you I... I’m fine!” He spoke in sputtering hisses and wheezes like any fine person would, hand still trying to push his head back together likely only putting stress on his already weak skull. Okay, yeah, that was pretty dumb even for him. Still, even as that blinding pain subsided a part of him screamed at the back of his mind to try again, to get away by any means possible. It wasn’t a rational thought but then given his experiences the past couple of months rational was in woefully short supply with him.
The feeling of his brain trying to bust out of his skull slowly subsided until at last the rather dim look Regi gave was the more painful of the two. Yeowch. "Don't give me that look Regi…"
"Don't earn it then Eli." The retort spat back as they moved to grab him a mostly empty vial of highlighter green liquid. "I always thought this stuff was more effective. As is, I've been having to stretch out this single vial as you had no more on your person and even I do not have the means to acquire more."
A frown pulled at his lips as he looked over the cursed little bottle. Regenerative… both a blessing and a curse as it let him tank damage no ordinary person could, living to fight another and another and another day more. It was also addictive though not in the way fun drugs were but more so that if he went long enough without he'd inevitably split in half. His specific ''soul damage', the grievous enough wound where the potion became an integral part of his soul so as to heal him… or so that's how the egghead's explained it. Whether it was true or not the stuff had saved him on more than one occasion though not always for his betterment - not when the Sanguine cult had decided to 'take care' of him, and certainly with Gaines's and their little experiment. Snatching the vial from the other with a little more ragged venom then he intended; he knocked back the remaining slug of slightly too viscous, certainly too cut grass and wildflower tasting concoction with but nary a shudder.
"Well, they're meant to be taken at once…" A shrug as he lied but then he couldn't really tell them that it was due to his oversaturation and failing connection of his soul to his body. Not that they didn't know about his condition or his increasing decline. But that didn't make it any easier to speak of nor him any more willing to divulge more than needed, particularly to an outsider. A hunters only real confidant was another hunter, no wonder they were all so screwed up. Or, perhaps, why this hunt just felt so personal. Tossing the empty vial to the floor he watched as the shadows shifted, a dozen or more hidden gazes turning to the chemically neutral glass vessel before at last a consensus was reached. A very disturbing octopus looking robot drug itself from the shadows, pausing to… bow?... to him momentarily before snagging the bottle and dragging it back into the inky depths which filled the poorly lit room. Yeah, Regi was probably much more capable of understanding Gaines then they would ever be of understanding him.
"Still.. I think it’s best I do get outta here though-” A hand… ok, a nurse robot on a prosthetic stump, rose to cut the other off. “-because we don’t know what Gaines’ aim was.”
This warranted a pause from the other, their features scrunching a little at the logical statement and the implications behind it. The nice thing about Regi was that they weren’t overly keen on ‘begging the question’, rather preferring to run things through themselves. This helped cut out an appreciable amount of the ‘what ifs’ and ‘how abouts’ which tended to litter such conversations - window dressing the schmooze just wasn’t keen on dealing with today. After a long moment the other looked at him. “You think they let you go on purpose.”
He gave the fellow a point of sippy tube. “You didn’t think the Scooby Doo gang was up for the challenge, yeah? Knew Gaines took me apart in two minutes flat which even for a half-cocked and FUBAR’d from the start plan as mine is impressive-”
“More impressive than a naive princess mage and a prostitute with a revolver.” The others jaw flexed, the blunt judgement obviously shared - sorry friends. But in the cold, uncaring reality that was the hunter’s life sugar coating the odds was just a way to end up surprised and dead rather than just dead. “That extraction shouldn’t have gone nearly as smoothly as it did, especially if they had turrets and muscle.”
“You think it was theater?”
A shrug. “I know smoke up my ass when I see it, one eyed even. And the fact they wanted me to know about the eight per...” His jaw quivered, closing and clenching as he felt his stomach drop away. Ah, right, that was it. The reason he had wanted to get away in the first place, why even the company of Regi just put him on edge. Swallowing down the bile and howl of that traumatic failure, fresh and raw at the back of his mind, he forced himself to keep up the facade. “... um, p-percent. They wanted me to escape, and it has something to do with what they’re after.”
Regi’s features screwed in thought. “And you don’t have any idea why?” The air of frustration around the willow fellow was almost palatable. Then again they’d had over a week to wrestle with the problem and had nothing to show for it.
That frustration only grew as he shrugged at the hopeful look they gave him. “I woke, once… for a ‘reality check’.” He sneered at the term used by Gaines. “He said there was… purpose… to this. Progress.” He shook his head, trying to jostle that memory sandwiched as an island in the sea of torment he’d endured. “Said he’d dissect me afterwards too. But-”
The other man nodded, tracking his line of thought back to the conclusion he’d given. “You were ‘rescued.’”
He nodded. “Gaines uses some sort of rail gun in a fight but that’s not their trick. Trick is it comes out of their finger… or seems to. Pretty sure they’re using point to point teleportation tech of some sort. Probably what fuels their shield too…” A sip was taken from the nurse bot one last time before he moved to pluck the creature from his stump, setting it aside despite it’s squirming protests. “Point is, even if they’d outsourced their security and goons on the cheap, this shouldn’t have happened, not this simple. And besides-”
“They said they would wait for you. So this is just a scenario in their study; so what then? You’re in no shape to fight them Eli if they just decide to come back for you.”
“Yeah, well, you’re not exactly a fighter either…”
“I don’t have to be.” There was something cold in that phrase, the shadows shifting threateningly in a show of force. He couldn’t even begin to guess how many little horrors turned their gaze at him based solely on the subconscious will of the madsci before him. Reginald Orlyns wasn’t a fugitive without reason, a fact he really shouldn’t forget. Still, he shook his head against the bravado.
“You two are in entirely different leagues Regi. Your solution to the problem of being a fugitive was to run away to Rhy’Din and hide; Gaines’ was to get good at killing hunters.'' Despite that tired, ragged feeling that dogged him he offered the fellow a smile. “I appreciate the thought, really. But no, I don’t think they’ll renege on their word, doesn’t match their M.O..”
“So then why do you insist on leaving?”
He smirked. “Well, for one…” It only took a little motioning for the other to realize that a horde of trashbots were still giving him the menace glare. With an almost embarrassed shuffle the tension in the room noticeably dropped as the robots went back to… whatever the heck they did when not contemplating wee robotic murder. Still, that glib facade slipped, his smile turning tired as he shook his head. “But really, I… kinda wanna just be alone right now, yeah? Got a lot to think on and I don’t want any company, or non-company, while doing it. Also, I gotta resupply on regen, yeah? Can’t do any of that here.”
Regi considered this, that twist of frustration giving way to something else… concern? No, that couldn’t be right, they were a madsci, their emotions were blunted if not wholly missing. Whatever it was it was fleeting as at last the fellow seemed to accept the logical arguments placed forth with a solemn nod. "Ok… You'll need help getting there.”
“I should be fi-” He cringed away from that look the other gave him, hand lifting. “Alright.. Alright… what did you have in mind?”
The question had the other turning to the bead curtain and motioning, a moment of hesitation before finally a figure slipped through meekly. Long limbs, softly hairy arms, pixie hair dyed royal purple, angular features with large doe eyes… Talila. Wordlessly the woman crossed the short distance, a tremble in their form as they looked him over as though seeing him after a long time. Opening his arms to them, the woman didn't miss a beat as thin arms opened in kind, wrapping around him and pulling him into them. Questions buzzed around in his head but rather than ruin that moment with his shitty words he just sort of leaned in, a sigh rattling out as something about that contact just felt good… needed. The moment of comfort stretched before finally the woman pushed back, a grin cocked on angular features. “Ya look like shite.”
“I feel like shite.” A shrug and a smirk as he drew back in on himself. “What are you doing here? Don’t tell me you’ve been staring at my unconscious ass all this time.”
“She has been assisting me with your treatment.” Regi motioned to his sweatpants as one such task, this garnering a saucy flick of brow from the woman before they flushed red. Well, nice to know he still got it.
“Huh...” The woman was still red but he could tell that embarrassment was more shame and guilt than anything. It was something that he really should talk with them about but at the moment he just didn’t have the energy for such. No, he just… he just wanted to be alone. Deflating once more he looked about. “So how’s this going to work? You going to carry me princess style?”
Moving once more, the madsci shuffled about some of the random garbage that rimmed the room, a hoodie finally pulled out from a heap and tossed to him. He caught it easily enough though the effort nearly knocked him over. Looking at odd pattern on the surface he felt a frown pulling. “Really? A ahegao hoodie?”
He caught Talila trying to stifle a laugh even as Regi shrugged impassively though there was a slight uptick of their lips as they watched the half-elf. Seemed they’d grown a soft spot for the woman, or at least for their plight given how out of depth all of this had to have been. At least Regi was used to the fucked up lives of hunters having had the displeasure of knowing a few different Rhy’Din hunters in their time. “You should be able to walk with assistance, it’s just your sense of balance will be shot until the swelling subsides. Tallot should easily be able to walk you to your place here in Marketplace.”
He was just about to say something about them screwing up the woman’s name when that last bit sank in, his head shake on instinct which only made his brain throb. “Nggh, f-fuck… mmm, no, no, not there. I got a place in old temple that’ll be better.”
This warranted a tick of brow from the madsci. “But Marketplace is much closer.”
“Th-That place ain’t mine… not anymore.”
Talila looked lost between them even as the madsci nodded slowly in understanding, their expression dimming. “I thought you burnt that bridge.”
Reaching up, he grasped the half-elf's shoulder, hawling himself onto his feet shakily. “W-With gusto… doesn’t mean that place ain’t Foxy’s”
“Foxy?” Talila looked between him and the madsci, even as she shuffled to get under his arm. This shouldn’t have been this easy for the waif of a woman, damn, just how wasted away was he?
“Someone whom Missile was dating for a time.”
“Unimportant.” He corrected the other bluntly, ushering Talila to the bead curtain. “I’ll…catch you later Regi. And hey, thanks again.”
Talila pouted indignantly at him and his blunt cutoff, the likelihood they were going to needle such juicy gossip out of him during their long mosey was almost uncomfortably high. But then he supposed the topic would probably be the highlight of his long walk. Taking one last look back at the madsci and he swore he saw concern upon them as impossible as it seemed. And with a shuffle he would leave the little shop of horrors to limp his way across town and hopefully to the solace of solitude.
Time had passed since Danny's computer was infiltrated by a very blunt agent of chaos. The conversation with the borderline malevolent text box drug and yet moved almost too quickly at times even as it started and stopped at random across days. The words and phrases had been terse, tangential, and sprinkled generously with paranoia… Mach's kind of friend. But at long last the figure identified themselves as a man named Reginald who had been a long, and trying, time associate of the hunter. And, what more, they confirmed the fae's worst fears - Mach was in serious trouble, and not the kind that made for good bar stories as the schmooze was so oft to regale. No, this was the sort of trouble the man never bothered anyone with, the sort hidden behind carefree smiles that generally ended in somber epitaphs.
Unfortunately after much conversing via text this Reginald did not see the plucky group as particularly helpful to them in regards to saving the hunter. Danny was too squishy, Alexia too soft, and Sammie too gone to serve any real use. The man even seemed against the help he’d allowed via the ‘other’ who was monitoring the place where the hunter was held but that was one aspect they could not say no to. As for the idea of authorities well tooled for such rescues, well, the fellow had a detailed reason with statistical analysis and graphs as for why none of them would likely work. Local authorities? Out of their depth and after a protracted fight had an over 80% chance of recovering a Mach corpse. His own U.T.R.A. agency? They had a proven record of failure against the madsci; extraordinarily recently might he add given Mach's most recent predicament. And this was on top of the fact that they had a proven record of apathy for the schmooze to begin with which only added to a greater chance of failure. What about any of the random vigilante groups in Rhy'Din? Well, all parties present knew how… antagonistic… Mach could be; it would be little doubt the man was probably at odds with any and all of the more prolific of groups even if such groups were the sorts to be easily found or contacted which the text box had assured they were not.
And so on and so forth did action turn to idolatry, the hunters odds only dwindling and yet the random text box shot down every plan for action. The polar opposite of the brazen, foolhardy hunter who acted on a whim and a prayer. It almost seemed a deadend though the least promising of any of them until at long last a different type of message popped up on the abused computer that had all but slowed to a crawl thanks to a litany of unknowable and unstoppable background process that filled up more and more of the journalists task manager:
Reginald [14:32]: Other has found an asset to use, going ahead with extraction
Reginald [14:35]: This is not a good idea
Reginald [14:37]: Expect the worst
And the worst apparently had come to pass as reports of out-of-place popping arose on watch radio coming from the Docks district as though a steam engine were settling poorly… just before a major report of an explosion was raised.
Chatter and news was chaotic, speaking in general terms skirting around the fact that bodies had been found at the scene though details would be released as they were learned. And yet just before the crew could rush down to the docks more cryptic texts would pop up along with a strange alarm sound which the laptop surely was not capable of before.
Reginald [16:12]: Mach has been recovered
Reginald [16:12]: He is with me now
Reginald [16:12]: Medically unstable, needs surgery
Reginald [16:13]: Will contact you with more news later
And so, yet again, radio silence and waiting. Days passed without word from the other, the man not responding to any messages sent over. If anything on the fifth attempt to contact them Danny’s computer just turned itself off and apparently wouldn’t allow anyone to turn it back on until at random on the fifth day the laptop just booted up… and began alarming loudly.
Reginald [02:37]: Extraction successful
Reginald [02:37]: Brian minimally damaged
Reginald [02:45]: Is asking for death, cognitive functions check
Reginald [02:53]: Put back into coma
Reginald [02:53]: Needs time to recover
Reginald [02:53]: Go to following address in two weeks
And again more waiting, the address updating twice in that time without explanation. It was perhaps the most aggravating aspect of the man named Reginald. Consideration, tact, and empathy were concepts obviously lossed on the fellow as they simply told and that was that. How or why Mach associated with such a fellow was probably a very hard thing to understand… though they had plenty of time to consider it as even arriving early to the address given would find the location but an empty apartment in a slumy part of the Old Temple district. On the appointed day though the apartment, unfurnished with its aging offwhite walls and cracking plaster, would suddenly have a lone mattress now placed in the middle. And upon that mattress was Mach.
The schmooze looked terrible. His frame had lost mass and tone, withered with atrophy much as those chiseled features which looked more gaunt than handsome. He was missing his right arm once more, the remnants of the limb taped over with duct tape to keep it together though how it set oddly into his shoulder told how the limb had all but been rent from the man. Bandaging covered where the sleek eyepatch went over his right eye, fitting with the heavy bandaging that held the rest of his skull together, his messy locks shorn down to the scalp.
Surrounding the man were the remnants of more than a dozen fast food meals, the haunted man slurping up the remnants of a milkshake even as he barely kept a smoldering cigarette clipped between his teeth.
Danny had insisted he was going to accompany the little fae when she went to see Mach. She was well aware that, at this point, he wasn't exactly the hunter's biggest fan, but she had to see for herself, make sure it was really him and that he would be alright. As they left his studio apartment in search of the address provided by Regi, she watched as Danny's mostly neutral expression quickly darkened with concern as they delved deeper into shady neighborhoods.
When they approached the door marked with the number that corresponded to the piece of paper Alexia had neatly written the address on, the usually easy going journalist was practically scowling as he curled a protective arm about her thin shoulders. She tried to smile reassuringly up at him, but she was nervous and filled with concern and perhaps a little dread. After a deep breath to try and steady her jangled nerves, she lifted a deeply scarred little hand, curled it into a tiny fist, and gently rapped at the door.
The door resounded solidly, surprising given how run down the rest of the small complex was. It’s thunder drew that lone cobalt eye away from the dirty window and to the door, his brow scrunching some in concentration as he tried to remember if he'd ordered anything else. Reaching beneath the mattress he rested upon he took hold of something before clearing his groggy throat. "It's open." He called out, tiredly, even as his grip tightened on the hidden firearm.
Without a second thought, the little fae reached for the knob and turned, already pushing the door inward. It cracked a few inches before a muffled voice with a British accent spoke gently but urgently. "Ah, let me get that for you, love."
After an equally muffled murmur of confusion, the door slowly opened revealing the 6'1" frame that belonged to none other than Danny Dubek. As his intense green eyes took in the sight within, his jaw muscles tensed and flexed as he took a single tentative step inward, blocking the much more petite figure behind him.
There was a pause, the hunters jaw flexing as he appraised the figure that stepped through the door... and saw no gRhubhub bag in tow.
Beaten, weakened, and looking very much dead inside it would be quite the surprise at just how quick he moved on instinct. Wallet was left behind for the .45 caliber pistol which was whipped out and pointed square at the reporter. "Ain't no love of mine…" The words a weary grumble even as that dull cobalt gaze thinned. Wait, no, he recognized this person.
It took a moment or two to jog his heavily abused thought porridge for information before it finally came to him. "Humility first. You're that reporter guy." Good, but that wasn't the most pertinent thing to know about them. Not bothering to drop that bead on the fellow the true realization finally bubbled up. "The nosy mouse…" He should have known.
It was only with this that he dropped his aim, the gun not going away quite yet but at least he wasn't aiming it at their chest which had to be an improvement. "You gonna gape or you lot coming in...?" Oh he was looking to be fine company indeed.
A flash of satisfaction from being right flickered in his features before his eyes narrowed, locked on the weapon. He held out a staying hand despite soft, halting protests from behind, the nosy mouse herself. Before he'd move any further, he drew a deep steadying breath and asked his own question. "Depends. Are you going to shoot my girlfriend? Again?"
A soft sigh carried from behind him. "D-Danny..." she began gently, not really sure what she could say to reassure him. Instead of continuing, she managed to peek around his shoulder, concern etched on her pretty features.
Satisfaction usually wasn't the sort of look he expected from someone he'd just pointed a gun at, at least not someone without a death wish. "To be fair I shot the witch who was using your now girlfriend as a meat puppet driving them to ground. So, you know, you're welcome." His words were just as cocksure as ever though his timber, his manner were painfully flat. "Anyway, figure we're 2 for 1 on that score, and she nearly killed me both those times..."
Spying wide brown eyes peeking around the fellow the hunter finally gave in with a sigh, the sidearm stuffed back under the mattress. "So long as you're not healing I'm not shooting, yeah?" The words directed around the journalist and to the one behind. And with that his attention turned back to his milkshake "Why are you here?"
Danny opened his mouth to speak, but before he could begin, he was halted by that tiny voice behind him. Alexia's marred little hand gently grasped his bicep and her feather soft voice seemed to curl around his form. "P-Please, mo chroí…"
With a heavy sigh, he stepped further in and to one side, giving her enough room to step in as well. In her arms, a medium sized basket, filled to the brim with something that smelled enticing and savory, covered in a clean linen. He turned to her and stared into those soulful brown eyes for a long moment before placing a tender kiss on her forehead. With a sweet smile, she gave a small nod or reassurance before turning to face the hunter.
Reluctantly, Danny stepped back, closing the door without taking his eyes off either of them, and leaned against it. Alexia approached gently, her face devoid of any patronizing kind of expression. Her eyes, however, they held the pain of guilt and empathy behind their dark chocolate hue.
"H-Hello, Mach." She ventured, avoiding his question. When she reached the mattress, she slowly knelt down beside it, leaning back on her heels, much as she had when she appeared in his hellish dreamscape.
There should have been some sort of smart comment about getting a room, not his, or even a mock gag at the sight of the two lovebirds practically spawning hearts mere feet where he was trying to recuperate and yet no such rebukes came. No, Mach just let them be as he took an uneasy drag off his cigarette, the last of his milkshake slurped down with the cup simply tossed with the rest of the refuse surrounding him. It was a gaping sort of apathy, almost painful to look at given what a piss and vinegar sorts the hunter usually was.
The smell of food not from a carton did garner some spark of attention though the man wouldn't start with the gimme hands rather just letting that lone cobalt blue follow the woman as she approached and crouched down next to him. "Hey nosy mouse..." He forced the corners of his lips upwards in a mild smile. "So what can Mach do for you? I'm a little out of sorts at the moment but gimme a little time and..." He waved his hand about flippantly to indicate a return to normalcy. "Sorry about the furniture situation, wasn't exactly thinking I'd be using this place." A thought and he'd pull the lone pillow out from behind his head, offering it over as a sort of seat for the woman.
"N-No need to a-p-pologize." She set the basket well within arm's reach. Her marred little hands now empty, she folded them neatly and rested them on her thighs.
"I-It isn't much, j-just a few s-s-simple meals to h-hold you over until..." Her words trailed off as did her best to keep a brave face. But the sight of him hurt her to her core.
"Hmm..." A tired grunt escaped him as he shoved the pillow back where it was. Looking at the basket he did reach out, a lean finger lifting the linen to peak inside. Despite his usually inhuman recovery times the dull discoloration of multiple blown IVs could still be seen marring his hand and trailing all the way up his arm. "Right as rain, yeah?" He completed her words in that dull tone of his. another drag taken from his cigarette.
"So how'd you find this place." A change of pace felt appropriate as he waved about to the barren apartment in general. "Pretty sure only Regi and gRhubhub know of here." The how was pretty much assured but he was skirting around the elephant in the room that was the why though there was an inkling in the back of his head that he already knew the answer to that question too even if he rather not.
An errant spark of dark purple tinted static electricity crackled within her wild hair at the mention of the madsci, while her face remained impassive. Her unwavering gaze held for a long moment before casting her glance to the basket.
"I w-wasn't sure what you l-liked, so I m-made a l-little bit of everything. R-Roast beef, mashed potatoes, baked ch-chicken... s-s-steamed vegetables..."
The man noted that off color spark of static at the mentioned name, the solid pull upon the woman's face. A beaten and broken husk yet still such a sharp eye for observation; just how hard a life must someone have lived where such a survival instinct had been drilled into them deeper then even their soul? Then again the woman was very much dangerous because they potentially did have such a better understanding of this, a notion which left the man oddly wary of the ragamuffin who still didn't look like they could kick his ass even with how much of a handicap they'd have at the moment.
Despite all this the reaction his associate elicited did draw a mildly amused snort from the schmooze. "Regi, huh? Yeah, he can be a pretty... acquired... taste. Most madsci actually. A lot quirky that bunch..." Eyeing the top food covetously the man snagged himself a drumstick. He did his best to hide the light sniff he took of the meat before tearing in with aplomb. The basket looked like it could feed a fella for a week but in Mach's case it may be lucky to last the day. Then again most fellas weren't pumped up on regenerative making their stomach into a furnace for materials so as to repair the man back into fighting condition as quickly as possible... physically at least.
"Frying is your friend, yeah? I'm sure lover boy wouldn't mind a little more grease..." Oh the grin he shot Danny was positively scandalous! A glimmer of who he was... who he was supposed to be as he quickly worked on putting back on that comfortable front. Damn that madsci, he wasn't up for this kind of crap right now and they fucking knew it! "The Way made oil for a reason, and not just for wrestling in..."
He demolished the rest of that drumstick, a few drags taken off his coffin nail as, despite his words, he savored the simple flavor.
"So you got in contact with Regi, hmm..." He already knew this, of course, but hadn’t really considered the full implications of such till this moment. "He... didn't destroy anything of yours, yeah?" A look to Alexia though more for Danny as the one who, he ventured, didn't have an aura of anti-technology crackling around them when they got flustered.
Danny's jaw flexed again, but he held his tongue. Instead, the little fae cleared her throat and offered an answer. "The t-technomage department at the un-university are confident they can r-repair it."
After a moment or two, she took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Mach... w-we need to get you to a b-b-better place."
"Well, that's pretty surprising. I usually keep them on block because their network is... rather invasive..." There was a shrug with that, the comment neither fanciful or hyperbole, simply fact. Taking another drag off his cigarette he reached to snag another piece of fuel from the picnic basket.
He'd start into a piece of roast beast with all the manners of a neanderthal when that comment dropped. “What's wrong with this place? Seems fine and fitting to be, yeah?" He looked around mildly. "Lest you forget, dandy as I may be I am still in the military. Too much comfort would just make me itch. Anyway, this place is tactically sound and warded against trespassers. Makes it easy to funnel folks into a query for quick assessment of friend or foe to deal with..." And to emphasize this he popped the last of his roast beast into his mouth so as to free his hand up to make finger guns at Danny.
"Like I said, just need a week or two to recuperate, yeah? This place'll serve as well as any other."
That intense fathomless gaze finally broke. Her eyes dropped to the ruined little hands in her lap for a long moment. When she finally spoke again, her voice was even gentler than before.
"Mach... th-there are other places j-just as safe... even safer. O-Or c-c-closer. The Red D-Dragon, the Perch... the A-Alpha Alpha Nu f-fraternity house... But that's n-not what I m-meant."
Finally, she looked up at him with those inescapable brown eyes. They weren't pleading or even misty. They were patient and unrelenting.
He considered the woman's words mildly, the cigarette chewed idly as he thought. "Yeah, and I'm here. Still not seeing the problem." Taking a drag he finally flashed one of those grins of his, dirty and playful. "Anyway, I don't think your boyfriend would want me anywhere closer, yeah? And I can understand, all this competition..." More and more he built up that persona, slipped into the comfortable shell he'd built.
Ever so slowly, her marred hands unfolded and she leaned in to reach for his. Her touch was warm and feather light, emanating comfort and compassion. It wasn't magic, not in the obvious sense, it was simply who she was at her very core.
"Y-You don't have to d-do that. You d-don't have to be s-s-strong and p-pretend everything is al-r-right. You can l-let others be s-strong f-f-for you."
The touch was gentle, caring, warm... and wasted on the man that couldn't feel his own hands. Still, the fact that he could just imagine how that touch would feel sent a shiver up his spine, his jaw flexing as his hand moved away to ash his cigarette before shuffling through the garbage around him for his pack. "Pretend everything's alright? I got a fucking hole in my head were I was plugged into a computer for over a month and I'm withered ike a prune. I don't have any presumptions that everything is alright!" He spoke angrily even as he redefined what she'd said, shifting it ever so slightly away from the truth.
"And there are no others to be strong. The only person that can walk my path is me. That's just the way it is." Finding his pack he'd nonchalantly knock it away under a different wrapper so as to continue the theater of his search.
"P-Perhaps because you've never l-let anyone be s-s-strong for you... w-walk with you." She murmured, as anger and anguish flared at her, tried to push her away. Instead, she let it seep in and dissipate. Slowly, she pulled her hand back to rest on her thigh, mirroring the other.
"I-" Something about those words stung, cutting off his usual retort. "I don't need anything like that. And every time I have I..." Again he fell silent, his 'search' for his cigarettes halting as he thought. He failed them. It was the truth and yet saying that to the fae felt a little too raw, felt...
His jaw flexed again. "You know... right...?" The question felt very tired, hesitant, and yet accusatory at the same time. He just couldn’t shake that feeling of deja vu talking about such with the ragamuffin.
"I-I do." Her words fell below a whisper. As a painful matter of fact, she knew all too well. One of the very people she had failed happened to be spiraling in front of her. The thought clear as she once again broke eye contact to do another sweeping survey of his wounds.
"I a-also know that n-no matter how much g-good we do, w-we seem to let all the b-bad p-p-push it aside. F-Fill our minds with g-guilt and wh-what ifs. M-Make us forget those that are s-s-still here for us."
"What ifs.." The repeated words felt like acid on his tongue, caused his hand to tremble. In sorrow? In rage? In shame? It was impossible to tell given just how much each negative emotion had screamed through that connection until in an act of unconscious mercy he'd freed the empath.
Connection. Right. There was that connection and... he broke it. Because he had to. Because if he hadn't she'd have been cursed to walk the same hell he had and yet here she was saying he should let someone do just that!? "You know damn well there is no 'good'." His words were cold, hard as each time he pulled that trigger. Filled with the empty, malevolent satisfaction he felt each time he... they'd killed that mage.
"And that there are no ‘what ifs’. Just what I failed to do to..." That seething anger hiccuped, the sound the rattle of a sob which he jammed down. "How I couldn't even..." Another hiccup as the days, the months, the years of grief he'd been shoving as hard and fast into the void as he could threatened to burst forth, dragged to the surface by that damnable Gaines!
He shook his head looking away. "There is nothing to gain dwelling on any of th-that fucking crap. Crap in, crap out. I... I can do that just..." Those leaned out fingers clenched hard, his knuckles strangling white. "Go… Please...Now." The request, the demand softly spoken, pleaded as he stared out the only window.
"N-No." Her voice retained the same soft airy tone, but it cut through the air like a knife, a blade through the jungle, clearing the way and letting the light and fresh air through.
"Y-You're right, there's n-nothing to gain from dwelling on wh-what we cannot ch-change. But th-that just means we m-must move on. L-Live and not merely s-survive."
Her eyes traced every line of scarring on each of her hands as she spoke. From the light cobweb-like lines to the deep jagged ones and even the cleaner intentional cuts from multiple surgeries dotted on either side with stitch marks, all framed by the two inch thick band of solid white scar tissue at each wrist.
Mach wasn't much for forests with their too clean of air and lack of the human touch. He didn't appear very keen on the proverbial kind either as he scowled at the refusal. "What right do you fucking have to-!" Anger flared viciously as he began to yell, his hand grasping the edge of the mattress he lay on, grasping for...
Holy fuck was he really such a violent monster that he was reaching for his gun!? Just when the hell had he become such a psychopath that that was ever an option he'd not only entertain, but subconsciously start to enact!?
Clutching the mattress till his fingers hurt the man ground his teeth, his jaw creaking as he listened to those calming, logical words. They seemed only to stir the man's anger more. "Live and not survive? For fuck's have you seen what I am? What I do? I fucking hunt people down! Destroy families. Ruin lives! I'm hated! Reviled! Always having to watch my back less the fuckups of my past come back to bite me and mine in the ass! Always afraid I'll fuck things up again and-"
His expression was vicious and yet that lone cobalt orb was dull, lifeless save the glimmer of tears that slipped and rolled down the angry cuts of his sneer. "If you know what happened then you have no right to tell me to just live! I killed her! Me and my stupidity! And when I let my fucking guard down that bastard mages brother who I fucking enjoyed drilling came out of the woodworks and cost me my fucking arm!" He waved that broken prosthetic angrily, the bandaging at the shoulder dying red as he tore his stitches but he couldn't feel any of that. Just the angry rush of blood drumming in his ears.
She would let that rage and pain and guilt wash over her for as long as he needed. She was once well accustomed to it. Her gaze still reflected only compassion. With a seemingly endless capacity to soothe and neutralize, she simply watched him, wishing he would simply let her help him, knowing he likely never would.
"I'm n-not suggesting you f-f-forget your past. Th-That's what m-makes us who we a-are. A-All I'm asking is that y-you don't give up on yourself. M-More people c-c-care about you than you re-realize."
As she spoke, she reached into her pocket and pulled out something small and circular. It was a purple poker chip. She gingerly placed it on the mattress where his hand had rested earlier.
Soothing and calm really only worked with folks interested in healing. Mach, on the other hand, seemed rather keen to fuel himself with all those negative emotions, using them to stoke the furnace of his stubborn spite, piss, and vinegar. It wasn't healthy in the least but given the glimpse into the man's past as she had could she blame him? Particularly given the career he had trafficking in human misery and flipping the bird against impossible odds.
"So what? Just 'be happy'? Live like I'm not fucking dying? See if maybe there's a make a wish foundation for assholes? A poster I can get my one eyed mug on to just 'keep hanging on there kitten?!"
Mach's logic seemed to be fraying but then what was he supposed to do, actually just live? The advice had been given many times before but answers had ever been suggested, the assumption always there that whatever Mach was facing was just a phase to get over and not just the latest middle finger from a life that had been kicking him as far back as he could remember, literally often.
Of course the production of that poker chip, odd and out of place as it seemed, just made all the alarm bells go off in the man only validating his skewed views. He recoiled from the chip of plastic as though it would burn him were it to touch. "T-Tryin' ta say you bet on me? Th-that's pretty hokey..." A nervous chuckle as the shock helped remind him that his mask was slipping, that were he not careful he might do something really stupid. And so he fell back on that humor of his, hand finally setting to searching out his pack of cigarettes once more while giving that chip a wide breadth. He didn't fully understand it but his senses told him that wasn't something he should involve himself with.
Alexia frowned. It seemed, despite her best efforts to ease his suffering and anguish, she was only making things worse. Her gaze lowered to her ruined little hands once more as she let his acerbic words bite at her. And when his tone suddenly shifted, her dark pretty brows knit together.
"I-I'm sorry, Mach. I w-want so much to h-help you, b-but I th-think... I-I'm just m-making everything w-worse, arent I?"
If the fae was trying to use empathy magic to sooth the hunter it would be a long time yet before such efforts ever bore fruit. The man literally had a ring of metal implanted in their skull preventing just such a thing from ever happening... Well, it was meant for domination magic but it stopped the good stuff just as well.
This meant the only way to really help the man would be with words which, yeah, Mach. The man wanted answers that the fae obviously didn't have, not consolations or rote replies - he'd had more than his fill of such. Still, he wasn't without a heart, despite what he'd been told by others. Seeing how his words stung the woman pulled on his guilt, that mask pulling further up as Mach stepped up to plate. "H-hey, it's fine. You're... helping... I've just... had a hard time of it lately, yeah?" He pushed a soft smile upon his handsome features, a quick scrub to cut away the path of those cracked tears that fell though it would do nothing to help the expression reach that lone blue eye.
Finding his pack of cigarettes he pulled out another cancer stick, clipping it between his teeth before lighting it with a thin tube lighter stuffed in the pack. Taking a long drag he used the cloud that escaped him as a smokescreen to push the offending chip off the mattress using the pack of cigarettes. "Just need a little rest and I'll... I'll be right as rain. You'll see." Another smile as the hunter, as the man shut down and closed back in on himself.
"N-No, I'm not. I h-haven't been for..." The little fae thought hard. Was there ever a time when she had actually helped the hunter without making everything monumentally worse? She realized there was not. Her shoulders slumped and her face hazed over with crushing realization.
The first time she healed him, she caused a fight between the hunter and two Nephilim. The second time, he had to drag her back from the ether. And now?
"I... I-I'm sorry... Elitia." When she said his name, her voice dropped to a whisper. It hadn't escaped her notice how he had recoiled from the poker chip and, not wanting to cause him further distress, now slowly reached for it.
Damn it, smooth move dingus. A soft sigh escaped him as the saw dejection take hold of the fae, the urge to scratch his head in annoyance driven down though, really, they were right. They'd nearly killed him twice and gotten him beat twice by their meddling - that was very much crap odds as he knew them. And their meddling even had them witness his greatest failure - damn it of all the worst luck of things! But then they hadn't said boo about such, so had they witnessed it? Or... did they just not really care that much about it, just didn't want to listen, just wanted to feed him rote shrink bullshit until he stoned up and became fucking gods damned Mach again?!? His anger flared at those nasty thoughts, his teeth grinding as he wound up to let the little bitch have what for when that single name dropped. Oh, whoopty dee they remembered his name, they... remembered...
He remembered the beach, the fae in distress, a robed figure, the poker chip… his poker chip. He gave it up as payment to… to... Elitia…
He remembered the inn. Bitter words angry at the little fae just as he was now but damn if he didn't feel guilty for the whole affair.... Elitia…
He remembered the beach, destroyed, bloodied, her mark, the black tide and the apathy, oh the apathy. He had all but given up, was just going to let those memories destroy him but... Elitia.
He remembered the tether, remembered what he had done, and remembered how she hadn’t given up on him… him, not Mach. Damn it you fucking idiot!
The man looked away, head shaking as his teeth ground ready to tear into the fae viciously, his hand ready to snatch that concealed gun to tell her boyfriend to back the fuck off when they stepped up to white knight. But the vitriol never came as his body quivered, shook. Gnarled fingers grasped that poker chip… and the man’s hand grasped hers. He looked at her and at last she could see the tears streaming down his face, see that lone eye awash in pain, in sorrow, the weeks of relieving that singular failure crushing down upon him. His jaw flexed, his teeth ground as he tried to force the gates shut once more, as he tried to put up that affable mask but he failed.
"I’m sorry..." The words a whisper as Eli broke down, collapsing against the fae as sob wracked his emaciated form. "I’m sorry..." He just couldn’t keep up that front as everything rushed out, a wail of pain and grief cutting through those tortured sobs. "I’m sorry..." The words didn’t feel directed at her at all as he repeated them over and over as for the first time in a very long time the man let all pretenses go and grieved.
(A special thank you to Alexia Longbow for writing in this scene!)
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