Rook (ongoing)

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« on: <09-16-10/1800:54> »
The boy was conceived, amidst scaled wings and flashing blades, in the Seattle metroplex.  His mother carried him through a Tir military prison, briefly.  By the time she gave birth, a hair over two years since the madness of Seattle, he was born into a top-tier apartment at the Telestrian Habitat, the son of a Count.  His father had led an interesting life, and the boy was one of the few living beings to hear any of those stories, enjoying the view from his parents’ executive suite in the TIC and watching other children play in Buckman Field.

He had his father’s hair, eyes, and confidence, matched by his mother’s will and Talent.  He was – to put it mildly – home schooled.  The Count taught the boy iaijutsu and kenjutsu for proper swordplay, Escrima and Kali for smaller blades, Krav Maga, pistolcraft, carbines, and tactical rifle shooting.  His mother taught him Hermetic Theory long before his Xavier Exam lit up her eyes, then delved into Practical Applications, Conjuring, and Astral Manipulations while beaming with pride.  They shied away from cutting-edge technological skills;  competent as the Count had been with the gadgets, the times were changing too quickly and it felt more right to teach him the old ways.  From both of them, he was tutored in chess, gifted with proper stances of Carromeleg, taught to instinctively trust in the zarien balance of the world, shown how it was Elven minds and wills that made them superior to the muscle and bluster of the other races.  He learned the history of the Tir in preparation for Rites, military theory, small unit tactics, and three languages.  The Count paid for scholars from the University of Tir Tairngire to augment his mother's teachings, and darker tutors from Corvallis’ Information Secretariat handled an assortment of other mundane skills to refine his father’s lessons.  

Sparring with rattan and shinai instead of live blades was the closest the boy came to playing with toys;  he was raised with no illusions.  Occasionally he visited the park to play hurling with children a few years older than him, since it served the same purpose nearly as well as fighting with the Count.  His parents showed concern the only way they could, by training him.   The Tir in the 2060s wasn’t the peaceful world it had been when they had grown up there, and every Elf with any sense – and these two had a nack for this sort of thing – knew that trouble was brewing.  The Count and his wife loved that the boy was the best of both of them, and so they hammered and forged him to make sure he would survive what was coming and outlast them both.

Less than a month after his birth, the bitch-wyrm Hestaby slaughtered Elves and halted the Tir’s military.  He was just five years old when the Rebels of the Spire first announced their presence and shook the nation with their bombs and threats.  At nine, he was mystified and terrified when the Count’s patron Prince abandoned power, and in the aftermath the creature from his fearsome bed-time stories, the dragon of Shasta Dam, was made a Prince of the Tir.  He was twelve and disgusted when an Ork – an Ork – became High Prince of their once-great nation.  

His parents had long ago chosen their side, and political concerns ran high and blood red.  His training intensified.  

At sixteen, he’d taken to sneaking out.  He blamed his parents;  if they hadn’t wanted him to use the tricks they'd taught him, they shouldn’t have taught him in the first place.  His father’s hard fists welcomed him back the first time, agreeing that the boy was man enough to sneak out, but following the logic that he was, then, man enough to be punished for his disobedience.  It was the only time he was truly caught and punished.  After that, instead, his mother’s Watchers occasionally trailed after him, and the Count and his wife accepted their son’s wild streak as the price of training him as they had.

Put simply, he slummed.

The son of a Count, and comfortable inheritor of that rank even before a Rite of Majority or Progression, he was a novelty in the sort of establishments he chose to frequent.  Breaking Tir laws with his drinking, smoking, whoring, dabbling with social drugs, he showed that he had more money than sense but, then, so did everyone else at that age.  He earned something like friendship, at the very least respect, from the Portland Ancients after a knife-fight and a magical healing with one of their lieutenants.  He drank and raced with them, lent them magic and his cold, cruel, eyes but never sought nor was offered to be patched in.  

Spilling blood with the wild young Elves, he took on something of their wildness.  Landless, free, without responsibility, young and knowing he’d stay young for centuries, he was easily seduced.  In a flash of black feathers and swaying hips, amidst the rush of magic and violence and Ancients groupies, he cast his lot in with the dark trinity;  Babd for war, Macha for speed, the Morrigan as eldest sister to name them both.  Death and sex and magic and power all swirled in his angry young head, and his parents loosened the reins when his Talented mother sensed the difference in his posture.  He still appreciated their lessons, she knew, but he had a new Mentor.

That was all history.  That had all led him to this point, to these three days.  The best of nations had risen and fallen so that the Sinsearach would splinter off from the NAN and form Tir Tairngire.  The best of metahumanity had gathered there, learning and living and training and forming a nation.  The best of those Elves had been the Count and his wife, blessed with Talent and will and prowess.  The best of each of them, their cunning and confidence and power, had passed on to him.  All of it – from Ehran’s lectures of past ages, the sum of history, the rising and falling of mana levels that let him wield this Talent, the waning nations that had let the Tir form for him to be born in, the Tir traditions of Rites and Majority – all of it had led him to this day, this moment.  He'd been born for this.

He was eighteen.  The boy had taken to calling himself Rook, but it wasn’t until his Rite of Passage was over that he’d actually be able to Name himself.  He was Bridging, right now.  Driving past tourists in the back of the Nightsky, his father’s gloved hands had taken his commlink, confiscated his Morrissey  handgun.  His mother took back the ring and earring she’d given him, laced with orichalcum and rich with power, trinkets he had to show he didn’t rely on.  

In exchange he’d been handed only a knife.  It was a Telestrian-made amalgamation of a Fineblade’s edge and the practicality of a woodsman’s tool, the whole blade coated in some light-swallowing paint.  Hollow handled, with a gps device and other outdoorsman's tools tucked inside, it was made for wilderness survival and he’d been horrified – for a moment – they genuinely planned on driving him outside the city to make him scrounge in the woods like some sort of monkey.  

The Count smirked at his almost-concealed look of panic, his mother rolled her eyes at the cruel joke he’d played.  The limousine stopped while they were still in Portland.

“Seventy-two hours.  Don’t leave Swan Island.” The Count said, dark eyes flicking past the mirrored windows to take in their filthy surroundings.  Portland wasn’t the walled-off hellhole it had once been, but no matter how hard the Ork tried, Zincan couldn’t simply wish success upon the Tir’s cast offs.  “You’ve heard about your mother and I surviving in Seattle and California among these types.  Show us that you can do the same.”

Rook stepped out into a ghetto full of grunges, round-ears, trogs, and halfers.  That had been a two and a half days ago.  

The days and nights had been a blur of bloodshed and survival.  He’d killed, wrapped himself in mystic armors and sped himself with Morrigan’s own quickness, slashed and stabbed with his father’s black dagger to stay alive, snuffed out auras with his mother’s Talent, patched himself up with power and will.  It was the last night of his Bridging.  He needed shelter.

There were a half dozen of them just sitting in misery, lost in their drugs and their BTLs and their wretched little lives.  He whispered to a spirit and called up some aid, willed it into being and threw it at the humans he found squatting in a building he wanted.  A Mari-Morgan frolicked amidst them suddenly, tripping them, addling them, and drowning merrily.  Rook himself darted in, finding throats and livers with the dark-bladed knife the Count had given him.  It didn’t take long for the warehouse to be empty and his.  He thanked the water spirit as he sent her back to nowhere, finding an unopened MRE on one corpse to fuel his body, and wondered if his father was soft enough to have seeded the area prior to his arrival.  He doubted it.

He spoke in the language of his parents and flew to the rafters, finding himself a perch and settling the meal in his lap.  He whispered again, ignored exhaustion as he dreamed a Sylph was real.  She swirled around the rafters near him, wrapped him in a cool breeze and reassuring darkness, guarding him and keeping him from prying eyes.  He ate.  He slept away his weariness.  She left when the sun rose.

He awoke well after the dawn, hearing the roar of engines from somewhere outside.  Rook clung to the rafters as he heard the trucks pull up, a souped-up hotrod howl and sputter as the last vehicle stopped.  He heard their hoots and catcalls after that, sat and listened as he heard windows break and doors kicked in from the building next to his, then again from the warehouse across the street.

He whispered preparations, muttering in the language his mother had taught him.  His eyes were as dark as his father’s, and he heard the rustle of a crow’s wings as Morrigan swelled within him, proud of the death-to-come.

The Spans swept into his warehouse, all Ork-broad shoulders and yellow tusks.  A few round-ears huddled amidst them, no doubt the most violent of the lot in an effort to maintain position in a gang that dwarfed them, physically.  They work black and grey – not unlike Rook himself – but cackled and howled as they scampered around the room, sing-songing at him to come out and play, muttering wishes to drink his blood and chew his entrails.  They were here for fun.  Sick, bloody, fun, but still only pleasure.  His purpose was more clear.  More pure.  He was here to prove himself a worthy heir to the Count and his wife, their talent and their Talent.

These, at last, would prove to be trophies worth showing them.  Not squatters and bums, not the ridiculous half-dozen thugs that claimed to ‘protect’ this block of warehouses, no.  A proper gang, or at least a big knot of them.  It would do.  Here, finally, with only hours to go in his Bridging, Rook had found something worth his trouble.  

There were thirteen of them, he counted.  Ten grunges, three round-ears, one trog.  An inauspicious number, for them.

He muttered again in that ancient tongue, and an ugly Gnome rumbled at him from the Astral.  Squat, broad, ugly as a dwarf but hewn from rock and earth magic, it nodded in understanding of his command.  As spirits went, it was no more impressive or potent than the Sylph or the Mari-Morgan had been, but – like them – it would be enough for this task.  Rook was playing it safe with his summoning, hoarding his power, saving it.  Dark wings rustled in his mind, shining eyes and a wicked beak longed to peck at corpses.  Against these gangers, he would do most of his own killing.  The earth spirit was back up.  A safety net.  Castling.

He swooped down from the rafters, gently lowered by black wings.  He crouched in the shadows of a ruined crate, close to a pair of Orks that looked for him in the wrong direction.  He breathed words of Power and called on Morrigan’s aid directly.  Queen of birth and death, she flooded his spell with her consent and the entire world slowed to a crawl all around him.

Rook darted around the corner moving as quickly as a thought, and drove the Count’s black dagger into the side of one grunge’s neck, twisting the blade to open up their throat entirely even as the body began to fall.  The other Ork opened startled eyes slow enough that Rook could have counted eyelashes if he’d wished, but instead he reached out with one hand and tapped the grunge in the center of its chest; the ten-ring on the targets his father had taught him to shoot against.  Magic poured from his body into the casual gesture, and simply snuffed out an aura like a pinched candle.  Ribs caved and organs jellied at that brush with Power, and the ganger fell backwards in a twitching heap.

The Morrigan shrieked her approval him with a young woman’s voice, and Rook’s ears rang with her urges.  He bent to retrieve his knife from the torn-wide throat at his feet, snatching up a Remington from the ruined corpse next to it.  Sperethiel flowed past his lips and he levitated skyward, losing himself in the darkness of the rafters again.  In seconds the other Spans had gathered in an ugly circle near the fresh corpses, shouting threats to hide their fear.

He waited, bloody knife secure in its polymer sheath, shotgun balanced on one shoulder, free hand holding him steady in the dusty rafters.

They milled around below him, roaring, threatening, promising hideous death all while their fun got more and more ruined by a lack of a target.  Two of them – humans, both, smaller and more afraid than the grunges that led them – moved towards the door, and the rest rushed after them like a dam had broken.

The Gnome manifested when they were scant meters away.  It hit the first one like an avalanche, fulfilling its vow to let none pass through the doorway.  The second stopped and started shooting an Ares Predator, bullets bouncing off of the Gnome’s granite-and-mountain hide like pebbles.

Rook gave the Spans five or six heartbeats to let the Spirit hold their attention and focus their fear.  He dropped from the rafters behind them just as the rest of the gang fanned out to open fire, their metal rounds hardly phasing the creature bred from the very earth that metal had been mined from.  

Morrigan flapped black wings dipped in blood, and Rook poured mana into the lot of them.  He didn’t completely obey her cawing, shrieking, wish for their deaths just yet, and instead paced himself;  the spell was to knock them out, stun them, bruise them.  Not kill.  A wave of exhaustion staggered him, but he knew the Spans had all felt worse.  They stumbled, two fell to their knees.  Bruises blossomed under their every eye, blood vessel bursting almost at random across their ugly skins, muscles cramping, three got nosebleeds.  Pain washed over each of them, and in the wake of that crushing spell, Rook struck.

The shotgun was raised as smoothly and certainly as if the Count was at his side, their mother magically flinging clay pigeons into the air for her boys to practice with.  The Remington barked and their trog staggered, the back of its head spurting blood.  Rook worked the pump action, fired again, and the second load of buckshot penetrated even the Troll-thick skull.  Pellets rattled and tore and turned what had once passed for a brain into nothing at all.  As the rest of them turned to this new threat even as the largest among them fell like a puppet with cut strings.

Still maintaining Morrigan’s spell of terrible swiftness, Rook killed each of them that got his attention and went unscathed in return.  The Count had taught him how to use cover, shoulder your weapon, align a sight picture, fire, handle recoil, fire again;  he had been teaching him almost since Rook could walk.  He fell into a meditative state as he fired and aimed, trusting in his skills and speed and instincts rather than conscious thought.  The Remington held eight rounds, but the gangers were heavily armored and the sights were off.  It was a good gun, but inelegant, not his favorite.  Counting the trog it put down three Spans for him.  He snatched up a Browning from a still-twitching grunge, then, and killed two more with it before the ill-maintained pistol jammed.  

The Morrigan begged him not to bother to get the firearm working again, and he listened.

The Gnome crushed a second Span as it tried for the door, distracted the shooters long enough for Rook to dive among them.  Blue-white Power leapt from him, danced around his fists, and two of them died as he sang along with one of his mother’s Sperethiel songs.  Two were left, both grunges, as he went for the Count’s loaned knife again.

They were strong and tough, but he was swift and terrible.  Wicked spurs leapt from the arm of one, a bundle of razors that lied to the world and pretended to be a hand.  The second swung a rust-red cleaver, both wild-eyed and high on something.  The Morrigan cawed and swept bloody wings through the air, and the fight was over in a frenzied rush.

Rook blinked the red haze away, standing over a pair of corpses while hot blood ran down the ruin of his right arm.  One Orkish head rolled freely away from the body it had once belonged to, and the young Elf wanted to be alone with his pain.  He gestured negligently and the Gnome eroded into nothing.  

The Morrigan soothed him as he gritted his teeth past shock and summoned up one of his mother’s healing spells, hearing warm whispers and sultry promises from his three-in-one Goddess as she knit his flesh back together.

He thought of the Count, his father, and stopped just short.  The wound closed, the bleeding stopped, but instead of trying to force his Talent and Mentor to heal him completely, Rook did just enough – endured enough exhaustion from the casting – to simply keep it from killing him, but left the shattered limb hanging worthless at his side.  The pain brought him clarity, the spellcasting had seared away distraction and left him with a plan, an epiphany.

He had needed both parents to survive his Rite of Passage.  He had an idea, now that the Bridging was done and his Naming was left.  During that pronouncement, before his parents and his tutors, he would announce his intention;  as a gift to his mother’s teachings he would continue to honor The Morrigan and walk her path of magic and power, but as a gift to the Count he would get a new arm.  It would be worth the sacrifice, the gift of flesh and soul.  Both his parents had traded some bit of themselves away, even his Talented mother, in their youth.  Rook would do the same.  

He would step into his Majority, Name himself, and be accepted into Tir society as an adult.  He knew his parents would spare no expense as he replaced his savaged arm with one crafted to honor his father – one his father could help him outfit, in fact! – but then he would lean on their resources and their generosity only long enough to be healed from this Rite and the surgeries that would follow.

Then he would leave.  As they had, in their own intemperent youths, he would leave Tir Tairngire behind and make his own way in the shadows elsewhere.  The Rite alone would not earn him their genuine respect, and slumming for grunges to fight with the Ancients would not sate his wanderlust and The Morrigan’s calls for adventure.  

Perhaps he would start in Seattle as so many others had…and he would find danger, and combat, and wild excitement, but he knew he would be fine.

He was born for this.  
« Last Edit: <10-17-10/2205:52> by Critias »


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« Reply #1 on: <09-16-10/1801:28> »
Was bored, and felt like making a new character.

Bonus points to anyone who guesses who his parents are.   ;D


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« Reply #2 on: <09-20-10/1220:33> »
Blackwing and Banshee

I've always liked your writing.

EDIT- Count Evan "Blackwing" Parris and Moire "Banshee" Ferguson to be more specific.
« Last Edit: <09-20-10/1238:10> by Angelone »
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« Reply #3 on: <09-20-10/1336:28> »
Well, half right.  Blackwing, yes.  Banshee, no (especially since the last time we saw the two of them together, he was ordering Tir Ghosts to murder her).   ;D  Rhiannon, his Combat Mage "mate" from Dragon Hunt.


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« Reply #4 on: <09-20-10/1428:25> »
I thought she was a long shot. I forgot about her... everytime I hear that name I think of the decker form the Sega game.
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« Reply #5 on: <09-20-10/1437:50> »
I had a hankerin' to try out an SR4 mage, but at the same time I know myself and that I don't want to make the standard "stiff breeze will knock 'em over" weenie, who's only good with magic.  I've long been a fan of characters like Hart and Estios from the old trilogy, or Green Lucifer as presented in Elven Fire, or -- to use D&D terms -- a fighter/mage type.  

Someone who can handle most stuff with weapons and tactics, but has that ace up their sleeve when they need it.  Then I got to reading a few old adventures and remembered some NPCs I liked...and figured why not?  A second-generation Shadowrunner would be pretty messed in the head anyways, so it could make for a neat story.  
« Last Edit: <09-20-10/1959:13> by Critias »


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« Reply #6 on: <09-20-10/1645:28> »
I agree, I tend to make my mages "of the sterner stuff" for lack of a better term. Sure it cuts down on magery, but so does being dead. Someone on Dumpshock had or has a sig that goes something like "A good mage knows can cast powerbolt, a great mage knows when to use a predator instead."
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« Reply #7 on: <09-21-10/1144:46> »
A second generation shadowrunner would be pretty messed up, especially with those two as his or her parents.

One of my favorite things about Shadowrun is the open character creation where you don't have to choose a class. I like the fact that I can make Gandalf, Terminator, or someone that's a mix of the two.
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« Reply #8 on: <09-23-10/1447:47> »
In a way, he'd been looking forward to unpacking. 

On the trids, everyone always had a lot of furniture and boxes.  It would be a chance -- besides the physical therapy and the more uniquely challenging tests the Count had imposed upon him -- to keep practicing with his arm.  His new one.  The imbalance was still taking some getting used to and he'd thought that carrying boxes, forcing himself to handle some weight with his flesh and blood left arm and his glossy black right at the same time, would do him some good.  He was already changing his strength training, of course, integrating single-arm exercises, chest and back routines, instead of wasting time with bicep curls for pistons, gears, and hydraulics.  He was working his left side harder, trying to keep up with the impossibly strong, impossibly fast, new limb.

Unpacking, toting an assortment of poly-board boxes up to his third-floor apartment, might have been good for him.

Then he realized that, unlike the folks in the trid shows, he didn't really own much.  He'd never wanted for a single thing, growing up, mind you;  the Count was influential and wealthy, even for an Elf of Comital rank, and Rook had certainly had his fair share of nuyen thrown his way.  But for all the comforts of their executive suite, for all the money he'd been able to throw around when he visited clubs and bars, he'd never really owned much, personally.  Clawing his way to Majority hadn't changed that, truth be told.  Most of what he might have expected by way of congratulatry gifts had been, instead, invested in a lengthy and very specific hospital stay.

Hence, the new arm.  The denser, stronger, skeletal structure throughout the rest of his body, to support the weight and exertion.  The modifications to his eyes and ears.  The changes in how he felt pain, or rather how he didn't.  The Count and his mother had been quite methodical in what enhancements they encouraged, and which they simply allowed.  He'd gone to Salem Memorial Hospital instead of -- as his mother graciously put it -- "simply being hacked on by the mundane butchers here in Portland" -- and between his parents' keen eyes for combat modifications, the advice of some knowledgeable UTT tutors, and the non-invasive procedure experts in Salem, he was quite impressively enhanced, while losing the least amount of Talent.

The Morrigan still rankled at the invasion, though.  Her dreams and her temper saw to it he wasn't in the best of moods, when he swung a leg over his bike to ride away.

Which is where the lack of boxes, the lack of ownership, came in.  With storm clouds matching his mood, he’d put on his riding leathers for the long trip.  The interstate being what it is – and Torgo’s Spikes being who they are – he had his father’s black dagger at his belt, his Morrisey holstered, his mind sharp with the Morrigan’s talons.  His saddlebags held only a few dataslates, though, a few undergarments, a small medkit, a few boxes of ammunition. 

The Count led him to believe it was because Seattle was supposed to be a fresh start.  His mother ruined the surprise, though, confiding with him the day before his trip;  a Downtown apartment was already leased, a comfortable, clean, spacious affair in the heart of the trendy Elven district.  The rent would be handled every month, a small stipend left over to be deposited to the fake SIN attached to the address.  As his father had left the Tir with comfortable patronage those decades earlier, so Rook wasn’t being carelessly cast from the nest (no matter how much he wished to be).  It would be his own responsibility to handle his real money, mind, to make a name for himself, find work, show the Seattle barbarians what a Tir-raised Elf could really do…but his mother – clucking in more maternal concern than she’d shown in the eighteen prior years – had insisted that he wouldn’t be eating dog and rat, wouldn’t be living in some filthy shanty, and wouldn’t be cooped up in Tarislar full-time with the offal and the derelicts.

The apartment was well stocked, of course.  Already furnished, the kitchen filled, household drones fully charged, and with the master bedroom and coat closets full of clothing both fashionable and protective.  The Count’s handiwork, Rook didn’t doubt.  It wouldn’t do for his son to be caught dead in something ugly.

All of which was thoughtful, and perhaps even a little touching…but frustrating.  Rook wanted to handle things his own way.  He wanted to steer his own ship, as did everyone his age.  He was caught between – like most eighteen year olds – wanting to be his parents, and wanting, desperately, to make a big show of not relying on them.

So he established a safehouse in Tarislar, only an hour or two after stalking around his comfortable apartment and feeling penned in by it.  It was time to visit Puyallup.

The ash was miserable, he admitted, but the view wasn’t the worst.  He rode his Messerschmit-Kawasaki down filthy streets caked in volcanic muck, but he was riding late enough at night that the girls were out and making their way to the clubs.  High boots were all in fashion – to protect against the ash – and skirts were cut shorter, to make up for it.  He was treated to an ash-covered ride that would have left him filthy were it not for the full-face helmet, but was rewarded by many a thigh for his trouble.  His introduction to the neighborhood could have gone worse.

In the end, he opted for a coffin motel.  Synthleather duffel over one shoulder, he rode slowly down the street until he found an establishment that – unlike that ridiculous “Bump and Snooze” a few blocks earlier – was staffed by Elves.  He parked, strolled inside, and slotted a credstick that rented him a Troll-sized coffin for sixty days.  The duffel was stowed deep inside the compartment, and he clambered in after it to make sure it would suit his needs.  Sized for the most obscenely inhuman of The Sixth World’s most populous metatypes, it left him enough room for basic calisthenics, to sit fully upright and maneuver as he needed, and wonder of wonders, his new mageblade didn’t even snag on the corners as he climbed in and wriggled about.  It was no apartment, he decided as he slithered back out and slammed the door shut, but it would do in a pinch. 

While leaving, he met some Ancients.  They soured the evening for him, but would save him some searching.

One was skinny even for an Elf, with a jerkiness to his movements that belied cheap, perhaps even secondhand, twitch-ware.  His eyes glinted with chrome, where Rook’s were simply gunmetal dark and less obviously enhanced.  The other was very nearly an obscenity, bulked up with vat-grown muscles so that he was more a smooth-faced Ork than a proper Elf, shirtless beneath his leather jacket, and with ridiculous gold teeth that were tainted by his bleeding gums.  An addict of both chemicals and augmentations?  Rook took an instant disliking to him, and their general appearance did little to dissuage him of his Tir superiority complex.  Even the Ancients here were barbarians, it seemed.

“Yo, Keeb.  Leavin’ so soon?”

The self-deprecating slang hadn’t caught on in the Tir, even among the gutter-runner Ancients Rook had befriended, and the casual way with which the broad-shouldered Elf resorted to the metaracial slur caught him off guard.

“That’s a nice bike,” the skinny one spasmed out a nod in the general direction of Rook’s wheels, his jet-black cycle flanked by their bright green ones, now.  “But what’s it doin’ on our turf?”

“Good evening.”  His reply ignored both their questions, his dark eyes simply focused on the stylized A logos they both bore.  “I’m newly arrived from Portland, and—“

“No shit?”  The big one snorted, and Rook wanted to punch his brain.  “You think we didn’t know that just from your queer accent, Keeb?”

“— I’d like to speak with Green Lucifer.”

They laughed, and Rook’s eyes glinted with the Morrigan’s malice.

“I am familiar with your associates to the south,” he went on as if they weren’t there – and, in a way, they weren’t the people he was speaking to – without even raising his voice.  The skinny one’s eyes made one set of enhancements obvious, and the ugly stitched Rook made out below one ear and along his jaws made him a sure bet for audial enhancements.  Not for the first time, Rook was thankful for the magically-removed scars from his own recent surgeries.  “I was friendly with them, and wish to be friendly with the Seattle chapter, as well.”

The skinny one was still twitching out laughter, herky-jerking in time to his sharp little barks of amusement.  The big one, who Rook hated more, boomed out again in his ridiculous baritone.

“You might’ve been fuckin’ around on those Portland Keeblah’s turf, bitch, but you ain’t stompin’ around on ours.”  One ridiculous arm shifted a bit, lifting a flap of his jacket to reveal the grip of a Colt tucked carelessly into his jeans.  “You know what I’m sayin’?  This is Ancients turf, tourist.  You talk to who we want you to talk to.”

“Green Lucifer,” Rook said softly, as though he were talking to the other Tir expatriot himself.  “My name is Rook.  Allow me to begin by apologizing.”

“Apologizing for what, you litt--?”

The big ugly one didn’t get to finish.  The second little hoop through Rook’s ear heated up with magic, and he cut him off with impossible speed.  Rook stepped forward into the strike, and his black arm came up in a terrific uppercut-elbow, slapping hthe pimply jaw shut in mid-word, catching the tip of his tongue on the wrong side of the gold trap.  The augmented cretin stumbled back a step as his chin split and tonguetip flew free.  Quicker than any flesh-arm could recover, Rook’s cyberarm followed through on the elbow with a backhand, this time discharging the stored electrical energy that lurked in a secondary battery pack within his forearm.  The densiplast knuckles connected with a pimply cheek with a desultory slap, and every grotesquely over-enhanced muscle tensed up as electricity coursed through him.
Rook’s follow-through left that deadly black arm pointing a single accusatory finger at the skinnier elf, who’d just started clawing at his waistband for an ugly Ruger.

He speared the thinner Elf with his glare as much as his pointing finger, and what felt like years passed as the two stood there in a staredown, before the smaller one jumped a little at the sound of his giant partner falling down like an axed tree.  Rook cleared his throat and continued.

“Green Lucifer.  I wish to inflict violence upon no Elf, and would not have had these two not provoked me.  It is my wish to be on friendly terms with your organization, as I was on friendly terms with Hellcat’s, in Portland.”  Rook had been on friendlier terms with Hellcat herself than he had with her organization, but he saw no advantage in bringing up the precise nature of their relationship at the moment.  Suffice it to say the Portland-born redhead had enjoyed the novelty of having a Count in her bed, not just riding into battle with her.  “I am new to Seattle, but come with sufficient recommendations that I hope your chapter will let me feel welcome here, and operate both independently and, if my assistance is appealing, alongside you against external threats.  This is my home now, and I hope to be a good neighbor.

“You have ways of contacting Hellcat, I’m sure, for verification of my abilities.”

 “Blackwing, also, sends his regards.”  Rook took no small pleasure in the way those brushed-chrome eyes widened.  This one, this skinny one with the outdated reflex ‘ware and the ugly old scars from second-rate ears, had been operating in Seattle for long enough to remember.  Rook knew that Lucifer and Sting had been here, too, he had heard from the Count firsthand about how he’d gone through the introductory formalities when operating on their turf, decades ago.

“My apologies, again, for the battered packages who will deliver this recording to you.”

He let that sink in just long enough that the jab would catch the other Elf off-guard.  One hit with the taser did it, and a few moments later he grabbed each of them by an ankle or wrist and dragged them through the ash and into the coffin motel’s sad excuse for a lobby.

He gave the coffin-tender, a scared-looking young Elf girl who gawked at him through three inches of bulletproof glass, as friendly a look as he could muster. 

“No one but the Laesa would harm them, I know, but please do make sure they realize it was I that moved them out of the street, for caution’s sake.  Wake them as soon as you wish, and be sure to let them know they can leave a message for me here.”

He reached – slowly, with his unassuming left hand – for a certified credstick, and slid it into the little drawer on the girl’s booth.

“Thank you for your trouble.”  It could have rented him another sixty day block of the coffin slot, but instead it would earn him some semblance of good will.  That was a fair trade.


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« Reply #9 on: <09-23-10/1646:37> »


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« Reply #10 on: <09-23-10/1841:51> »
A controlled environment is bad because you become complacent, set in your ways, and unable to cope when the controls finally do break down, as they ultimately will.  But a completely unpredictable environment allows too little room for consolidation and recuperation.  There is, thus, a balance between integrative and disintegrative processes in the natural world -- the edge of chaos, so to speak -- which is where innovation, especially through self-organization, normally occurs.

The text scrolled across his field of vision as Rook rode his Messerschmit-Kawasaki back across the sprawl, words spelled out neatly as he twitched his consciousness to access the [1 new message] that had appeared in the corner of his eye. 

The Count had a strange way of asking how he liked Seattle so far.  Twentieth century historians, he'd been told during the tutoring lessons that had passed for a childhood, know lessons still applicable to the twenty-first.  His father had something of a fondness for justifying his actions with ancient wisdom.  A turn-of-the-century treatise on the nature of historical study was, in a way, very up to date of him.  At least it wasn't more Sun Tzu.

I see you're aware of my little day trip, he sent back, vocalizing directly and letting autosofts transcribe it into a text message he'd send to one of his father's more obscure email accounts.  Tarislar was roughly what you led me to expect.  Initial contact with the Ancients was...disheartening.  I had to engage two pawns to gain an audience.  Everything here is dirty.

He sent the message with Tarislar squarely in his rear view mirrors.  He spent the rest of the ride, rather than enjoying the low-down thrum of his bike's powerful engine, idly wondering how the Count knew he'd taken his own little trip to the edge of chaos, already.  Had they bugged the bike?  His clothes?  His arm?  Had the Count simply always had spies in Seattle, and tasked them with keeping an eye out for him?  Or did he simply know his son, after raising and training him for eighteen years, and teaching him how to think?  He tried to outrace those ponderings, even as he used increased drag alongside increased speed to brush the ash and sludge from his riding leathers, with a twist of his wrist to speed the bike up.  He neither had a certain answer nor felt wholly clean, as he parked and climbed off his bike to peer up at the glass and steel complex that held his new suite.

The doorman was an appreciated touch.  Rook was surprised when a fresh [1 new message] blinked back into place to irritate him, even as he rode in the building's sleek elevator towards his personal flat.  Expecting another note from the Count, he instead got an LTG number and an electronic signature.  It was one he recognized, and had been half-expected -- just not so soon.  He plucked at the leather glove encasing his left hand as he strode down the hall to his room.

"Return call," he said in the bored tone that let his commlink know he was ordering it around, even while slotting a keycard and pressing his left thumb to the security panel.  His door opened and shut by the time his call was answered.

"Hello, professor," he said with a hint of a real smile as h peered at his commlink.  "It's good to hear from you."

"Doctor, if you please," the other Elf replied, a faint English accent not enough to hide his amusement.  "It's what they all call me here, no matter how many times I tell them a PhD in Theoretical Thaumaturgy makes it an honorary rather than a real title.  In the meantime, I've grown accustomed."

"Well, I humbly beg your lordship's pardon," Rook said with an outright grin.  Professor Fitzgerald was one of the few who'd ever dared a bit of wit with him.  He was also one of the few who'd ben so strongly against Zincan's election he fled the country;  the rest of Rhodry Parris' academic tutors had been content to keep their tenured positions and be quietly upset.  Fitzgerald had organized a half-dozen students and arranged for them to Molotov an Orkish Student Union building before fleeing the Tir.  "I suppose my mother told you?"

"Among others," the professor said with a wry smile.  "Your father possesses more channels than a top of the line trid company, you know."

Rook flung himself onto his couch, sprawling out as a small drone wheeled along on the carpet behind him, cleaning up his ashy footsteps.

"I imagine a self-exiled Black Sun leader has a few of his own informants, Doctor."  Rook kept his tone light, but figured he'd just as well cut to the chase.  "I'm trying to arrange a meeting with Lucifer.  I'd like to meet with some of your friends, as well."

"Playing both sides, son?"

"Playing...neither, actually.  But certainly not both against the middle, honestly."  He paused for a moment, looking squarely at the comm-screen in an effort to make eye contact;  Corvallis tutors had told him how important eye contact was in establishing trust and being taken at your word.  "I want to be friendly with both, and belong to neither.  Both are groups I'd like with."

"How comfortable?"

"Odd jobs, maybe?  Deniable asset, to avoid an outright war."  He bit his lip.  "Not with one another, though.  Others.  Orks, humans, that sort.  Aren't there Koreans causing trouble?"

"Better to kill ten of theirs than one of ours, hmm?"  The older Elf sounded...proud?  "There aren't as many that make the distinction, these days.  Tarislar is crowded.  My boys and theirs are at each other's throats, but I'll see what I can do to keep them from sending you after our kind."

"Would it help me get a meeting if you told them I'd knocked out the only two Ancients I've spoken with, so far?"

"Would I be lying?"  The Doctor's eyebrow quirked.  "There are...sympathizers...within the Ancients.  We'll know if what you say isn't true."

"No, I'm afraid it is."  Rook went over the unfortunate affair, briefly. "They were hardly even Elven, really, even compared to the sorts I'd played with back in Portland.  Things didn't go terribly smoothly, but I think it's fair to say I've got Lucifer's attention."

"Fair enough, then.  Yes, I can work with that.  My organization is inordinately proud of being more than a gang, you know.  Your disdain can be a strength, I think, with some of them.  A few know of your father, of his reputation.  It will help." 

"Fine.  Call me at this number, when you know something."

Rook kicked a foot a bit, idly sending fresh refuse drifting from his boot for his dog-brained little drone to have to clean up.

"I look forward to establishing a working relationship with the Laesa, Doctor.  I appreciate your help."
« Last Edit: <01-14-12/0015:00> by Critias »


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« Reply #11 on: <09-24-10/0334:36> »
Rook was vaguely surprised when morning rolled around.  Not because of the brightness of the AR-sun crawling across the walls or the volume of the artificial spring water cascading across one wall or the chirping birds -- no, all that he was used to, and it comforted him to know his mother had programmed the apartment -- but because he was awake and alive to see and hear all of it.  

One day down, one night survived.  

He carelessly kicked the sheets away and stood up, giving a little nod to the Telestrian Orderly drone that waited with inhuman patience in the corner.  Rook strode nonchalantly into the living room, paying it no more mind than he would a human or Orkish servant.  He glanced around the apartment's main room, estimated distances, and sat in what looked and felt like the center of the room.

Another morning, another workout.  Another chance to focus, balance himself, work body and mind together until they had both cast aside the danger of sleep and brought the world into razor-edged focus.

He sat in a half lotus, eyes closed, pushing away the outside world.  Heartbeats bled into minutes, until his lips moved and Sperethiel slipped past them;  he was enveloped in a classic Armor spell, wrapping himself in a protective enchantment he didn't truly need just to work out.  But, then, maintaining the spell was a part of the routine.

He hopped to his feet and slipped into the second forward Carromeleg stance, beginning a kata-like routine that, when repeated as part of a daily routine, brought balance and strength.  He flowed, long minutes later and still glowing brightly, into the primary defensive posture, bending, then, at the hips.  His feet stayed planted, grounding him, as he worked his core and flexibility, dodging imagined attacks in slow motion, twisting this way and that.  Still glowing, he cast aside forms and stances to simply lose himself in a sparring match with a remembered foe;  one with a pair of black arms to match his one, a foe he never beat but never gave up against.  Three sweaty limbs lashed out, one glossy black one led the way, and Rook fell fully into the dreamed sparring match until -- finally -- some switch deep in his soul was turned back on.

Babd squawked at him in her ugliest voice for attacking something that didn't leave her eyes to feast on, Macha smiled at him with martial approval of his postures and stances, and elder Morrigan showed her approval by granting him full access to his Talent.  She, like always, sided with Macha where his daily exercises were concerned.

The Armor spell flared brightly for a moment, then Rook let it drain away.  A long shower later, and he felt alive enough to command his Sapphire Blue SPU with his specific breakfast desires.  The Telestrian Orderly dutifully set the table for him as he sat and checked his commlink for new messages.  He ate less than half of what the drone carried to the table and set before him, knew that it would clean up the mess as he finished a strawberry tart and his second cup of tea before walking off to see what clothing it had left out for him.

Its dog-brain had gone with a default outfit based upon the day of the week and weather forecasts;  stupid of it.  He was heading back into Tarislar, a waiting email from the Doctor had told him, and it should have taken that into account.  He opted for a body-hugging matte black affair, featureless and heavily armored, but tailored specifically to his build and made of materials as breathable and light as they were protective.  It covered him from knee to elbow, and -- save its color -- didn't look terribly dissimilar from the spandex nonsense some messengers and athletes wore.

Rook suppressed a shudder even as he made the comparison, and the Morrigan squawked laughter at him.  

He wrapped himself in his biking leathers, over that;  the Orderly was already taking a note about him choosing that same outfit, and ordering him several more sets in a variety of tasteful colors.  Or, rather, it had better have been.

He holstered his Morrissey Alta, sheathed the Count's black dagger snugly in his right boot, slung his mageblade's belt around his waist, reflexively ran careful hands over the loop in his ear and the ring on his left forefinger, and paused to consider his Ingram.  Rook could take it, if he wanted...but left it behind as he made his way out of the apartment.  He was only going to a hospital.  Showing up with a smartgun would invite attention and make him look weak.  The latter, more than the former, was unacceptable to him.

He retraced much of his route from the night before, and allowed himself to slip into the ride and enjoy it a little more.  A smile creased his features as he took ash-slick corners too fast on purpose, sending his Messerschmidt-Kawasaki Ronin sliding around them precariously;  the twisties were fun.

He arrived outside the Deireadh An Tuartheil early enough that the filthy excuse for a hospital was still busy with last night's trauma cases.  Some corporate scrip -- half now, half promised -- and a stern look interrupted a dozen scrawny Elf children playing street hurling, and they promised to keep an eye on his bike.  He stuffed his riding gloves into his helmet, magna-locked it into place, and left tracks in the ash on his way inside.  He watched in the reflection on a grimy window as one boy brushed the ash off the machine's gas tank to get a better look, and allowed himself a smile as the boy carefully mouthed out Liath Macha, the silver-on-black lettering that was painted on the bike's flank.  If the boys were still there when he left the hospital, Rook made a mental note to tell the lad what it meant.  

He found the Doctor bloody to his elbows dealing with a stab wound that had turned into a gutting somewhere around the fifth or sixth strike.  He surprised everyone in the room, Doctor included, by shucking off his dirty riding jacket and immediately reaching to help.  His ring felt warm on his finger as he began to chant.  The Morrigan poured power into Rook, and Rook poured it into the barely-teen that squirmed and writhed and swung blindly at the doctors and half-trained nurses around him, adrenaline and pain and some home-brewed stim overpowering their attempts at medicating him.

The wound began to close, the almost-boy was pushed into rest whether he wanted it or not.

"That was a hell of a first impression," the Doctor joked with him just outside the doors, later.  Twice more since then Rook had delved into himself to knit the wounds of a bloody Elf, twice more the scattered medical staff and patients had been quietly grateful.  They had mages of their own, but they were in short supply.  "But it was appreciated, son, don't get me wrong."

"I was glad to help," Rook sunk onto a now-empty bench, not bothering to hide his tiredness.  Just watching the knot of boys and their hurling wore him out.  "I wish you'd told me how..."

"How absolutely bollocks this place is?"

Rook grinned.

"I was going to say how busy you all are.  And ill-equipped."

"Flattering of you to be so gracious about it."  The older Elf shook his head, took another puff off his cigarette before offering one to Rook and lighting it for him.  They smelled and tasted like mint.  Rook recognized them as a Tir favorite, which, given the Doctor's affiliations, meant they were smuggled in from home.  "But there's no need to sugarcoat it.  We're lucky to have power, lad.  Everything's in short supply in this place.  My boys try to steer a shipment this way when they can, and even the Ancients chip in here and there, but the trucks don't always make it."

"Big market for painkillers," Rook nodded, having experimented his fair share back in Portland.  "And in a place like Puyallup, I imagine everything else, too."

"We do the best we can, with what we have, where we are."  The Doctor shrugged philosophically, flicking his cigarette away to watch it snuff itself in a layer of ash.  "Any time you could spare, we'd appreciate."

"I will when I can," Rook said, nodding matter-of-factly.  "She approves."

"She?"  The Doctor had left Portland before Rook had found her.

"Back home, you've heard them swear to the Bright Lady, right?  Casually.  Stubbing their toes, emphasizing a point, whatever?"

"Aye."  The older Elf's brows lifted.  "Even your father, when his temper was up."

"Right.  I...swear to the other lady.  The dark one.  And I mean it."  Rook quirked a little smile.  "She listens when I do.  Sometimes it's to kill, sometimes it's to heal."

"Found religion, did you?  How's Rhiannon taking it?"

"My mother understands.  Approves, I think.  She's more scientific about the whole thing, mind, but..."

Breaking glass cut the conversation short, then the lonely wail of a car alarm.  Both of them glanced up, half-interested, only to find the hurley-playing Elf kids scattering, ducking, and running their way.

A man so hairy Rook mistook him for wearing a sweater explained their fear.  Clad only in white slacks he still fumbled to zip up, the man ran barefoot from a nearby apartment, waving a huge revolver in one hand.  His slicked-back hair was black and looked greasy in the Puyallup half-light, his bare feet slipped in the ash and sent fresh curses roaring forth from him, but he kept his balance with a dangerous smoothness.

The Doctor looked concerned.  Rook looked.  The place -- the neighborhood -- was bleak on the astral, but he tried to ignore that and focus on the screaming human.  Amidst the bright flurry of colorful auras racing away from him, he saw that whole swathes of the man's aura were blacked out by cybernetic implants.

The kids came skittering through the ash-blanketed parking lot towards the pair of Elves, panting and rambling about who had hit the ball last, whose fault it was, which of them shouldn't be allowed to hide inside.  The Doctor tried to herd them through the doors.  Rook interrupted.

"Who is he?"  He blinked a few times as he re-adjusted to perceiving the purely physical plane, asked without really taking his eyes off the man.  The Italian roared and his wheelgun roared with him, shattering the windshield of a car parked across from his.  He bellowed something about how it had been his car that had been targeted, that the whole thing was no accident, that it was a conspiracy, and his revolver fired a second time...

A dozen voices answered Rook's question, but he only listened to the Doctor.  He was a two-bit Mafia soldier, known in the neighborhood for the noise he made when he visited his Elven mistress, and for her bruises when he left.  A torpedo, a disposable thug that the Gianellis didn't value much.

"But who they value enough, if you take my meaning."  The Doctor shooed the children inside.  "It's not worth the Ancients or my boys starting a war over."

"Well."  Rook took a spearmint drag off his cigarette before flicking it away to die.  "I'm not with the Ancients or your boys, am I?"

His gunmetal hand snatched the sleeve of the last boy in line, plucked at him effortlessly to turn him half around.  

"Your stick," Rook said, holding out his left hand.  His right had already flicked, twitch-quick, to unbuckle his swordbelt.  He held out the tooled black leather, mageblade and all, in exchange.  "I'll trade you.  Temporarily."

A little of the boy's eagerness dimmed at the last word, but getting to hold a fancy sword like that wasn't the sort of thing that every ghetto-born Tarislar kid got to do.  He almost threw his hurley into Rook's arms, snatching up the sword belt with an alacrity that did their metaspecies proud.  It was the kid whose hand was still ash-filthy from pawing at Liath Macha, Rook's two-wheeled Ronin, earlier.  The boy would get a story for sure, now.

Rook gave the Doctor a look.  A meaningful one.  Keep them inside, it said.  Don't worry, it said.  Don't let the little one draw that thing and cut himself, it said.

Swinging the sturdy ash stick idly in his hand as he sauntered towards the raving Italian killer, he watched as the man fire a third round, a fourth, and glass broke with each one.  None of the cars were in very good shape except his Spiral -- inasmuch as a Ford Spiral was ever in good shape, Rook thought with a smirk -- but him blasting away at them wasn't doing the dingy, rusted, subcompacts any favors.  Bullets didn't stop from automobile glass, Rook well knew, and he grimaced a bit as the next shot blew a hole in a nearby tenement after taking the rearview mirror off an already-miserable Peugeot.

He took a calming breath, and muttered a little sing-song rhyme under his breath in Sperethiel.  One of his mother's tricks flowed energy from the center of his being into the simple wooden stick he held, and suddenly the energy linked him to it.  It was a simple device, and easily understood;  even without his own days of hurling not so very long ago, a plain stick was nothing difficult to analyze and fathom.  Cavemen had used them in the miserable days between Ehran's mana cycles, after all.  Millenia of practice flowed from Rook's pumping heart into the finely tuned and impossibly quick arm that rode on his shoulder, then flowed from that black hand into the new extension it possessed.  The ash stick twirled in his grip as smoothly as if he'd been born with it.

"Good morning," he said amiably, stopping a few meters away from the ranting Italian.  Another gunshot boomed out and partially swallowed his polite greeting, so he ignored the sound of breaking glass and cleared his throat to try again.

"Good morning," he said more insistently, resting the tip of the hurley on the ground and holding onto it like a cane.  The Count had carried one, at times.  Some of Portland's citizens took bets on how many, and what manner, of weapon it concealed.

"Who th'fuck are you supposed to be?"

"Hospital security.  I'm afraid your parking permit has expired."

"'re...fuck you, you fucking Keebler piece of shit!  Did you see what your grass-munching little punks did to my fucking car?"

"Hmm?  Oh, yes.  That."  Rook made a big show of turning his head and investigating the spiderwebs that emanated from the neat round hole in the windshield.  "That reminds me, actually.  Their sliotar is hospital property, we'll be needing that back before you leave."

"You..."  The man blinked, obviously still shaking off whatever swill he'd chugged before beating some poor Elven girl -- oh, there she was now, the one standing in a doorway wrapped in a blanket, instead of watching from behind a window -- and tried to focus bleary eyes on Rook until what the Elf said made some kind of sense to him.  "Are you fucking stupid?"

"Give back the slitter and leave now, and we'll forget about your parking fine."  Rook's teeth gritted, a little ball of anger swelled inside his belly.  The Morrigan cawed encouragement.  A human speaking to his father like that could have been thrashed within a centimeter of his life, and done so in front of a Peace Force patrol, and no one would have batted an eye.  But he wasn't in the Tir any more -- hell, the Tir wasn't really the Tir any more -- so he kept up his facade.  "But you really do need to be leaving, sir.  Before someone files a noise complaint."

"Oh, and do be careful on your way home." he said conversationally, giving in just a shade to his patron's urgings.  The ash club flicked out with a lazy snap of his gunmetal wrist, almost too fast to see.  Plastic and glass shattered.  "Knight Errant might notice you've got a tail light out."

The man's eyes blinked again, slowly, and Rook saw something behind the bloodshot orbs change and darken.  What started as a ponderous lifting of his arm turned quicker and smoother in mid-motion;  the human killer had triggered something electronic in his spinal column.

"Get the fuck out of my face, you dandelion eating piece of shit, before I turn your empty god-damned head into a canoe."

"Hollow threats, celenit,"  Rook let the Morrigan's anger flood his voice.  His dark eyes glinted like a hungry ravens, and he took a half-step towards the man.  The loop in his ear heated with power and speed.  "You're empty."

To the human's credit, the hammer did click on an empty chamber before Rook closed the distance.  He would have gotten a shot off, if he'd had anything left in his wheelgun.  He might have hit, he might not, but Rook had to give him points for effort.

Points for effort, and the business end of a heavy ash club.  The Elf almost danced, the stickplay was so effortless.  It rose and fell, twisted in his hand like a live and hungry thing, to bruise and batter whatever it touched.  The gray ash underfoot was scuffed and matted, scraped and then spattered with blood, turning to a sludgy, slick, mess.  Bare feet slipped not long afterwards, propelled along by too-quick, too-strong, overhand swings of a child's athletic equipment.  The hooked end of the hurley came into play, first catching the man's revolver and flinging it meters and meters away, then snatching at his upraised defensive arms and tugging him around by them, playfully.  Cruelly.  

Rook knew after the first few swings that the man's skeleton had been reinforced, because there wasn't enough whimpering and breaking.  He knew, then, that meant he'd have to work all the harder to push him past the breaking point.  Shock wouldn't set in quite so much, and the trick would be hitting him hard enough to injure and hurt, but not quite hard enough to send his pea-brain bouncing around in his thick skull, concussing him past the point he could...

"Get," the ash stick rose and fell.

"Out,"  and again, amidst a rush of angry black wings.

"Of,"  Rook held the flat of the hurley under the man's stubble-covered chin, lifting his head.

"Tarislar."  The wind-up was almost too fast to follow, the two-handed swing sent teeth and blood flying.

"And don't come back."

Rook gave the man a half-hearted sideline puck -- easily mistaken for a golf swing -- to the rump to send him on his way all the quicker.  Blubbering, cursing, bleeding, the human clawed through ash on all fours like a dog, clambering into his car, ignoring the broken glass as he tried to fumble through the ignition sequence.  An ash stick batted off a mirror lazily, then caved in the passenger side window.  

As the Ford spit ash accelerating wildly away, a slitter -- the hurling ball -- was thrown out a window to bounce and roll in the ash.  Rook smiled.

He rested the hurley lightly on his shoulder, watched the car speed off, and strolled over to retrieve the ball.  The stick reached for it almost of its own accord, flipped the ball up lightly and smoothly, and kept it balanced or bouncing on its wide-end for his whole lazy stroll back towards Deireadh An Tuartheil's entrance.

"Here you are, little meraerth," he let the ball roll, offered the stick handle-first to the little boy.  He'd stayed outside to watch, instead of hustling past the Doctor to wait inside with the others.  That showed heart.  "And I thank you for the lending of it."

He heard the killer's girlfriend shut her door and go back inside, somewhere behind him, even as he reached out to tousle the young Elf's hair.

"Let me tell you a story about Liath Macha," he said, buckling his mageblade back on.  The other little Elves gathered around.  The Doctor went into his hospital to make a call.  

The Brat'mael certainly would want to meet with Rook, now, and the rest of the Laesa along with them.
« Last Edit: <09-24-10/0341:32> by Critias »


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« Reply #12 on: <09-24-10/0346:58> »
I sometimes wonder if it's the historian in me that makes me enjoy studying up on every little thing -- in canon, in real life, in Sperethiel, in Irish Gaelic -- before I post fiction...or if I got into history in the first place because of that sort of study/compulsion.  Or maybe if it's just a little of both.  But anyways, there's the next installment.  I like the last one the best, to be honest.  Maybe even better than the first.  And for the record, Hurling really is pretty badass.

For the record (for however many people may be reading), please feel free to PM me or post here, or whatever, with any typos or anything.  There are times I know I'm breaking grammatical rules for pacing reasons, so I'm not so worried about that -- but outright typos and that sort of thing, please let me know so I can fix 'em.  I'm just sitting here killing time and typing stuff up right here in the "reply" box, without really going over it or editing or any assistance is appreciated, with error-spotting.

With extra eyes finding mistakes, I can clean 'em up before I copy-paste to save 'em as Word files with all my other crap.   ;D


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« Reply #13 on: <09-25-10/0047:06> »
Rook was vaguely surprised when morning rolled around. 

Consciousness slowly overtook him and, in those first few seconds of wakefulness, ever so briefly, he had to grit his teeth and swallow a panic attack.  He was in the dark, and it was cold.  His every movement brought a limb -- probing hand, kicking foot -- in touch with a wall or ceiling, and despite having room enough to swing his arms and legs before impact, he felt impossibly hemmed in, impossibly constricted.  Cycling through his optical display systems in a near-panic, it was only when he reverted to the electronic recreation of his natural low-light vision that he could make out where he was;  just enough light seeped in through the window-slit down by his feet to help him not only get oriented, but recognize his surroundings.

He was in the coffin motel slot, the one sized for Trolls that cost time and a half the going rate for the extra space.  Just as hyperventilation had been about to set in, his lungs relaxed again, his mouth closed to stop from trying to suck in a gasping lungful of fear.  His calm returned.  His hands roamed his body to check himself for his weapons.

It was only when he laid his head back down, relieved, that he realized just how physically awful he felt.  His mouth was full of cotton, his throat shattered glass, and his brain had turned into a Dragon pulsing and struggling to claw its way out of his head.  He ached from head to toe, and the reek of vomit burned in his nostrils and brought synthetic lubricant solution welling up in his cyberoptics as bile crawled up the back of his throat.

Gods, but he was miserable.  Whoever had deposited him here should have just given him two to the head, instead, and done him a favor.

He almost threw up as he squirmed and twisted around to reorient himself, fumbling at the inner latch with his good right hand -- bending the handle a bit, at first, when he tried to pull instead of turn it -- and finally shoving the hatch open.  His flare compensation didn't do enough to block out even Puyallup's weak sunlight, and he squinted against the harsh-feeling sunlight.  Even indoors, even under the cover of Seattle clouds and Puyallup's dreariness, he thought he felt icepicks plunging through his orbitals and into his brain.

Leaning heavily against the bank of coffins, he grimaced and looked in the one he'd just vacated.  His black duffel was there, wedged against the far end where he'd been using it, lumps and submachinegun magazines and all, as something of a pillow.  The synthleather-and-kevlar jacket to his riding gear was wedged in one corner of the coffin, and Rook was startled to see his form-fitting black armor was wadded up and tangled with it.  He wore only his lower garments and a slate gray t-shirt, and suddenly fought a shiver.

As the smell from within the coffin hit him, it turned into a shudder.  Everything in there was waterproof or replaceable;  he slammed the door shut, swiped his credstick to confirm his identity, and ordered the in-house cleaning units to get to work.

Dragging his left hand over his face, he stumbled towards the coffin motel's communal bathroom.  The dragon in his head roared disapproval at his every step, each footfall came clumsy and caught him off-balance, and he stopped to lean against the bathroom's doorframe.  He hurt, from head to toe.

Sweet Lady Death, he lurched over towards the sink to vomit, What did I do yesterday?

Not much came up, but judging from the state of his coffin and his shirt, it was mostly because he didn't have much left in him.  He peeled his t-shirt off and simply threw it away into a bathroom stall, swearing never to wear it again.  The coppery water that poured from the faucet a good ten seconds after he turned the knob was the sweetest and purest he'd ever seen in his life, and he filled both hands with it to throw on his face, then a second scoop to quickly rinse his mouth.

As he straightened, left hand running carelessly through his feathery, dark, curls, he caught his reflection;  cyberoptics widened in surprise, and he did a double-take.  Looking down at his chest, then at his reflection, then his chest again, he saw his previously-unblemished skin dominated by what seemed to be a bio-tattoo. 

"Oh, gods."

A featureless black circle rested over his heart, perhaps fifteen centimeters across, the sort of precision-crafted, flawless, ring that could only be computer generated and etched.  Around the fringe of it, hovering just outside the perfect circle, was a halo effect that -- he thought it was just his pounding headache and difficulty focusing, at first -- rippled and faded, ever so slowly. 

The Black Sun!  He had the Black Sun tattooed on his chest, and didn't fucking remember how it...

Laesa.  His eyes screwed shut, and his left hand reached out to the dirty wall to support him. 

The Doctor.  He spun half-around, glaring fiercely at a shuffling, shambling, human who'd come out of the far bathroom stall. 

An Elf with Raven on his face.  The human, wide-eyed, fled back towards his coffin. 

Rook was left alone with his thoughts, with the flashing half-memories that filled his head;  he remembered beating the Mafia thug, remembered telling the children about Cu Chullain, the greatest hero The Morrigan ever feasted upon, and Liath Macha the legend's steed and King of Horses.  He remembered The Doctor shaking his hand, remembered the children brushing ash off his bike and waving to him as he rode off.  He remembered riding to a bar, going inside, and meeting with...with...

Star Crow.  That had been his name.  An Amerind, with a tribal tattoo of wings and beak across his face, Rook remembered meeting him at an otherwise empty bar, talking over a bottle of fine Elven wine and a light lunch.  He remembered enjoying the small, Elf-run, club, being surprised at the quality of the vegetarian food, the taste of the wine...

Then...nothing.  Things didn't blur or haze the way they had when he'd dabbled with recreational drugs back in Portland, or distort themselves the way they should have if he'd simply overindulged in the wine.  His memories weren't fuzzy, they were gone.  Completely stopped.  Missing.


He rested his forehead against the cool mirror in the bathroom, wincing at how even that careful contact had sent waves of pain throbbing through his head.  They must have dosed him with it later that night -- of course, he'd almost been expecting it -- but the disorientation that came with not knowing was maddening.  Frustration and indignity warred with his physical misery, until he imagined the Count's lecturing voice and forced himself to be calm, to look at it rationally.  He knew how Laes worked, and knew what an average dose made you forget.  He knew it hadn't just been a laced cigarette or a date-rapists dose of lael, at least.  Too large a chunk was missing.  The Count had told him to expect at least eight hours of memory loss to a full dose, and that lined up -- or seemed to -- with the missing window in Rook's head.

He could account for his day up until perhaps two, maybe three in the afternoon.  Assuming a slap patch or syringe of Laes at ten or eleven pm, then, the ensuing exhaustion, the physical trauma that accompanied the narcotic, made sense to have kept him out all night.

Rook waded through misery to get back to his coffin, one thumb hooked on his sword-belt to show he was -- by then -- well aware of how many bloodshot, opportunistic, eyes he must have been drawing.  The coffin had been sprayed down as ordered, then flooded with heated air to flash-dry it.  Even just reaching in to retrieve his jacket, chilly as he was, now, topless, sorely tempted him to crawl all the way inside, lock the door, and sleep this off.  Instead, he shouldered his riding jacket on, zipped it up against the cold and the staring eyes, and made his unsteady way towards his bike.

He pointedly ignored the gawk of the same little coffin-attendant girl in her little ballistic protected booth, and didn't bother asking her who'd brought him here.  She'd be too scared to answer, and he was in no mood to try and frighten it out of her.

Rook felt the world lurch sideways as he slung his leg over his Messerschmidt-Kawasaki, and he made a point of planting both boots firmly on the ground to steady himself.  Masking his discomfort with the smoky faceplate of his helmet, he let the engine idle while he muttered.

The Morrigan wasn't with him, just yet, this miserable morning.  He had to offer his time to her, show her his martial devotion with dance and combat, before he'd have full mastery over his abilities.  In the meantime, though, he still had Talent enough -- inherited from his mother, along with her stubbornness -- to whisper to himself in Sperethiel and call up a minor air spirit.

The Sylph's summoning taxed him more than he cared to admit, but she disturbed the ash around him in a protective little cyclone, whispering soothingly in his ear as he kicked away from the curb and got his Ronin rolling down the street.  She would keep him safe from mundane harm -- poor balance, sluggish reactions, bad luck -- as he rode through the city back towards his apartment, and in thanks for her service it would be the only task he asked of her.

The drive was a blur of discomfort, unsteadiness, and irritation.  The sound muffling helmet and tinted visor didn't help as much as he'd hoped they would, and he kept having to override his commlink's nagging wish to display a series of new messages to him.

He strode sullenly past his building's doorman, scowled at the ear-splitting chime of the elevator, and almost destroyed his Telestrian Orderly on principle alone when it grated on his nerves with a standard salutatory recording.  He peeled off clothes and weapons as he walked across the apartment, leaving it to his drones to clean up, leaving a trail towards the bathroom.

The shower didn't help nearly enough.  Under the clear, filtered, water, he spoke out with as authoritative a tone as he could muster, and by the time he was thoroughly scrubbed and dried, his Blue Sapphire SPU had breakfast waiting. 

He wolfed down three slices of toast with a bitter-sweet marmalade, washed down with a glass and a half of freshly chilled, real dairy, milk, before his stomach stopped gnawing on itself in indignant protest of its recent treatment.  He topped it all off with a stray handful of painkillers and almost a liter of ice cold water, to stave off dehydration and nurse his headache.  He left the rest of the feast he'd ordered spread out on the table for his Orderly to clean up, then, and allowed himself a deep sigh before thumbing his commlink to life.

[4 new messages], it dutifully displayed.  He skimmed them, and his mood darkened.  There was a scolding note from his father, with a small video clip attached and a critical comment on his follow-through and recovery times on several of the hurley swings from yesterday morning.  Next was a congratulatory note from the Doctor, telling him that Star Crow had been impressed with how their initial meeting had gone, and asking him, again, if he might consider formally joining.  His mother very politely sent him note number three, asking him if he was certain he genuinely needed four new racing suits even as she reassured him that his monthly stipend was his to spend as he wished...and there was the fourth and final message, blinking at him and eliciting an irritated sign.

It was curt, direct, and to the point.  There was simply a time, a place, and a signature.  The good news was that he had several hours before the proposed meeting place, and that his commlink's built-in navdat system assured him the trip wasn't very far.  The bad news was that it was from Sting, co-leader of Seattle's Ancients.

His long day was only just beginning.


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« Reply #14 on: <09-29-10/0353:27> »
Rook spent the afternoon preparing himself for what the evening might bring.  From time to time -- while shirtlessly meditating, working out, flowing through his Carromeleg stances to find focus and strength, just before and just after his second shower of the day -- he spotted the Black Sun symbol etched onto his flesh and scowled at himself.  For someone hoping to retain something like neutrality between the two largest groups of Elves in Seattle, he was off to a poor start.  

Not every member of the pro-Elven Black Sun group was involved with the Laesa, and not every Laesa was Black Sun, but the two were joined at the hip.  The Doctor's note confirmed that he hadn't sworn any sort of oath and gained formal membership, at least.  That didn't comfort him much as he stared at the pitch black disc over his heart, the slowly rippling rays of sunlight that ringed it.  He glared at the mirror as though it was to blame.  Whatever he'd had to drink, whoever he'd spoken with, whatever friends he'd made, whoever had talked him into the tattoo, whatever drugs he'd done to make it seem like a great idea...gods, what had he been thinking?  He gritted his teeth as he tugged on a black turtleneck to cover up the tattoo.

Either the vomit or the chemical spray used to clean low-class coffin motels had done something abyssmal to the fibers of his custom tailored form-fit armor.  He wasn't thrilled about heading towards the Barrens without the extra layer of protection, but he consoled himself by looking through the several new sets of kevlar-and-trauma-plated riding leathers that had arrived by express courier.  His Orderly had already handled opening the packages, rearranging his closet, and hanging them up -- as it should have -- so it was easy for him to eyeball the lot of them and pick out a gray on black set.  He gave a wistful glance to the assortment of tasteful, tailored, suits that hung alongside his more heavily armored, more appropriate for jaunts to Tarislar, synthleather racing suits.  Soon, he hoped, he'd be able to wear something appropriate out, to go somewhere besides the slums of Puyallup.

With a sigh, he made his way to the parking garage and swung a leg over his bike.  

The Ancients-appropriated warehouse loomed over him when his Ronin's engine purred and then died, one ride later.  

The last few blocks leading towards the chapter's headquarters had made it increasingly obvious that he was rolling steadily towards one of the perpetually roving go-gang's few sedentary holdings;  they were notorious for striking anywhere in the Sprawl and claiming little permanent territory, but there was no denying that this strip of Tarislar was solidly theirs.  Rook had spotted a few bored-looking Elves squatting on rooftops, serving as sentries as he went ever deeper into Ancients turf.  Knowing how many of them had likely served in the Peace Force reminded him that they weren't entirely for show.  Riding for half a block while watching the Astral instead of the physical showed him more esoteric sentries, as well.

Ignoring yet more roofbound snipers -- and, no doubt, even thicker spirits on patrol -- he made his way towards the gangers out front, hands politely far away from his sheathed mageblade and holstered Alta.

"Good evening," he said, glancing from surly criminal to surly criminal.  "Sting sent for me."

"Hoi, keeb."  The grating voice was naggingly familiar, and a heartbeat later Rook was less-than-thrilled to see a familiarly broad set of shoulders, perched precariously atop an Elf-slender waist, shove its way through the handful of guards.  The speaker glowered and muscles rippled as his fists clenched.  "Long time no see."

Rook had to bite his lip to keep from laughing outright.  The Ork-hulking Elf from the other day had, no doubt as a result of losing a good chunk of his tongue, gained a bit of a lisp.  The new speech impediment made it even harder to take him seriously.  An entire mouth full of gold teeth didn't make him pathetic enough, apparently.

"Pleathed to thee you again," he said, sketching the Ancient a sardonic little half-bow.  He knew it wasn't particularly wise to continue to antagonize the ganger, but he also knew that if Sting wanted him dead, he wouldn't have made it to her front door.  "Here to handle my guided tour?"

The ugly Elf opened his much-abused mouth to snarl something unpleasant, but was cut off by a louder, more commanding, voice from the warehouse's doorway.

"I think I can handle you just fine by myself."

Rook's dark eyes slid over to the new speaker.  She was lean, whip-thin even compared to the other Elves all around, but her exposed arms revealed it was from a lack of fat, not muscle.  Her eyes showed optical modifications, but only from flashing yellow at him, not being bulky or poorly made.  Her smile -- meant to intimidate rather than welcome -- showed elongated canines, which he worked to ignore.  

"I'm sure you can," he dipped his head again, this time with genuine politeness.  "I apologize for the unpleasantries that surrounded my message."

"But not," she said, leaning against the doorway and resting one hand on a cocked hip, not far from her holstered HK.  "For addressing it to Green Lucifer instead of me?"

"That apology was going to come second."

"Not takin' the insult very seriously, are you, Parris?"

"I felt an apology for the genuine error on my part would be more sincere.  I knowingly beat your dogs, after all," he said, pointedly ignoring the way the one nearby bristled.  "But honestly meant no slight through my ignorance, when asking to speak to Green Lucifer rather than yourself.  My knowledge was...out of date."

And I would thank you to call me Rook, he wanted to add but didn't.  Yet.

"Out of date, huh?  Sure it was, chummer.  An' it was just a coincidence you asked to speak to him, an' not me, huh, Tir-baby?"  Her yellow eyes narrowed, flashing angrily in her face, framed by copper-red hair.  "Wanting to present yourself to him, not the one actually born here?  Not the one who actually runs Seattle, now that he got promoted?"

Ah.  Now that made her indignation make a bit more sense.  Dossiers the Count had presented him back home had told the story of Green Lucifer's arrival in Seattle and his near-immediately taking up a position as co-leader of the Ancients.  Not only had he joined the gang only to gain as much political power within it as Sting, who'd long been second-in-command...but he'd then, a mere twenty years later, surpassed her in rank, being elevated to a position of authority somewhere beyond the borders of Seattle.  That had to -- Rook couldn't help the mental pun -- sting her ego.

"As I said, it was simple ignorance on my part, not any desire to snub you.  Yes, I chose to speak with him due to our shared homeland, and I'll not deny it.  But it was only out of a belief it would increase my chances of gaining an audience."  His shoulders, meat and metal both, rose and fell in a graceful shrug.  "If that apology continues to offend you, however, feel free to consider it retracted."

"Ghost, you even talk like him," she rolled yellow eyes, shaking her head.  "All you little Tir-babies are the same.  Just jander into town and figure you can find a comfy spot in the Ancients, huh?  Like mommy and daddy Legolas raised you so special, we'd love to let you into the gang, whether or not you can pull your weight."

Rook couldn't help but wonder how much she was ranting at him, and how much she was just pissed off at everyone from the Land of Promise.  He knew enough to stay quiet, despite the Morrigan's urgings.

"Well you know what, Tir-baby?  Fuck you."  Sting's tone was weary, not mad.  She wasn't truly enraged about the issue, just tired of it, it seemed.  "You want a spot at the table?  You've got to earn it, just like --"

"I don't."  There, at least, he had to interrupt.  He held his hands up and open, a lazy, casual, version of a formal Carromeleg surrender/fight-ending posture.  "I have my own table."

"Yeah, that's what your message claimed," she narrowed her eyes again, crossing her arms across her armored chest.  "But why approach us at all, then?  What's your angle?"

"Simple politeness," he said softly.  "Permission to do my business in town.  A desire to not be taken as an enemy.  Nothing more."

"Strange way to show it, Parris."  Sting's yellow eyes flicked towards the lisping Elf with shoulders twice as broad as hers.  Rook wasn't thrilled to see that the big ugly one had been joined by the small ugly one.  He had his own, glaring, fan club forming.

"Rook, if you please."  That time he couldn't help himself.  "And I never retracted that apology, you'll recall."

She snorted and rolled her eyes at that, then regarded him coolly through half-lowered lids.

"You're a strange one," she said at last, uncrossing her arms to hook her thumbs in the waistband of her ripped up blue jeans.  "Rook."

He nodded his head again, in quiet thanks.

"So fine.  You want to be all chummy-chummy with us, but aren't interested in being patched in, you say."  Her hands were still dangerously close to her pistol.  "But you deliver the message while playing the drums on two of my boys' skulls.  Hell of a first impression."

Sting straightened up in the doorway, and he saw her backlit profile nod.  There was a flurry of activity inside the warehouse, and a few Elves reached to haul open the big sliding door of the once-loading-dock.  More Ancients came swaggering out from inside their base.

"Here's what's going to happen," Sting said matter-of-factly.  "These two have been itching for another shot at you, and I'm gonna give it to them.  Fuck apologies.  They want a piece."

She tossed her head for Rook to move, then sauntered with him a short distance away.  They headed towards the parking lot -- with excited Ancients milling all around them -- and the big swath of open ground there.  His bike stood out from the rest, sleek and simple compared to their chrome-laden hogs, or glaringly colorful red or green racing bikes.  In moments, a loose ring of Ancients had formed.

"Chal'han," Sting whooped at the top of her lungs, and here and there Elves cheered or pumped gloved fists into the air.  Rook, for his part, winced.  What was about to happen was most certainly not formal chal'han.  He knew better than to correct them, though.

Two angry Elves made their way through the crowd and towards the challenge ring;  one knifing through the crowd smooth as a shark's fin through waves, the other shouldering his way through his friends to meet an enemy.

Rook wasn't entirely thrilled with this turn of events, but couldn't honestly say he was totally surprised by it, either.  Rites mattered to Elves, even ones as barbaric as these Seattle rabble.  Challenge, trial by combat for grievances, was a natural extension of their socio-economic status and sullying the formal Sperethiel term was simply a matter of...his gunmetal dark eyes narrowed slightly as Quick and Hulking came into proper view, and each of them carried a wicked, and obvious, weapon.

"What rules?"  He shot Sting a questioning glance.  "What limits?"

"Oh, any sort of close combat will do," she drawled out, flashing her wicked teeth in a none-too-friendly grin.  She patted her hands together, then held one towards him palm up.  "I'll make sure that Alta doesn't vanish on you."

Rook plucked it from its holster, pinching the bottom of the grip between thumb and forefinger -- no need to provoke anyone by grabbing it properly -- and gave it a lazy underhanded toss towards her.  The black-on-chrome slide winked in the light as it arced through the air, and he missed the weight of it immediately.

"And rules?"

She caught it smoothly and tucked it nonchalantly into the front of her jeans.  Then she shrugged.

"Try not to die, Tir-baby."

It was all the warning he got.  Quick was on him an instant later, rushing in with a knife in each hand as Hulking trundled in closer.  Rook's ear burned as he called on the speed enhancements stored in the Focus he wore, and he narrowly managed to avoid a pair of cuts, then got his forearm -- his fast one, his armored one -- between his body and the incoming blades.  By the time he snapped a front kick at Quick to send him tumbling backwards, the alternating matte and glossy black of his arm gleamed in the moonlight, that sleeve shredded.

His cyberaudio suite picked up Hulking's clunky leather boots stomping towards him, then, and Rook spun to face him as his feet slid apart into a proper iaijutsu stance.  The big Elf charged at him with what looked like a fire axe overhead, mouth open and roaring as he rushed in.  Embracing zarien, melding Elven and Eastern fighting styles, Rook stood motionless in the face of the assault.

At the last instant he drew, struck, and sidestepped all in one smooth motion.  His good hand, his black hand, brought the slender blade up, but all of his will and the orichalcum laced into the mono-edged blade did the cutting, not only his arm.  Flesh and meat parted like butter.  There was a metallic shriek as the sword dug in to skitter-scraped off titanium-wrapped ribs.  The axe, meanwhile, sang through the air in a clean miss and blunted the edge thunking heavily into the pavement of the parking lot.

Before Rook could enjoy scoring first blood, Quick was on him again, flashing his knives through a bastard hybrid of some street-born brutality and some Escrima Rook half-recognized.  He twisted to keep his right arm at the front again, lashing out with his longer single blade and giving the boosted ganger nothing but polymers and metals to easily reach.  His eyes darkened at the scuffs and scratches that began to appear on his black limb despite parrying half the incoming strikes;  he feinted to make Quick scamper backwards out of reach, then flicked out another quick kick.  It was all speed, no power, and barely reached to tap the other Elf with a toe-tip...but it was enough of a physical contact to channel mana through.  

Quick's aura was twisted and torn, and he stumbled backwards as the Morrigan cawed and wrenched his knee.  

Too distracted.  The axe hit his right bicep with all of an absurdly augmented Elf's considerable mass behind it, in an ugly but effective baseball swing that ricocheted the edge off his armor to let the haft of the axe slam into Rook's head.  The force of the impact sent him stumbling and almost knocked the mageblade from his strong right hand.  His ear burned from the speed he'd channeled trying to roll with the powerful blow at the last second, but that minor discomfort -- like the strain on his system from such a hasty combat-casting -- was swallowed by the pain of the hit itself.  He felt blood streaming down from the back of his head and under his jacket to soak his back.

He just barely got his blade up in an awkward parry-and-sidestep that kept the axe from connecting again, only to be shoulder-checked by the massive Elf and sent tumbling to the ground again.  His dignity suffered as he crab-crawled backwards away, then managed to roll to one side and clamber his way to his feet.  He muttered under his breath in Sperethiel as he scrambled and parried, sidestepping, dodging, ducking;  the spell finished and the spots vanished from his vision, the hot blood stopped pouring from his scalp.

Rook threw himself backwards from another sideways swing and felt Hulking's attack pluck at the zipper of his jacket as it came too, too close.  He reversed course to lunge forward as the axe lifted for another powerful downward chop, and his mageblade lifted to intercept -- not the arcing axe, but the hands that held it.  

Blood gushed forth from the tangled impact, fingers, thumbs, and parts of them tumbled onto the parking lot's surface;  the strike had no room to skitter off as it had with his ribs, this time, and metal fought metal only for the mageblade to win.  There was too much momentum behind the swing, though, and the repeated castings had hindered Rook's ability to maintain fine control over the servos and gears that controlled his sword-hand.  The polymer haft of the axe sailed to the ground in the spray of blood, yes, but it did so with Rook's sword cut most of the way through it, blade bound and jerked from his grip.

He improvised and hurled himself at the gold-toothed abomination in a four-strike rush, flowing from attack to attack as smoothly as he'd flowed from armed to unarmed techniques.  His polymer hand did its work and battered Hulking's skull hard enough to concuss the huge Elf;  aided, no doubt, by the flash and burn of the implanted shock fist discharging with every strike.  Hulking teetered, ready to fall.

The knife drove up through Rook's ribs, then, lancing through his jacket to wedge itself deep into his right kidney.  Gunmetal-dark eyes widened in pain and shock as his legs gave out.  Rook hit the ground just as Hulking finally did.

Darkness ringed his vision and he heard a gunshot from somewhere close by.  Sting's voice called out, laughing at something, and then Quick's soccer-kick drove into Rook's ribs and turned him over.

Sting shouted again -- Rook couldn't make it out over the murder of crow's cawing in his ears, but she wasn't laughing this time -- and no more kicks came his way.  He writhed in pain on the ground, trying to gather his thoughts for another healing spell but all he could think of was worry that Puyallup was getting inside him, that the filth of Tarislar was infecting him through the hole in his jacket and shirt and back.  The ring on his left forefinger burned with Power and the cawing got more insistent, and amidst a flurry of black wings he heard the Count's iron voice and his mother's insistent urgings.

The magic coursed through him and knit him shut again, but the effort of it left him soaked in sweat.  He almost blacked out from simple exertion before he looked up to see Sting looming over him, his own Morrisey Alta smoking in her hand.

Her glowing yellow eyes narrowed in thought for several heartbeats as she stood there, and her arm swung lazily;  pointing the gun at him, letting it swing at her side, back and forth, making up her mind.

Rook felt the Morrigan's mask fall over him as Babd gave him her bloodthirsty beak.  He made up his mind, just that very instant, that if the gun pointed at him again, he'd kill himself overcasting to tear Sting's aura to shreds as she pulled the trigger.  He found the strength to lift his left arm at her, ready to pour out everything left inside him just to see her dead, too, if she demanded it.

She wedged the gun carelessly into her jeans instead, reaching out to him with one hand.  Dangerous chrome glinted from just beneath her fingernails.

"On your feet, Tir-baby."  Her strong hand found his left, and hauled him effortlessly up.  He saw a pair of Ancients hefting Hulking up, caught an Ancients combat mage kneeling next to Quick and realigning the bones in his leg.  

"You both went down, really down, at the same time.  Given two to one odds, I'll count your tie as a win."

Her vampire-looking canines gleamed in the moonlight as she gave him a feral grin.  She nearly wrenched his arm out of its socket as she lifted his arm, and every free Ancient nearby drove their fists into the air, whooping and hollering.  

"So that little matter's closed, and apology's accepted.  We can use you.  Welcome to the Ancients' good side...or what passes for it."