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Nap Time

17th of Midyear - 4E208
Dwemeri Prison Ruins Kthrakz

The morning heat scorched the desert sands, great stone walls of the Dwemeri ruin not far in the distance, hidden in the shade of a large dune under a canopy of tarp to protect the caravan, the camels, and lone vigilant guard protecting the group’s belongings occasionally making a peek at the prison for movement before retreating to the shade. Judena’s wide scaley head hidden beneath a lightly shaded scarf, tucked safely inside her shirt to secure it. Golden eyes squinting against the odd swirl of sand, she stood tall and vigilant, her long red scaled tail sweeping behind her, wrapped with cloth as well to protect it from the harsh sand. It wasn’t natural for an Argonian to be away from water for so long - frankly she was not pleased about their extended travels across the desert. She did not vocalise her complaints but a singular look shared with her fellow Argonian, Jaraleet confirmed he was miserable as well.

For the prison break, Judena hoped with all her heart for its success. Alim missing among them was heartbreaking, to all people she saw his presence missed most of all by her student Anifaire. The young Altmer woman clearly harbouring strong feelings for Alim, Anifaire spoke no word of it but it was writ all over her expression ever since they left Gilane without him in tow.

She gripped the staff of her spear, a glow of mage armour glimmering over her body. Judena decided and volunteered to watch the caravan, watch over the sleeping corsair passed out in the back of the wagon. Knowing full well she was not suited for sneaking anywhere. Occasionally Judena peeked into the back of the wagon to remind herself, Maj Noor was still there.

Ready as she was for danger, Judena found her mind wondering all over the place as one does when they are bored. Touching on her thoughts of the medicinal fix for broken minds Daro’Vasora presented to Judena. Where she was scared to hope, she hoped and imagined nonetheless when given time to do so.

A notion she would have cried herself to sleep over once upon a time, it had been a very long time since she ever felt that way.

Smiling now at the thought of gaining back her ability to remember, she held onto that.

Maj Noor was indeed sleeping as if she was dead to the world, in the wee hours of the morning did alcohol finally pull the insomniac into a sleep. As the alcohol passed through her system filtering through her hard working kidneys, did the mage’s stomach turn rumbling - unsettled. Cracking her eyes open pausing before pushing herself up in a panic to the edge of the wagon to vomit the contents of her stomach into the sand surprising Judena with her sudden appearance.

Groaning after the heaving subsided, she pushed herself away leaning against a sack of apples reaching behind her she dug around in the sack pulling free a red apple, swiping her wrist under her lip removing a few drops of vomit. Judena disappeared to return with a skin of water for Maj, careful to avoid the vomit.

“How are you feeling. . .” Judena began to ask, checking her journal ensuring she got her name right. “Maj Noor?”

Gratefully accepting the waterskin, Maj drank deeply then siped lightly spitting out the remains of bile in her mouth.

“I’m awake,” she said plainly, the headache throbbing away. “Thanks for the water, where is everyone?” She looked around past the wagon seeing they were obviously on their own.

Judena read from her logbook, “We are currently alone because the others entered the Dwemeri prison to free Alik’r prisoners, hoping Alim is among them and Sirine’s family, while hopefully recovering a bit of Dwemer technology.” Smiling pleasantly at the young mage.

Maj regarded Judena, dutifully reciting her own memories across a page. She pitied the Argonian, Mazrah and a great deal of others felt a great affinity for their forgetful elder. Her positivity was endearing to say the least, she wondered how she managed to survive for so long the way she struggled.

“Well I better get going to join them, they can’t be far ahead-” Maj pushed herself up from the sack, wobbling slightly - holding her head. Finding her center she took a bite of the apple before jumping down to the sand. “Point me in the right direction.”

Judena shook her head, “I apologize Maj, the others have been gone into the prison for more than an hour. You would surely get lost before you found them or something else found you. I urge you to stay here with me.”

Maj frowned at Jude, “Mazrah let me sleep instead of joining her?”

“She insisted you needed to sleep, having been awake for three days straight before passing out last night. You suffer from the inability to fall asleep yes? I quite often take my ability to get a good night sleep for granted.” Judena patted Maj’s shoulder. “We can keep each other company while we wait for their return, it is quite boring to stand watch on your own.”

Maj casted her eyes away, scratching at an itch on her neck thoughtfully chewing through another bite of her apple.

Judena smiled brightly heading over to a barrel walking it by the side of the wagon for Maj to have a seat. “Please have a seat! We can chat while you wake up.”

Maj took the seat hefting herself onto the barrel, legs dangling, her heels tapping the wood. “Aye, I guess it’s better than trying to go back to sleep now.”

Judena reached to grab a second apple for Maj when she finished her first one, throwing the core into the sand, “I am glad we have this time to speak! It is so rare to see a redguard practicing magic or a land bound pirate.”

“Aye…” Maj began, not in the mood to entertain but satisfying Judena’s curiosity was something she could do at least in return for her watching over her. “About as rare as seeing an Argonian practicing magic as well I suppose.”

Judena considered that and laughed good naturedly, “Indeed! There are not many like us.”

“It ain’t without consequences, but I learned from the best master of illusion and conjuration. I’ve got an imagination that can come to life right in front of you.” Maj gestured with her apple at Judena as the Argonian dictated their conversation as they had it, it made Maj uncomfortable, for no real reason. They weren’t speaking of secrets and conspiracies but detailed account of her words by someone else’s hand didn’t sit well with her. She rolled the apple across her sleeve, “So, how’d you lose your memories?”

Judena finished a sentence then knocked a knuckle across her forehead, not missing a beat, “Took a boom to my head when I was younger.”

Maj winced, nodding. Knowing a few sailors and pirates alike having the same accident. “Happens all the time, clumsy fucking shiphands.”

Judena shook her head, “It was not one persons fault, but the wind.”

“Still a shit covered stick regardless of whose fault it was.” Maj commented.

“Indeed,” Judena agreed, “It is what it is.”

“Aye…” Maj took a thoughtful bite, “The dunes kind of look like waves,” Leaning onto her knee she looked out at desert trying to imagine big blue waves, feeling a tug in the pit of her stomach. “If you close your eyes,” She finished dryly.

Judena looked out into the dunes, “I miss the ocean as well. That was a pleasant note to being in Gilane. Are you used to being on land for this long?”

“Only when I was a kid did I go months and months on land before going back to the sea over the summer. Hated it then as I do now.” Maj said, “It ain’t natural.”

Judena nodded in understanding being outside of one’s element. “It will not be for much longer.”

“I miss the rain, the warm misty rain that would gently roll over the Imperial City, the thundering monsoon season in Argonia. Even the chilly rain in Skyim was welcome after a humid summer day.” Judena sighed wistfully, “Cleanses the soul,” She continued to write away in her logbook, noting her own thoughts irrelevant as they may seem in the future.

Maj took a few more quick bites of her apple then hopped off the barrel, removing some apple skin from her teeth. In spite of her headache Maj did like Jude’s company, it was pleasant there had to be a way to owe her back for watching over her while she blacked out. Her immediate thought was something easy and she hoped as kind as the old lizard, “Something like this?”

Casting Calm, Maj lifted her fist a blue outline around her fingers as she tapped into her magicka, slowly she opened her fist to show a small blue ball of magicka formed in the palm of her hand - carrying with it an illusion for Jude. It floated through the air gently landing between her eyes.

The illusion began firstly when Judena she heard the pitter patter of rain against the wagon roof, Judena turned to check a smile growing across her face she turned back to a gorgeous scene of Wayrest’s coastline came to life before her, the sun a warm orange glow over the horizon, a beautiful sunrise kissing the blue sky. The light rain washed over the city, Judena felt the humidity and even smelt the salty breeze of the sea, rain fell across her head soaking through her clothes. She shivered with delight. Marvelling at the illusion, she closed her eyes humming with content. A reminder of one of her favourite things to feel.

Maj smiled as she watched Judena’s expression, closing her eyes keeping the illusion up for several minutes. “This is Wayrest, grew up here. Still one of my favourite places to watch the sunrise.”

Judena breathed, “It is beautiful.”

Maj held onto the illusion as long as she could be breaking concentration, taking a deep breath and rest on top of the barrel. Her headache crashed in with a vengeance, she held her head groaning. “Ow.

Judena sighed with content, patting her back and handing her the waterskin once more. “Thank you, Maj Noor.”

Helping to nurse her head, the pair chattered on helping time pass until their friends arrived back from their successful prison break. Lapsing in and out of silence, the scritch of pencil against paper, a chuckle for a joke and groans of hangover pain. By the time the others returned Maj hardly noticed the logbook and Judena could still feel the warm rain across her scales.
@Dedonus Fuckssakes, what part of gross and uncomfortable don’t you understand? I am well aware of stories of Fauns and Satyrs and clearly if you had read the post you would have known that I wasn’t even acknowledging that bit of folklore, the narrative purpose of the Satyr/Faun being there wasn’t to sexually assault my character. There was a million different things you could have brought up to discuss about what I wrote but no, deciding to focus on the horrible joke instead. Making me feel uncomfortable for something that I clearly wasn’t focusing on or writing about.

Tried to be nice about it but you had to keep nitpicking, seriously pissing me off in the process.

<Snipped quote by DearTrickster>

I don't think a satyr would care whether Odette wanted to or not. Which is precisely why I said that, if I were in Odette's shoes, I would have ran in the other direction.

And simultaneously make me regret writing one in there in the first place.

Edit: Tempted to just change it to a grumpy Faun instead of a Satyr.

Double edit: no longer a satyr

Never Say Die

14th of Midyear - 4E208
Campsite - Alik’r Desert Oasis

She was happy.

Judena was happy to have everyone together once more. Especially having Daro’Vasora back in their ranks, safe and in one piece. Anxiously, Jude waited to speak with her dear friend. The chaos following the palace, focused on protecting herself and Anifaire from danger had soaked up the majority of her energy. The quick escape and flight from the Three Crown’s gruesome sight was eventually all recorded in her logbook. The group together once more was her anchor, Jude as she was held on for life.

The campsite was settled quickly, tired feet left boots behind, bedrolls were rolled out, fires started with hot meals on the way for the hungry bellies. What supplies they had to spare, rationing with the expectation for a long haul crossing out of Hammerfell living out of the back of a wagon.

Judena stood on the edge of a cooking fire looking around expectantly, claws clacking together hoping to spot the familiar pony tail of Daro’Vasora.

Daro’Vasora was busy carefully turning over a roast of sheep flank in the flames that someone else had started, and the smell of dry-cured and salted meat began to fill her nostrils with an intoxicating scent. She looked up and saw Judena looking around by the fire past the flank, and the Khajiit stood up suddenly, revealing herself to the Argonian. “Boo.” She said with a wide grin, walking around the fire to her friend. “I’ve missed you, so much it physically hurt.” she admitted, suddenly throwing her arms around Judena, her chin resting on her shoulder as she pulled the Argonian elder in closer. “You were so brave coming for me. I don’t know how to repay that.”

Judena turned to the sound of her voice, hands dropping to her side to receive Daro’Vasora, she wrapped about the Khajiit, pressing her head against hers squeezing her eyes shut as she embraced her friend feeling a long arduous relief wash over her, finally. It was real, there was no gap in thought. They held the embrace for several moments, Jude’s heart bursting with emotions from joy, relief, pride and ultimately love.

“I am-” She sniffed, tears welled in her eyes. “I am so happy to see you, Daro’Vasora.” Quietly speaking over her head.

The lump formed in the back of her throat trying to speak through a sob, “I was worried from the pits of my soul.” Kneeling down she pulled away hesitantly to look her over, see for her own eyes how she really was. “Please, please do not do that again. You are bound to give this old lizard a horrible heartache.” Smiling in spite of her tears, she dabbed away at her cheeks with her sleeve.

Daro’Vasora took Judena’s hand in her own, placing another gingerly on top of it with a slight upturn of a smile on her face, her eyes starting to water a bit. “You know, I wasn’t planning on that particular misadventure. The room and catering were fine, but the service was lousy.” she chuckled, shaking her head. “I thought I was going to die, doing what I felt was the right thing. They wanted me to bend to their will, to be a mouthpiece calling for unity with them. I couldn’t, and even though your lives were on the line, I was going to denounce them all, knowing that I may never see any of you again.” She said quietly, sniffing and blinking water out from her vision.

“One thing I kept thinking of over and over is how unfair it would be to you, for me to so selfishly martyr myself. You’d go through each and every day losing me again and again, and that hurt me worse than anything I’ve felt in so long. Judena,” Daro’Vasora said, gazing into Judena’s eyes. “You’re my family. Out of everyone in my life, you’re someone I never really put into perspective how much that means to me. Realizing there might be a time where you aren’t in my life, well… it’s something I couldn’t bear without letting you know that I love you like you’re my own flesh and blood.”

Judena knew in heart that it simply wasn’t within Daro’Vasora’s nature to bend to the will of another, not break her principle. How close she was to losing her, renewing a fresh wave of tears. Rubbing a thumb under Sora’s eye, she smiled so gently, “There are so very few constants in our lives, Daro’Vasora. There has not been a time where I imagined us here, surviving and fighting for our lives as we have.” She began, “I love you too, my dear and precious friend Daro’Vasora. You have changed so much since Jerell Mountains,” squeezing her hand back, “Truly grown within the depths of your heart and outward.”

She grinned in turn with a chuckle, “Oblivious as I am, I do take notice. Sly, cunning and words sharp as a dagger you have stepped up from who you were before but have not lost anything. Only gained.” Jude said looking to Latro and a few others like Shakti, Meg, and Jaraleet from where they were. Turning back to Sora she said with a nod, “I will stick by you as long as you will have me.”

The words struck like a hammer to an anvil, forging something beautiful. “I… thank you, Judena.” the Khajiit smiled, leaning into her hand that brushed her tears away. “I’m going to be by your side, until I finally go to the Sands Behind the Stars. Do you think I’ve really changed that much?” she asked quietly, following her gaze to the others. “Seems to me that most everyone’s pissed at me for the choices I made on their behalf, and I just feel tired, like I’ve been running for leagues without a breather. I led you all to Gilane, and that worked out so well.” she remarked, a caustic tinge to her tone as her eyes narrowed into slits and her ears pulled back.

Nodding Judena said as she stood back up looking in the direction where they left Gilane behind. “You cannot see into the future, Gilane offered gifts with one hand and took away with the other. There is no simple blame to to be had except for the constant source of our conflict.”

“The Dwemer.” She said sourly. Referring to their group with a small but certain sigh, “They can certainly be upset but they can do so with their lives, you have made time to make amends. That is what is important, Daro’Vasora.” Judena crossed her arms, holding up a single finger tapping against Sora’s chest. “Enough time can change anything.”

“And I will deal with the Dwemer, if I’m half as clever as I think I am.” Daro’Vasora sighed, deflating somewhat. “A part of me feels this path is one I need to walk on my own without dragging anyone else into the jaws of Oblivion with me.” she looked at the finger against her chest. “Do… you think I was wrong, to accept Sevari and Zaveed’s proposal? After everything they’ve done to us?”

Judena pressed her lips in thought, humming. Reconciling how she felt about the pair of Khajiit, Sevari brought Latro back to them and now they served a purpose to retrieve Alim from prison. It stirred conflict within Jude, hearing properly of the horrors they visited upon them made her curl her lip in disgust. Clearly their loyalties lied with themselves and no longer with the Dwemer. It was a mixed bag of awful and worse.

Truthfully she answered, “I do not know, they are a means to an end. I know one thing that a single individual can change given the right push.” Scrunching her face with a frown, “I do not like them, they remind me of the discomfort Durant seemed to flex while around us as a group. For a time it felt light now there is a similar weight once more.”

“I quite specifically dislike what Zavert had done to you. It is wrong what they had done.”

“I hope that their divorce from the Dwemeri have spurred some change,” she commented, “Enough to tolerate them for what needs to be done.”

That forced a smile to Daro’Vasora’s face. She tried not to be amused by Judena’s frequent butchering of names, especially when the topic at hand was so grim. It helped distract from her rubbing the place where Zaveed had kicked her arm so hard it snapped. “Well, that makes two of us. But I look around, we have supplies for the journey, a place to put our heads down, food and drink. They say they’re going to rescue Sirine’s brother, and I don’t know what to make of her.” Daro’Vasora admitted. “I just… a part of me feels like they’re meant to come along for this, despite our animosity. I know Latro was hurt when he felt Sevari betrayed him. I just see the two of them, and I think of home, La’Shuni. What if Leyawiin is overrun by the Dominion? After everything that’s happened, why do I feel like I’m one of the few people who is in a position to actually make a difference? It’s not somewhere I want to be.”

“Yet you are here.” Jude replied simply, her smile returning gazing down at Sora. “You act and have stepped into Rhea’s position. Uniquely yours to do something even if you do not know what it is quite yet.”

“I would not doubt the unspoken truth that lies with you.” She said gaze shifting down, she pulled free her logbook referring to it. “There is something you should know . . . I-” Taking a deep breath in she said, “I told the others of what happened, in Jerell Mountains. I could not withhold the truth any longer, the news of your kidnapping had pushed the flood waters past the banks.”

That nearly stopped Daro’Vasora’s heart, her eyes widened and her ears flattened as she glanced around nervously. “Excuse me, what the fuck?” the Khajiit exclaimed in a whispering hiss. Not out of anger towards Judena, but rather out of fear of retaliation or what those who hadn’t been there would have done. “Jude, we can’t… no. Why?” she pleaded. “Is it not enough we’re trying to make things right without giving everyone every reason to hate us?”

She stopped Sora, with a curt tone, “Before we decided to group together and rescue you.This guilt is not for us to bury any longer,” Searching her eyes she clasped her hands, “Do you understand? They decided to help despite knowing the truth.”

“They do not hate us.”

“We destroyed their lives, Judena.” the Khajiit whispered, looking crestfallen. The guilt ate away at her heart and soul. “We walked away from that terrible night unscathed and so many others paid the price. I lost Zegol. I might have lost my family… all because I didn’t stop her.”

“Neither did the rest of us try and stop, it was an unknown future or a sure death.” Judena said her voice softened yet firm, firm in her belief having the time to think long and hard about the guilt she felt, evidenced by her logs. Reflection lifting the heavy chain of survivor’s guilt one by one. A burden she knew existed over each of their heads. “It is not fair to ask for help while we withhold the truth. I see the guilt I feel within you right now, it is time to let it go.”

Frowning sadly she squeezed Sora’s hands. “Please, Daro’Vasora what is past is past.”

The Khajiit closed her eyes, shaking her head. “The past is what’s keeping me going forward. Why I’ve taken this burden upon myself, why I’ll throw myself into danger time and time again to set things right. I can’t excuse the things we’ve done, that it was our ignorance that lost us the Imperial City, Zegol, Skingrad… it all happened because of us. If a merchant does not secure his cargo and it falls off and crushes a child, is it not the merchant’s fault? Should he not be held accountable for his actions?” Daro’Vasora asked. “I can’t change the past, Judena, but I’m not going to forget my part in it until I set things right again. I can’t bring the dead back to life, or give people their homes back. I think that’s why Rhea tried so hard to protect each and every one of us, even if it cost the rest of the world so dearly. She wanted to make amends for her decision, and in the end, she died for it.”

Judena nodded in understanding, “We will make it right, there is no forgetting but it is time to move on openly with our companions. It will be difficult but it will be better, we all stand on the same ground.”

“We may very well die while trying. . . I suppose that is the price we pay.” Jude replied.

“Maybe you’re right,” Daro’Vasora agreed, crossing her arms. “I’m no stranger to being hated. I’ll just have to keep pushing forward with what I think is right; Rhea tried to make everyone love her, that didn’t go very well.”

She sighed, moving to sit by the riverbank. “What of you, Judena? How have you been? I’ve been so caught up in my own self-pity I never considered how all of this has been for you.”

Judena joined her putting the logbook aside, “Guilt, frustration, sadness it bubbles up occasionally. There have been plenty of distractions, spots of hope and good things.” Removing the necklace and holding her wedding band in her palm, observing it, running her thumb over the ruby. “The turbulence of our safety shifts as quickly as the sandy dunes, I have been trying to enjoy the temporary stability when it happens.”

Smiling after a moment she said, “The good often outweighs the awful.”

The Khajiit sighed, slumping forward to rest on her knees. “I wish I could say I didn’t understand. It’s been a trying time for us all.” She said, looking at the wedding band with a pang of remorse. She was quiet for a few moments. “Judena…” she began, “Have you given more thought to those letters?”

She shook her head. “I have not. I have continued to procrastinate.” Slipping the necklace back into her shirt where she gave it pat. “I do not know how reliable I will be if I subject myself to something that will surely reopen old old hurts.”

“I am not as sure as I was back in Anvil to read them.” Judena replied truthfully.

“We may not have the luxury of time anymore, Judena. You should make peace with yourself, find out what those letters contain. I will be there for you, for good and bad. This I swear.” Daro’Vasora promised, taking the Argonian be the arm and resting her head against Judena’s shoulder.

She fell silent for a moment, not sure how to broach what was on her mind. Eventually, the words found their way out, barely above a whisper. “I may have found a way to heal your damaged mind.”

Eyes widening briefly before she settled her head against Sora’s, her heartbeat picking up rapidly before it slowed, “A way does not exist, Daro’Vasora. I thank you for trying but such a thing is not within a healer’s hands nor our understanding of medicine.”

Judena sighed calming her excitement. “I wish there was.”

“There is.” Daro’Vasora said, squeezing her arm. “At least, I hope there is. When I was a guest of the Governor, I arrived with a broken arm by the swine Zaveed, and within three days, their medicine had healed the fracture like it had never happened. I asked about something for repairing damaged brains, and there was something they did have, but there’s a lot of uncertainty about it.” Daro’Vasora explained. “When you all came to save me, that’s why I went to the medical wing, to get that medicine, for you. I don’t know how it works yet, or if it will work, but if there’s even a fraction of a chance it will let you form new memories again and you no longer need to depend on your journals… I want to try.”

Judena sat up straight staring at her, her heartbeat picking up in pace once more feeling her chest tightening at the idea. Hope, uncertainty, desperation crossing through her expression. Whispering, “T-truly?”

“Per-perhaps a way does exist? We should consult Raelynn, in case. . .It has adverse effects.” Judena tried and failed to calm herself her hopes climbing faster than she could reasonably convince herself to relax. It would help and return her to some semblance of functional. There was as much chance for it to make it all worse.

Daro’Vasora gripped the Argonian’s hand with urgency. “I didn’t want to say anything until I knew for sure, but if I can find out how this works, and if it can help you, I will do it. I can read Dwemeris, I stole a tome describing different medicines that I will be studying as much as I can. But I want you to know, there’s risk involved. It’s impossible to know what the effect will be, but…” she allowed herself a hopeful smile. “This is why I want this to be your own choice. I just wanted you to know there’s a hope, perhaps a small one, but a hope nevertheless.”

“I will take it.”

Resolve washing through her Judena repeated herself with more conviction, “I will take the risk. Time will no longer be a luxury we may afford as you said.”

“I want so badly to wake up and remember again.” Tears welling up over her eyes once more.

Suddenly, the Khajiit threw her arms around Judena, embracing her tight. “You have given me so much, I can never begin to repay it. I meant it when I said you are family to me, ever since the day you looked at me and admired me for my accomplishments without scoffing at my youth or my race, you always looked out for me, respected me, shown me that you care. Let me try and repay even a tiny bit of the kindness you’ve shown me.” Daro’Vasora said. “I love you, Judena. I will never give up on you or leave you to struggle alone ever again.”

Sniffling out a short reply, “I love you, too. You have done the same for me, I never forgot your patience one of the few things that stuck with me over the years. You are a rare sort, my friend.”

Judena rocked them back and forth in their embrace, holding the other until the tears dissipated. Judena’s heart swelling with emotion, making her fingers tingle and igniting a warmth in her chest.

Leaning away smiling brilliantly down at Sora. “Love is such a wonderful thing.”

“Ain’t it just?” The Khajiit replied, looking up to meet Judena’s gaze. “Thank you, I feel like we’re doing the right thing, all of this, I mean. We’re going to make everything right again.”

She looked back at the sheep flank, and her eyes widened. “Oh, shit.” Daro’Vasora exclaimed suddenly. “Apparently everything but dinner!” she said with an embarrassed laugh, rushing over to the now smoldering meat. “Think people will notice if it’s… generously overcooked?”

“Charred meat would make for a fantastic stew,” Judena offered with a laugh drying her eyes with her sleeve.
<Snipped quote by DearTrickster>

A satyr that isn't sex obsessed? What blasphemy is this?

Edit: Also, those two things aren't mutually exclusive. ;)

Odette isn't gonna have sex with a satyr you-you weirdo...!

@DearTrickster: That was the most well-behaved satyr I have ever seen. If I were Odette, I would have run in the opposite direction.

He was more interested in ruining her day instead of getting in her pants lmao.
Made a new playlist for White Witch and The Ambassador~

Born with a Void - White Witch and Ambassador Playlist - Spotify
Charlie's anniversary post will be arriving in a few days closer to the deadline. Instead of the past we are looking into the future...!

Time: 10 Years Ago - November
Location: Paris, France

The wooden vanity’s paint was chipped, a dulled mint green. The mirror scratched from being moved one too many times by careless hands, wreathed around the mirror was blooming red roses with a string of little white lights giving life to the old piece of furniture. Removing a pair of earrings in the reflection was Odette Favre, humming as she was winding down for the evening having completed her routine full body stretches. Still dressed in her leotards, sharp clear lines of a large tattoo visible on her back depicting that of a Yew Tree, a tattoo she received a fair amount of complaints from her ballet mistress, Madame Renavand. Long mousey blonde hair released from a tight bun, shook loose and free falling down past her shoulder blades.

She moved onto the little mason jar of homemade makeup remover cotton balls, removing the day’s foundation and eyeliner, rubbing away the mascara. Just behind her in the small bedroom was Bach sitting on the edge of her bed, chin in his hand.

It is your birthday tomorrow.” He said in Common Fey, they had been practicing the language in conversations. Odette groaned as she heard what he said, taking a few extra moments to translate in her mind.

Yes, tomorrow is a day of. . .” She stumbled, “Anniversary?

Almost.” He replied in French. “Birthday is not a word that necessarily exists for Faerie.” Patient, gently chiding. “What is your birthday wish, My Lady?

She returned to her vanity, responding in a light breezy fashion, “Not to hear another faerie word for the entire day.” Sticking out her tongue at Bach in the reflection her smile infectious. “I haven’t thought of what I want. Your gifts are always what I need.

He nodded, “Indeed, but I thought this year we could celebrate somewhere special.” Picking up the hairbrush and beginning to brush through her hair, her favourite by far and the most beautiful thing to be found on her vanity. Soft natural bristles, the paddle was a heavy silver enchanted to detangle gently. A spell she worked on for weeks to cast correctly. Her vanity was organized by rubber bands, old glassware and ziplock bags her makeup collection scrounged on savings.

Where in Paris have we not already gone?” Odette asked patting away at her lip, removing lipstick.

You must think beyond the city limits, My Lady.” He replied. “We are going to open a portal to Faerie, it is time you have seen them for your own eyes.

Odette’s mouth popped open in surprise quickly turning into a brilliant smile. “Oh! Are you serious?” She hopped up and gave him a hug squeezing tightly under his arms she stopped short leaning away to speak, realisation overcoming her. “If I make a portal it’ll mean I’ll be spending my birthday in bed asleep. I’m getting better but I-I’m still drained after making one.

He smiled brushing hair out of her face as he spoke, affectionately, “That is why we will go tonight and awake tomorrow to enjoy the day fully.

Her smile returned in full force she let him go and went into her tiny closet to change from her leotards to her clothing, black leggings and a skirt with an old pink sports jacket, run down sneakers and a t-shirt with the iconic albeit faded picture of the sugar plum fairy with the date of the production printed beneath it. She packed a small bag with her pyjamas. Zipping around the room gathering what she would need, Bach chuckled at her enthusiasm. She quickly mussed her hair into place bending over in the mirror, standing back upright ready to go right then and there.

We’ll have to sneak out, your parents are still awake.

Too easy.” She said.

Bach shrunk down landing on her shoulder, nodding. Odette opened her door slowly, having oiled the hinges for the exact purpose to sneak out quietly. Tristan and Perenelle Favre often too absorbed in their work to really notice her moving around but their ears were sharp when they heard movement in the small apartment.

Carefully following the steps she had done dozens of times before, avoiding the telltale creaks in the floorboards gracefully. Ballet dancers being the very definition of light on their feet, Odette was no exception. She passed by their makeshift study and office, they turned one of the storage spaces into a private area away from the living room and kitchen. Stacked along the walls were banker boxes filled with research materials, samples, and paper. The door was cracked open and light spilled out into the darkened hallway.

They hardly left the study all day, Odette could tell as much when the saran wrapped dinner plates in the fridge hadn’t been touched. As she snuck past she overheard them talking.

“What day is it today?” She heard her mother ask.

Her father hummed in thought checking his calendar, “The 14th-”

“Ah! It is our little swan’s birthday tomorrow, Tristan. We have all this data to go through yet. . . and our deadline is coming up by the end of the week.” Odette made a face at the nickname. “What should we do?”

“We’ll have to finish cataloguing the samples before we even think about her birthday, did you pick up a cake?” He asked.

Her mother sighed, “No, I thought you did.”

Together they sighed and together they resounded, “Tomorrow.”

Perenelle said firmly, “Tomorrow we’ll do something special.”

An all too familiar promise, Odette knew they would likely forget. Their forgetful nature and focus stopped hurting her feelings years ago when there was nothing to do to change their work ethic. She frowned moving on after they continued to chatter about what they were working on.

Bach whispered, “Worry not My Lady, I would never forget.

Odette smiled appreciatively at his sentiment, whispering back when she reached the front door, “You never forget anything.” Slowly unlocking the door, the latch always the loudest in her ears. She waited for a beat then pulled open the door to slide through to the other side using her key to lock the door.

Safely outside the door, she walked fast down the hallway, the carpet was worn down and thin, light fixtures filled with dead bugs. She went down double time the cement stairs, nearly skipping with excitement Bach held on the best he could. Dashing past mousetraps, dusty steps and even a couple other tenants who she said a quick Bonjour! to as she passed them.

She dashed out the door and onto the street, her neighbourhood was thankfully out of the general scope and eye of tourism but for the very same reason it was a pain to commute to the Opera House every day. Charonne wasn’t a terrible place to be raised in, it was old much like most districts of Paris and they lived in the shadow of Saint-Jean-Basco’s Catholic church, literally.

Odette went at a fast paced walk, heading for the cemetery.

When they arrived they took a sharp right turn down the rows of tombstones. Having been there plenty of times before to practice her newly acquainted magical abilities. The youthful sorceress plopped her backpack to the ground, Bach resumed his original size. The pair alone except for the odd will-o-wisp guiding souls through the darkness, crossing over the graves.

Stepping behind her, his hands resting on her shoulders. Odette began to concentrate, shutting out all thoughts of her day, of her excitement and the chilling November air rustling her hair. He whispered in her ear where they were going, what to picture and encouraged her to use their connection to find it.

Grand et beau flot d'âmes, ordonne-moi de voyager, dis-moi la sécurité, dis-moi tes plus grands cadeaux à la vie. Tu ne veux pas venir à moi volontairement? Ouvre-toi, ouvre-toi à la volonté d'Odette Fave. Proche de ma volonté comme Odette Favre.

She spoke knowingly, proudly having written the incantation herself to call out to the Arcane Stream.

Wispy tips of magic formed around her fingertips, she repeated the incantation for nearly an hour before the stream began to split, welcoming her and rewarding her for her diligence. Sweat dripped from her chin, blood dripped from her nose as the door began to form, her arms shook with exhaustion. As the door neared completion she dropped to her knees when the shiny golden knob appeared as a finished portal.

Come now, My Lady. You must keep your eyes open to close the door, we are almost there.” He lifted under her armpits, slinging her over his shoulder to carry. Opening the door to the faerie realms. She laboured to close the door behind them, groping at the handle. A firm grip, Bach moved them to close the door.

On the other side of the door they stepped into a beautiful meadow, flowers in bloom surrounded by foliage and trees. The portal disappeared, nighttime embraced them. Little lights emanating from sprites danced into her blurry eyes, she focused on the tiny fey having never seen so many in one place before. Pushing herself up with some difficulty she peered around, using Bach as a crutch. “Très belle.

Behind them was a magnificent, old, Yew tree. Bach carried her to the entrance of the tree, his palm pressed against the bark he spoke in a strange language, different from Common Fey, “It has been some time, my friend.

The door opened of it’s own volition. Bach carried his apprentice inside, the hallowed tree had meagre comforts - a bed made of leaves and base cotton. A basin made of polished wood jutted out of the wall, dry. A wicker basket meant for fruit, other food as well - it sat empty by the bed.

He pulled a cloth free from his lapel and dabbed her face dry. “Sleep, My Lady. You are in Faerie now.

Her eyelids grew heavier and she fell asleep.

Awaking to the sound of a light bell ringing, sunlight creeping up over the window sill, Odette pushed up from the bed rubbing at her eye remembering where she was, digging into her pack she grabbed some food from home and ate diligently looking through the window out into the meadow. Short distance away from the door she burst through, colour was everywhere, the air was sweet as was the sight. Odette slipped out of her shoes, flexing her toes in the grass. It was everything she dreamed it to be.

Odette saw Bach in the meadow dancing as he did, music greeted her. She shrugged off her jacket big blue eyes wide with wonder. Tears gathered at her eyes, unable to hold back any longer.

Happy Birthday, My Lady.

He took her hand and they danced in circles, skipping from one foot to the next. Smiling endlessly, carefree. Sprites and Seelie alike came attracted by the laughter and song joining them. No form, Odette danced as she felt, little brownies danced uptop toadstools, earth sprites spun in the air their crowns of dandelions and spindly wooden arms and legs moving with grace.

When collapsing for a break, Odette stared up into the blue sky huffing as she took a break. Bach laid down beside her, began weaving in and out of a story dropping in phrases of common fey but translating shortly after. The story of a mortal woman who married a noble faery prince, finding paradise as she discovered the world behind the veil.

I’ll never regret this, Bach.” She said finally as the moments of quiet after he finished his story. “I’ll never regret this life you’ve given me, my friend.

Bach smiled, squinting up at the sky. “I could not ask a better human to spend a few decades with than you.” He said, “It will not be easy to bring the Fair Folk back to Earth.

Odette nodded solemnly, “I made a deal and I don’t break it. We need allies to make a big portal and I need to be a better spell caster.

He perked up proudly at that, “I do not say it enough but you have come along so quickly in six months.

She grinned, “Better than any that have tried before?

The best perhaps.” He replied matching her grin.

They fell into a comfortable silence after a snicker.

She sat back up and earthy sprites gathered at the crown of her head, whispering in common fey, Odette didn’t feel confident enough to respond but listened to them talk. They wondered who they were, intrigued by her mortality and began to play through her hair tickling her scalp. The day stretched into the evening, passing by the sun a giant stag walked with the sunset. Nibbling at some of the food she packed Odette took a seat by the giant glowing blue toadstool that Bach erected. She wondered idly how anyone would want to return to the city when everything felt perfect as it was here.

She yawned, at the edge of the meadow she saw a small stature of a figure none of the fey that joined them that day resembled the stocky profile. “I’m just going to stretch my legs.” She said to Bach and he waved continuing his story.

Tracking over through the field to the edge the figure did not budge when she approached. Looking over her shoulder to Bach, feeling a bit of confidence to approach a faerie on her own. Remembering everything she was taught, manners mattered. The light from his pipe illuminated his face and closer now Odette recognized him as a Faun, short stocky pair of hairy goat legs and a human torso standing at least two heads shorter than Odette. His horns easily added an extra foot to his height, ears pointed but relaxed. His hair was long, thick curly hair and what little light could afford to see to Odette was a light chestnut brown. Small flowers lingered in the strands. His chin a little rough with some facial hair, thin lips and mischief clear as day in his dark eyes. Whatever he smoked lingered in the air around them and left bitter notes. She attempted to greet him in Common Fey, “Good morning.

“You’d be right if it was in fact, morning.” The Satyr said dryly, looking up at the sky and shrugging, he spoke in French fluently to Odette’s surprise. “Clearly you need some work.”

I am working on it,” She replied defensively. “It’s not an easy language, how do you know how to speak French?

The Faun laughed, “Earthen elves aren’t the only masters of language, keeping secrets as they do.”

Odette looked over her shoulder at Bach, “They keep more than that.

He stared at her, his gaze withering almost making Odette look away but she held her eye contact. “What do you want-

He cut her off, “What did you mean when you said you would never regret this life given to you?”

Caught off guard by the question, she took a moment to think. “I meant I’ll never regret my experiences with the Fair Folk and magic.

“A novice spellcaster but also naive, completely expected for apparently a human considered to be an adult as of today if I heard correctly.” He replied sauntering closer to the meadow, Odette stepped away giving him more space than needed. “I won’t hurt you, I simply want you to use your big dumb brain to apply some critical thought.”

Odette frowned, “Critical thought to what?

“To your mentor, I know Bach of the Yew. You are not his first apprentice, do you know what happened to the others?” He asked dark beady eyes burrowing into Odette.

They died.” She said, smirking taking that as a win. “I trust him, he warned me what to expect and the others that have come before.

The Satyr bowed his head conceding, “What makes you special to stand above others that came before?”

Odette thought for a few moments, deciding to word her answer carefully - Fauns were often wordy tricksters in their own right. Conversations were games as much as they were pranks, often sources of embarrassment for whoever decided to talk to them. “My ambition, it surpassed others by leaps and bounds.

He laughed heartily not expecting her answer. “Then you will fit right in, Little Swan.”

Odette froze at the nickname the colour draining from her face. Fear prickled at the back of her scalp and water inevitably gathered at her eyes.

The Faun rounded to her side looking up as he smoked, “With such a pretty face you will be coveted in Courts despite your filthy mortality, you will never own your portals. You may stumble over your words, where your feet are sure.”

Blowing smoke into her face, she scrunched it waving at it. Eyes watering over, dribbling down her cheek - unbidden. She had lost.

“Don’t cry instead imagine it, tangled up in the games, the webs, and the limbs.” He continued, taking immense satisfaction. “But- you will always have one thing to your name.”

Odette looked to him, silent - expectant to finish his thought.

“You will have your ambition.” He smiled chewing at the end of the pipe’s stem.

In that moment Bach was at her side, “Come, My Lady. Pay the grump of a goat no mind.

Gently leading her back into the meadow, The Faun waved, “Happy Birthday, consider our conversation my gift.”

Turning away Odette wiped at her eye with her shoulder.

I want to go home.” She said finally after a few steps.

Bach turned to look at the Yew, his home. “Yes, My Lady.

With some guidance from Bach, Odette summoned a portal once more - exhaustion inevitably taking her as she stepped through the portal to her bedroom out through the closet. Checking the time and day, they had only been gone from Earth for the night and the morning sun came up again. Odette staggered to her door, seeing the light from her parent’s study still on and their voices as well. None the wiser for her time away. Exhaustion pulled but her thoughts with the words of the Faun lingered like the smoke from his pipe.

Much like the smoke, it left her a little bitter.

Familiar Faces

Time: Noon, One Month Ago
Location: Location: Hudson Valley Wyrd – Hudson Valley, New York

A familiar jingle to the tune of a well aged tv show came Marie’s call, it was time to move on and visit the Red Devil. While Mandate and Odette together had time and virtue to catch up properly. Leisurely they made their way back to where Odette was originally dropped off, Mandate resuming her disguise as a plain but passably tall human with two dull brown eyes that rarely blinked. Unsettling if one were to stare.

Mandate adjusted her weight considerably for the vehicle and managed to squeeze in the front passenger seat while Marie and Odette were in the back.

Puck’s vague warnings, I am sure he will elaborate in person.” Odette remarked sarcastically. “Let us get on with it.

Marie gave Mandate a once over, never having fully experienced her glamoured form. She held a strange presence, something Marie might expect from a being such as a golem. She batted away the thought and turned to Odette.

”Agreed. It’ll take a few minutes to drive up to the valley, I can use the time to fill you in. The Hudson Valley Wyrd are a fairly old coven, German lineage for the most part. Aside from maybe the witching families in Vegas, they’re one of the largest I’ve seen. Followers of Frau Holda, mostly. Their coven holds one of the few permanent doors to The Red Devil. Puck closed all the temporary ones with the onset of the Hound attacks.”

Marie turned away and directed the driver, who had made the mistake of taking a major highway instead of the residential street she’d requested. Once they were back on track, Marie continued.

”We should expect a fair amount of traffic both in the Hudson Valley and The Red Devil. Plenty of witches, fey, and others were displaced in the Hound attacks.”

I have heard all about The Red Devil but never personally entered. Illustrious melting pot for locals and riff raff.” Odette commented, “The Hudson Valley Wyrd must have some strong ties to Puck as well to have a permanent portal, I wonder why. . . Puck has had his hooks in America for a long time.

Odette glanced Marie’s way, “What did Uncle Puck have to say about your new ties?

Marie shifted in her seat.

”Not nearly as much as I’d hoped. He says he pieced it together after your meeting and that he didn’t want to interfere with me finding out on my own. And when I asked him if he were . . . my uncle, he didn’t say anything, just that he’d explain everything when we next met.”

Marie shook her head. It was in Puck’s nature to be vague, he couldn’t help it. She expected as much from every interaction, but it didn’t stop her from becoming annoyed when his cryptic warnings and portents involved Gwyneth.

”And I suspect he has an invested interest in the Hudson Wyrd because of their gifts in divination. He told me a while ago that Frau Holda had greater vision than his own. The witches there were able to piece together quite a few details before my first arrival. Maybe they trade information.”

Odette turned her lip at that, “Perhaps. If what they have is valuable I have plenty to trade physically, information as well. You know how I feel about divination, whether it is from Puck or a coven it will be frustrating.

I much rather deal with the present and fresh information than of what may happen.” She waved her hand at the idea. “What did you have in mind to ask for insight on? Mab?

Marie shook her head. ”Nothing in particular, although anything they provide would be a boon to us. The Witch Mother has as great an interest in these witches as Puck, and acting on her behalf should grant us something in return; it has with every other coven I’ve met so far. Maybe they’ll let me speak to Frau Holda again, she said something interesting when I was there last. ‘We are kindred spirits.’ I keep hearing that. I’d almost forgotten about it until the spirit of The Land in Salem said the same thing. What could that mean?”

She looked to Odette for inspiration, hoping her time among the fey and their ilk would conjure some modicum of a clue about their crypticism. Her experience with witches and their patrons was scant, true, but their relation to the fey was not so distant.

Similar origins? Family roots? Spirit is free form to the Fair Folk. While mortals,” She pressed a hand to her chest, “Are anchored. Faerie form in spirit and return to it once they ‘die’.

She used air quotes around die, “Which is not death as we see it. Bach has had some experience in following spirit, passing interest. Kindred Spirit could be referring to faerie bloodline, perhaps others who are in touch with their ancestry can see it in others like yourself. Having ‘sight’ can be opened beyond seeing fey. Once you have eyes to see, you can learn to see more.

Crossing her leg, “Or it could have been a comment that you held similar fashion choices.

Marie laughed. ”I doubt it, it’s been a while since I mounted a stag head on my body but anything’s possible.”

It was something to think on, and perhaps it was as simple as Marie’s faery lineage, but something told her that there was more to it, answers to questions that she had yet to ask.

Their conversation brought them into the Hudson Valley, passing over a bridge into a thicket of forest showing the first hint of autumnal decay. Marie saw Holt in the distance positioned next to a familiar figure, an elderly woman in robes hunched over on a cane. The car stopped just shy of the entrance to the Wyrd’s domain, obscured by an exceptionally powerful enchantment.

”Finally here,” she announced, stepping out of the car once it had fully stopped and retrieving her bags from the trunk.

The elderly woman, features hidden behind dark robes, beckoned to Marie and Odette, bidding them follow an inconspicuous dirt path woven between trees in a sporadic pattern. “Good to see you again, White Witch,” she commented as they walked, tapping on the trunks of trees and whistling discordant melodies along the way. “Same to you, miss Ambassador. There are a few among us who’ve studied your work, spoken to the Fair Folk who’ve crossed our paths. Always a treat to meet a cunning individual such as yourself.”

Odette raised her brow, “A pleasure to meet you as well. . . I was not aware that others studied my actions across the atlantic or took notice.” She felt a mix of intrigue, a shed of pride.

I cannot be surprised however, my activity as of late in Las Vegas was bound to receive some attention.” She said.

“Indeed,” replied the old woman, stopping in a clearing surrounded in birch trees. She whistled, waiting to hear the trees respond, then uttered a word under her breath. In an instant, the veil was lifted, revealing the Hudson Valley Wyrd in all its splendor. The dirt path turned to cobbled walkways and gravel streets, trees become stout hovels and tall cottages of impressive design, inspired by colonial and medieval architecture, and the central statue of Frau Holda stood high above them, a distaff in one hand and a scythe in the other, offerings at her feet, fresh bread, cream, wheat, plates of cured meats and berries, beer, coins, and others.

Marie’s assumption was correct, the wyrd had been visited by a number of stray practitioners, witch or otherwise, looking for a safe haven in the wake of the Hound attacks. She also noted the presence of several invisible creatures, faeries, familiars, anything incorporeal. They lingered at the edge of her vision, some bowing if they noticed her staring, others hissing in contempt. Odette saw them as well, seeing the various fey some native only to the Americas, hearing various languages being muttered amongst the spirits.

“As you can see,” the elderly matron spoke up, “we have had our fair share of visitors as of late. Fortunately, we foresaw such an event when first we settled in the area and chose our enchantments carefully. Had we known, however, the magnitude of this affront, we might have shared our work with our fallen brothers and sisters. You know the fate of the Adessi coven, I presume?”

Marie nodded, presenting the pouch of tokens. ”That’s part of the reason we came. Genevieve Lachance sends her regards on behalf of the Witch Mother. They’ve performed a ritual and blessed these tokens with some form of protection meant for you and the other covens she’s visited.”

“Yes, your familiar explained it to me moments ago. We thank you for this service, White Witch, and would happily offer you and your friend whatever is within our power to offer.”

Merci beaucoup. An intriguing offer but we hope to gain access to the portal to The Red Devil, please.” Odette said, the chance at a clearer reading into her future tempted The Ambassador fiercely while it also distressed her. Smile strained she turned to Marie, “White Witch and I have some business to attend to.

“Of course, follow the path up to that circle of stones, there you’ll find the door. But there is one more thing, a message from Frau Holda, something she whispered to me only this morning. ‘Within the mother’s fertile womb lies the answer, seek change where chaos is born, transform, restore, or destroy. The choice is yours’. I believe that portent is meant for the both of you, although I cannot decipher its meaning. I assumed you would know when presented.”

She took the tokens from Marie and made her way through the crowded wyrd, disappearing from view.

Marie shook her head. ”I have no idea what that means. I’m guessing it has something to do with our current goal, but it’s not much to go on.”

I do not either, Puck’s prophecy referred to a womb as well.” Gripping the strap of her purse, “There must be some link. Not for us to know as of right now.” She commented turning to head toward the portal, muttering. “’The choice is yours.’

Time: Noon, One Month Ago
Location: Lost Haven, Maine

Breakfast eaten, showered and dressed for another day, together Madalena and Charlie made their way into the city back to The Shadow of the Moon Jules giving them a ride back. Once they arrived Charlie bent down by the driver window to say thanks and Jules gave her a look as cold as ice.

“Text me.” She said.

Charlie nodded, no arguing. “Yes ma’am.

Jules nodded then her icy expression melted away waving at Maddi, cheerfully she said, “It was so nice to meet you! Take care, you’re welcome by the Corner whenever you like.”

Turning away Charlie was dressed similarly to how she was the day before, clean set of clothes opting to keep the kevlar arm pads and shin pads she improvised with some alterations. Her hair tied into their twin braids, hood down and goggles around her neck and staff in hand. While it was supposed to be a chill day to relax, Charlie felt decidedly naked without pockets full of salt and a water bottle full of rubbing alcohol on her belt.

Madalena waved to Jules a little overenthusiastically, rustling through her pockets to locate the key to Shadow of the Moon. Compared to Charlie, Madalena looked much more civilian, dressed simply, if not a little formal, in slim, black slacks, heeled sandals, a black v-neck, and a red blazer that complimented her hair. Slung around her shoulder was an oversized duffel filled with tools of the trade, along with Puck’s journal, files on the Witchfinder General, and Lady Hex’s attire.

”Honestly, I think I’ll be happy when I can open the shop up again. It’s been a week since I’ve had time to restock and organize the shelves, and I think my rent is late too . . . wait, no, I paid it, nevermind.” She rambled as she unlocked the store, walking along a few empty displays and pointing at unused floor and wall space. Madalena directed Charlie’s attention to the office and the meditation room behind the counter, a space she would soon be converting into a workroom for her future experiments. Along the same wall, barely visible from the front of the store, was the storage room, whose door held a painting of a dark forest and a tall, lightly illuminated being in the canopy’s shadow.

If you need help to set back up again just let me know.” Charlie offered before laying eyes on the illustration. “Puck is alright, but he still looks like he stepped out of the darkest corners of humanity’s nightmares. . .

She gulped, “Respectfully.

They probably serve a pretty kickass pint of beer.” She added. “So what do we gotta do? I still have his card.” She pulled out the little red business card turning it about between her fingers.

Open Sesame?

Madalena chuckled. ”Not quite, and actually that card is a little outdated. Before the whole Hounds and Witchfinder nonsense, anyone who knew how could open a door to The Red Devil. But Puck thought that might be dangerous considering, so now only what few permanent doors he’s put here and there will give you access. The closest one is in New York, well, was in New York. He told me how to make one.”

Madalena removed the painting from the door, revealing the ashen symbol of an imp within a circle of thorns, accompanied by a phrase interwoven in the circle, etched in another strange, arcane script.

”All you do is knock three times and read the inscription. OH! And don’t worry yourself too much with Puck. He’s a little intimidating, I admit, but from what I can tell, he’s not one of those immortal beings that demand constant respect. His reputation revolves around him being a trickster, a little fun at his expense kinda comes with the territory.”

Madalena moved the painting to the side, balancing it against the wall beneath a dusty tapestry, something she’d removed from display because of the moth holes at the bottom.

”Has your Granddad told you anything about The Red Devil before? Seems like he’s a regular.” Madalena asked as she prepared to open the door.

Charlie shook her head a hand trailing over the surface, “He said it’s invite only, a little jealous he wants to take Harry there for her 21st. We just went to a regular bar for mine. He also said he’d come ‘round for birthdays and anniversaries, whenever another alchemist needed help. He just never went into detail, you know? Always promising it was something to be seen with your own eyes.” She said removing her hand and stepping back. “For all the time I’ve spent crawling around in Lost Haven’s gutters and exploring it’s abandoned areas I never really got to see what else it was hiding.

There was always something else to do.” She said.

Madalena smiled. ”Then today’s your lucky day. Your Granddad was right, it really is something you need to see yourself.” Maddi turned, knocking three times on the door with a slight pause between each, speaking clearly and with intent the phrase Wild, Wicked, and Wretched be.

Puck’s symbol glowed with unearthly light, like dying embers roused to life. The door swung open, revealing a world completely separate to their own, one filled with idle chatter in alien tongues, otherworldly laughter that sent chills down their spines, smells like poison, expensive alcohol, berries, musk, and the sea, and table after wicker table of Fair men and women, shades, demons of different makes, shapes and sizes, witches and magical practitioners you couldn’t tell apart by looks alone, but to some each had a distinct smell or aura that spoke to the origin of their power.

It was as if they had traveled through time, into a storybook. On every wall, illustrations of a shadowy figure loomed. Behind the bar, stocked with almost anything one’s heart could desire, was a greenish imp mixing away. In the corners of the room were stands and displays where wayward merchants of this world and the next sold all manner of strange concoctions and trinkets, with Puck’s blessing of course. Chandeliers like twisted vines and sticks held candles that provided the perfect amount of dark ambiance to an already ethereal room. And just opposite a spiral staircase, parallel to the bar, a massive stage were a band of faeries and devils played strange music, dwarfed by a crystalline mirror that hung in the background.

”Welcome to The Red Devil.” Madalena said to Charlie, gesturing for her to walk ahead and take everything in.

Eyes widening like a pair of dinner plates her gape slowly grew into a large grin, looking left and right. The sight of the tavern marvelled Charlie to no end, never truly seeing so much of the magic folk and community in one spot. They were completely right, it was impossible to describe.

This is amazing.

She blinked looking to Maddi now, “This is fucking awesome.

Rolling her staff in her hands in anticipation. “Feels kinda like going to university for the first time but 100 times cooler and less debt.

”Well, less immediate debt. I’ve heard some horror stories on people who come through and don’t deliver on contracts they have with Puck, but those aren’t too common.”

”Indeed,” a voice echoed through the tavern, jumping off walls, emanating from shadows, collecting into a mass that sauntered down the spiral staircase over to Charlie and Madalena. ”I always collect on my debts, but fear not, dearest alchemist, I am usually a saint.”

Puck strolled past the bar, slender claws clutching a glass of whiskey from the impish bartender and downing it before finding himself in front of the pair, standing much taller than the two of them, not including the ashen antlers that added an extra two feet.

”I see you have found one another, as intended.” he grinned, taking Madalena’s hand, kneeling closing, and kissing it. ”A marvelous display of power last night, Lady Hex. I observed your progress from afar. That storm could put quite a few Welsh witches to shame. Well done.”

Madalena blushed, happy to hear, for the second time that day, how her work had been admired.

Charlie elbowed her with a grin, appreciating Puck’s entrance not coming from behind them. It took no small amount of imagination to think of a few various ways debt was collected. “Thanks for sending her my way, we made a pretty awesome team. It’s nice having someone at my back.” She said sincerely, her voice softening. “Seriously, thank you.

The nearest patrons looked on with interest now, unabashedly listening curiosity winning out over their manners. One such patron was the hunched profile of clearly elderly man, he kept his back turned sipping on his mulled wine, ponytail of greyed hair tied high and pockets full of carbondust, listening.

We did more than just that though.” Charlie said.

”She’s right,” Madalena added, removing the folder from a side compartment on her duffel bag. ”We took advantage of the chaos outside the Hound base and managed to pull a file on,” she lowered her voice, ”you know who. It has a list of known associates, contact information on suppliers, cities where the Court is stationed, and the General’s operations over the past five months. We’ve got him, and with the Hounds out of commission, he’ll be scrambling to regain numbers.”

Puck’s grin grew wider, but his eyes looked grim. ”A wonderful development in our plans, truly, but I must advise caution. Until the General and his subordinates lie cold in the ground or have their foul heads severed and left to rot on spikes, we cannot underestimate them. It was our hubris that saw their eventual return. But do not mistake my words as cause for immediate concern. You have earned an evening’s rest, from this task at least. Leave me these documents and I will draft our next course of action.”

Madalena nodded, handing Puck the folder without hesitation.

”Has the General contacted you in light of earlier proceedings? I have been informed by a . . . let’s call her an associate, that Phoebus is dead, and fortunately, there were a few casualties on the opposite side.”

”He sent a text early this morning, told us he’d be in touch. Not much else.”

Unconsciously, Charlie rubbed at her neck imagining the thought of severed heads eyes flicking up at Puck then back down at the ground, “You got it. A day off then back to work.

A momentary pause before she grinned, “What’s on tap?

Puck grinned, waltzing behind the bar and pulling down a few choice selections.

”My dear, anything your heart desires. Every shelf is top shelf, you need but pick your poison, as they say. I pride myself on selection. Perhaps a fine red from an Italian monastery that burned down in 1325, or cider from a brewery said to be run by the goddess Idunn, keeper of the apples. I also have absinthe imported from Faerie, if you have more eclectic tastes.”

Charlie rubbed her chin thinking of something far out, she just wanted a beer but when was the next time she’d get to taste something a divine orchard? “I’d like to try that Indunn cider please.

Taking an empty seat at the bar, Charlie smiled at Maddi for her to take the vacant seat beside her. The wood was polished to a beautiful sheen, the chairs leather padded seats. The patrons nearby who had been listening on shuffled behind Charlie, to both sides down the bar the questions began.

“Hey, you kids were at Sherman last night?” One asked.

Another patron commented, “We saw you on tv.”

“That storm knocked the news helicopter around.”

“What about that bat? It was huge!”

Charlie grinned, blushing. “Yeah, that was us.

Maddi and Charlie both received pats on their backs, various thank you’s, offers to buy them their next round of drinks.

Down the line the elderly man, sour faced huffed as he pushed away from the bar moving away from the revelry.

The sickly-skinned imp poured Charlie a glass, sliding across the bar before turning to Madalena, who shook her head, uninterested in a drink.

”About taking on contracts,” Madalena said, looking up at Puck, adjacent to Charlie and Maddi.

”Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Puck interrupted. ”You have yet to complete the task given to you last night. The offer yet stands, but I cannot, in good faith, entrust a contract to you until your trial ends in success, nor can I offer any further insight on the matter. It wouldn’t be much of a test if I gave you all the answers, would it?”

Madalena sighed and shook her head. ”No, I didn’t think so. Well we’re close, should be done in another day with how effectively we work, right Charlie?’

Charlie laughed, “Soundin’ real familiar right now.” Taking a sip of the cider, “Easily another day and we’ll be done.” She agreed, confidently.

The cider was dry and on the secondary sip it felt like her taste buds exploded with the flavour, causing her to cough into her fist. Skeptically looking at the glass, “Okay, I gotta know what’s in this.

Unbeknownst to the newly annointed pair, at the door appeared a trio of with similar purpose to The Alchemyst and Lady Hex, paying the The Red Devil’s Proprietor a visit. The Ambassador stood at the entrance removing her sunglasses, smoothing down the length of her white dress eyes taking in the opulent sight.

Odette’s eye passed over the patrons, over the stage - Bach whispered the song and seemed to know it as his foot began to tap to the beat jumping from her shoulder down to the ground shooting up to his full size. He immediately recognized someone and went to say hello a strangely small group of sprites sitting at an appropriately sized table. The decor, ambience, the cozy yet elegant design was simply beautiful. Eyes found Puck next, nodding a smile that did not reach her eyes. Behind Odette came the impressively large form of Mandate, sans her enchantment. Floorboards creaked, red cyclopean eye taking in the new sights with her visible ‘v’ shaped smile. She shuffled the best she could beside the door frame instructed to stay at the entrance.

This is certainly far more than what I imagined.” She said.

”Right, it’s your first time here,” Marie replied, leading Odette down a row of tables to the bar, ”well here it is, The Red Devil, my home away from home for almost two years. I’d actually started to miss it. How does it suit you?”

Odette’s hand trailed along a polished table, “I can see why it is a popular spot for various creatures and practitioners. I like it.” She pointed, “It does not seem we have very far to go to find Monsieur Goodfellow.

It would be rude not to say hello.

Puck looked up from the bar, sighting two more familiar faces. He excused himself from his current guests, sauntering over to Marie and Odette.

”How fortuitous,” his hollow voice bounced off tables, echoing even among the crowded speech of the tavern’s patrons. ”Marie, Lady Ambassador, welcome.” he bowed.

”You’ve arrived much sooner than expected. Did the Hudson Wyrd not offer any additional insight into your unique predicaments?”

Marie glared at him, arms folded. ”A vague warning, if it was a warning. You said you’d have answers for us, so please stop giving us the runaround and tell us what we need to know.”

”Marie,” Holt spoke up, jumping onto her shoulder in the form of an ethereal raven. ”calm yourself.”

Answering his question in turn, while she had little patience for Puck himself she could hardly ignore the proper greeting, “Bonjour, Monsieur Goodfellow. The Hudson Wyrd gave us a warm welcome and a little insight. Neither of us have had time to fully consider quite yet. We should continue in private preferably.” touching Marie’s other shoulder.

Charlie’s eyes tracked curiously to who Puck spoke to, the newest patrons fashionable and looking at the very least uptight. What did catch her attention was the massive tower of mercury at the door, elbowing Maddi she pointed, “Check out the huge golem.

Charlie caught the red cyclopean eye, the weight of Mandate’s attention on her now. It immediately unsettled the alchemist, chilling down her spine and sending off warning signals instincts drawing conclusions before she was aware. She shifted in her seat breaking eye contact, Mandate’s eye continued to burrow into her back.

Madalena turned to the doorway, eying the impressive golem. She’d read a little about their creation from some Kabbalistic texts Puck kept in his office, but she didn’t understand the theory enough to attempt magic of that caliber. Her eyes trailed over to Puck, curious to see who was occupying his attention. Madalena almost overlooked her, but a second glance confirmed her suspicions.

”Marie?” she called out, jumping off the barstool and speeding over to Puck, dodging pushed out chairs and patrons. ”Marie, it’s you right?” her voice picked up, peeking from behind Puck to find Marie Heartford standing, arms crossed, eyes wide.

”M-Madalena?” Marie stuttered, mouth agape. Before she could let out another sound, Madalena rushed forward, wrapping Marie in a tight embrace that nearly knocked the wind out of her. Marie searched for an explanation, in shock of her rather mundane friend’s presence in The Red Devil of all places.

”What are you doing here?”

”Ah yes,” Puck interjected, placing a hand proudly on Madalena’s right shoulder. ”I mentioned a new witch in service to The Red Devil. This is she, Madalena Hawthorne.”

”Or Lady Hex,” Madalena excitedly trailed his comment, ”I’d been looking for an excuse to use that name and I finally got my chance. Isn’t it exciting, Marie?”

Marie remained stunned, mouth agape, silent.

Charlie came up beside Maddi holding her drink and pointing to Marie, “Who’s this? Name’s Charlie, er I mean Alchemyst.” Charlie introduced herself, hand out to Marie.

Some of the patrons laughed behind her, “Seriously kid?”

Charlie ignored them. “Whichever is fine.

The Ambassador ran a skeptical eye up and down both Madelana and Charlie. Keeping her hands folded as Charlie offered hers, making no move to shake it. The casual introduction, shabbily dressed pair drew some quick conclusions for the sorceress, “I presume you know one another. Do you need a moment, Marie?

Marie took Charlie’s hand, looking between she, Madalena, and Puck.

”So you work here now?” Marie questioned Madalena, who nodded in response with a wide grin. Marie turned to Puck.

”You’re unbelievable, you know that.” Marie said in frustration, ”I can’t believe you would go behind my back and recruit one of my friends, wait, actually I can believe it and it’s just as ridiculous. What were you thinking?”

Odette grinned behind her hand, ready to watch the argument about to unfold.

”You, my dear, were unavailable. I needed someone to head my efforts against The Winter Court, and our good Lady Hex was a perfect fit. You recommended her to me, lest you had forgotten.”

”No,” she quickly rebutted, ”no I did not. I mentioned her, in passing, after her store was robbed a couple months ago. That doesn’t give you the right to pull her into your mess and-”

”Her is right here,” Madalena interrupted, moving closer to Marie. ”and I thought you would be happy for me, why are you so upset? I wasn’t forced into anything.”

Charlie frowned about to jump to Maddi’s defence, Marie responded.

Marie sighed, taking Madalena’s hand. ”I’m . . . I’m not mad or unhappy for you, Madalena, I’m just surprised. I mean, I never knew this was something you wanted to be a part of.”

”Are you kidding? Marie, ever since I found out about The White Witch, I became even more interested in all of this. Real, genuine magic, traditional witchcraft. You inspired me to keep studying, made me want to practice. If this wasn’t what I wanted, I wouldn’t have signed Puck’s contract.”

Marie took another moment. She looked into Madalena’s eyes and saw the fire, the freedom that she’d felt the first time she met the Bucca as a child, the ecstasy she’d felt among the witches of Lost Haven, of El Paso, of Salem. Finally, she smiled.

”Then . . . welcome to the club, I guess.” she conceded, pulling Madalena in for a another hug.

You’re the White Witch? Shit, I remember reading about you in the news and hearing your name among the big metas. They still don’t take us seriously but whatever right? Bigger fish to fry like the Winter Court.” Charlie said her frown disappearing.

Odette couldn’t hide her upturned lip of disgust at the alchemist’s language. “Witch Hunters masquerading under the name of the Winter Court is despicable as were the Hounds.

As… lovely as this little reunion is we have business to attend to.

Charlie made a face at the sorceress, “Chill out, what’s the hurry?

Odette levelled an icy gaze onto the alchemist and Charlie met it without flinching.

”As much as I want to catch up,” Marie spoke up, diffusing a tense situation, ”the Ambassador of the Fair Folk and I do need to speak with Puck. It’s a long story and I’d love to fill you in, especially now that you’re involved. Raincheck?”

Madalena nodded. ”I’m holding you to that,” she replied, patting Marie’s shoulder before returning to her place at the bar. Charlie followed after squinting at their backs but let it go as she returned to her drink.
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