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Here u go. Can I move her over right away?
Did someone say......... PC Villainy fights...?

Time: The Next Day
Location: The Seine, Paris

David smiled to himself as he pocketed his wallet, his arrangement with the staff in charge finalized and walked back outside.

He had arrived somewhat earlier than was warranted, if only to ensure that everything would turn out perfectly. At first, he’d just intended to mess around a little with the Ambassador. Play a little game, maybe even steal something of hers as a memento, and have a good laugh all around. There was no real motive beyond the fact that he could, and of course, if he found something beyond her civilian identity to use against her down the line, well… all the better.

After the previous night, however… messing with her simply wasn’t enough. He couldn’t quite place his finger on what it was about her that made him feel so compelled to attempt to seduce her. Perhaps it was beating her at her own clever little game, allowing her to think herself victorious to make his own triumph that much sweeter. Perhaps he was charmed by her little façade, and was truly curious to take a peek behind the curtain once she thought the dance was over, so to speak. In truth, there were many ifs, buts and maybes surrounding this little venture of his, but one thing was certain: it was going to be a lot of fun to see it through.

‘Le Calife’* was a gorgeous thing: built in 1939, it had originally served as a cargo carrying barge in Belgium. Its current owner, however, had reconverted it into a moving restaurant that carried people in a magical dining experience across the Seine, passing through a multitude of Paris’ most emblematic locations.

Besides offering a unique perspective of the ‘City of Lights’ (the irony of which was not lost on the Avatar of Darkness), the boat itself was a thing of marvel. From the 300 year old Buddha that served as its nautical figurehead, to the 1800s stained glass that gave way to the city from the inside of its panoramic dining room, to the copper bar, the exquisite woodwork, the myriad of little details that had been put into it… it was practically a love letter to devotion itself; a walk through the past as they looked into the present and beyond. Indeed, the thief could hardly imagine a more romantic setting for their first date.

Most of the night’s guests had already boarded, the anticipation almost palpable in the air. David, however, waited patiently upon the docks, even as the time to set off drew ever closer. He wore a custom fitting, three piece suit of the darkest grey, coupled with a pair of emblematic black oxfords. An impeccable white shirt and a perfectly straight handkerchief to match combined with the colours nicely, and completing the ensemble was a fine tie of the same colour as his suit, with a pleasant, grainy texture, and a couple of exquisite cufflinks, where a number of small, rare black diamonds had been encrusted into an obsidian frame, describing together a complex yet uniform pattern: discreet yet extremely eye-catching once noticed.

David looked down at his silver watch. Just about as fancy and minimalistic as everything he was wearing, its black dial and strap complementing the outfit perfectly. Not as pleasing, however, was the time on display. Where the hell was she?

"Monsieur? I’m afraid we must be leaving soon. The Captain does not abide waiting for anyone,” one of the staff members called out, in hopes of getting him inside.

There are still five minutes left before departure,” he rebutted, “And frankly, whilst I appreciate this city’s commitment to punctuality, the next time someone charges me a fortune and then lectures me about my own, they are going to find one of my very English oxfords up their very french butts. Understood?”

The man swallowed as David set his pale, blue eyes upon him, suddenly feeling very uncomfortable: his anxiety not dissimilar to when he found himself alone in a pitch-black room. He nodded, and proceeded to mind his own business, nervously checking the time.

Purposefully, letting the clock run to the last minute, a slick polished town car pulled up close along the docks. The suited driver jumped out of his seat to open the door for his passenger. A shiny enamel black pump stepped out of the vehicle first, while the driver offered his hand to help her stand out of the car. Taking it out of formality, Odette’s bob of blue hair appeared over the door stepping carefully around. Shoulders straight, a smile poised - as if the time really didn’t matter. Red, classic red lips, sharp black eyeliner with a touch of light-catching champagne eyeshadow on her eyelids. Her little black dress another classic choice, the dress was backless - the shoulders were connected with a little bowtied material tied just below the back of her neck, it’s short shoulder sleeves cut close with high neck and high waist. Her back tattoo was on full display, skin without a single scar. A pair of solid gold ball studs were in her ears, a small pearlescent gold necklace hung around her clavicle.

In her hand was a small black leather Prada clutch, enchanted with space to store a few emergency supplies. Not one to go anywhere without some backup, thanking her driver - she sauntered over to the docks seeing David Blackwood waiting for her. The first date she had been on in quite some time, with a night of a little preparation, she was on the playing field. There was frustratingly no information on David anywhere to be found, scouring through her friend groups - and social circles. Asking other dancers, critics, even reporters if they had seen or heard of him before. Nobody, except the few patrons who had been around him the night they met.

One thing was very clear after meeting David, he had orchestrated it. They were similar in that way, Odette remembered the nights she cased out potential partners by their social media profiles, dating histories and word of mouth. It was all fantastic practice becoming exactly what they wanted. It was theatre, emotional manipulation, and how far she could go before her unwitting lover realized they were apart of a game.

And yet, amidst everything she had to focus on - smuggling for the Syndicate, negotiating and treating the faerie in Paris, daily hours put into ballet. . . There was no distraction quite like a gentleman, especially when he insisted on treating her to a boat ride down the Seine. The barge itself was the picture of what tourists dreamed of when they thought of Paris. Beautiful, old, and romantic. It was a fantastic illusion.

As for illusions, she resolved to pick at the threads to unravel David Blackwood’s handsome and charming visage. Getting under someone’s skin, especially someone like David required a few tricks.

The heels gave her an extra few centimeters where she was now eye level in height with David, equal ground. Offering her hand for him to take she greeted him with a tender cadence, “Bonsoir, Monsieur Blackwood. Thank you for inviting me to dinner tonight, I’m sure this will be a treat for even a local such as myself.

She gestured to the barge, “Shall we?

David took her hand in his own, once again raising it to his lips, the irritation in his features gone, his glaucous blue eyes smiling at her as he did so. “The pleasure is all mine, Mademoiselle Favre,” he greeted her, stepping aside and raising a hand in the boat’s direction, “Please, after you.

A staff member greeted them as they entered, showing them into the panoramic dining area known as ‘the Winter Garden.’ Their table rested right in the middle of the dining room, next to one of the stained glasses. It was just starting to get dark outside, and a set of four, medium-sized inverted dome lamps lit up, their stained-glass covers depicting colourful flowers separated by a metal rim.

Once seated, David donned an easy-going smile, a mysterious quality to it as he regarded her. The waiter produced a long, tube-nosed lighter, attempting to light the candle that stood dead center between them.

The thief allowed this to go on for several moments, an amused look as he rested his chin on his fist, the man’s frustration growing with each attempt as the light simply went out every time.

“My apologies, this is most strange. We always use fresh lighters at the beginning of every evening… If you’ll just give me a moment…”

It is no bother, mon ami, David replied in his perfect French, producing a small, platinum-plated lighter which produced a small filament of deep purple plasma as he lit it up, it’s look and sound not unlike a taser. He’d quickly found bunsen and plasma lighters were about the only thing that allowed him to keep up his smoking habit.

The waiter raised a brow, nodding in compliance as he gave them a pair of open menus. Before he left, David raised a hand, We’ll have a bottle of your best pinot noir wine, si vous plait. If you have something from the Coast of Nights villages, that would be excellent.

The man nodded knowingly, “I know just the one.”

David nodded, pleased, then went back to regarding his date, unabashedly admiring the figure the black dress cut on her, his gaze slowly moving upwards -lingering a second or two on the crimson of her lips- before finally settling on the black ice blue of her eyes, piercing into him.

For a moment there, I wondered if you’d show up,” he confessed calmly, his smile widening ever so slightly, “Only for a moment.

She crossed her leg over her knee, watching as the waiter failed to light the candle thinking of how to respond to him, he left to retrieve their drinks her gaze drifted back to David, “I live to keep people on their toes, I am quite curious about you Monsieur Blackwood. I wanted to commend you in person for your research.” She tucked a few strands of hair behind her ear, “Your ‘guess’ on my preferred drink momentarily impressed me.

With one hand she fluttered at him, “Truthfully,” she lied, “That little fact alone would irritate most but it has resulted in dinner and an opportunity.

The lie being it didn’t irritate her.

Glancing over the menu, her foot gently swaying back and forth in thought. As all the guests were properly seated, the barge pulled away from the docks gently beginning its journey down the Seine. The soft light of twilight cast a romantic glow around them. In this light, anyone could truly be anything.

David’s right brow raised simultaneously with the left corner of his lips. “Mademoiselle, please. The implication is hurtful,” he feigned offense whilst clearly remaining amused, the fingertips on his right hand coming to rest mockingly above his heart. Ah, merci, he winked at the waiter as he returned with a rare (and very expensive) bottle of red, presenting it to them.

And what kind of opportunity do you suppose presents itself?” he asked as the man opened the bottle, proceeding to quickly open it and serve a small amount on David’s cup. He took it, swirled it for a moment as he smelled it, then drew a small sip, allowing it to linger in his tongue before swallowing, Excellent, thank you.

The waiter proceeded to fill their cups, leaving the bottle as he decided to return later for their orders.

Cradling the wine glass in the palm of her hand, she leaned into the back of her chair, again choosing to wait before drinking.

She replied simply, “To play.

You know what I like to drink, can’t let you go exposing all of my secrets.” She joked, taking a sip of the wine and having to stop herself from immediately making a noise of approval. It was good, another glance at the menu she saw duck, salmon, and steak. “Not without learning some of your own of course, what does a man who flashes money like it is his identification card do for work?

David smiled to himself, looking down at the menu: the question was not entirely unexpected.

Oh, you know, a bit of this, a bit of that. Whatever suits my fancy, really,” he shrugged slightly, deciding the steak was to his liking, “I started off as a consultant, mostly in legal and management fields. Eventually, I grew bored and started flipping real estate. Lots of passive income to be had. I also started a couple of companies of my own, which I sold off for a nice profit when the getting was good... What else... Venture capital, private equity, a healthy amount of stock market investment. Oh, yes, and I’ve been quite into art dealing lately. Although I would say it’s more of a hobby than an actual profession at this point.

Her eyes narrowed briefly, no specifics, no names, vague. She replied, “How interesting,” She kept her gaze on him, “I have dabbled in real estate, I own the building I live in. I started with nothing, now I have everything I could want.

What is that you want, Monsieur Blackwood if your work and hobbies do not sustain your attention for long? Frankly, I would be restless if I were in your position.” Settling her chin into her palm, casually prying as she did, “I always have something set in my sights to achieve.

That would possibly be the truest statement she’d express that evening, her ambition never let her rest. There was always someone else to win, a deal to broker, or another heart to break. He had money to throw around but surely he was throwing it at something in particular.

He smiled faintly, the pale of his eyes clashing against the intensity of her own as he broke his perfect posture, leaning forward slightly. “Oh, believe me, Mademoiselle Favre. There is always something that I want. My hunger knows no bounds.

The candle began flickering nervously, casting strange shadows over his handsome features, until the man finally leaned back.

Speaking of which, right now I want some steak. Have you decided yet?” he casually asked, closing the menu.

Her smile disappeared briefly in the flicker of the light, in another heartbeat it was back she blinked as she closed the menu, quietly she noted, “The guinea fowl, please.” Sipping again on her wine as she looked out the window to the view, seeing something in the shallows of the darkening water of the river.

I am famished. I had a few auditions earlier today,” She said absentmindedly while focusing on the water. Something was swimming alongside the barge. “Manon, the demi-soloist I am covering for is still too sick to perform for Midsummer.

Whatever it was, it wasn’t coming up for air - not yet.

And they’re still considering her, after your performance?” he raised a brow at this, his eyes trailing hers. He, for once, saw nothing out of the ordinary, “Your director’s an idiot. Regardless, I trust they went well,” he noted. It was not a wishful statement: simply a fact, as the man signaled their waiter that they were ready to ask, getting their orders out of the way swiftly.

The barge began passing at a convergence point: on one side, the ‘Palais de Challiot’s’ grandeur greeted them, whilst on the other side the magnificence of the famous Eiffel tower shined down upon them: literally, as it had grown dark and the structure had been lit up.

The ambiance in the room had grown more intimate as the sun had settled, a dark atmosphere that suited the thief just fine. “Your city’s beauty never ceases to astound me,” he commented as he took a small sip of his wine. However, despite the splendor around them, his eyes remained firmly fixed upon her.

Putting her glass down she laughed at his comment about the director, hiding it behind a hand. His heavy gaze would surely have set others squirming in their seats, but she found herself liking it. One thing was sure her date seemed genuinely pleased, more than pleased with her performance. Her ego inflated at that, looking up to the Eiffel Tower trying to see it as he must have, her city’s center where all roads met, “I have a memory from every point on the river, could tell you more than a tour guide has rehearsed. A real Parisian’s Paris is much different than what you can pay to see.

She pointed to the tower, “Parties, school trips, midnight trouble painting the town red, dates much like this one. Dares to climb to the top of the spire without being caught by security,” She sighed, unable to control the admiration - the bubbling nostalgia. “It’s beauty never wears away, even when she has many faces.

Wondering briefly if David would ever be prepared to see beyond what she would present. There was no way of telling, at least for now.

David actually chuckled at this. “I’m almost jealous. Sounds like you’ve had quite the exciting life here. Who knows, perhaps you and I can scale the tower some time, mhm?” he asked. Despite his general state of slight amusement, the man didn’t seem to be joking: if anything, he seemed a bit too eager, his imagination having flared. “Just… don’t tell my insurance company. My worth would plummet,” he winked at her.

I would, however, wait to make any assumptions regarding this date until it’s over,” he leaned back slightly on the comfortable chair, “If by the end of the night you still feel like you’ve been on dates ‘much like this one,’” he echoed, “I will conclude that I am not worthy of pursuing you further, and shan’t bother you anew.

How amicable of you.

She scrunched her nose as she smiled, teasing him, “Having only met you I already find it hard to believe you’d think yourself unworthy of anything.

Odette saw the waiters begin carrying silver platters with entrees and appetizers, she had failed to notice any significant amount of time that had passed since they placed their orders. It clearly had as the Eiffel Tower was long left in the background now. Time had slipped by her. The servers both placed their steaming entrees before them, offering freshly ground pepper - efficiently filling their glasses with water as quickly as they had come they bowed their heads and quietly said their bon appetit. Before her was a plate that could have easily been pulled from magazine pages, the smell alone made her stomach rumble.

She almost wished she was at home to eat this.

Pleasantly she smiled raising her glass of wine to David, “Bon appétit, David.

Bon appétit,” he echoed, the sound of glass hitting against glass filling the air.

Dinner was... well, wonderful, much to his chagrin. Unlike Odette, David had no qualms devouring his steak (with impeccable manners, naturally). However, most of the course they spent talking and enjoying each other’s company. David could not count the number of women he’d dated, from veritable bimbos to artists of renown and neuroscientists... but in the brief time he’d known her, none seemed quite as exciting as her. Perhaps it was the fact that she led a double life, just like him or the fact that he knew just how dangerous she was... but whatever it was, a part of his brain had to constantly remind him that he was playing a game here: every time she did that little thing with her nose and smiled, or took him somewhere else with an anecdote, or looked at him like she could chew him up and spit him out. Even when they engaged in a battle of wits -which was more often than not,- subtly quipping and counter-wisecracking, even when he cheated, she still managed to make him drop his guard ever so slightly. Something easily corrected, of course, but which should not have happened to begin with.

By the time their courses were retired, they had gone through most of the bottle of wine, and had made their first pass across the Invalides, the Grand Palais, the Assemblee Nationale and the Musée d’Orsay, and where slowly creeping up to the Louvre: a place he knew intimately. Despite all this, his notice of them was passing at best.

Failing to stifle another giggle behind her hand, she said, “If there comes a time when-” Eyes glided up to look out the windows but not before catching another set of eyes staring at them from across the dining area, she continued to look away up to the scenery pretending she hadn’t noticed them, changing what she was about to say, “. . .When someone knows that staring across the room is incredibly rude.” She chewed at the inside of her cheek.

She looked back to David, “Behind you there is a pair of strangers staring us down, I do not recognize them. I do not normally get accosted in public for ballet.

It is because I usually can cast a spell on them to ignore me., she thought, drumming her nails against the table.

David frowned slightly at this, looking back over to them. A dawning suspicion grew on him, the man shooting them an irritated look.

Well,” he turned back to look at her, his features softening into a pleasant smile, “This is kind of a high-end restaurant. Not the craziest place to find some of your fans. Don’t worry, though, I know just how to deal with them.

With that, he turned around again and flipped them off. This earned him a couple of wide eyes from a guest or two that caught the gesture, but the thief did not seem to mind terribly, as the quartet became rather flustered at all the attention they were suddenly receiving, looking away and muttering amongst themselves.

David smiled at her, although something in the back of his mind told him this wasn’t quite over. “See? Sometimes being the rudest person in the room is the best way to deal with undesirables,” he noted, taking a small sip from his glass. “Not that I’d want you to cultivate such a dreadful image of me,” he added, though there was a hint of playfulness in his eyes.

David,” She admonished without any heat, her frown melting away into a small laugh, “It seemed to work, this time.

Squinting at their backs before returning to David, “More wine?

Please,” he smiled, mildly happy he hadn’t completely blown it, “In fact, if you’ll excuse me, I’m afraid I must use the service. Why don’t you get us another bottle in the meantime? We still have another couple of hours before the cruise is over,” he asked as he stood up, neatly placing his napkin on the table.

As he passed her by, his hand idly caught a stray strand of blue hair, neatly tucking it behind her ear without actually ever touching her: mostly sleight of hand, coupled with a small measure of his power, almost imperceptible tendrils of darkness finishing the job for him. He smiled to himself: he was getting better.

And if his suspicions were right, some unfortunate folks were about to learn just how much.

She sat still as he nearly touched her, a hand curling around the hem of her dress. As he passed she turned in her seat to watch his back disappear, noticing a pair from the table that stared at them had gotten up to leave shortly after David had.

He never did quite make it to the bathroom, sneaking instead to the outside terraces. He was careful to make sure Odette did not see, but obvious enough that the nosy table would.

As expected, eventually two of the four ‘rude guests’ made it to the deck, which was fortunately vacated. The couple, a man and a woman, looked around for David, but he was nowhere to be seen.

“Where the hell did he...”

The woman was never able to finish her phrase as a pair of shadowy tentacles seemed to appear out of nowhere, covering both their mouths and effectively muffling all sound. Another four tendrils wrapped around their wrists, preventing them from moving their arms freely.

I am assuming since one of the ladies is hereafter I showed you the bird, you’re not just here to kick my ass for being a tad too cheeky,” David appeared behind them: his shadowplate might make him stealthier, but he did not need it for a good old disappearing act. The shadows twisted them around, forcing the pair to face him. “You’re Obscurati, are you not?

Both of them shot venom at him with their eyes. David sighed, and not being one to hurt a defenseless lady, he gave the man a low left hook, right in the kidney. His eyes widened, his knees buckled, but David’s shadowmancy wouldn’t let him fall to the ground.

You people have tested my patience far enough. Listen to me, and listen to me closely: I don’t have the Heart of Erebus anymore. It’s disappeared. Gone when it gave me these powers. And I am certainly not interested in making any deals with you lunatics,” he sighed, “At first I figured I would just vanish, make you give up. But I’m starting to see that is no longer an option. I don’t know how you’re tracking me, and frankly, whilst our little game of cat and mouse was amusing at first… now you’ve decided to meddle in my private life. That was a colossal mistake.

He began adjusting his suit. “Here’s what’s going to happen: I’m going to go back to enjoying my lovely date, and you two are going to enjoy a lovely swim in the Seine. Once you get out, you’re going to call your bosses and tell them to start running scared: Noir is bringing the war to them.

Their screams were never heard as the shadows flung them over the boat and dragged them inside the water. David waited for a few moments, keeping his concentration before finally releasing them. And with that, he went back inside: he’d figure out how to deal with the other two goons as he went. After all, the mark of a great thief was knowing how to improvise when things didn’t go according to plan.

I’m sorry I kept you waiting,” the man apologized as he returned to his seat, a small smile on his face, “I promise not to make a habit of it.

While David had been quite busy Odette received a few visitors of her own. She maintained a strained smile, a new bottle of wine sat on their table and her foot anxiously bounced under the table. To her left, noses pressed up against the windows spotty faces of three happy Selkies smiling toothily at their Ambassador. Waving and calling out to her in common fey for her ears and her ears only. With no way to tell them to go away, they carried on, oblivious to her apparent attempts to ignore them.

More selkies joined the other side, not before getting distracted by something in the water - pushing away from the windows to investigate.

The wine in the bottle sloshed as their presence moved the water to them and made waves splash against the barge. Forcing the captain to adjust course.

Welcome back.” she said, forcing her foot to settle on the ground, “I hope everything is alright?

Trying to focus on him instead of the Selkies.

Why wouldn’t I be? As far as I’m concerned, I am currently one of the luckiest men on earth,” he deflected, donning his best smile as he served her some more wine, trying not to look back at the other two. For all their crazy cultist talk, the Obscurati had so far been discreet in public. He’d just have to trust there hadn’t been a change in policy. Subtly, he attempted to change the subject, “I have to say, that’s quite the tattoo you have on your back. A yew tree?” he prodded.

Odette nodded, “Oui, you have a good eye. It is a yew tree. I have a special. . .” She searched for the right word in English, pursing her lips as she did, “L’attirance, a connection to the symbol of the Yew. I promised myself to only get one tattoo in my life, the hair,” She chuckled, “Is already pushing it for ballet while tattoos are frowned upon for dancers.

Glancing down at the table, away from the Selkies, “Deciding on a large, tasteful, depiction of a tree on my back was my way around the rules.

There are always loopholes,” she noted quietly, mostly to herself. Glancing back to the right, expecting to see the Selkies return - the window was vacant, she turned to the left and saw they were gone as well, something got their attention. Confusion writ on her expression.

Deep below the waters, the selkies were drawn by the thrashing of bodies trying to swim against the current with no real luck. They surrounded the man and woman, invisible to them especially in the darkened waters of the Seine. Rubbery hands gripped their legs tugging them underwater, wherein the darkness the faerie revealed themselves to the cultists. Their mouths opened, gaping happily at the cultists - greeting them with their teeth, touching their faces as they dragged them lower to the bottom of the river. Bubbles at the surface where the cultists disappeared, rapidly skimmed then slowly faded. Unseen, impossible to tell with no natural light, were blots of blood rising to the surface as the bubbles once had.

Descending from the shadows of the Louvre came the shrouded figure, witnessing the deaths in the only way she knew how to: by screeching into the night. Her wail ripped across the Seine, her pale face in agony as she sailed over the spot where the cultists were seen last. Her wailing persisting for a few minutes, piercing ears, chilling bones, signaling the sometimes abrupt end mortals face.

All the patrons aboard Le Calife carried on while Odette waited for the Banshee to complete her cry. Schooling her expression, however, what surprised her was David’s reaction.

He had been listening to her intently, trying (and failing) to remember any kind of symbolism that was particularly connected to the yew tree. He opened his mouth, about to spew a clever remark, as always.

Well, I think...” he paused, however, a frown drawing on his expression, nose burrowing, almost as if he’d caught wind of a bad smell.

His eyes suddenly widened, pain visible in his contorting features as he brought both hands up to his ears.

CHRIIIIIIIIST! What in the Devil’s name is that?!” he cried.

The dome lights began to violently flicker, and the candlelight between them went out entirely. A few patrons looked at him with concern, others at the lights above them. Odette’s expression clued him in: he had to be the only one who could hear it. He looked around, noticing no one else seemed to be affected. He even suspected some kind of sonic attack, but the two remaining Obscurati seemed as confused as everyone else.

Desperate, the man breathed in quickly through his nose. It was hard to concentrate, but fortunately, he’d always fared well under pressure: with a magnanimous effort, he created two small earplugs, pure darkness clogging them.

It took him a moment to compose himself: for the first time in a long time, he found himself at a loss for words, the room’s lights returning to normal.

I... I’m sorry,” he told her, although he could not hear himself speaking, a hint of a blush in his cheeks, “I truly don’t know what just came over me.

Staring at him, Odette only broke her eyes away to look at the lights then the candle. Her brow furrowed as the wailing began to fade, the barge continued to sail away from the deaths and banshee, she hadn’t known a banshee to effect the lights with her wail before. . .perhaps she had known the people that died and that was why it was different? David… he without a doubt heard her wail, but he hadn’t seen the selkies. Was he transitioning to see and hear them? The selkies were right in the window. . .She was confused, he had no idea what he just heard that much was clear by his reaction.

Monsieur Blackwood,” She began her tone shifting, the first question to naturally ask, “What exactly did you hear?

David could not hear a word she was saying, but fortunately, Swiss and the Quiet Man had taught him the art of reading lips during the early stages of his ‘career'.

I… I’m sure it was nothing,” he stuttered unconvincingly, “Perhaps I have a mild ear infection?

Now, that was perhaps the crappiest excuse he’d ever given, but all things considered, he was fresh out of ideas, having no actual idea of what had just transpired.

Odette stared for a moment longer then relaxed, would it be worth pursuing at risk of sounding paranoid or crazy herself? How could she explain hearing a banshee or describing what he may have heard as anything else beyond a strange occurrence. The occult was a sure way to ruin dinner, as were faerie in general. Her thumb drummed on the stem of the wine glass, the longer she thought the awkward air of silence grew between them. They needed a distraction. She’d have to let it go, for now.

Perhaps we can go for a walk?” Odette suggested, “Get some air?

She seemed to read his mind, and his smile was almost grateful as he stood from his seat. He doubted for a moment, steeling himself as he removed the shadow-plugs. His smile widened, relieved, upon seeing the horrific, excruciating cry had disappeared. His composure seemed to return to him as he straightened up, his smile growing enigmatic.

Actually, I think I have a better idea. Come with me, I have a little surprise for you,” he invited her, motioning towards their waiter and signalling towards the bottle and glasses, the man nodding in some sort of silent agreement between the two.

Another staff member pulled aside a red velvet cord from one of its black and brass posts, allowing them passage down a set of stairs, leading them down to a door. David opened it halfway, signaling with a hand for her to enter.

After you, Mademoiselle.

As soon as she would enter, she would be greeted by a beautiful, bending stairway, its golden railings leading down to an oval room. As they began to descend, the room slowly illuminated, spotlights shining down one by one on the cleared area to present an improvised ballroom. In the back sat a beautiful, 1879 Steinway piano, a lady in an elegant dress behind it, a small, string band sitting nearby. However, they remained mostly shrouded in darkness, as if to create the illusion that they were not entirely there.

Their first step on the dancefloor served as the cue for the band, which began to play a beautiful, slow waltz. David extended a hand to her.

Would you do me the honour?

The sight of the dancefloor warmed Odette to the core, the hesitation she had following him across the threshold down the stairs evaporated, the music brought a certain light to her eyes. When her eyes settled on David, inviting her to dance with him. She found herself having no doubt in his sincerity, placing her hand in his.

Oui, Monsieur.” She said softly.

As his hand closed around hers lifting it up while his other hand rested on her waist, easily the closest they had been all evening. Her free hand rested, informally, against his shoulder between their arms, Odette followed his lead, her gaze not leaving his own. The small bit of tension that had been present all evening began to bubble anew between them, as they stepped in time to the waltz, moving as one.

You know how to dance.” She stated, matter-of-factly.

David chuckled as they glided across the dancefloor. “That is high praise coming from you, Mademoiselle,” he seemed to thank her, “My family was rather keen on me being able to… adapt to any kind of social situation.

Why the hell was he talking about his family right now? And what perfume was that?

I did my best to show my discontent with it all, but I always secretly loved to dance,” he noted as he lifted his arm, his posture perfect as she gracefully twirled around beneath it, finally catching her as their bodies knelt in unison, “I even caught on to a few tricks of my own.

Pressed against his torso as they knelt she held her breath involuntarily, smoothly being brought back up to standing stepping in a circle together all in time to the music, responding as they danced, “Your secret love of dance is safe with me,” she said, stretching out their arms they stepped in unison once more in a circle holding each other’s hand, “Dancing for me is freedom.

With a slight tug Odette spun back into his arms once more, “Free to choose, free to express. . .” She leaned over his shoulder to whisper, “Freedom to simply be.

Is that what you want?” he whispered back, the volume of his voice matching her own.

Odette tilted her head, waiting for him to continue.

He held her close, eyes gazing deep into her own as he began leading into a particularly complicated set of steps for a waltz. Unsurprisingly, she had no trouble following him as they hovered above the wooden boards, their dance becoming almost something out of fantasy.

I believe you believe it is. Truly,” his words were soft, for her ears only, “And perhaps it is, in some small measure. But please, let’s be candid for a moment here... You want to choose? To express? You couldn’t care less what the world thinks about you. You just want them to think you do. And I know you want more than to simply be.

He raised his hand again, her dress floating as she began elegantly twirling around him, speaking in pace with her turns. “You want to know the unknowable. To control the uncontrollable. To triumph against the unbeatable. But it’s never enough, is it?” he asked as he caught her, “It’s never enough to truly feel.

For a moment, it was hard to discern whether he was talking about her, or himself. The music slowed down, and they took a step apart to perform a courtsey, signalling the end of the dance. He held onto her hand a second longer than was warranted, before bowing to her.

The music came to a stop, leaving a charged silence between the two. David proceeded to calmly remove his cufflinks, then his jacket, walking away to leave it aside, neatly folded. As he returned, he rolled up his sleeves, before looking towards the band and producing two, circular motion with his index finger pointing towards the ceiling. Understanding, they began playing a fiery bachata song.

He came close, but did not embrace her even as his hands got into position, waiting, almost challenging her to join him.

Knowing what pace he was about to set, Odette straightened her hair and stepped up. As if she’d shy away from something even if it was outside her normal wheelhouse.

She was the professional, afterall.

Placing her hands in his, she smiled then followed him once more into the steps. Knowingly he wrapped his arm around her torso, no space between them now. It felt as though they were hitting a carnal chorus line. Odette knew as he found his way beneath her skin, she had the same effect on him.

As they danced it became increasingly clear, there would be only one outcome for the evening.

The bachata called for loose hips, depending on David to balance her weight against himself, quick and decisively fluid steps. It was surely a complex movement but they made it look easy.

They no longer found themselves talking, yet their conversation carried on.

As the music picked up, their movements became more frenzied, yet at the same time, more intimate. An intuitive choreography where, no matter how much they twisted and turned, knelt and rebound, their bodies always found each other. He could barely think as her entirety arched in teasing motions; as he pressed his hands upon her belly, her shape moving in unison with his; as she threw her arms around his neck, her breath warm and inviting, red, truly red lips mere barely an inch away from his own.

The music died down and they stood like so for… well, he wasn’t quite sure. Sweat ran down their foreheads, their chests heaving together, their noses brushing against each other.

It took him all the willpower he had to take a step back, never really letting go of her. “Perhaps... perhaps we should get some air,” he suggested, a smile on his face as he tried, for once, not to make eye contact.

Gripping his shirt in a fist she held, finding her thoughts back on track counting her breaths as her heart had drummed on. Nodding against his forehead, pushing off from him slipping out of his hands, placing a hand over her chest. For a moment her thoughts weren’t with her, their dance was just a blur of movement. The pianist stood handing them cloth napkins, Odette dabbed carefully wary of her makeup. They climbed the stairs back up to the upper decks, where they could step outside. Walking at a leisurely pace, letting her hips sway.

Past the patrons, up the stairs to the viewing deck Odette and David arrived to the railings, looking out with a slight evening breeze greeting them. Odette fanned her face, taking a deep breath in through her nose. Letting the moment comfortably rest, as Paris slowly passed them by.

That was. . . exhilarating, Monsieur.” She began after some time, a certain glow warming her cheeks, turning to face him, “I-

Scrunching her nose with another smile, it was to her surprise - genuine, “I enjoy dancing with you. As we dance around with our words, secrets, and bodies. . .” Reaching up to caress his cheek, “You are right, I want more. I am never simply satisfied, but-

Grinning as her hand fell to his collar, she gripped the material - fire burning in her eyes, “I think you could for the night.

For a second, he was hers. The world, the beautiful city, everything seemed to dissipate around him as her nose scrunched, as her hand gently ran down his face, as she brought him closer... then he smiled.

The spell was broken, and she was right where he wanted her.

“Do not turn around. I have eyes on the target. They appear to be heading to the upper deck.”

Agent Wedge, or more accurately, Shadow Agent Wedge, nodded in understanding, taking a bite out of his flan. “I do not like this,” he idly commented, his voice low, “We still have no word from our ‘friends.’ Do you think he...?”

Agent Biggs shook her head. “It does not suit his profile. He’s quite happy to hurt, but he does not kill. Did quite a number on some of our boys last night, but no casualties,” she noted, taking a bite of her own brownie, “Amateurs.”

Wedge grimaced, “That is a bit of an understatement. Have you seen what he did to Commander Sven? Punched his jaw clean off.”

“He had literally just received his powers,” she countered, “And the way I hear it, the Commander did very little to fall in his good graces.”

“I still think we should just have the bastard shot from afar,” Wedge countered, frustrated, “Give me his location and a rifle and I...”

She shook her head again, clearly the superior officer. “It’s not that easy. The Heart of Erebus now resides within him. We need to extract the body or we could lose it again. Alive, preferably, so use the non-lethal rounds. Now finish your flan, he’s distracted, and won’t see the both of us coming if we flank him. It’s unlikely we’ll get a better chance.”

“What about the girl?” Wedge asked.

“What about her?” she shrugged, licking the last chocolate goodness of her spoon, “Seine’s as good a place as any to dump a body.”

Bollocks, he thought. Another of those Obscurati wankers, and at the most inconvenient time of all.

He brought Odette closer to him, his hand on the small of the back as he leaned in to whisper in her ear. His eyes, however, were on the man behind Odette, producing a gun.

My dear Odette,” he said, his concentration focused on producing inky tentacles out of the surrounding darkness, “One should be careful what they wish for... It’s like I said,” he continued, slowly, trying not to lose his concentration as a dark mass assaulted the man, twisting around his mouth and his gun hand. One of the dark tentacles began sharply snapping back, making the man smack himself with his own gun, once, twice, then a third strike that sent him careening over the railing, “One can never have too much of a good thing.

Hearing him speak her name, she tightened her hand over his arm. Over his shoulder, Odette saw the other darkly clad Obscurati, unbeknownst to her what she actually wanted, to Odette all she knew was that they had interrupted their dining experience. In French, she comfortably switched as if it was a matter of being able to express herself more accurately, but really it was to work in a few Words of Power to dispose of the woman.

Draping her arms over David’s shoulders, making eye contact with Agent Biggs Odette’s hands glowed light blue she spoke to David, “There is no denying the pull, pooling tension.

It was a water-based spell she had picked up from the fey, specifically Princess Lassantra. Mystic blue mist fell over Agent Biggs’ head, the colour drained from the woman’s face as the blood throughout her body was pulled into her chest. She clutched at her shirt stumbling, gripping the railing, gaping as she stared at Odette - horror etched into her expression. While the sorceress only smiled, tucking her chin against David’s shoulder. Releasing the spell closing her hand into a fist, the Selkies had returned, Odette gave a slight nod of approval. Happily, they pulled their final victim for the night into the river.

She leaned back, a hand at the nape of his neck, cold little blue wisps of light disappearing as her hand relaxed.

He furrowed his brows slightly at her choice of words. Perhaps he was a bit rustier than he thought? No, that was ridiculous. It was clearly some kind of local idiom he was unfamiliar with.

Besides, what did it matter? She wanted him… and she was far more than he had expected. Than he could’ve hoped for. She was maliciously smart, twistedly funny and painfully beautiful. He could almost feel the tension between them, energy crackling in their proximity. All the Gods in the Olympus be damned, he wanted her.

I will steal your heart,’ he thought to himself.

He then smiled at her, the back of his fingers caressing her cheek before cupping it, slowly sliding to the base of her neck.

Don’t say I never warned you,” he whispered, then leaned in as the hand on the small of her back brought her close against his body.

His kiss was soft yet deep, a conundrum in and of itself. The thief flavoured it, yet showed restraint, controlling his eagerness.

Passion, mystery, death, drama, and romance. Things Odette once believed impossible to achieve in a single night. As his lips found hers, she wanted to know more, pull back the layers and find the strange shrouded heart. Keep it for herself and herself alone, this fine, new - delicate thing she held in her arms.

Surely she was strong enough to prevent the past from repeating itself, surely her equal was out there man or woman. The only way to find them was to look, not only look but to see. She felt his restraint, the invitation. Breathing in deep from her nose, they naturally parted after a few moments held in suspended time.

Don’t hold back.” She breathed.

Heh,” he laughed under his breath, “If you only knew, my dear. If you only knew.

*This is a real place, yo. If you’re ever in Paris, treat yourself.
The next chapter for Hexes and Hoaxes should be done soonish! For those eagerly awaiting ;). @Crooked Knight

Location: Croll Corner - Lost Haven
Time: 1 Month Ago

Parting ways with Maddie and Marie once they had returned safely to The Shadow of the Moon, one parting glance at the Wyrd Trio surrounding Maddie. In her back pocket was the weighty alchemical key, there was a certain amount of pride knowing she solved such a massive puzzle. Charlie took a long way home, careful to watch her back for anyone trying to follow her. Exercising some caution.

Tracking along the side of Croll Corner she rounded the other side, passing by the garden using her key to unlock the door. Lights were on and she knew someone would be up right now, she hoped she’d catch her gramps before he shuffled off to bed.

I’m home!” She called out and shuffled out of her shoes, tapping her staff against the floor to hear a resounding tap from down in the basement against the floor. Cracking a smile she stepped down into the basement to see Nathanial smiling at her from his desk, a small bowl of cactus half done in front of him.

Taking out the alchemical key from her pocket she proudly showed him how it perfectly balanced on the tip of her finger, “I figured it out.

“Congratulations, Charlie. I knew you could puzzle it out.” Nathaniel said with a clap of his hands, crows feet crinkling, smiling brightly - always pleased for her success.

Dragging over a stool to sit by Nathaniel she put the key aside and began to gush, “Water! Immersed in water it reacted completely different than being tested with other liquid state elements. Nitrogen, mercury - none of it was doing anything! It was almost as hard to reset it back to its original state to restart the experiments with new angles. This was beyond tricky.

Nathaniel nodded, “As it was meant to be. It was designed to frustrate anyone for a long time but you did well to figure it out in a handful of days. Truly, Charlie, well done. Exactly what I would expect of my grandchildren.” Gently squeezing her hand, there was no mistaking the pride that shone in his eyes.

She grinned sheepishly, embarrassed he was laying it on so thick but it was exactly what she wanted to hear.

“We were worried, Charlie. That. . . You wouldn’t find something to focus on, we worried you’d spend the summer uninspired and restless trying to find your own path.” Nathaniel began Charlie listened, leaning forward, “We certainly do not approve of you picking fights with a witch-hunting group, helping Madalena and that - necromantic creature-”

Her name is Berry, Gramps.

“Of course, of course, sorry Char.” He shook his head, then nodded, “Berry, helping Berry find a safe place. You like helping people.”

“I don’t go outta my way, Gramps. They just kinda. . . Pop up and need help.” Charlie said with a shrug.

“You do help, kiddo. I’m proud of you, that’s all we can really hope for out of you kids - we can rest easy knowing you’ll do the right thing no matter what.” He said with a firm squeeze and pat across her knuckles, “Alchemy, family, the tradition it’s all apart of it - carving your name into the world, our name.”

She nodded seriously, it was important to her - living up to her name and making something out of herself. She felt a bubbling sense of pressure form in her gut, she didn’t shy away from it, she wanted to embrace it.

Yeah Gramps, I know. Won’t let you down.” The thought of her gut turned her back to what she wanted to talk to him all day about, “Hey Gramps, I’ve been feeling pretty weird lately.

“Have you been taking your daily vitamins and sleeping enough-”

Charlie shook her head, “No no, I’m not sick just I’ve been getting weird feelings every time some spooky shit happens.” She began, Nathaniel nodded along listening as he did, he began tinkering away at the bowl, “It’s like all my instincts are freaking out whenever something witchy or spirity happens around me. I get goosebumps, the works.

Squeezing her knuckles to pop, Charlie’s expression pulled into a frown, “I know as alchemists we’re connected to a variety of things but I’ve never felt this weird feeling so strongly before.

Nathaniel nodded along, bobbing his grey-haired head, “Have you seen anything?”

Just the odd spirit, I don’t really see it until it shows itself - but. . .I know it’s there.” She said hunching over the work table, “Do you see stuff, Gramps?

He frowned shaking his head, “I have a connection with my garden but spirits elude me.”

What about mom?

He shook his head, “She’s never mentioned seeing spirits.”

Scratching at some of the grain, “Is it just because of all the witchy stuff or do you think Puck did something?

“We are sensitive to a lot of different types of magic, Char. Generations of mixing with other practitioners from witches, diviners, mediums, clairvoyants, enchanters. . .” He said looking to her, referring to her Dad, “As time goes on our family remains strongly capable alchemists but as we find the world is malleable, so are we.” He reached across the desk to pick a little decorative piece to add at the base of the succulent.

Yeah and?

So,” He said patiently, “Consider it like we’re O type blood.”

Oh, cool. Makes sense I guess,” She replied thinking about her dad, feeling a little bit of sadness wash up. Wondering if either she or Harry would have picked up how to enchant the way he did. As much as an art as it was a science, it wasn’t often but when she missed him - she missed him.

Nathaniel placed the little shell along the succulent glancing over to Charlie, noticing her drop in mood, “You’ll have to ring up one of your aunts or uncles. I know your cousin, Kate is trying to study occult with a focus on souls. She might help you out in understanding whatever you’re feeling.”

Krazy Kate.” Charlie resounded that earned her a glare from Nathaniel, “What? It’s true.

“Name-calling is really ironic coming from our resident Trash Can Croll,” Nathaniel said, Charlie grumbled at that, he continued, “Every generation has one with their noses in the books and they end up making amazing breakthroughs. Be nice.

She never joins the spars, Gramps. Just shys away.” Charlie complained, “But whatever, I’ll see if I can talk to her.

“Just because you and Charles buttheads doesn’t mean others want to get in between that,” Nathaniel said pointing a finger at her.

Sighing dramatically she stood up, kissing Nathaniel on the top of his head, “Thanks for the talk, Gramps.

“Goodnight, kiddo.”

Charlie stepped quickly up the stairs to the first floor, making a stop in the kitchen to grab something quick to eat, heading all the way up to the third-floor balcony to get some fresh air. Hang out with the planters, a hand in some homemade trail mix.

Shoving a mouthful of trail mix into her mouth, she leaned across the bannister scrolling through her phone - the screen cracked in a dozen places. Above her, on the roof, an increasingly familiar figure sat casually by the antenna, where he had been waiting for the Croll household to settle in for the night.

He watched on his kin, the culmination of so many generations - young, capable and infuriatingly ignorant. He moved quietly to the edge of the roof, not making a sound. He sat on his haunches, elbows resting on his knees, willing her to notice him.

Charlie stopped halfway into another handful of trail mix, feeling a distinct tingle at the back of her neck. Pausing to swallow, she wondered how quickly she could be to drop the food and grab her staff. Something wasn’t right.

“Go on. Grab your staff.” Oswald said, monotoned - distinctly germanic to Charlie’s ears, “You’ll feel safer, I’m sure.”

She took a breath turning her head to look over her shoulder.
@Torack I'm diggin' Damian, cosmic mystics are....

*Vigilante waves in anti-magic artefact*

Vigilante's legacy lies in all the wet handmarks he leaves on people's clothes.

Time: Evening - 3 Weeks Ago, days after the Hounds attack
Location: Paris Opera House, Paris


Rehearsals carried on through the night, the pianist huffing away over a bottle of water while listening to the director’s notes - rising in frustration, slapping a leaflet of paper against the palm of his hand, dancers rolling their eyes as they rolled their shoulders. Reiterating none of them were ready for curtain, sloppy footwork and dancing lacking in anything genuine. They were by his words, not ready to perform their respective roles in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The soloists and principal dancers shared the stage with their director in the audience, while the leads that were cast were first, their understudies lingered in the left and right wings of the stage watching on. Stretching, keeping their muscles warm. Odette among them, squeezed her elbow with her other arm watched Manon tiredly work through the steps of Helena, a demi-soloist who eagerly picked up the role when Odette abdicated for ‘health reasons’ to be the understudy. Manon’s first time playing Helena, she was young and much like everyone else in the company - she lived and breathed ballet. Manon shot nervous looks Odette’s way, where she shrugged - her notes wouldn’t do well against the director’s building ire.

Her hair was pulled back into a tight small bun with a hairband pulling back the stray hairs. She wore black backless leotards with her wispy white romantic tulle tutu and soft pink pointe shoes.

Manon missed a step and the director huffed angrily waving them all off the stage, calling angrily for the understudies to come out. The dancers retreated for a breather, some water and freely roll their eyes.

Odette took the lead from the left-wing out to the stage, standing in the first position waiting for the music and the director’s signal to start. The pianist began the movement, Odette began to dance, arms opening outward she imagined Helena opening her arms toward Demetrius’s back as he runs away from her. As a dancer, a powerful imagination fuels the performance as much as the technique gives it shape, she allowed herself to feel the imagined pining for Demetrius’s love, allowed the emotion to course its way into her muscles and form. Ignoring the sharp glare of the director, eyes trained to correct anything that could mar his depiction of the classic.

She knew the steps, pirouetting as she did gently stepping out of the spin toward the back of the stage she prepared herself for the jump, fluidly without hesitation she bent and leapt into the air feeling a tingling sensation spread over her scalp, the edges of her vision began to blur away then darken completely.

She landed, just not on her feet.

Crumpling to the ground, Gwyneth’s vision overtook her at that moment - mind racing to her words, her memory. Gasps of surprise followed by calls for medical attention, the director - exasperated pinched the bridge of his nose.

Deep in her mind, Odette saw Gwyneth speak to Miss Goudie, a crone of a woman discussing a new mother and her baby girl. She experienced it as if she was at Gwyneth’s side watching as they spoke. Everything was real, the sounds, smells, the floor beneath her feet, the warm beams of sunlight against her ballet shoes. Just as quick as the vision overcame Odette it dissipated, from the stage the sorceress shot up with a gasp, her head pounding. Pressing the heel of her hand to her temple, she groaned at the back of her throat.

Dancers around her jumped. Back to her senses, she took the hands offered to her to stand up - an ugly throb from her leg taking the brunt of the landing but thankfully nothing was broken.

Manon was at her side holding her elbow, “Can you walk? Do you remember your name?”

Yes, I am fine - my leg is sore but I can walk. I did not hit my head.” Odette said with a hiss of irritation, Manon frowned sadly.

“Let me help you to the medical ward-” She began gently,

Odette sharply replied, “No. Pass me my phone and let me sit down, I’ll text my doctor.

To the director, she said, “Pardon me. I will not be able to continue rehearsals tonight.

Sighing, he softened, “Rest, Mademoiselle Favre.”

With help from Manon she walked behind the stage to the dressing rooms being sat down, she hurried off to bring her phone and water bottle. Odette drummed her nails against the vanity, frowning over the vision, Manon returned shortly with the quick tap of her shoes placing her water bottle down and her phone next.

“I’ll go and get you an ice pack.” She promised, holding Odette’s hand.

Odette feigned gratitude, sweetly thanking her, squeezing back appreciatively. Manon smiled before disappearing again. Odette rolled her eyes at her back, turning to her phone.

Sending an irritated text to Marie, she wrote “Thank you for making me look like a sickly fool during rehearsals, that vision could not have been timed better than when I was attempting a Grande Jeté. You are extremely lucky I did not break my ankle.

I will call you to discuss the vision when I am no longer being fussed over.

Glaring at the screen she hit SEND, opening up the emoji panel she tapped the angry emoji several times sending that off afterwards. Angrily she huffed, tidying stray hairs around her head in the mirror. All was quiet, the voices and music of the rehearsals far away as Odette’s thoughts drifted far past that.

The small sound of a bell ringing brought her back in a blink she paused looking to her periphery, the temperature in the room seemed to climb quickly. In her reflection standing directly behind her was the grinning mask of a bright, ruby-gold glittery jester - the apparent source of heat. In his hand he gently held an ice pack, he shook it for good measure as a way of saying hello. Odette didn’t bother to turn, she resumed her task at fixing her hair. Rhys had no respect for boundaries no matter how often she threatened to drop him into the middle of the Atlantic. Flamboyant, jewelled, painted and the equivalent of a walking-talking roaring fire Rhys was neither faerie nor mortal. He Who Consumed the Fire.

“Darling, My Lady Ambassador.” He began, his voice pitched high and English enunciation clear. The small bells hanging off the long bits of hair artfully twisted to keep shape and form around his sharp angular facial features, pulling up then back against his head. Sauntering to her side, he placed a bottle of red wine on the vanity. Two glasses appearing at both sides of the bottle, an invitation.

Odette looked to the bottle then up to Rhys, into the mask he held up. Not much time had passed since their last party to appease him, she hoped she wouldn’t have to host another one amidst everything else she had on the go. There was no time for revelry.

Removing the mask, he dropped the ice pack on the vanity and pulled up a chair, “Manon is such a sweet young lady.”

Rhys, please. Wine or not, you cannot be here at the Opera House.” Odette snapped, “As I have said many times in the past.

Rhys amused, he smiled, “Come now, My Lady at least try to sound menacing in your delivery. No one would believe you are upset to see me.”

She held her glare for a few moments before dropping it, relaxing, “Please tell me why you are here.

Rhys pulled the stopper out then poured the wine, “I am here for you, Ambassador. I have heard the strange and frankly quite concerning quest you have taken on from Mister Robin Goodfellow. It’s truly an affront, this instrument of destruction.” He spoke with an airy solemness that was uncharacteristic, picking the glass up by the stem he swirled it to breathe in the aroma. Without looking up, he commented, “I am surprised Bach would allow it. The staunch purist bending your ear.”

There was a reason why The Ambassador had been charged as Rhys’ keeper, he moved among the fae but was not bound to any rules. He was among the few allies she had who did not recoil at her mortality, he was chaotic as they came but there was a level of equal ground they stood on. A measure of mutual respect. Had Rhys the mind or interest to worm his way into any Court, Odette believed he would do well. Rhys at least got along well with Captain Esen, the pair of gossips.

Odette pulled the glass of wine close, running the tip of her finger along the rim - making the glass sing, “It was not an easy discussion, truthfully I wholly believed he would refuse to help,” She admitted, Rhys looked into the mirror as well mimicking her by fixing his hair, “It is too good of an opportunity to have simply passed up.

.......Shortly after a night spent in The Red Devil

Parting with Marie after sharing a night at The Red Devil, The Ambassador was able to mingle among the strange, enjoy herself to some degree, Bach had inevitably noticed something was on her mind after her meeting with Puck. He was on her heels through the apartment door, Odette removed her hat with a sigh combing her fingers through her hair.

Bach removed his jacket throwing it to Vienna who took Odette’s hat, then huffed at his jacket. When their backs were turned she dropped it in favour of gently taking Odette’s hat away.

Bach followed behind her, yellow eyes narrowing at the back of her head. He adjusted the sleeves on his dark olive green shirt up to his forearms dark yew bark visible at the center of his arm, familiar flesh formed around it. Nails long and dirty, bits, bobbles and an assortment of necklaces hung around his neck, familiar leaves formed throughout his hair across his head, small horns poking out from beneath his messy mop of hair. Pointy elven ears a signature for the likes of Bach.

Odette. What did Puck have to say to you in private? Another prophecy?” He guessed, knowing it was certainly something else, she lost all composure at the first whisper of the future. He saw how it terrified her, the fear hung off her decision making like an anchor. He closed the distance between them when she stopped. Her body language seemed to tighten, shoulders pulling back, he could see her controlling each intake of breath.

It frustrated him beyond words could articulate how she held onto such pointless things, when she was so close to being free, to blossom with nothing to stop her, to stop them from getting what they wanted. It was akin to silently suffering through a harsh winter, wrapping burlap around the tree’s trunk. Placing your hope in the strong roots as the tree bent to the strong winds of a blizzard, pouring oneself into the tree’s survival. Praying for the quick arrival of Spring, a new beginning to thrive.

While his eyes burrowed into her back, willing with his thoughts, I can see you thinking about lying, Odette. You won’t and cannot lie to me.

He offered me a job in exchange for three, honest, straightforward answers.” She replied, finally after a moment, half turning to now watch Bach in turn. His brows lifted in mild interest.

There was certainly more to it than just work.

That is a hefty payment, what is he wanting in exchange? Something quite valuable I assume.” Bach said, neutrally, the tension was palpable.

Those watery blue eyes locked with Bach’s as she nodded. “Invaluable, I would say.” He saw her jaw work through the side of her cheek.

Odette, what is it.

You will not like it.

But you agreed to it without me, knowing I would not approve?

She hid her hands behind her back, turning to face him fully. He had no doubt she was gripping them tightly right now. So, so many bad habits. It was a wonder how they were able to get anything done anymore. Emotional, physical tells were the easiest to spot.

What did you agree to?” He asked again, sharply.

To fetch Puck the Fomorian Blade. Three pieces to collect for three answers.” She answered quickly, casting her eyes down breaking eye contact. In another blink, she straightened looking him square in the eye - bracing herself.

Bach’s eyes grew wide with shock, aversion, then filled with anger. He knew exactly what the blade was. “You are right! This is horrible. What were you thinking of agreeing to such a weapon? It is an affront to all faerie! If the Summer or Winter Courts find out what you are doing, they will shut their doors to us!

It does not matter if it is Puck who is searching for it.

She countered, “Perhaps it is good that neither summer nor winter could be trusted with the pieces! It could mean my freedom from mortality, Bach!” She said stepping forward, “Puck is going to use it against The Witchfinder General, more importantly-” Bach saw ambition wash over her, as he had seen so many times before.

She pointed to her chest, “I want it. It cannot be stolen, it can only be willingly given.

His brows furrowed, was she suggesting to double-cross Puck?

What of me?

Confused, she asked, “What about you? What do you mean?

What would happen if you were to turn the knife upon yourself? Severing your mortality, what do you think that would do to us?” Bach said, his hand closing over hers, “Odette, that would kill me, remove our connection and render me mortal instead.” A pleading note under his words.

She hesitated realization dawning on her, gnawing away at her cheek, “Then- then we disconnect before I do so.” She looked up and into his eyes, Bach saw it all - she would do it for herself and herself only. Shed him like an old skin. “Once Puck is done with the knife I will make my pitch to be its keeper.

Bach scoffed with disbelief, “As if Puck would trust you with the blade. I am so happy to hear that you would disconnect us so easily, Odette.” He snapped, venomously, she flinched at his tone, “You have conveniently forgotten in your single-minded quest for immortality, that we are together until the day your ashes are tossed into the wind.

I know that!” She snapped back throwing his hand aside, “It would not be easy! This is the closest we have been to a solution if disconnecting from you means we can be together for the rest of eternity. . . So be it! There are loopholes in the contract. It would never feel like home again, sacrifices must be made!

Loopholes, yes.” He looked to the side, appearing hurt.

Moments passed in silence, Odette gently took his hand - slowly bringing it to her face, when she spoke it was soft, “Bach, please I need your help. We can both be free, we would never have to say goodbye.

Bach hated it, hated how she spoke stirred up conflict throughout his body, he said what she wanted to hear, “I’ll help you, My Lady. Who is to say where this path will bring us?” Pressing his forehead to hers, with a weak chuckle he added, “Or at least a less risky route.

You and I belong together, I will never leave you.” She attempted to reassure him.

Nor would I leave you.” He said opening his eyes, seeing how hers were closed, they narrowed, “I swear on your life.

Rhys had finished drinking his glass, busying himself with refilling as she spoke, “Betraying Puck would come at a heavy cost. Even I would not consider it, the Pwca are not to be trifled with.”

He took another long sip, “The odd prank would be alright I suppose-”

I have a great deal of respect for Puck, it is a decision I will not make without a lengthy measure of thought.” She cut him off, “Until then I can focus on finding the actual pieces first.

Rhys held out his hand, without a word Odette placed her injured leg in his palm. A resonating warmth spread through her bruise, easing the soreness. His hand lingering as the spell was complete, Odette lifted her leg away to stand.

You know where the next piece is, that is why you are here.

Rhys giggled folding his hands over his mask, “My Lady, allow me to be your guide. I have spent time in the Spring Court, opened doors, been with lonely spirits - I have found misery loves company.”

Odette smiled then nodded, “I accept.

Time: Midnight - 3 Weeks Ago
Location: Lost Haven, Maine

The call for work on the back of an irritable Jacque, the glow of her phone telling her he called a total of three times back to back. While her time with the Duchess was relatively short, it was not short enough for the Parisian gangster. The Ambassador arrived to Lost Haven, one of the many discreet locations where The Shroud Syndicate cleared. Deep within the French Quarter, open to the sky an abandoned ball diamond, weeds and patches of grass grown over the sandy lot. Several black SUVs parked at the alleyway entrances, streets cleared of any curious bystanders.

Several pickup trucks towing trailers waited in a lineup, The Ambassador stood several feet in front of the line up - it was damnably humid in Lost Haven and a haze lit up by streams of headlights. The moon hidden behind banks of clouds. The perfect night to smuggle a weapons order over international borders.

Dressed in her light and dark gray chiffon pleated skirt, white low neckline tank and black quarter sleeved blazer, her asymmetrical diamond studded headband tucked above her ears, The Ambassador looked hilariously misplaced among the stern brows and darkly dressed gangsters surrounding her. They needed a large enough portal door to fit a vehicle through.

Lifting her hands slowly to the sky, she began her incantation.

"Grand et beau flot d'âmes, fais-moi voyager, dis-moi la sécurité, offre-moi tes plus beaux cadeaux. Volontiers, ne viendrez-vous pas à moi? Ouvrez-vous, ouvrez-vous à la volonté de l'Ambassadeur du Folk. Proche seulement de ma volonté en tant qu'Ambassadeur du Folk."

A fine mist of blue light lifted up from her the tips of her fingers trailing along her hands, flowing down her arms to her torso. Several feet above her head, a sliver of light appeared slowly lengthening to the ground and growing wider at each pass of the incantation. Her brow furrowed, eyes closed, warm dark boards of wood materialized from the ground up connecting to the arch frame, a large golden ring appeared in the center, finishing the door with it’s golden hinges to the left hand side. Light filtered its creases.

Without a word she approached the door, tugging easily on the ring to swing the door wide open to the other side. Briefly sticking her head through to check if the way was clear. As the door opened the Arcane Stream’s energy flooded the area, the grass became greener and grew taller, crickets reacted by chirping louder, those familiar with her smuggling operations breathed a sigh of delight - uncontrollable hair raising across all those present. Strange, pleasant and invigorating - magic saturated the air all around them.

Après vous.

Stepping away from the portal, The Ambassador retreated away to watch over from a building’s rooftop, allowing her fellow criminals to do their work. She knew her presence often unnerved them. Bach stood silently upon her shoulder, arms crossed - clearly stewing on something. They would have time to talk about whatever he had on his mind. For now he remained small.

Time: Shortly before midnight - 3 weeks ago
Location: Lost Haven, Maine

A sinister figure stalked the night, almost invisible as it dashed across moonless rooftops, barely making a sound.

David had to admit, his newfound powers had grown on him. Wearing what he had affectionately dubbed as his ‘Shadowplate’ not only made him a hell of a lot tougher, but also faster, stronger and nigh invisible in the right conditions. This was particularly true on a night such as this, where there was no shortage of shadows for him to hide in or, if needed, call upon.

In truth, the thief barely understood the extent of his abilities. His partner in crime, the elusive meta-hacker Deep, had begged him not to get involved in anything dangerous, at least until he understood them better. He had a point, considering recent events, but if he spent one more moment in hiding he was certain he would lose his mind. After all, with or without powers he was still the greatest thief who ever lived (haters be damned), and there were very specific reasons for him to move to Lost Haven: it was a hive of opportunities for one such as he to step out of the shadows and make a name for himself… ironically enough.

Besides, his time in the Maine countryside had been… less than delightful. What should have been a quiet getaway to recover and experiment with his newfound powers had turned out to be some of the most hectic (not to mention dangerous) months of his life. But those were memories he preferred to keep buried for now, and was glad to be back to civilization… or at least a semblance of it.

Of course, David firmly believed in making his own luck. He had long heard accounts of the Shroud Syndicate and their solid record as Lost Haven’s number one criminal organization. An impressive claim, to be sure. It didn’t take him very long at all to decide he wanted in on that action, and their reputation practically forced him to make a grand entrance… so he had devised a devious plan.

There was very little the thief could not accomplish with Deep’s aid, who had, of course, been reticent at first, and even gone as far as calling his plan ‘ridiculous’ (the gall). Fortunately, David knew how to nudge him the right way, and the digital magician had ended up caving to all of his desires.

As it turned out, the Syndicate’s peeps were clever enough to keep most of their shady and personal businesses outside the internet’s grasp. Whilst not a massive surprise, it was a little disheartening, and it did mean it would take some time for them to get a solid lead on one of their operations. Less tough, however, was finding some dope with noble intentions and low-grade super powers to assist David with his theatrics: enter Counter-Balance.

Like so many others, Counter-Balance had been part of the first, honest to the Gods wave of metahumans to be created by what was arguably this generation’s biggest fuck-up. Steve Cook had been (debatably) blessed with the ability to locally increase the mass of a given object or person: in other words, he could make stuff very, very heavy, but with the caveat of being able to focus on only one at a time.

Truth be told, there had been other candidates who might’ve maybe been more appropriate for what David had in mind. Cook was a low-tier hero at best, and was better known for his flashiness than his effectiveness. However, he was a self-proclaimed punk, and had decided to use his superhero persona to further push his ideology. Armed with a ‘thunderball,’ a pinned up vest and a flashy spike mohawk, he could hardly contend with other more powerful metas out there… but he could definitely screw someone’s day up.

When Deep asked him why he was so insistent on picking him, Noir went on a considerable rant denouncing the plethora of punk ideologies which had been born out of the original movement, and explained in great detail why he thought most punks were a bunch of “silly tossers who cannot make their mind up.”

So, evidently, he couldn’t help but screw with him.

Under the pretense of being an anonymous ally, the thief had been feeding Counter-Balance information on the Syndicate’s operations. Nothing major, of course, but feeding him little morsels of intelligence had proven enough to both earn his trust and make him a minor nuisance to the Shroud’s thugs.

Tonight, however, was the big one. Deep had finally managed to locate one of their major smuggling operations thanks to a small slip-up by one of their underlings. All it really took for the tech-genie was a poorly worded text and they were in business.

The shadowy avatar finally settled on a nearby rooftop, taking a privileged place to watch the scene unfold, removing his Shadowplate to access a slim, virtually flat backpack beneath it, where he carried the bulk of his tools. As his shadow returned to its rightful place, it revealed a simple outfit, all in black, of course. Most notably, the thief wore some kind of ‘tactical turtleneck,’ lifted all the way upon his nose, allowing only his eerily blue eyes and the top of his head to be visible, pitch, curly hair moving lazily with the wind. The thief produced a pair of small binoculars, grabbing onto them with a couple of tight, leather gloves.

Why, hello there… There’s a blue haired lady here, looks like she’s in charge of overseeing the operation,” he commented as he spotted the lady who seemed in charge, her outfit sticking out like a sore thumb against the backdrop of the muscle moving the weapons, “I’m confused, though. I see the trucks, but I don’t see any airplanes, or tunnels, or any way to actually smuggle a damn thing. Are you sure this is the right place? Or a weapons smuggling operation, for that matter?

“Positive,” Deep replied simply, “These people are extremely secretive, I wasn’t able to get very much in the way of exact details... and you forget, pretty much everyone who’s important in the organization has some kind of superpower. You’ll just have to wait and see what happens, I suppose.”

Fair enough. I wish you could see her outfit, though. Seriously, what is up with all these super powered people? Did Pax Metahumana just totally impair their ability to wear discrete clothes?” he asked, barely able to contain his amusement, “I mean, she’s not even wearing a mask, I can totally see her face!... Her very, very pretty face.

“Would it kill you to focus?” Deep came in through the earpiece.

Oh, please, the game hasn’t even started yet. Would it kill you to relax a little?” he countered, “You’re just bitter that you can’t enjoy the eye-candy.

“Well, it’s hardly my fault that creepy thing you do with your shadow rejects those tech-lenses you invested a fortune in. I’m lucky I can hear you when you remove it,” Deep pointed out, “And I must insist, this is not a…”

Hush! She’s doing something… Talking to thin air, she is,” David interrupted him, observing with interest, “Wait, what the…

“What? What is it?”

... I’m not sure, mate. Hold on, what is… oh, my days…

“Seriously, what is it?” Deep insisted, slightly unnerved that he could not see the events unfolding for himself.

Well, I’m still not a hundred percent sure what I’m looking at, Deep, but if I was a betting man I’d say she just opened up a bloody portal… Wait, scratch that. That’s definitely a portal. Large enough for those bloody trucks to go through, I might add.

“Seriously? That is remarkable… and perfect timing, too. Our man’s GPS says he’s closing in on the scene. You should head to the ground,” the man in the chair advised.

Ooooh, seriously? Where’s the silly wanker?” the thief asked excitedly.

Deep gave him the man’s coordinates, and soon enough, David spotted the flashy hero. Ordering his shadow to embrace him again, the man clad himself in darkness, and proceeded to very carefully crawl down the building’s side. He had recently learned he could actually stick to surfaces if he wished to… but it did very little to ease his vertigo as he looked straight down a dozen stories.

Easy now, easy…

In Counter-Balance’s defense, he did try his very best to be stealthy as he infiltrated the small plot of land. At first, he followed him in the shadows, making short work of whatever gangster the amateur hero hadn’t spotted himself. As it turned out, the stress of multiplying someone’s weight several times was usually enough to make them black out, but the thief still saved the young hero from getting a bullet or two up his arse, knocking or choking out the men he missed before they knew what hit them.

Unbeknownst to the youthful vigilante, his approach was sloppy and why sneak when one was as close as he to taking the biggest gang in Lost Haven down a peg. Lifting a leg, sticking out a tongue for better accuracy, Counter-Balance aimed his makeshift weapon at the closest gangster and threw with impressive amount of strength, far more than what the gangster expected receiving a knockout blow from an 8-ball only grazing under his chin, the gangster staggered a bit before falling onto his back. Counter-Balance pumped his fingerless gloved fist, quickly running over to check if the gangster was still breathing. Blood leaked out the side of his mouth.

Finding a pulse, the punk stood back up pleased as ever to not have missed - for once. He grinned, pressing himself up against the wall eyeing the scene before him.

Thankful for his generous tip, they were right once more. It was a huge operation, the vehicles would be easy but the gangsters with guns was another problem all together. He approached the ball diamond, crouching low, eyes on the trucks at the front of the line before the portal. Small cars were easy but the bigger trucks would take more effort and concentration. Looking left and right, his mohawk flat and tall peeking above the bank of fog.

At the edge of the ball diamond, he came to a stop crouching low lifting a hand to the truck, he closed his eyes focusing on the body of the vehicle willing his powers to drag it down. Several moments passed without anything happening, slowly a creek of metal began - steel complaining against the sudden new weight. All the cargo in it’s bed pressed down further and further, the driver popped out of the driver’s side watching in confusion as the truck crumpled under the weight into the ground, tires bending out of the wheel wells. The driver turned to her fellow gangsters, they nodded warning others of possible metahuman interference, as another vehicle began to do the same.

Gangsters from all sides fanned out, guns levelled in front of them - mounted flashlights clicking on creating hazy beams of light searching for the vigilante. Sweeping through the grassy patches of weeds.

A text message was sent to The Ambassador asking her to standby, warning her of interference. She sat forward with some interest, scanning the ground below. It wasn’t very often anyone got close.


Counter knocked another thug out with his thunderball. His partner turned around to shoot but was met with an intense force, his body feeling incredibly heavy all of a sudden as his vision became patchy.

“Feel that? That’s the weight of the establishment weighing down on you, dude!”

The gangster barely heard the punchline as he blacked out under the equivalent of 6 Gs of force. Counter-Balance didn’t much care for this, mentally congratulating himself for his efficiency and, as far as he was concerned, well-delivered punchline.

David, on the other side, found himself a bit busy avoiding his premature death. Gunmen disappeared in the long grass without as much as a sound, an unseen stalker prowling in their midst. There was only ever a warning of his predatory approach, their flashlights flickering nervously as he got closer, but they never knew any better, their numbers dwindling at a speedy rate.

The thief had to admit, as much as he’d detested the use of violence in the past, this was kind of fun, in a twisted way. Using his powers gave him a thrill, not unlike that of stealing a priceless object, or walking out of a door with a big haul without anyone being none the wiser. The gangsters’ obliviousness to his sneak attacks was gratifying, to say the least, and almost comical as he lifted their own firearms to smack them in the face, or jumped on their backs like some kind of jungle cat, quickly putting them to sleep.

Soon enough, the punk found himself with very little in the way of a defense, unaware of the flashlights disappearing around him, some pointing briefly upwards before joining the rest of the fallen weapons; and men.

The Ambassador watched on, clear as day to her were the lights disappearing her phone lit up with increasing urgency. With a sigh of resignation, she knew it was time to put a stop to the meddler. Taking several steps back from the edge of the building, tucking a bit of hair in vain behind her ear. A click of her heels she took off at a run leaping off from the edge and arcing through the air, gracefully landing atop of a van - the enchantment softening her touchdown toes first then standing flat-footed. The quake of the vehicle beginning to crumple beneath her feet The Ambassador scanned past the portal for the culprit, spotting a ridiculous punk with a mohawk approaching.

Counter-Balance laughed with triumph, spinning the thunderball in a perfect circle. “Boss Lady finally came to see what all the noise was about, huh? Nothing can stop a revolution!” He shouted, sticking his tongue out he took aim for his final target. Remaining gangsters around him shouted aiming anew, while The Ambassador hadn’t batted an eye, a tell tale bit of blue light surrounded her right hand.

The cue ball suddenly stopped spinning, a befuddled look crossing the punk’s face, the chord twirling in an almost silly manner along his side. An unexplainable sense of dread seemed to suddenly rush through him, and on instinct, the vigilante turned around.


“Yow!” Counter-Balance fell on his backside. He could swear he’d seen the shape of a man holding his thunderball, his outline barely visible in the dim light… but when he looked back up, the figure was gone. Along with his weapon of choice.

Odette saw Counter-Balance fall, she peered into the haze. There was a murmur passed among the gangsters, they were holding their ground - listening for movement looking to The Ambassador for instruction. She stood just above the windshield on the vehicle.

That is enough,” She called out, whispering the beginnings of a ward spell pausing only to finish her warning. “Your meddling has gone on far too long as it were.” Her accent pronounced as her tone was sharp.

Looking to the gangsters she waved her hand to signal them to move forward. They spread out in a semicircle inching closer. While she had only wanted to launch the ridiculous revolutionary into the ocean, small-time metas still had a circle of friends, connections. The Shroud Syndicate operated under the radar, respecting the status quo the metahumans had over Lost Haven. They would always proceed with caution much less itchy trigger fingers.

The punk stood up, his eyes widening as he saw the gunmen approaching. Fear kicked in, coupled with confusion, and he raised his hands, ready to go all out in a haphazard fashion.

However, the fight was not fated to happen. Something grabbed him by his ankle, pulling strongly enough to make him fall, his face getting more intimately acquainted with the ground than he would’ve liked. He panicked as the dark beast dragged him along the ground, crawling, a screech filling the night air as he disappeared under one of the trucks, a trail of fingertips carved unto the ground in their wake.

The punk could barely focus, on what was attacking him, and before he knew it, the dread shadow-man’s weight was upon him, impeding any use of his powers, lest he wished to be crushed under the weight. On instinct, he threw a punch, blindly connecting with the ominous figure’s chin. Several of his knuckles popped with an unpleasant crunch.

There was a moment of silence, a few long seconds in which not a thing could be seen, or heard. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the punk’s limp body flew across the air, landing on the truck’s hood, mere feet away from Odette. A preliminary inspection would show that the anti-hero was out cold, but still breathing.

Your security sucks,” came a deep, ominous voice, its location hard to pinpoint.

Almost as if on cue, a shadow tendril shot out of the dark, taking a hold of one of the gangster's weapons and tossing it far from his grip. The rest of the gunmen starting aiming around wildly in search for a target, but then a second tendril whipped another gun out of nowhere. And then a third. This went on for a few moments until what remained of her entourage found themselves weaponless, too unnerved and surprised to act without instructions from the lady in charge.

Case in point,” the disembodied voice gloated.

Shaking her head, glaring at her unarmed cohorts, “They will be dealt with later, as for our star punk for tonight. . .” Odette stepped off the roof of the vehicle, landing once more with a soft touch to the ground she snapped her fingers and those who still had their wits about them jumped to picking up Counter-Balance, dragging him out of the way.

The sorceress turned from left to right searching for their unseen helping hand, a few theories running through her mind as to what or who decided to stick their nose into their business tonight, she safely guessed it was a man - most likely metahuman by the sound of his voice and ego to match.

We would like to thank you in person, preferably. Nobody really goes out of their way to help our operations unless they want something.” She said, beckoning impatiently, “While the night is still young.

Very astute,” the thief commented as he appeared by her side. Even out in the open, he was hard to see, his outline only visible by the contrasts in the light, his form blacker than the darkest of nights, “I want a job,” he told her simply, “I’m new in town, and you people don’t exactly have a platform where one can just drop their CV,” he joked, “It… came to my attention that our resident idiot here had been causing some trouble for you, and I’ve been following him around in hopes of meeting someone in a position to get me in,” he elaborated briefly, not wanting to give away too much just yet.

Pursing her lips momentarily as she looked the shadowy form up and down, sidestepping to get some perspective, not a flinch at his sudden appearance, “Work? We are always recruiting competent… metahumans? Our organization’s ranks have been slowly expanding to those with unique abilities.” She said, curiosity settling her gaze on the opaque outline of his body, “A request I can easily fill in return for your help here tonight.” She squinted at where his face was supposed to be, quietly noting, “Boons are always repaid in kind.

One moment,” Retrieving her phone from her purse she called Jacque, speaking in French calling him to this side of the portal.

A tall, sharply dressed man appeared from the portal’s light, a black scarf covered the lower half of his face with just a pair of dark brown eyes over the edge of the cloth, a wide brimmed hat sat atop his head. Shiny black loafers without a scuff, navy blue suit, Jacque - much like the other leaders in the Syndicate were mysterious figures.

What do we call you?” Odette asked turning her attention back onto their shadowy meta.

David raised a brow behind his shadowplate as the well-dressed man appeared, but did not express his surprise, “You can call me… Noir,” he said, after a moment’s consideration, quite pleased with his chosen moniker.

Bemused by the name, Odette smiled, “How appropriate, you may refer to me as The Ambassador.” Lifting her hand to shake, “This is Jacque, he leads The Shroud Syndicate’s operations in France.

He nodded a heavy gaze on Noir scrutinizing him before looking over the damage left by Counter-Balance.

His hand took her own, the shadow enveloping it unpleasantly cold to the touch. Moreover, depending on her own personal fear of darkness, she might’ve felt a sense of discomfort beyond that of mere cold, “A pleasure to meet you both,” he noted as he shook her hand, his touch gentle to avoid crushing her hand. He turned to the other foreigner, offering his hand to him in turn. Jacque kept his hands in his pockets, nodding again.

His touch sent goosebumps up her arm to the nape of her neck, it was entirely strange. Retracting her hand, it slowly grew warm once more traces of the arcane stream from her earlier ward chased away the cold. Very curious.

Adjusting her sleeve idly, “You can clearly move through the darkness, where do you specialize in? Security, intimidation, thievery, smuggling?

She commented resting her chin against the palm of her hand, looking to the portal, “You may have some stiff competition in smuggling ops against myself.

Not that anyone could really compare to what I offer.

Okay…” the shadowy figure said to himself as the silent Frenchman made no attempt to shake his hand. He then turned to regard the Ambassador, a cheeky smile playing on his obscured lips.

Why, I’m just about the greatest thief who ever lived,” he stated smugly, his deep, muffled tone matter-of-fact, “There is nothing I cannot get my hands on if I put my mind to it. Nothing. And no one’s even gotten close to catching me, so far,” he bragged as he walked over to one of the trucks the punk had allowed to sink into the ground, observing it for a moment with his hands upon his hips, “Though I suppose all that other stuff you mentioned comes with the job. I’m not shy about pulling my weight around.

With that, he kneeled, grabbing the truck from underneath. It took everything he had, the man clearly straining as his obscured form tensed. Of course, the loaded truck was too heavy for him to lift on his own, but with a little knowledge of physics, and the aid of the wheels, Noir managed to budge it just enough to roll the front wheels out of the ground. The thief grinned to himself, slightly surprised he’d actually managed.

Jacque nodded once more, finally speaking up, “Alright, good enough. I’ll draft up a contract, Noir you will be working under my direction.” He walked up to Odette patting her shoulder, “You, Mademoiselle. Please see to getting this mess cleaned up.”

Of course.” She replied about to move but he kept his hand on her shoulder, she shot him a cold look.

“Please also note while you are responsible for his recruitment, he is working for me - any issues or misconduct will be dealt with by me. Understand? Do not take it upon yourself to punish at your whim.” Jacque said, while his tone was neutral he squeezed her shoulder to emphasize the boundary he set.

She sighed shortly through her nose, irritated, “Fine.

Jacque released her, out of his pocket he tossed Noir a burner cell, “You’ll hear from me soon enough, Noir. Good evening.” He turned walking over the threshold back to Paris.

The thief snatched the phone out of the air, smiling to himself, “You too, ‘boss.’

Her irritation evaporated as Jacque disappeared, the Parisian Syndicate leader was allowed to draw his boundaries even while the chaffed with Odette’s. She turned back to Noir, “A thief, the greatest one the world has ever seen. I’ve never known a thief not to have an ego to match, regardless you will have the opportunity to prove yourself.

Lost Haven’s resident thief had been recently vacated. They are big shoes to fill, as I had known them personally.

Mhm, whatever you say, ‘Mademoiselle,’” the avatar mumbled in an almost dismissive manner. Now that the power dynamics had been established, he was not as concerned about impressing her or even staying on her good side. From what he’d heard and seen, it seemed like she had some kind of history taking matters into her own hands, and a slip on her behalf might prove a boon to him, “So, what’s his deal? You know…” he flourished his hands, though the motion was hardly visible, “What can he do?

Locking her hands behind her back, business returned to usual the remaining gangsters went to work dragging their unconscious coworkers to be propped up - first aid kits being opened. Cleaning up the product. “Good leadership and impeccable taste in fashion.” She answered, laying a hand against one of the crumpled trucks - various pairs of eyes from local Sidhe appeared in the shadow of the truck looking up to their Ambassador.

All you have to worry about with Jacque is following his instructions, you get paid for the work done,” Odette said, not unkindly making a point that it would be fruitless to ask anything else about him.

You will be seeing more of me before Jacque.

Understood,” the man shrugged, locking his own hands behind his back in a similar fashion as he walked next to her, his shadowplate making it impossible to discern where his eyes fell, “Well, there’s something to look forward to, at least,” he commented, his natural disguise and neutral tone making it very hard to tell whether he was mocking her, flirting, or being entirely serious.

Looking to Noir, gazing at his face her curiosity turning over the mystery of his powers, his body language obscured by shadow with his face - his tone was the only clue to discerning what he was thinking let alone what he meant. “My company alone is a gift,” Changing tact, mirroring his tone, “Or a curse depending on who you speak to.” Letting that comment hang before moving onto the other side of the truck. Sidhe followed behind her, invisibly taking up positions around the tires - ready to lift the machine.

It began to shake, the Sidhe went to shuffling the pieces back together, smoothing the earth back in place. Grass growing anew, they happily fed off the energy pouring out of the portal.

Noir observed the strange phenomenon with interest, invisible forces beginning to fix the damage done with remarkable efficiency. So she was not only capable of opening portals… he made a mental note, intrigued by the development.

Is that why the boss-man feels the need to babysit you?” he poked, “I have to say, he doesn’t seem very confident in your ability to control your temper,” he mused in an almost idle fashion, “Don’t worry though. I don’t mind a spanking every now and then,” he added, biting his tongue immediately. Sometimes, he just couldn’t help himself, and the anonymity and protection his shadowy armour provided made him a bit too cocky. Something that would need fixing, he thought to himself.

Gangsters nearby froze, looking up from their work only to watch. Bach broke his reverie of thought snapping to attention as well. Eyes narrowing.

Odette saw his attempt to get a rise out of her, she didn’t need to read his body language to know that. While it was a barb it proved he was willing to play. Poised, she rubbed the little grit between her fingertips, “Jacque and I have worked together for a long time, while he believes and likes to assert his control he knows he only exists today because of me.

Looking to him again over the hood of the truck, “Never underestimate the power of a loophole, Monsieur.

The men’s reaction did not go unnoticed by the shadowy figure, who admittedly revelled in having an audience for his performance. It took him all he had, however, not to let out a sonorous “hah!” at her choice of words. Was he not, after all, a breathing, living loophole? He could practically taste the sweet irony in his mouth as he smiled.

That so? I’ll be sure to keep that in mind, Mademoiselle,” he began, starting to walk up the truck’s side, hands still behind his back, “Indeed, it would seem to me that you speak and carry yourself with an authority beyond that of a common smuggler. And judging by how your men soil themselves every time you so much as glance sideways at them, I’d say I’m correct,” he congratulated himself, now on top of the truck, and about to make his way down, “So enough about Jacque. Why don’t you tell me more about yourself? I assure you, you have my undivided attention,” he stopped short of the ground, his body standing fully horizontally at face level with her.

She raised her brow at him, “Do you want my CV?” No small amount of sarcasm, “I do not think you would believe me if I told you anything about myself. I deal in the strange and fantastic. As for the men and women here tonight, they know what my expectations are. None of which have been met.

She tucked a bit of hair behind her ear, it was time to gauge Noir as he tried to do the same to her, “Unless you are open minded to the things that linger at humanity’s periphery.

This was all apart of the verbal gymnastics.

David screamed internally at this. He was not, under any means, willing to discuss the true nature of his powers, partly because he was certain that explaining that bleeding out on top of an ancient bauble had prompted the primordial Greek God of Darkness to bring him back to life as his superpowered avatar sounded as crazy as it was a mouthful. No, Pax Metahumana was a much more convenient story. And still...

Are you serious?” he asked, allowing the incredulity to ooze in his muffled voice, “Were you spaced out earlier when I took out a metahuman without anyone actually seeing me? Or when my shadows disarmed your men? I know you were checking me out when I bench-pressed that truck, don’t even try to deny it,” he raised a finger and gave it a little shake, fist on his hip, “And that’s not even… wait, why am I justifying myself to you? I’m standing on the freaking side of your truck! But no, no,” he seemed to change his mind, arms crossing and turning slightly around, which led him to be looking straight up into the sky, “You’re right. I’m a total skeptic and will be absolutely close-minded about the ‘strange and fantastic,’” he added, perfectly mimicking her French accent.

She watched him opaquely pose like an energetic shadow puppet, and slowly her eyes lit up with mischief, “I love skeptics.

She tapped her chin, eyes floating to the left trying to remember what she could show. He was amusing, egotistical and thought he was smarter than everyone else in the room. With the ability to sneak and blend into the darkness, she smiled at the prospect of a perfectly good pawn Noir would be.

She gestured to him, rolling her eyes, “To check you out would mean being able to see more than an opaque mass of shadows,” She grinned rather slyly, “Unless that was your true goal, to peacock about and get my attention. I certainly would not mind if you were to drop your concealment and show me your face.

Sidhe moved on from the truck, heads bobbing beneath the haze onto the next vehicle, setting to work. The Ambassador turned her back to him, walking on to inspect another vehicle. “Tell me, Monsieur. What is difficult to believe in the portal’s existence? Life spills out of it, making the very air vibrate with energy.” she paused facing the light, “That I willed that rip in time and space to appear where I wanted it to, to guide us to another place of my choosing. Exerting pure control over a component of our reality.

If I were to get poetic about it, of course.” She waved off the sentiment with a flick of the wrist, “Regardless, for not only helping my operation tonight and providing some entertainment. I have a gift for you.

In my culture, we tend to repay favours tenfold.

Curious as he was, this gave Noir reason to pause. The thief had led a wild life even before he obtained his powers, and recognized the underlying danger in her offer.

...I think I’ll keep my face concealed if you don’t mind terribly. Besides,” he flipped off the truck, landing gracefully on his feet before returning to her side, “What would life be without a little mystery? As for your generous offer, I already got what I came looking for,” he pointed out, “And I would just hate to impose,” he lied.

The Sidhe turned at his refusal, the last vehicle’s reparations freezing in place. Turning her head from him, she bit the inside of her cheek. “I really do insist, Noir.” She said, “Allow me to show you what it is.

Popping the pin on her clutch purse with her thumb, she cradled it with one hand while the other reached deep inside well past her elbow, feeling around for what she was looking for. Strange sounds of wood creaking, the skittering of glass, a long whistle from an instrument sounding like it had fallen.

Noir noticed the trucks ‘stopping in their tracks,’ so to speak. Understanding it as a sign of her displeasure, he decided it might be best to play along, after all, “Well if you insist...

She brightened when she found what she was looking for, “Excellent.

From deep within her purse the top of a lantern appeared first. Rough, hempen rope knotted and crisscrossing over a clearly handcrafted cylinder of amber tinted glass. No visible openings. Imperfections, age and the odd scratch down the length of glass showed The Ambassador was not it’s first owner. The hempen rope wrapped tightly down to its base, a handcrafted ornate wooden base - polished, smoothed, there were some words written on the base along with the artisan’s signature - legible to only those who could understand Common Fey. The glass was not entirely opaque but moss could be seen growing inside of it, to Odette she could see a sleepy spirit crouched - insect-like wings folded against it’s back, it’s body spotted with large spots. The lantern, on its size alone, could not under any normal circumstances have been able to fit in that clutch purse. By the time she finished pulling it out of her purse she set it down, the height of it alone standing just above her knee.

For you, Noir. It is meant to forewarn you of danger when it glows - or so I have been told. Keep it inside your home, if you take good care of it such as polishing the glass, playing music, a view of the outside. The lantern will take care of you in turn.” She explained, “Please accept this as my gift to you.

Wha- where…” David started, confused, then stopped immediately. Great magicians never reveal their tricks, he thought, and that was definitely a great trick. He listened carefully to what she said whilst the back of his mind worked on it. It had to be tiny portals. He was certain of it.

The part of his brain that was focused on her took the strange device, careful not to show his wariness, “The way you speak of it, I almost feel like introductions should be made. ‘Hello Mr. Lantern, I’m Noir. You and I will be the bestest of pals, I’m certain of it!’” he joked, despite studying the item with interest, “Is that moss? Someone’s not been taking the best care of Mr. Lantern! Don’t worry, ol’ buddy, ol’ pal, we’ll get rid of that in no time!” he took one more moment to finish inspecting it, before adding, “Joking aside, it is a beautiful piece, and I do not mean to sound like an ungrateful jerk, but...How the hell is this thing meant to light itself up, or know I’m in any danger, for that matter?” he squinted behind the plate, “I can’t see any wicks or mantles…

The Ambassador winked with a sly smile, “If only you could see as I do, Noir the Skeptic. Take good care of it and it will do the same for you,” she repeated.

He really had no idea, a thousand ideas came to her how to introduce the fey looking forward to the fun she would have.

She waved him off with both hands, dismissing the shadowy man, “Off you go, I have product to move and you are free to leave. You will hear from us soon.” Returning to business she turned on her heel, waving the criminals into moving themselves. Bach had watched on during the exchange from the safety of her shoulder, his eyes on the thief while her back was turned. Moderately curious as to how he’d treat the lantern but a curly smile formed knowingly aware of why Odette gave him that.

Did you hear that Mr. Lantern? We are free to leave. How magnanimous of her, don’t you think?” Noir began talking to himself as he walked off, “It’s almost like she thinks we work for her. Wait, do we work for her? Oh well, it doesn’t matter either way, because you and I are a pair or rebels who live by their own rules! Like Tango and Cash. Or Starsky and Hutch. Or…

This went on for quite a while until the man was absolutely sure he was nowhere to be seen, considering the large antique he was carrying around. Back at the rooftops, he removed his shadowplate, allowing Deep to contact him once more. Just one of the many curious side effects donning it seemed to have.

“Finally!” the metahacker came through, “That took you longer than I’d expected. Everything go according to plan?”

It went beautifully,” Noir smiled, “Better than I’d hoped for, even. I need you to learn everything you can about a French fellow named Jacque. He’s my new boss, apparently,” he told him, before giving him a brief yet detailed depiction of the man, before proceeding to describe the Ambassador, “By the way, can you get a hold of the nearby security cameras?

“Way ahead of you. I don’t have a direct angle on the scene, but I’m hoping I can find at least a couple of good shots of this Ambassador.”

Excellent. Let me know as soon as you find something on them. Oh, this is going to be fun, isn’t it, Mr. Lantern?

“I beg your pardon?” Deep asked, confused.

Oh, never you mind. The Ambassador gave me a gift.

“A gift?” Deep asked with great skepticism, “You shouldn’t take that with you before you scan it for tracking devices and bugs.”

What is this, amateur hour?” Noir asked in turn, “You take care of your end of the job, I’ll deal with mine. Noir out.

“Noir?” Deep asked… but David had already cut him off.

Time: The Following Day
Location: Noir’s Penthouse

“YYou are being very unreasonable, Lampy. How the hell am I supposed to clean out that moss if there’s no bloody way of opening you up?

David sighed. He’d actually been going crazy trying to open the antique lantern once he’d polished it up. At first, he’d treated it like a puzzle, a challenge of sorts. Later, it had evolved into a day-consuming mission, the man losing his nerves several times. There was not a lock in the world that could resist, but this thing had no locks, or any way of opening it up, for that matter. He’d actually considered smashing it out of sheer frustration, just to ‘win,’ but he realized the satisfaction in that would be fleeting, at best, and followed by instant regret.

He sat in his living room upon a comfortable couch, a pleasant shade of soft grey, whilst the lantern rested on a low table made of a beautiful, dark brown wood (lignum vitae, to be precise). He wore a pristine white shirt, tucked into some dark jeans, coupled with a nice pair of velvet-like ankle boots, a similar colour to that of the table.

He passed a hand through his hair, regarding the lantern intensely as a thought crossed his head. He placed both hands on the edges of the lantern, where the amber crystal met wood and began concentrating.

Minuscules tendrils of darkness eventually spread from his fingertips, prodding and pushing until they found a minuscule gap in the virtually airtight device. A triumphant grin spread over his face as the darkness began to slip, eventually scrubbing off the moss before completely enveloping it, crushing it inside its obscure grip. The tendril thinned out again, carefully exiting the way it had entered.

The lantern’s spirit alarmed she climbed the surface of the glass away from the tendrils, tiny suction cups allowing her to scale the smooth surface with ease. Her pupiless, bulbous eyes, watching intently. Pressing her nose against the glass to watch what he did next with her bedding.

David kept his concentration as it guided it across the room to the kitchen’s bin. He lifted a second hand, a second tendril shooting out to crack the bin open and, tongue sticking out, he forced the end of the tendril to ‘chop’ itself off, the moss contained within falling in the garbage before his dark limbs dissipated entirely.

She huffed, sliding back down to the bottom pouting. Kicking her feet out.

Hah!” he exclaimed, wiping a bit of sweat off his forehead. They were an odd thing, these powers of his. He could actually feel the things he touched, even the minuscule particles of moss as he’d grinded them up and carried them over. With a big smile, he took a hold of the lantern and placed on a slim table looking out into the city, a record player at the ready next to it: he was nothing if not committed to his jokes.

So, what kind of man are you, Mr. Lantern? Rock n’ roll? Pop? Indie? Reggae? Please don’t say punk,” he added, smirking, “No… I think you’re into the classics, aren’t you?

The man took out an old vinyl from his collection, extracting it with care before placing it on the record player, a number of instruments filling the air with a slow, catchy melody. David closed his eyes, hips and arms swaying from side to side as he walked backwards, ready to break into song.

I’ve got youuuu, under my skin. I’ve got youuuu, deep in the heart of me. So deep in my heart, that you’re a part of me…

Almost as if on cue, the tell-tale ring of Deep’s private line joined the tune in a somewhat cacophonous manner. David did a final twirl on the spot, before taking the phone.

Talk to me,” he smiled, “Please, please tell me you’ve found something.

“I have,” Deep replied, “I couldn’t find anything on this Jacque character of yours, but your Ambassador, on the other hand… well, she was almost insultingly easy to find.”

David’s eyes widened with glee, “I’m all ears.

“Actually, I’m sending you the link right now.”

David’s phone beeped, the man opening it so fast he barely had time to read it:

Paris, France, with a little flag, of course,” he began reading out loud, “Fashion, beauty, lifestyle, all between some colourful stars, and… ‘Paris Opera House Ballet Soloist?’

That last one caught him off guard, a wolf-like grin plastered on his face as he perused her instagram pictures, “22k followers? Dear Gods, is this woman not concerned at all about…” he stopped, a devious thought entering his mind, “Hey buddy, when’s the next show at the Paris Opera House?

It barely took a moment for Deep to reply, “Three days.”

Can you…?

“You fly out two days from now, a full week before you return. Tickets are in your e-mail,” Deep answered simply.

Am I really that predictable?” David laughed.

“Yes, yes you are,” Deep replied simply, amused.

You’re a legend, mate. Thank you,” David smiled.

“I know. I...”

David had already hung up, making his way to his walking closet to choose which suits he’d be taking.


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