Completed Best Served Cold

Autumn stumbles on someone she has held a long grudge against (Madeira)

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The Diamond of Kalea is located on Kalea's extreme west coast and called as such because its completely made of a crystalline substance called Skyglass. Home of the Alvina of the Stars, cultural mecca of knowledge seekers, and rife with Ethaefal, this remote city shimmers with its own unique light.

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Best Served Cold

Postby Autumn Rose on November 9th, 2019, 2:16 am

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Fall the 31st, 519 AV, the 21st bell
    Gweneveh's room in the Red Lantern
Autumn had been uncharacteristically warm. Not Autumn autumn but fall autumn. If it was reasonable, autumn would have followed summer with cooler weather, but it hadn’t. Even in the late evenings when Syna’s light dimmed, the days didn’t cool much, and the usually ever-present breezes were nowhere to be found. Which had made Autumn quite the commodity, though no one seemed to know of her presence. It had just become common knowledge among the women of the Red Lantern that Gweneveh’s room was cooler than any other spot in the building. Knowing this, every one of them made excuses to come visit her. Some even admitted to stealing her things and returned them just to stand in her cool room for a few glorious chimes, but Gweneveh denied none of them, unless she was working. It was her way. She cared for those who shared the Lantern with her as their home, and even its newest members, she didn’t turn away.

If they knew what their comfort cost, they might have been less likely to enjoy it. Emotions regulated the effects ghosts had on the physical world, and the cold so often associated with them came from only the strongest of emotions, ones like hate and sorrow. Still, Autumn understood the draw she had in a season like this and did what she could to provide her roommate with the one comfort she could offer.

Madame Belladonna, the proprietor of the Lantern, had been one of the last to hear of this miraculous discovery and had been by more often than she usually was. Today was one of those days, and the two longtime friends lounged in Gweneveh’s bed, enjoying some much-needed respite from the heat.

These were good days for Autumn. She found herself admiring both of the young women, for both were masters in the art of manipulation who could twist even the most stubborn of wills to their whim. Whether or not it was intentional, the two played their art on the other, striving to manipulate though there were no stakes in the game. Perhaps that was why the two pursued this with each other. Winning brought nothing but victory. It was winning for winning sake.

The game was mild today, perhaps because the heat had sapped both their wills to do anything. Gweneveh lounged in a pile of pillows supported by the headrest of her bed with the Madame’s head resting in her lap. Gweneveh’s fingers absentmindedly played with wisps of the Madame’s hair, stopping as she tried to think of anything to say to smother the monotony of the silence and the heat. Nothing came to her, so her fingers started moving again.

Realizing her roommate and her guest weren’t as comfortable as they’d like to be, Autumn summoned thoughts of slight sorrows, the things she missed from being alive, things like textures and scents, warmth and tastes, and she realized how dull her existence in death was compared to that of life. Autumn didn’t feel it, but the temperature in the room dropped slowly until the two living women relaxed a bit more.

Belladonna broke the silence. “Thank the Goddess we’re in a profession where less clothing is more.”

It was true, and while exposure of skin helped business boom, it only seemed to be the secondary purpose this season with this heat.

Gweneveh smiled, and her touch changed ever so slightly, taking on a completely different meaning. “I’ve been thanking her for that ever since you showed up today.”

Belladonna laughed at her friend’s flirting.

Gweneveh pouted in response. “You’re no fun today, Bee.”

Seeing Gweneveh’s disappointment, Belladonna reached up and placed a hand beneath Gweneveh’s chin, letting her fingertips slip across the warm skin beneath them. Hers was a touch that carried a thousand meanings or more. It was whatever its recipient wanted it to be and then a dozen things more. It was a touch that crumbled barriers, that brought men to their knees. Today, it had no true intent. Rather it seemed to hold every meaning it had ever held all at once, and had Gweneveh believed in love, she would have been smitten. As it was, the younger friend took it as a comfort.

Bee smiled. “I’m sorry, darling. I’m just exhausted. Though your room does seem to have cooled down again. Can’t you control it?”

“If I was able to, do you think I would have let it get this warm before I cooled it down?” Gweneveh grumbled.

“I thought you were trying to get more of my clothes off.”

It was Gweneveh’s turn to laugh. “You wish.”

Bee pouted. “You’re no fun today.”

Both laughed at that and lapsed into silence, enjoying the temporary relief from the fall-long heatwave. Enough time had passed that the two were beginning to fall asleep when a soft knock came on the door. It was Gweneveh’s room, but Belladonna was mistress over the entirety of the Lantern. She was the one who gave permission for the person behind the door to enter.

“The door’s not going to open itself, darling.”

One of the youngest workers slipped in through the door and closed it behind her. She didn’t address either of them at first, just sank against the wall, tilted her head back, and closed her eyes, reveling in the cool.

“Mm. Gweneveh, how do you do this?”

The answer was the same as it had been all season long. Gweneveh shrugged.

Madame Belladonna knew her workers well, and this one had a legitimate excuse for being here. “Saoirse, darling, you had something to tell me?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“And?”

Gweneveh put a single finger over Bee’s lips. “Hush. Let her relax, Bee. You can tell by looking at her she’s been driving men mad all day.”

Pulling Gweneveh’s finger away, Bee shook her head. “And I’m grateful to her for performing so well, but she came here to discuss business.”

“That I did.” Saoirse pointed a finger at the door. “I have someone who requested you specifically, Madame. She’s well prepared to pay.”

She? Bee, are you cheating on me?”

Belladonna laughed, but Autumn could see her interest perk at this news. The Madame had met this woman before, or at least was suspecting this woman was the one she was expecting. She let Gweneveh know as much. “If she’s who I’m thinking of, you’ll like this one.” She sat up, snaking an arm around Gweneveh’s waist. “She’s trying to learn how to woo some woman she knows. She’s not here for me, but I want to make her forget that. It’s an important lesson. Make her jealous for me, would you, darling?”

She nodded to Saoirse. “Let her in.”

As the other woman slipped back out the door, Autumn had to admit she couldn’t tear her eyes away as the two worked their charms. Bee’s fingers began tracing lines and curves as her lips sought out something in the crook of Gweneveh’s neck. For her part, Gweneveh played the part of falling for seduction perfectly. Somehow, whether she really felt the pleasure or if she could conjure them at will, goosebumps swept up her arm, following the Madame’s touch, and soft as the nonexistent wind, a sigh escaped her lips.

Managing to take her eyes off the pair for a moment, Autumn turned to see how the newcomer was responding. If Autumn had a heart, it would have dropped through the floor.

Her! Autumn couldn’t remember the woman’s name for the life of her, but what she did know was that whatever had transpired while Maro was with her had led to the only secret he had ever kept. Hate, unfettered and unfounded, exploded inside of her. If she had been reasonable, Autumn would have known that the only one who could keep a secret was the one who had it, and this woman had forced Maro into nothing. But reason was beyond her now. This woman had played some part of destroying a sacred thing between Autumn and Maro. If he...

He. Him. Maro. Hate gave way to something eternally more painful. Sorrow. The plummeting her heart should have felt hit her soul unexpectedly, and with sorrow came the stemming of her hatred. Hate didn’t leave her, but in the slowing of her emotions, sorrow brought reason. She remembered that this woman was a spiritist, and spiritists spelled danger for ghosts, especially away from Black Rock. They were just as likely to dust a spirit as they were to use reason. And in her hesitance, too, she realized that this woman was far different from the one she had encountered two years ago. It wasn’t so much something she saw as it was something she felt, but this woman was infinitely more dangerous.

No one would see Autumn or know this change in her emotions, but they would experience it in the dropping temperature of the room. In the space of moments, the room went from comfortably cool to cold, then frigid.

Bee shivered and pressed herself deeper into the warmth of her friend. “By the Goddess, can’t you control it.”

Gweneveh shrugged.

Autumn steeled herself and waited for the spiritist to make her move.
Last edited by Autumn Rose on March 29th, 2020, 12:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Best Served Cold

Postby Madeira Craven on November 11th, 2019, 12:08 am

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    Madeira tapped her toe against the legs of her barstool, waiting for Saoirse to return. The Red Lantern's showroom was stuffy and warm, the effect taking almost physical form by the dusky red glow of the lanterns above it. Nearly naked was the new fashion here. Workers danced and teased and flirted in strategically knotted silks and transparently thin shifts and dresses, to the delight of the customers. A few of them seemed ready to join the trend, as more than one lounged in open robes.

    Not Madeira, though. She stayed resolutely covered from throat to floor. And though her magical dress complied to her wishes in this matter as it always did, she was starting to suspect the garment had a sense of humour. Today the dress had manifested in layers and layers of red gossamer that floated about her legs, the hem of which was embroidered with sequin flames that seemed to dance and spark as she moved. A ruby studded headpiece and golden flame earrings completed the look, while under her long sleeve was a small bracer crossbow. It was dangerous for magic users to wander about these days, after all.

    "Are you sure you won't have something to drink, Miss?" the bartended asked again. "I'm sure she won't be long."

    "No, thank you. And I know." She was not expecting the girl to return quickly. The Madame had an annoying habit of keeping her student waiting. But realizing the tapping of her foot was being read as impatience, she stopped. But it wasn't long before the tapping manifested in her fingers instead. Her eyes for their part skipped right over the volumes of intriguing skin on display and probed the darker corners.

    The Red Lantern was haunted, and the lure of it was even greater than sex for the Spiritist. Her right hand flexed in its glove and her nostrils flared as she drunk in the heady spice of perfume, sweat and the thin, ozone scent of a ghost. She wanted to get up and dig through the place like a hound to find it. Her mark seemed to ache for it. Why was it here? What did it want? She was so distracted that she flinched when a voice spoke to her from the red mist of the showroom.

    "My queen, have you finally come for me?" A man, black and sleek and hairless, wearing nothing but gold cuffs and a sheen of sweat, approached the waiting Spiritist with a smile.

    "One day, you beautiful creature", Madeira laughed, coming back to herself. She offered him a hand that he bent to kiss, his lips barely brushing the back of her glove, while she kept her eyes firmly above the waist. She had never seen this man wearing pants, and suspected he didn't own any.

    "Then I will wait, and dream only of you", The prostitute's golden eyes glowed with tender warmth. He leant against the bar beside her and asked the bartender for a glass of water "as cold as you can make it."

    "Hassin", Madeira ventured carefully as he waited for his drink, "how have things been here?"

    "Oh, we drink our wine and dance our dances and our lovers smile to see us. We could not be happier."

    Madeira leaned back with her elbows on the counter behind her, to look up at Hassin from below. "Nothing out of the ordinary, then?"

    The prostitute laughed. "Not at all. Why do you ask, my love?"

    "No reason."

    At that moment Saoirse returned, weaving through the bodies to find Madeira. "The Madame is awaiting your pleasure, Miss. I'll take you to her."

    "Ah, to have you slip through my fingers again", Hassin's lips were sparkling and wet from his deep drink. "How many times must you break my heart?"

    "How can I not, when each time it makes such beautiful music?" she teased, letting him help her off her stool. "Goodnight, Hassin", she blew him a kiss and followed Saoirse towards the second floor. Though the girl did not lead her right to the end, where she knew Belladonna's room and massive bed to be. Instead she stopped short at a somewhat smaller, but no less opulent, room. She opened the door without announcing herself or Madeira and ushered her inside, closing it behind her.

    And there was Belladonna, but she was not alone. She was in bed with another woman Madeira knew by face but not by name, and they were getting very, very intimate. Belladonna's touch was precise and beautiful, and elicited sounds Madeira could only dream she could wake from Chiona. But the Spiritist had hardly registered what she was seeing before her eyes snapped to the far corner.

    Found you, her inner voice purred. She couldn't see it, but she could feel it. There were more than just the three of them in the room. Her right hand flexed inside it's glove.

    “By the Goddess, can’t you control it", she heard Belladonna whisper, and her touch turned from sensual to greedy as she attempted to share her friends warmth. The temperature around them had suddenly and dramatically dropped as Madeira entered the room. "I'm sorry, my dear, am I boring you?" she finally snapped at Madeira. Her deep, dulcet tones turned icier than the frigid room. She was not used to being ignored.

    "My apologies, Madame. It's good to see you." Madeira tore her eyes away from the corner and smiled, dropping into a curtsy. The sudden temperature drop worried her, but she refused to let it show. She was the picture of grace as she stood there, waiting to be introduced. She needed to get these women out of the room, but she wasn't sure how yet.

    "Oh, I do like her" the friend laughed through chittering teeth. She pulled a blanket off her bed and threw it around her and Belladonna's shoulders. Madeira was just relieved to be wearing sleeves. "You can call me Gweneveh."

    "Gweneveh?" Madeira's held tilted, making some unknown connection in her head. In that thoughtful pause Madeira rallied her dijed, weaving it through the layers of her voice, projecting it on the sound as it dipped and fell. "Oh! It was your customers arguing outside. They both seemed to think you are the love of their life. I'm glad I got past them- I was sure it was going to come to blows."

    Both women straightened up at this, and at the suggestion of urgency magically ferried by Madeira's words. Gweneveh swore as she jumped to her feet, while Belladonna seemed unruffled as she borrowed a robe from the end of the woman's bed. "Well, we can't have that, can we? Wait for us here, my dear, while we sort this out."

    The Spiritist stepped aside as they strode purposefully out the door, to protect the reputation of their business and somehow placate Gweneveh's customers. And just like that Madeira and the ghost were left alone.

    The two other women wouldn't be gone long. Madeira estimated she had five chimes for the women to get outside, have a quick look around, and come back. She focused her attention on the ghostly presence in the corner.

    "You don't seem to be bothering anybody, so I won't tell them you're here unless I have to. But lets have a chat, shall we? I won't hurt you."


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    Best Served Cold

    Postby Autumn Rose on November 12th, 2019, 4:56 am

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    If Autumn had a body, it would have shivered. The newcomer made some story up about two of Gweneveh’s lovers getting into a quarrel. It wasn’t an unbelievable story. Autumn had seen what Gweneveh could do with a heart. What was unbelievable was the haste with which the two responded. Fear, the third of the great trifecta of powerful emotions that ghosts felt, dropped the temperature again.

    Terror seized Autumn as she watched the two leave and realized what it meant. The newcomer knew Autumn was there, and she was singling out her prey. The shiver wasn’t for the notion she was being hunted. Autumn had been hunted before, and a long time spent living in death had made her crafty. At the base of it was the fear of what the spiritist had just done.

    She had Lied but not in the way most people would understand it. The living were accustomed to fibbing to get by, but spiritists thrived on deceit. It was their favorite weapon, and it was at its most potent with the Lie.

    The Lie. She had seen it used often on Black Rock. Spiritists could slather their faces with soulmist and conjure images of people a ghost knew, wearing their faces and voices. It was a Lie, but it was so believable. Autumn had fallen for it several times and, in this way, had become reacquainted with old friends she had left behind in Kenash. The fact that they should have been decades older meant nothing. Logic dissolved in the face of a Lie. It was potent, and the thought that their mind could be so easily persuaded was perhaps the most frightening thing to a ghost.

    But it was only supposed to work on ghosts. Autumn didn’t know how, but this woman had just given the living a Lie. She had thought it impossible, but that was obviously not the case. Autumn had waited for the spiritsit to make her move, and the woman had done so, revealing only one small part of her hand and proving in a simple gesture that she could destroy Autumn if she so chose.

    And, once the two had left, the spiritist looked directly to the corner where Autumn existed without existing. She looked at Autumn, not toward her, not in her general direction. At her. She knew Autumn was there.

    And then she spoke. “You don’t seem to be bothering anybody, so I won’t tell them you’re here unless I have to. But let’s have a chat, shall we? I won’t hurt you.”

    I won’t hurt you. Spiritists sure did love their lies, but Autumn was found out. She didn’t have much of a choice. Still, caution was a deathlong friend of hers. Other weapons aside from deceit lined a spiritist’s arsenal. There was no lengthy strand lined with beads, so Autumn could be fairly certain this woman wasn’t carrying her soulbeads. Beads though were generally the thing of least concern to a ghost. They were designed to keep things out, less so for trapping things in.

    Darts. Autumn had never known a spiritist to ever not carry a dart or three with them. Even the good old boys, the ones whose bodies had long given up on the thrill and chase of the art, still carried their darts. They were an untrusting bunch. It came with building a career on lies. Once a spiritist, always a spiritist. Even though Autumn didn’t see one, she was certain the spiritist was packing. They always had a trick or two up their sleeve.

    Drifting slowly to one side, Autumn wasn’t surprised to have the spiritist’s eyes follow her as she moved, but the movement wasn’t to avoid being seen. She’d been called out, and she fully planned on revealing herself. The motion wasn’t to escape the spiritist’s gaze but rather to place something between herself and whatever weapon the woman might use.

    There was a changing partition for privacy nearby, though Autumn was unsure as to what purpose it served. Gweneveh never used it. If she was ever changing, she was either alone or sure to be letting her lover watch. It might have served no purpose for her roommate, but today, for Autumn, it was cover.

    As she moved, she realized something. She wanted this woman to remember her. She wanted the spiritist to know that Autumn knew her and held a grudge. If she had been reasonable, she would have realized that she was a single part of a memory of a single day long in the past, and if Maro’s trauma was any indication, she would have been the least memorable part of that day. The woman had met her once, but Autumn willed the woman to recognize her as she materialized into existence.

    This was Autumn as she would have been when they had met two years prior. Her, draped in the luxury of sepia tones, her favorite dress missing most of its color, its greens having faded to grays in the lackluster efforts of her materialization. But her eyes, by every Goddess, her eyes were as real and full of life as they had been when she had counted herself among the living. Their color spilled to the surface. She met the living woman’s eyes once before she slipped out of existence for an instant, blinking the last few feet o behind the screen.

    Glaring over the barrier, her eyes met the woman’s again. Autumn’s eyes, usually as gentle as summer skies, pierced through the woman’s in front of her as if they could find the answers she was searching for there.

    Autumn wanted the spiritist to know who she was, because she knew who the spiritist was. She knew that the spiritist knew what she did not, knew what Maro had experienced that day, knew the secret he had kept and taken to his grave. Autumn wanted to know that secret, though it meant nothing now.

    You .” Autumn's voice dripped venomous accusation. “You’re the reason for his secret.”

    Something, a hint of a memory from that day, burst out of her, and she let the full extent of her hatred shine in her eyes. “This is your fault.
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    Best Served Cold

    Postby Madeira Craven on November 12th, 2019, 9:57 pm

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      Madeira's eyes tracked the ghost as it moved, following the invisible shiver of frosted air and her own divinely enhanced senses. The temperature had dropped again. A halo of mist was rising from the dresser under the window and from the warm bed the two prostitutes had just vacated. The spiritist did not move, but stood with her hands folded primly in front of her, in an effort to be as unthreatening as possible.

      This ghost was so agitated. Perhaps it was her gnosis mark that unnerved it. Eiyons were not the most comforting presence to the dead, she had learned. But even as the thought crossed her mind she couldn't quite convince herself that that was what this was. There was something about this cold and the way it felt like it was reaching for her with sharp little fingers, stabbing her through her thin dress and shortening her cloudy breath, that felt almost... personal.

      The ghost stopped short and began to manifest. It became visible in bits and pieces, its form compacting, edges sharpening, until the haunt of the Red Lantern stood before her like an oil painting superimposed over reality. She was a beautiful young woman with auburn hair that her materialization couldn't quite do justice, and a luxurious dress that dissolved to a tattered mess of trailing soulmist as it reached the floor. But her eyes... her eyes were blue and striking and full of loathing

      “You . You’re the reason for his secret. This is your fault!

      The sharp strike of her venom made Madeira reflexively flinch and step back, while her crossbow sparked excitedly under her sleeve. The ghost vanished then, blinking behind a decorative wooden changing screen to peer accusingly over the top.

      Madeira knew this woman. Of course she did. She never forgot a face. But what was her name? That memory felt like another life, long ago, on that rocky beach half a world away. And her memory of this woman was so entwined with Maro, that righteous Kelvic Eiyon, that she had a hard time separating him from this hazy apparition before her.

      She replayed that meeting over in her head, desperately looking for a name for this ghost, when Maro's voice, young and kind and as clear as the day she heard it, rose into her mind: It’s gonna be okay, Autumn. See? I’m okay.

      Autumn, yes. She was Maro's... something. Not like Jomi or Emma was to herself, but something completely unique to them. If she didn't know better, she would have called them soulmates.

      Madeira's expression slipped into a bright, familiar smile. Aren't we friends?, it seemed to say. She held her hands open and relaxed in front of her in a pacifying gesture as she slowly crossed the room one step at a time, getting closer and closer to the ghost's hiding spot. If she could just get this woman to stand still and calm down... Damn it, why did she have to leave all her tools at home! There was no way to force her to leave without them. Not unless she was willing to risk violence.

      "Who's secret? I'm not sure what you mean. Come on out, Autumn, we can talk about this. You gave me a fright just then", her own voice was soft and pleading. She had no idea what Autumn wanted from her, or what she might have done to deserve her wrath, but asking at this tense moment was not the way to find out.

      "I came to find you as soon as I heard you were here. Maro made me promise to look out for you, you know", she lied smoothly. "You're lucky I know the Madame, or else they never would have let me into this room!"

      As Madeira approached the screen her mind was turning, keeping track of the time as it flew past, and the questions as they slammed into her. What was Autumn doing here, of all places? She was not expecting to run into a ghost she met in Alvadas over three years ago, as much as she pretended otherwise. She imagined Belladonna and Gweneveh stepping outside, and their confusion at finding it empty. Would they ask somebody outside if they'd seen anything, or not worry about it, now that the fight was off their property? Three chimes left.

      "Lets get you out of here, patch you up a bit, okay? I can take care of you. Starting with a nice big cup of soulmist, I think. You've never had anything like mine, I promise. Then once you're calm I'll explain everything you want to know."

      Why wasn't Maro here to take care of her? That innocent, noble little man certainly wasn't here too, and he wouldn't just leave Autumn alone in some whorehouse. She imagined Belladonna and Gweneveh coming back inside, perhaps talking to the bartender or a few workers, asking if they'd seen anything. Two chimes left.

      She was running out of time, but just then a dark thought passed through her mind. Maro wouldn't just leave Autumn here. She'd only known him for a few bells but she knew that much for certain.

      Just as she stepped around the screen she voiced the question she was suddenly dreading the answer to.

      "Autumn, where's Maro?"

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      Best Served Cold

      Postby Autumn Rose on November 19th, 2019, 2:47 pm

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      Lies. Always with the lies. Autumn almost couldn’t stand the way they slipped off the woman’s tongue so easily. What irritated her even more was that the woman remembered her name, despite all the time that had passed. All Autumn could remember of the woman’s name was the spiritist stating it haughtily after Maro had intervened in what he had thought was an attempt to save her. She played it over and over and over again in her head, and all she could remember was that she was a Craven.

      “Maro made me promise to look out for you, you know.”

      Rage, rage as she had only ever felt it once before, surged through Autumn. This Craven had no right to say his name, to spend it like currency to get what she wanted out of Autumn, and she definitely didn’t have the right to use it to fabricate a lie. Maro had always been concerned about her, but he had never relied on others to watch over her. He would never put that on another person, not because he was too righteous or empathetic to others’ time but because he was too much of a kind, optimistic idiot to ever think he wouldn’t be around to watch over her. She was his caretaker, not he hers.

      Still, the spiritist knew how to read people, at least to some small extent. In the short time she had to recognize who Autumn was, Miss Craven had found something to use, and even though Autumn knew it was a lie, the woman had told it in such a way that Autumn wanted to believe it. The thought that Maro had feared for her potential loneliness enough to put provisions into motion warmed her, and all the unpleasant emotions- the hate, the sorrow, the fear, the rage- dissipated into the ether like Autumn dematerializing. For a precious instant, there was nothing but the good Maro had always brought, but then she remembered it was all a lie, remembered that things like this were exactly why she hated the living, remembered that Maro was nothing more to them than a bargaining chip used in haggling with her, a name to drop and twist into whatever they needed it to be.

      Miss Craven kept talking, playing the concerned friend, all the while using every phrase and every gesture to ease her way closer and closer to Autumn’s bastion behind the partition. She was good. Autumn had to give her credit for that, but as the spiritist crept closer, Autumn had already found her next spot of safety in a corner that was hemmed in by two wardrobes. When the spiritist got too close for comfort, Autumn would blink away and find herself beyond the spiritist’s reach once more. It was fool proof, but just as the Craven rounded the end of the partition and Autumn prepared to blink, the living woman said the one thing that could put a tangle in the plan.

      “Autumn, where’s Maro?”

      It was the most reasonable question. Autumn should have suspected it, but she hadn’t. It hit her like a ton of bricks, and any plan she had had fell away as she froze, her brain searching for the answer. Any stability she had fell away as she realized she didn’t have one. Grief, as crushing and potent as that first night she had spent alone without him, struck Autumn again, and tears came. They were materialized, but they came unbidden, not some show for the Craven’s sake but true sorrow. Whatever thought or effort kept Autumn suspended failed, and she collapsed to the floor, her legs lost in a whirl of mist and her torso losing even more of its color, if that were possible.

      “I don’t know,” she admitted. If she had needed to draw breath, her voice would have caught between words. As it was it was just heavy with loss. “He’s gone. I don’t know where he is.” Realizing this left the answer somewhat ambiguous, she restated her answer. “I never found his body.”

      Existence seemed to suspend itself at this, and sorrow fell away, replaced by something infinitely more powerful, frighteningly more destructive. It was hate, but not for any living creature. It was for herself. It was herself she blamed for his loss, for his death, and this hate drove deeper than any emotion she had ever known. More so than sorrow, more so than gratitude, more so than passion, more so than love. Perhaps she had never loved right. Perhaps she had never felt others’ love for her right. Perhaps she had never let anyone’s love reach her that deeply out of fear of what that could mean. But this hate was potent. It was real, and it was alive. In this, it made her somehow feel as if she was alive again, somehow more whole than the her that existed now. In its potency, the temperature in the room dropped once more.

      Autumn was a broken creature, as fragile and brittle as the leaves of the season that gave her her name, the leaves that were changing in the low foothills that surrounded the base of the mountains that made Lhavit. At the heart of her hate was rage, and it turned her voice hard. She voiced the tumultuous and bitter thoughts racing through her mind.

      “I was supposed to protect him.” She couldn’t remember what from, but she said what was on her heart. “From everything. I was supposed to protect him from danger. I was supposed to protect him from every bad thing, from himself and his curiosity, from the world and its hate. From those who would use him.”

      Autumn’s eyes turned on Miss Craven as her anguish reached its peak. “From you. From whatever he saw that day. From whatever Djamila did. From everything you allowed him to go through for another’s sake. Nobody deserved his good heart, his benevolence, his compassion. But I couldn’t teach him selfishness. I couldn’t teach him to live for himself. I didn’t want to, but even if I did, he was too good for that.”

      Autumn paused a moment, realizing how easily she spun her own lies. Had she truly wanted to she could have bent Maro to any purpose she desired. But she wanted to remember him as somehow purer, more innocent, above it all. “No one deserved it, but he gave it anyway.”

      Her hatred for the living began to swell again, but it fell away when she took the time to recognize the root of her hatred. It always came back to one thing. “In the end, all I could protect him from was myself, and that wasn’t enough.”

      It took Autumn a moment to realize it, but the spiritist had gotten close, closer than she had intended to allow. Miss Craven was practically on top of her now. She had Autumn at a disadvantage. She could do whatever she liked from this distance. A simple cut across her palm, and she could dust Autumn into oblivion. The Craven could pin her there with beads if she had them hidden away. Or darts.

      Darts!

      Autumn had almost forgotten about them. Half of her didn’t care, but there was the half of her concerned with self-preservation, the half that would have taught Maro of greed and selfishness, the half that would have saved him, the half that was strong in the way the rest of her could never be. It knew to be concerned with the simple details, details like Was Miss Craven armed?

      Greedy strands of mist reached out from her core, dipping beneath the spiritist’s clothes, searching along the harder lines and softer curves of her body for the familiar vibrant energy of a dart. Grasping strands of projected mist started at the woman’s belt, hoping to find something there, but coming up empty, slid up to her hips and over her ribs. The surprising amount of nothing there kept her seeking, and the strands, fading from existence due to her inexperience, began to clumsily work their way down the spiritist’s arms.

      “Why couldn’t you have just let him be?”
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      Best Served Cold

      Postby Madeira Craven on November 20th, 2019, 10:36 pm

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        “I never found his body." The ghost spoke the words like every one were made of lead.

        Maro was dead. The thought struck Madeira deeper than she would have expected. Maro, that stupid, righteous, infuriatingly good person, was dead. She had always been so jealous of that git, for his love and his nobility, but mostly for his gnosis. She had looked at him on that beach, scrawny and wide eyed, and wondered why Dira chose him and not her. She was a dedicated spiritist from a distinguished and powerful line, beating herself bloody to send souls back to the Goddess. Her entire life back then, her reason to live, revolved around it. While here was this fisherman of no particular talent who wouldn't even use the divine powers he had been given. What did he have that she didn't? The thought had tormented her for years.

        And it was just that year that she had found the answer. It was only after she had loved someone like he did, and shown respect for the dead like he had, that Dira finally looked at her. On that beach she never considered the courage that was needed for him to look death herself in the eye, and accept the inevitability of it. Not when she finally had something to lose, just like he did all those years ago.

        And now he had beat her again, dying in peace to meet the goddess in her domain. Madeira would never catch up to him now. She was the best spiritist of her generation, a powerful mage with a family, a mansion, and a chance to build a name all her own, and she was still jealous of that scrawny little fisherman. A mad desire to laugh bubbled up her throat.

        Autumn blamed herself for his death. Madeira could see the pain in her blue eyes, and how it cut soul deep. Ghosts were always fragile creatures, but this one was truly broken. The spiritist stepped closer and closer under the distraction of Autumn's grief, all the while watching her, studying her. Rage was easier to bear than pain. It was something she had learned from Jomi, and she saw that now in Autumn's eyes too. But while Jomi needed force for her to control his rage, she didn't think Autumn would be curbed so easily. Jomi's hate was a straight line of destruction that lead right to Edith, his living bondmate. It was something with a solid purpose that Madeira could bend and redirect. But Autumn's hate was not so focused. She imagined hers not as a straight line but as a growing pool, fed by grief. Not something to control, but something to drown in.

        Autumn turned that hate on her, and her blue eyes flashed cold. She blamed her for that day, and what happened with the Eypharian ghost on that beach. Madeira met the accusation head on, and kept her voice gentle and low. She felt no grief or sadness at the knowledge that Maro was no longer with them, but she could fake it. Her smile was twisted with sympathy, and by holding her breath and blinking hard into the light of a nearby lamp she was able to work up tears to glisten in the corners of her eyes.

        "It was his nature to help, you must have seen that. Djamila hurt Maro, and badly, but he welcomed it. He relished the chance to help. Autumn, I'm so sorry", by swallowing her intake of breath she forced her voice to cracked. "I'm so sorry for what happened. But please, listen to yourself. What would Maro say to you now? Would he really blame you, blame us?"

        She could feel the electric touch of the ghost's soulmist winding up her legs and across her waist. The feeling sent a shiver up Madeira's body that had nothing to do with the cold. Jomi was the last one to touch her, and that touch nearly killed her. But she dared not pull away. Was Autumn looking for some kind of comfort? Something solid to reassure herself?

        "Please, don't run away. Come with me. I'm not Maro, but I can help, in some small way. I only want to help you."

        That touch was moving up, covering her torso, and sliding down her arms. Autumn was still a storm of agitated, whirling soulmist. If she was getting anything out of the contact it didn't show. Madeira wasn't even sure what she could get out of it. It wasn't steady or solid enough to instill calm. It moved transiently, licking around the shape of her, the tendrils almost... probing.

        Madeira ripped her arms away from the ripple of her soulmist, as the realization of what she was doing sunk in. But that was a mistake. The Dead Hand crossbow, already sparking eagerly at the tenseness in the air, seemed to take the action as being wielded. Her right arm burst into sickly green flame, the sleeve and flesh beneath it sizzling away horrifically under the illusion. Her hand, blackened and clawed, and the crossbow on top, armed with an evil looking black bolt, were completely exposed.

        "What that petch!"

        Gweneveh was at the door, her annoyance at the runaround Madeira had given her driven away by astonishment and fear at the spectacle in her room. Autumn was still hidden behind the screen, but it was hard to miss the Spritist, dressed as she was in sequin flames and more literal fire in the middle of the floor. Belladonna was right behind her friend, and for a moment their expressions were neatly mirrored. Her five chimes were up.

        There was nothing left to do. If the ghost would not come easily she was out of options. The fake tears and the sympathy dried on the Spiritist's face, burning away into something simply determined. She swung her burning arm back in Autumn's direction, and pulled the trigger without even seeing of she was still there. That interruption cost a precious tick of time. If Autumn had her wits about her that was all the time she would need to blink away or dematerialize.

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        Best Served Cold

        Postby Autumn Rose on November 24th, 2019, 6:14 am

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        Were those tears, real tears, in the spiritist’s eyes? What attachment did she have to Maro? She’d only known him a day. Not even that. A few bells, at best. Unless Maro had kept more secrets than the one.

        “What would Maro say now? Would he really blame you, blame us?”

        That was the point. He wasn’t here. He couldn’t tell them anything. He was dead, because of them. Not them. Her, Autumn. While her self-loathing made her mists more chaotic, it made her mind more focused. Strand by strand, she pulled mist away from her core, sending it searching for what she was certain it would find, but the efforts were draining. The effect she had on the physical world was the one she’d worked on least in her whole existence in death. This was straining her limits, and her mist was depleting. As clumsy as her efforts were, she was surprised Miss Craven hadn’t sensed her grasping tendrils yet. That, or the spiritist had and was just biding her time, waiting to do with that as she pleased, when she pleased.

        “I’m not Maro.”

        Damn right she wasn’t. But Miss Craven was trying to be a connection. Wasn’t that what mattered? More and more, Autumn was beginning to realize that she needed someone who cared, someone she could count on, someone who she could call a friend. She was horribly and utterly alone, but she didn’t want to risk trusting the living.

        “I only want to help you.”

        By every Goddess, Autumn wanted to believe that. She wasn’t sure why, but it was believable. Maybe it was that Miss Craven was an exquisite liar. Maybe it was because that was exactly what Autumn wanted to hear, exactly what she needed to hear. Maybe it was believable, because it was the truth.

        Autumn wanted to trust her, and yet, she didn’t. Despite yearning for connection, Autumn wanted to be sure there were really no darts. Her tendrils had worked their way down to the spiritist’s elbows before the woman reacted to her searching grasp. Realization of what Autumn was doing lit Miss Craven’s eyes, and she wrenched her arms away from Autumn.

        And in that moment, it happened. What she had been searching for came to light, though in a much more dramatic fashion than Autumn had anticipated. Miss Craven caught fire, though the lack of pain in her eyes suggested the flames, however convincing, weren’t real. Alvadas had made Autumn familiar with illusions, and the spectacle frightened her less than it ought to have. In a low green light, the woman’s arm burned away, flesh sizzling and shrinking and falling away as ash, leaving nothing but bones and some measly tendons behind. Illusions. Just one more way for the living to lie.

        But there, on top of her hand, was the prize. There was what Autumn had been searching for. There was all the evidence she needed that she shouldn’t trust the living. On top of that crispy hand was a small crossbow with a familiar bolt set in it. It was a dart, no doubt, and the spiritist intended to use it on Autumn.

        That thought alone should have frightened her. This woman and her darts could pin her, steal away her freedom, and if the spiritist felt so inclined, felt spiteful enough, end her existence. It should have terrified her, but something inside of Autumn was broken. It didn’t. Instead, she smiled at the revelation. It was a hateful smile, full of satisfaction, twisting the meaning and the essence of what a smile should be. All good connotations, all benevolent thoughts that went with a smile, were gone, leaving only the empty skeleton of the thing.

        She smiled, because Miss Craven had been caught in her lie. The truth hade made itself glaringly known. The truth always did, but it wasn’t the truth Autumn had wanted. What she had wanted was the lie revealed, a reason to mistrust the living. She had wanted the lie revealed, and it had been, showing Miss Craven’s words for what they truly were. Just that. Words. Sure, she would help, but only if it benefited her, only if it played into her hand. Autumn hadn’t played as easily as Miss Craven would have liked, and Miss Craven’s patience had broken.

        But Autumn had spent a lifetime in death waiting, and being dead that long taught one to be patient. Her patience, she reminded herself, had to hold out until the timing was perfect, and the time was not now. She couldn’t take this spiritist on, not yet, but she could wait her out. She could wait until age, if nothing else, weakened her adversary. There was always an opening, if one was patient enough. Autumn’s came a moment later.

        “What the petch?”

        Gweneveh had returned, and for the second time in a chime, Miss Craven was caught in her lie. The prostitute’s outburst drew the spiritist’s gaze away for a moment, but it was all Autumn needed. She remembered the urge to run, and even as Miss Craven swung her arm back to fire at her, Autumn was blinking away. It was a sloppy attempt, haphazard and not thought out, and she ended up right in front of her roommate and her roommate’s boss. Two reactions met her. Surprise flashed in Madame Belladonna’s eyes, but only a soft sort of recognition passed over Gweneveh’s.

        Autumn blinked again, out of their view and out of Miss Craven’s reach, through the wall and into the next room that was thankfully empty. For a moment, Autumn considered running, leaving the Lantern for good, its welcoming atmosphere having been ruined by this invasion. For a moment, she was ready to run, but the she remembered she had left one of her only two possessions in that room, the one she had promised Maro she’d read from every night. Hesitantly, she drifted into the wall, only allowing her face to peer out to see what the three women were doing now.

        Autumn couldn’t be sure, but she felt as if Miss Craven’s eyes were still tracking her and made certain to keep herself protected by the barrier the wall created.

        The Madame was furious. She wasn’t sure who to be angry with, so her wrath was hurled at everyone and the world in general, demanding answers. “Was that a petching ghost?”

        Gweneveh shrugged.

        Keeping herself tucked into the wall, still cautious of the spiritist’s gaze, Autumn drifted along toward the table where her book lay open. Gweneveh had been reading it earlier in the day before Belladonna had arrived, and now it was in plain view of everyone looking for a connection to Autumn. Gweneveh and the Madame wouldn’t feel it, but Miss Craven was sure to notice the trace of Autumn’s mist with how often she had handled it. But as Autumn moved toward it, Gweneveh slid across the room, headed straight for the same table. When the prostitute’s hands wrapped around the book, if Autumn had a heart, it would have been in her throat.

        She knew.

        This woman knew, and now, one of her two most prized possessions was going to fall into the hands of someone who wanted to see her darted to a wall. Despite her want for her things to be safe, Autumn knew she couldn’t stand up to the Craven. She was a spiritist unlike any spiritist she had ever seen before. Hovering between the ether and reality, Autumn waited for her roommate to hand the book over.

        She didn’t. As Autumn watched, Gweneveh held the book in one hand and tucked it behind one thigh. The necessity for warm clothes gone with Autumn’s heat, the woman didn’t have any articles of clothing that would hide it away, but she tried to conceal it anyhow.

        She knew.

        She knew of Autumn, thought the spirit wasn’t sure how. She thought she had been so careful, never materializing to read her book when Gweneveh was awake. But Gweneveh knew, and she wasn’t afraid. More than that, she seemed to be protecting Autumn’s secret. Sliding back across the room, Gweneveh was making her way toward a shelf that held several other books, but before she could Belladonna notived a change in her friend and stopped her.

        “What are you hiding?”

        Gweneveh shrugged. “It’s nothing.”

        “Then why are you hiding it?”

        Pulling out the book from behind her thigh, Gweneveh showed it to Belladonna. “Bee, it’s just a book. See?”

        Bee took on her role of Madame, and her eyes narrowed. She repeated the question. “Then why are you hiding it?”

        “Because I didn’t want it to be taken away.”

        “Why would it be taken away?” Gweneveh tried to give Bee a look that told her not to ask, but the Madame was having none of it and asked again. “Why?”

        “Because it’s hers,” Gweneveh admitted, a plea in her eyes begging her friend to understand.

        The Madame didn’t. “The ghost’s?”

        Searching for something that wasn’t there, Gweneveh’s eyes wandered the floor, refusing to meet the Madame’s.

        Madame Belladonna was incredulous. “You knew you were being haunted by a godsdamned spirit, and you didn’t bother to say anything?”

        “She hasn’t hurt anyone.”

        “Until she tried to murder one of our customers.” That wasn’t what had happened, but Autumn knew the living were always better believed than the dead. It was bad being a ghost. The living trusted her as little as she trusted them.

        The Madame gestured at Miss Craven. “We’re lucky she has the experience she does.” She held out her hand to Gweneveh. “Give me the book. We’ll see what Madeira wants done with it.”

        Madeira!

        It was both a victory and a loss for Autumn. She had the Craven’s name, and with a name, one held a certain amount of power over the person whose name they had. A name carried meaning; and meaning, information. It was the first bit of leverage Autumn had in their feud. It wasn’t much, but it was enough. Still, the one thing she wished to protect most was now in the enemy’s hands. Almost.

        Gweneveh kept a firm hold on the book. “It isn’t hers.”

        It wasn’t often that the Madame used the full power of her position on her friend, but the presence of a ghost had shaken her. “It isn’t yours either. Hand it over.”
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        Best Served Cold

        Postby Madeira Craven on November 26th, 2019, 1:41 am

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          Madeira bit back a curse as she shook out her bracer, which extinguished reluctantly. The bolt quivering in the floorboards had nothing pinned beneath it. Autumn had gotten away. With her lips thin and tight frustration huffed from the Spiritist's flared nostrils as she wrenched the bolt from the floor.

          "Was that a petching ghost?"

          Belladonna, angry and incredulous, demanded answers, but Gweneveh only shrugged in response. She had known the Lantern was haunted. That her very room was haunted. But she didn't say anything? Madeira stood there in silence, watching the blank walls as Autumn revolved around the room. The ghost wasn't running, even knowing she was armed. Why?

          Her answer came a moment later when the prostitute tried to slip something casually behind her back. Belladonna, sharped eyed as ever, caught her friend's suspicious behavior and demanded to see what she was hiding. Reluctantly the woman revealed to them the children's book of fairytales. Madeira blinked, surprised to see the ethereal marks of a handled object on its glossy cover. The Lantern wasn't haunted, and Gweneveh wasn't either. It was the book.

          The two friends argued, Belladonna putting pressure on Gweneveh until she cracked under the hard gaze of the Madame. When asked why she thought it would be taken away, Gweneveh and Madeira answered together:

          "Because it's hers."

          The prostitute had a soft spot, apparently. Madeira studied her with renewed interest as she pulled back the latch and rearmed her crossbow.

          But now that they had the haunted object, what were they going to do with it? The Madame rightly suggested they give it to the trained spiritist, but Gweneveh resisted.

          At this point Madeira, who had been tracking Autumn's movements quietly while the women argued, stepped forward.

          "Gweneveh, do you know what it is about a ghost that creates these cold spots that you're enjoying?", the prostitute didn't answer, but looked Madeira defiantly in the eye. "It's negative emotions. It's a physical manifestation of their anger and despair. What I do looks brutal, and it is. But what I'm doing is trying to save her. She won't thank me for it, but it is what's best for her and everyone around her. Give me the book."

          Being a ghost was not living, and not dying, but just existing. It was a cruel sort of torture those who couldn't let go put upon themselves. It was Madeira's responsibility to end their suffering and return them to the cycle where they belonged. But what made that responsibility so hard was that there was no way for a ghost to leave this life unless they choose to. A spiritist could contain and destroy and dust, but they couldn't kill a person a second time. The most effective way to make the ghost choose death over quasi-existence was to either find what is holding them to this life and either fulfill or satiate it, or make their existence so terrible that they would choose death over letting it continue. That was how you saved a ghost.

          Gweneveh hesitated. "She hasn't hurt anybody. She's just been quiet and... there."

          "I know. But leaving her to rot here watching you petch your customers is not going to help her. She needs to move on. Now please", she held her hand out for the book.

          Gweneveh looked pleadingly at Belladonna, but the Madame merely shook her head. In the end, defeated, she passed the book to the spiritist and let her hands hang empty at her side.

          "I'm going to take this to my home for safekeeping", Madeira explained succinctly, all business now that she had what she needed. She tucked the book under her arm. "And hopefully the ghost will follow me. If there's any sign she's come back here; like things are not where they should be, cold spots, a feeling of being watched... please, please send word to the Dusk Tower. Not the Den, the Tower." Her eyes lingered on Gweneveh, certain she would not be hearing from the prostitute no matter where Autumn ended up.

          "Okay. I'm leaving. I'm sorry for the trouble, Madame." she nodded to Belladonna and marched out of the room with out waiting for a reply. Now that she had the book she had to get out of there. If they wanted answers about what she was going to do with the book, or though her crazy for intentionally bringing a haunted object into her home, she never heard them. She had to get home right now, before Autumn tried to stop her.

          It would take her less than twenty chimes to get home. But on the way there were plenty of birds and dogs and precariously tied wagons, and Autumn could make use of any of them.

          The show floor was still busy. Madeira excused herself politely even as she elbowed people out of her way to try and get to the front door. From the bar she heard a familiar warm honeyed voice.

          "Back so soon my-?"

          "Not now, Hassin!", she barked, shouldering the door open and letting herself out into the night.

          Outside Emma was standing on her tiptoes trying to swat the moths that circled low under the titular red lantern. As the door beneath it swung open as hard as the hundred-pound woman could manage, the little girl hiccupped in fright and vanished.

          "It's just me, kitten!", Madeira exclaimed. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you. Take us home, please. Quick as you can. We're bringing someone with us."

          Emma materialized again. Her big brown eyes, the corners crusted with weeping sores, were wide with the urgency she was picking up in Madeira's voice. Brown curls and ribbons of soulmist danced behind her as she turned left and headed down the street, following a well worn way home Madeira could never seem to find alone.

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          Best Served Cold

          Postby Autumn Rose on November 27th, 2019, 4:43 am

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          Autumn could do nothing but watch as Madeira explained to Gweneveh what it was that she did. It wasn’t good to be powerless.

          “She won't thank me for it, but it is what's best for her and everyone around her.”

          Damn right, she wasn’t going to thank Madeira for whatever she planned on doing. And who was this scrawny brat to decide what was best for everyone around her? That first emotion that had given her away this evening burned bright inside of her, and as if all the warmth in the world was needed to fuel the fire of her hate, any spark or thought of heat left the room, leaving only cold behind, a malicious sort of cold that bitter deeper than bone, that bit to the soul.

          Goosebumps swept up Gweneveh’s arms, but she made no sign of giving up the book. Instead, she clutched it closer to herself as if it might somehow give her some warmth back. “She hasn’t hurt anybody. She’s just been quiet and… there.”

          She had known from early on. Gweneveh had known, and instead of reacting in fear, she had cared for the spirit who had come to her room. Though Autumn didn’t know it, she had been welcomed in. Part of her wanted to stay here with her roommate. She could see now what it was that Noah saw in the woman, why he had recommended taking her book there and leaving it in her care. Part of her wanted to stay, but the rest of her knew she would have to follow Madeira. There was no way Madame Belladonna was letting the book stay, and that quickly proved to be true. In the space of a chime, the spiritist had the book and was walking of the room, intending to take it back to her home.
          Angry whorls of mist dancing off of her, Autumn followed Madeira a short way, still hugging the walls for protection, cold their constant companion, until she was certain the other woman was leaving the Lantern. As a ghost, Autumn could navigate the crowd more easily. There were opportunities there, if Autumn so chose. She could possess any patron who was distracted enough by their potential lover’s charms, but she knew she was too impotent in that art. Her mark could easily shake her. That, or she would be too clumsy to use the body right. Madeira would be able to avoid such an attempt, regardless of whether or not Autumn could gain control of a body.

          Deciding it better to chance an encounter outdoors, Autumn blinked away, through the walls, and out into the night lit by the glitter of Skyglass and the lonely, waiting stars. She was about to scan down the streets around them for an opportunity when she found one presenting itself right outside the Lantern. There, in the soft red light of the lantern that gave the brothel its name, was a child ghost, swatting ineffectually at the moths that fluttered about the light.

          A dozen thoughts at how she could use the little ghost played in her head. If she could convince the child that Madeira posed a threat, she could use the child’s distractions to make a play for the book. She could always befriend the little one and, in time, send her searching for the book. She could-

          Madeira burst through the door, the book still tucked under one arm, and the sudden arrival of a person caused Autumn’s one chance to vanish from sight. But Madeira spoke into the nothingness, and the child reappeared. Of course, the ghost belonged with Madeira. Why else would a child be hanging out here at this time of night? Quickly, Madeira instructed the child to take her home. Autumn’d forgotten that Madeira was an Alvad. It made for a whole city of people with terrible senses of direction when direction meant nothing.

          Madeira was taking the book to her house, and she intended for Autumn to follow. She had said as much to kitten. It was a trap, but Autumn had to follow. She had no choice if she wanted to know where her book was going to end up, but she could do so safely. In her brief interaction with the ghost, Madeira showed a care and a compassion that Autumn had not witnessed the day she had met the young woman. This child meant something to Madeira, and Autumn could use that.

          Blinking out ahead of the child on the path she started, Autumn kept herself unmaterialized. A wide-eyed, anxious look in the child’s eyes told her the little one sensed her, but Autumn remained hidden. It wasn’t until they were five chimes into their walk and Madeira had fallen in a good few strides behind her little ghost that Autumn finally decided to reveal herself.

          She materialized in a slow build of mist made matter, as gentle as she could, but the child ghost still started at her appearance. Before the child could blink away, Autumn spoke, her voice soft and reassuring, drawing on every motherly quality she had learned in her brief time with Maro while he was a child. “It’s alright, kitten.”

          Smiling the smile she had always used to disarm Maro, the one that ended arguments before they ever started, Autumn let it go to work in the child’s mind. It was warm smile, friendly and inviting, nothing like the chaotic energies that the child could no doubt sense cascading off Autumn now, and the stark contrast confused her. Confusion was enough. The smaller ghost didn’t blink away, and that was all Autumn needed.

          Slowly stepping backwards, Autumn beckoned the child to follow her. “I promise I’m not here to stop you. Madeira said you were bringing someone home, right? I’m that someone.”

          Walking slowly backwards, the swing of each leg swishing the hem of her dress about her ankles, Autumn motioned for the child to follow her once more, being sure to keep the other ghost between herself and Madeira. When the girl began to follow her, Autumn’s smile softened, sending an odd encouragement. She had spent a majority of her death helping to teach in a schoolhouse on Black Rock, and children were something of a soft spot for her. “I’m Autumn, kitten. What’s your name?”

          The girl wasn’t ready to trust Autumn just yet, but Madeira had said they would be bringing her along, and talking to her couldn’t hurt. “I’m Emma Chamelle.”

          “Emma? By the Goddesses, that’s a beautiful name.”

          Emma beamed at Autumn’s compliment.

          “Emma, how long have you known Madeira?”

          A proud look came over the little girl’s ghostly face that was marred by open sores leaking only the Goddess knew what. Her death hadn’t been pleasant. “Almost three whole years.”

          Autumn’s eyes opened wide in surprise. “Wow, three years. That’s a long time to know someone.”

          Emma’s head bobbed up and down once, and her smile grew.

          “So, Emma, you’ve known Madeira much longer than I have. Do you think I can trust her?”

          Emma’s head bob became more emphatic. “Of course. She promised to take care of me and Raj, and she did. She took us all the way back to Riverfall, but we couldn’t stay, so she took us with her.”

          “Who’s Raj?” It wasn’t the direction she wanted to take the conversation, but Emma’s face had lit up at his name. While the girl wouldn’t think it suspicious if Autumn didn’t ask, the question gave Autumn more credibility.

          “He’s my bond mate.”

          Autumn’s eyes brightened in wonder. She and the child had more in common than she had expected. “He’s a Kelvic? He must be amazing.”

          Emma’s eyes narrowed a little. “He is. He’s a tiger, and if you try anything funny, he’ll get you.”

          Holding up her hands to show she meant no harm, Autumn smiled. “I almost had a bond of my own. I know how they feel about those they care for. I wouldn’t dream of causing trouble, not too much anyhow.”

          “Good.”

          Autumn went silent for a few ticks, then piped up again. “Emma?”

          “What?”

          “You said you’ve known Madeira a long time, right?”

          A nod.

          “And knowing her as well as you have you think she’s trustworthy?”

          Another nod.

          “So if she’s trustworthy and good, then it stands to reason she would never take something away from us without our permission.”

          Emma’s head never shook so emphatically before, Autumn was sure. “Never. She’s a good person. She protects us and looks after us, and she would never take anything away from us.”

          Autumn smiled at that, looking over Emma’s shoulder to catch Madeira’s gaze. “No, I’m sure she wouldn’t.”
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          Autumn Rose
          Even weightless, I'm a burden.
           
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          Best Served Cold

          Postby Madeira Craven on December 17th, 2019, 2:57 am

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            Lhavit was never quiet, certainly not at night, and definitely not on Zintila. Music and lighted spilled from open doorways as people reveled in the dark hours. But the streets themselves were nearly empty. There were only a few people out, walking in pairs down the lamplit streets. They walked quickly, suspicious eyes probing the dark corners, well awarethat a killer roved their city.

            Madeira too walked quickly, but her eyes stayed straight ahead. Autumn didn't seem set on stopping her or blocking her way. Rather she approached Emma under the guise of a little chat. The sight made Madeira's hackles raise. What did she possibly want with her delusional little girl?

            The ghosts were making no effort to hide their conversation, and between the sounds of the Lhavitian's nighttime activities she could hear every word. Perhaps Madeira had spent too long with Jomi and Hurik, who only knew force, and Emma, who was too sweet to be malicious. This was the first ghost to revolve in her sphere who knew how to manipulate people. Autumn met her eye and the Spiritist's face visibly darkened. This ghost thought she could use Emma as some sort of guarantee? Give her back the book, or risk bruising Emma's trust in her master?

            As they got closer to the center of the peak the people and activity became louder, and Madeira lost track of Autumns conversation with her ghost as she slipped further behind. But thankfully it was only another fifteen chimes until they could see the spire of the Infinity Manor thrust out on its lonely plot of land, flanked by the glittering opulence of Lhavit's central peak.

            "Where home!" Emma squealed, prancing ahead once she could no longer suffer the human's painfully slow pace. She slipped sideways through the tall wrought iron fence and disappeared among the thin smattering of dry, suffering beech trees and brittle blue flowers.

            Once she was gone Madeira took the book out from under her arm and took a good look at it for the first time. It was a children's book, the cover painted with warm and bright colours that had been bruised by the handling of many hands. She ran the pad of her thumb over the edges of the worn, feathered pages, lifting a line of grey dust across her silver glove. Maro seemed to be the driving force of Autumn's existence, though Madeira couldn't quite pin down the trajectory of that force. So if the ghost was so focused on the book, it made sense that it was part of their shared history. Didn't Maro say that Autumn raised him? Could the book be his?

            The house watched her as she walked to the main gate. It couldn't speak to her while she was not on the property, but it could feel her just outside its borders, and could feel the ghost she had with her. The dark windows of the upper floors stared down like watchful eyes as the front gate swung open to let them in.

            What's this? It questioned as soon as she stepped foot on the cobbled path.

            I'm not sure yet, she answered truthfully, tucking the book back under her arm. Keep an eye on her.

            "Autumn, meet the Infinity Manor", she spoke aloud, gesturing between the tall hexagonal manor and the empty space beside her, whether or not the ghost was actually there. "It's going to keep your book nice and safe for a while. "

            Even from halfway across the yard Madeira could hear little Emma in the common area on the ground floor, chattering on with Raj about her day with childish enthusiasm.
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            Madeira Craven
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