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A soulless creature enters the Lantern wearing a familiar face. Autumn seeks help from the most powerful person she knows.

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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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Postby Autumn Rose on February 22nd, 2020, 3:16 pm

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77th of Winter, 519 AV


Cleanliness. The truth was the Lantern had been slipping and falling far beneath the Madame’s standards in this aspect for quite some time, but the brothel workers’ response to her urgings had been lackluster of late. Enthusiasm had been sapped by autumn’s unseasonal heat, and winter’s unexpected cold had done productivity no favors. Where before heat had sapped their strength, now all any of them wanted to do when there were no clients to be seen to was sit in front of a fire or snuggle in the warmth of long winter clothes and heavy blankets. In truth, the sudden lack of exposed flesh had turned a portion of their clientele off and, in doing so, had turned them away. So with free time on their hands, the Madame had demanded that the woman and men of the Lantern clean their precious home.

For that reason, Luthisa’s arrival seemed god sent. That day, Madame Belladonna had delivered an ultimatum, but her employee’s response had been half-assed. Small attempts were made, but no true progress had come of it.

So when Luthisa entered the Red Lantern, everybody was only too happy to stop their chores and see to the woman and what it was that she might need.

Autumn had been brushing dust off of hard to reach places to keep herself entertained. Her projection was her weakness, so the effort took concentrated will. She would force mist into her hand, creating a simple wall of mist in her palm before shoving it forward to catch the dust and sweep it free. The little puffs and tufts of dust that drifted down were only helping to emphasize the Madame’s point about their home and place of work being too dirty. At one point, Gweneveh shot the empty air that was Autumn a dirty look that told her she’d better stop. She hadn’t, but Luthisa’s arrival was something to distract her. Formless and invisible, Autumn drifted closer to catch what the woman had come for.

Luthisa fended off compliments and invitations with a knowing smile. “Ladies, ladies, ladies. You are all very lovely, and if I were a young man, I wouldn’t be able to resist your charms, I’m sure, but I didn’t come here today seeking your services. I came offering mine.”

Aurelie voiced the question on everyone’s mind. “What services are those?”

“Children.” Luthisa smiled a kind smile, but at the odd looks she got from the prostitutes, she quickly explained herself. “Oh, not for you ladies’ line of work. I would never dream of that. They’re children.” She said that with a motherly conviction that everyone in the Lantern seemed to share and, in that statement, immediately bought the trust of everyone listening. “No, no. My children are servants, meant to do the menial tasks that the day-to-day running of the business requires but that I’m sure you are all too busy to handle.”

It was a compliment to their beauty, and though they were in the business of selling lies and telling people what they wanted to hear, the women of the Red Lantern were easily bought by this new woman’s flattery. It wasn’t heavy-handed and overdone in the way many people passed out compliments. It came, once again, with a motherly quality, the warm calm that said everything was alright and they were all special. She went on.

“Let me let you continue your fine work by taking away the irritating and unwanted tasks. The cleaning, the cooking, all the daily care such an establishment requires. My children are some of the finest when it comes to such things. They are fastidious, and they will be so when it comes to the care of your home. I assure you all of them obedient and polite, and they will do what they are asked. I promise you, they are well worth the price of their services.”

Belladonna stepped forward. Ever the business woman, she asked the important question. “And what is that price?”

“Ah, the madame of the house. Rumors of your beauty do you no justice, child.” Luthisa knew who was in charge. It was perhaps a more obvious compliment than her previous ones, and Belladonna was not one to be bought by flattery. Seeing this Luthisa answered her question. “Five golden mizas a day. Sorry, I forget where I am. Five kina.”

“Five kina?” Aurelie was stunned. “I don’t even make that in a night.”

“Of course, I realize the price I ask for them is high, but that is for a full day. Twenty-four bells. They will need four bells of rest, but they will work steadily otherwise, except when they need small meals. I promise you, you will be more than satisfied with the results. What do you say? May I bring the children in so you can meet them? It’s cold outside, and I’d rather not keep them waiting.”

Belladonna might not have been entirely convinced by what Luthisa was selling, but she wasn’t heartless either. “By the Goddess, yes, bring them in. Don’t leave them out in this cold. They’re children.”

Luthisa gave a small dip of her head in thanks to her host and stepped outside. A few ticks later, she opened the door and ushered in a line of children. There were a nearly a dozen of them, and all were clean and dressed plainly but well. They filed in and stood in a line almost shoulder to shoulder, each shivering and cold but showing little reaction to the discomfort other than to reach up and rub their arms.

Several of the workers cooed in affection over the adorable children that had entered their home. All looked well-cared for, healthy and clean, strong and capable.

Already hovering nearby, Autumn began to approach, but something felt wrong. That deep bite at the edge of one’s soul that warned, the caution of instinct, would have had her hair standing on end had she been living. As it was, the mist that made her up began to murmur in discontent, gathering the stray strands so that she might have more to act on whatever was causing this feeling. The most dangerous side of Autumn, the motherly one, pushed and drew her nearer to the children. And that’s when she saw it.

In the girl nearest to her, a beautiful young blonde with bright blue eyes that should have reflected the wonder of the world back at it, there was nothing. Her brilliant eyes were empty, like glass taxidermized eyes, emotionless. There should have been a light there. Curoisity. Mischief. Something. But there was not. The spark that made children children was gone.

Autumn’s attention drifted across the line. It was the same for the little girl next to the first, a shorter round-faced brunette. And the taller, freckled boy next to her. And the dark-skinned boy next to him. And the equally dark-skinned girl next to him that could only be his sister. And the-

Autumn froze, staring at the boy in front of her. Scrawny, bright green eyes, ears too big for his head. She had seen him before, but it was impossible.

He was dead.

The gathering mists about her ruptured as Autumn’s fragile emotions could hold them back no more. Confusion, anger, hate, fear, love. It was too much. It was impossible. She had heard the man from the Underground tell another of how he had killed him. But this was a face she recognized. He was exactly as she had remembered him when he was a child.

Maro.

In an instant, her emotions pushed out into the fringes of her soul and onward, and the temperature in the room dropped to freezing as if an entire wall of the Lantern had just fallen down.

“Who the petch left a window open?” Belladonna shouted.

No one wanted to be on her bad side today as none of them had been on her good side to start out. Their lack of dedication to the cleaning had not endeared any of them to her, and none of them wanted to be the last one out of her sight. Knowing exactly what the cause was, Gweneveh wasn’t as quick to leave, though she made a show of leaving to go check.

Belladonna caught her arm and pulled her aside roughly. Gweneveh was perhaps her closest friend, but that didn’t let her off the hook in matters concerning the Red Lantern. “I thought you said she was gone.”

“I never said that. You assumed it.” Gweneveh knew her position at the Lantern was not as precarious as some and stood her ground on the matter.

“I thought I made it clear I wanted her gone.”

“And never once did you ask me what I thought or wanted, Bee.” There was accusation in Gweneveh’s glare.

The Madame’s face softened a little. “Perhaps I should have, but ghosts are dangerous.”

“Not her. When has she once caused harm?”

“There was that night with Miss Craven.”

“The spiritist attacked her first,” Gweneveh defended Autumn.

That was how the ghost had recounted the story to Gweneveh, but if all parties were being truthful, Autumn had been the one to provoke. The moment Madeira had shown up, Autumn had treated her with nothing but guarded hostility. She wasn’t about to correct the women now though. They’re conversation barely registered as her eyes continued to assess this thing that was Maro but couldn’t be. Desperation searched for some detail that would assure her he was not him. They didn’t find it.

“I’ll talk with her, see what has her upset. It’ll be fine. Alright?”

“I don’t like it.” Belladonna wanted her displeasure known. Seeing that Gweneveh wasn’t backing down on this though, she nodded. “We’ll see what comes of this. I’m still not promising that I’m not off to find a spiritist first thing.”

Gweneveh started toward her room, slowly making her way there as if doing so would draw Autumn, but the ghost was already ahead of her. Autumn needed more time with the boy, private time, alone and away from questioning and judgmental eyes, and that she wouldn’t get out here.

As soon as Gweneveh was through the door to their room, Autumn materialized.

“Wha-?” Gweneveh tried to get a question out.

“Hire the boy. The scrawny one with the big ears and green eyes.”

“What’s gotten in to-”

“Gweneveh!” With Autumn’s shout, the room grew frigid, and Gweneveh’s breath froze in a cloud as it escaped from her lips. Autumn tenderly gathered her mist back into herself and tried to keep calm. She hadn’t meant to frighten her friend, but Gweneveh had shrunk away from her. “Please.”

Calming herself more, the chaotic, sparking mists began to dull to speedy roil. “Please. Just do this for me. I’ll explain when I can.”

Scared, Gweneveh said nothing, just nodded and ducked out of the room to do as Autumn asked.

And Autumn waited, waited to make herself known to this person wearing Maro’s face, waited to confront them. She didn’t know what she would do or say.

Autumn waited alone.
Last edited by Autumn Rose on April 3rd, 2020, 2:10 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby Autumn Rose on February 22nd, 2020, 3:16 pm

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The waiting wasn’t long, but Autumn was so lost in a dozen trains of thought that she had let her materialization slip away. With the sound of the door closing though, Autumn materialized as vividly as she could and blinked to end up in front of Gweneveh and the thing that looked like Maro. Always, since he had come into her life, she had reserved her best materializations for him. Even Dira didn’t get her greatest efforts. It was no slight to the Goddess; she had just not been instrumental in the things that had begun to lead to Autumn’s reincarnation.

At Autumn’s sudden appearance, the Maro child started. Autumn had known to expect that much, but she watched his eyes hopefully for any other emotion or expression. There was none, but the familiar face lacked in particular what it was she was really searching for. Recognition.

He had no idea who she was, and why should he? He was a thing wearing Maro as a mask. The real thing that made him him, his soul and his personality, wasn’t there. Maro had no idea who she was. Autumn had expected as much, as it wasn’t really Maro. It couldn’t be. What she hadn’t expected was how much that would hurt.

Her soul fell. It was something akin to the sinking of one’s heart or the catching of breath in one’s throat but more intimate, because it didn’t require the intervention of one’s body to comprehend it. This, this fall, was anguish in its purest form. Her form flickered and faded.

Maro was gone.

She had accepted that years ago. Why was this something she was trying to convince herself to accept once more? Maro was gone. Maro was dead. This could not be.

Reaching for him, she trailed materialized fingers over his face, but he shrank away from the sudden cold, just one more fact to prove this wasn’t him. Maro had cherished her touch, almost falling into it, the tingle of soul meeting soul at the edge of flesh a welcome sensation to them both. Her soul fell a little more, nearly to the depths of whatever chasm souls fell into, but Autumn was not at its bottom. Hope was not yet gone.

Desperate, she floundered and grasped for any possibility and came to her last.

“Maro.” Autumn spoke his name with her voice. His name. It was the first thing she had given to him, besides her love. If that couldn’t reach him, then-

It didn’t. There was no flash of recognition, no spark, just the same empty eyes that had been in each child’s eyes. Even worse, there was no curiosity. That and wonder had defined him, and whatever force had brought him back, had brought him here, had taken that from him. Staring deep into those eyes, Autumn willed something to come to life. It didn’t. She stared and continued to wonder.

How could anyone possibly have taken the him out of him?

“Autumn?” It was Gweneveh, waiting frightened by Maro’s side. “What’s happening? Who is this?”

“No time to explain. Keep him here.”

“You promised me.”

“And I’ll explain when I get back.”

Before Gweneveh could object, Autumn blinked through the wall of the Lantern and out into the snow laden mountaintop of Zintia. There wasn’t a single doubt in Autumn’s mind that Gweneveh would do exactly what she asked. Gweneveh was loyal to those she held most dear. Maro, or whatever was left of him, would be waiting for her when she returned.

Maro was dead, and now, he was not. If there was anyone who would know how this was possible, it was Madeira. She was an Eiyon, a servant of Death. Death was her domain, so if anyone know how it could be circumvented, how it could be undone, it would be her.

She had better know.

Her trip across Zintia was short. Blinking carried her faster than human legs could, even those of athletes in their prime. She’d been experimenting with it and was certain there was a way to leap farther, but she wasn’t sure what that was. A question for another day. Ahead of her, House was fast approaching.

Infinity Manor, as Autumn was sure it preferred to be called, was a sentient being of its own and Madeira’s residence, and the two of them had butted heads from the beginning. Autumn just needed to find the Eiyon and get her back to the Lantern. House was the least of her worries today, or so she thought.

House sensed Autumn’s mood as she approached. It was confusion bordering on agitation and hysteria, but the architectrix manor could only sense vagaries about her emotion. To it, she was enraged, hostile on the verge of murderous. Madeira had told Autumn she was welcome in the Manor where her and Maro’s book of fairytales was kept, so Autumn expected to be able to breeze through the front door, the same way she would with any other building. Protecting its mistress, House called on its spiritism abilities.

When Autumn collided with the door, it was as if she were a living person who had attempted the same thing. She met a solid wall and stumbled back.

Autumn froze and stared in disbelief at the ungiving door. Then, the anger that House had been expecting boiled up inside of her and spilled over, as the agitation took form as misdirected and unchecked animosity.

“Not today, House,” she growled. “I came for Madeira. Let me in.”

She made to walk through the door again, only to be met with the same result. Blinking out to the lawn, Autumn found a stray rock that had been kicked up. Projecting mist into her palm, she swept up the stone and flung it with a shove with as much force as she could muster right toward one of House’s windows. She had meant to shatter it, but the throw went wide. Snatching up another stone, she held her arm back, ready to throw again.

“That was a warning,” she lied, her voice dropping dangerously. “Let me in, or I will smash every window in you and speak to Madeira when she comes to see what the racket is all about.”

House’s presence swelled up menacingly, but Autumn heard a click from the front door, a sound she assumed was the door unlocking to open. When she approached, she barely had time to see a nail in the wood wiggle free before it thrummed through the air and Autumn’s world exploded into one of pain.

Vicious and silver, the soul dart ripped through her, catching her mist and dragging her across the yard where it buried itself into the side of gnarled little birch tree and pinned her there. She screamed. She knew only one thing, pain, and she screamed.

Somewhere, in the core of herself, Autumn remembered why she had come. Maro. She had to get Madeira to him. Her screams faltered, broke, became focused cries of determination as she began tearing mist away from herself where the dart held her in the same way a trapped animal chews at an ensnared limb.

Someone was crossing the yard from Infinity, and Autumn could only assume it was Madeira come to see what Infinity had caught. In the agony caused by the dart, Autumn couldn’t focus on the approaching figure to be sure, but she called out anyway, her voice half an anguished yell and half a pitiful sob. “I’m sorry, Madeira. I’m not here to fight you or House. I just needed to see you, and it wouldn’t let me.”

Autumn screamed as she tore another strand of mist away from the stubborn dart, but her focus was on her task and the importance of it. Her pleading became more desperate. “I need you. He’s back. It’s him, and he’s back, but he can’t be. He can’t be. He’s dead.”

She was certain she wasn’t making any sense, but she didn’t know what else to say. One thing she knew was she didn’t want Madeira to leave her pinned to the tree as a lesson and example as to what happened to unruly ghosts, so she continued to tear at herself in an attempt to break free. A chunk of mist ripped away; and with it, a memory from the very core of herself, but Autumn’s form slipped farther up the length of the dart. She had to keep trying to make sense.

“You’re the only one in this city who ever knew him. You’re the only one who met Maro. Come and see. Tell me I’m mad. Tell me I’m mad, and I’ll leave. Forever, I’ll just be gone. I’ll let go and leave. Just come and see and tell me I’m mad. Tell me.”

Autumn’s efforts were futile. The dart kept a fierce hold on her, and she slumped in defeat, at the mercy of Madeira Craven.
Last edited by Autumn Rose on April 5th, 2020, 5:11 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Madeira Craven on February 25th, 2020, 5:29 pm

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Madeira held the skull up to her eye, studying the oily sheen of its dome and the long incisors in its mouth. The basement around her was dark and cold. It was always dark and cold, despite the fire roaring in the man-sized hearth. Perhaps that was why it felt like the skull was watching her. In the empty pits of its eyes she could swear the thing was looking back.

“I could string your ribs together”, she spoke to the corpse on the table in front of her, where the entire skeleton was laid out. “You would make beautiful music as a wind chime. We’ll leave the jaw though, and the hands. I should find a way to give those back to Rotsam. I know how much you want them around his throat, Jomi.” She smiled as she kissed it chastely on the teeth.

She liked Jomi’s corpse much better than his soul. Both were invaluable to her, but one talked quite a bit less than the other.

At that moment in the palm of her right hand and the back of her neck Madeira felt the first stirrings of a new undead presence on the property. The newcomer’s arrival was deadened somewhat by the constant white noise Emma produced, but she could still feel it as it drew nearer. Even so she brushed away the creeping sense, as that was just the reality of living in a house as haunted as theirs.

She was running her hands over the many joints of Jomi’s spine, wondering if she could somehow string them together to make a variation on soulbeads, when she felt the house’s metaphorical hackles raise. Somewhere above her she thought she heard a sharp clack of something small hitting the side of the house.

“What was that?” she asked the house aloud, gently placing the skull back onto its spot at the head of the table.

The entire structure shuddered, causing beakers and bones to rattle on the shelves, but the house’s consciousness stayed silent. A vibration of unease traveled up Madeira’s spine. Something was wrong.

“Infinity, what was that?” she asked again, her voice low with a rumble of a warning. Without waiting for an answer she wiped her hands on the apron around her waist and grasped the handle of the iron ribbed door. The thing twisted in her hands, but didn’t catch. The door was locked.

Stay, the room around her demanded, the single thought humming through the walls.

Madeira breathed evenly through her nose. Don’t panic, she warned herself, letting the pressure building in her chest dissipate as a cloud from her lips. The house had disobeyed her before. In fact it was getting more and more common since Jomi’s betrayal. It would wrestle with her, dig in its heels, it needed some cajoling, some gentle pressure from time to time. But this is the first time it had ever trapped her.

She had to think through this. The house had never locked her in before, so why now?

Her first thought was of some sort of outside threat. It had to be tied to the undead she felt enter the property.

But the house wasn’t scared. She knew the canter of its terror, had felt it before. This was… She closed her eyes, reaching for the entity that refused to reach back. She could feel a kind of predator-like anxiety in it, like ruffled feathers or raised hackles. It was… showing its fangs. Worried, threatening…

“Autumn”, Madeira muttered with the realization. At almost the same moment there was a bend and creak of stressed wood, and suddenly somewhere above her she could hear screaming.

Cool and composed, she chanted in her head. When she spoke her voice was measured and level. “I appreciate your concern, but I have everything under control. Everything. Now back off, open the door.”

The house tipped back into her mind, spilling a thin string of thoughts into her. It’s observations of Autumn were at the forefront; her confusion, agitation, hysteria, a miasma of dangerous emotions, especially in a ghost. It rightly assumed she was at the very edge of a complete psychotic breakdown.

“I know what I am doing”, Madeira pressed, “I always know what I am doing. I can protect us from Autumn, I am protecting us from Autumn. This is a much bigger picture than you can see right now. Let me out. I need to speak with her.”

No.

There was a finality in its tone, a kind of expectation to be obeyed, that felt horribly familiar. It took her a long moment to realize why: it had learned it from her.

“Infinity…I respect your strength. If you won’t let me out there’s nothing I can do about it, is there?” she laid her hand flat to the door, feeling the difference between her fragile bones and the ridged oak beneath them. “But now I need you to recognize my strength, though it looks so much different than yours. Trust me, like I trust you. I can deal with this. We can protect each other. Equally.”

In the connection of their minds that the house had opened between them the Spiritist fed into that notion. If she pressed it the house would cut her off, but if she was too light handed she would not convince the house to release her in time. So she worked it gently but insistently, tuning out the faint screaming she heard above on the grounds she fed a fierce affection into the bond.

Trust me, she silently pressured.

For so sturdy a building, it could still buckle so easily. The tension in Madeira’s chest loosened immediately as she heard the faint, reluctant click of the lock releasing.

At once she wrenched the door open and the metal staircase clattered deafeningly as she ran up the tight spiral to the first floor. She pulled off the apron and threw it aside as she ran to the door, her skirts billowing around her legs like a storm cloud. Now that the internal crisis had passed her mind was working before she had even set sights on the external problem. Why was Autumn here and why was she so worked up that the house felt the need to defend itself?

The outside world was bitterly cold. Despite Infinity’s nobel attempts at groundskeeping the snow had piled up across the property, turning the riot of colourful flowers and green trees into a monochrome wasteland, with pretty designs carved into the untouched snow, in a rather desperate attempt to recapture its beauty. And nailed to one of its skeletal trees, like a macabre ornament, was Autumn. Her materialization was focused on function rather than form, and her aspect was flickering and colourless as she worked to remove the nail imbedded in her chest.

Without a coat or proper shoes Madeira plunged into the knee-deep snow and immediately began to shiver. She didn’t grasp much of what the ghost was saying, but the name Maro was branded in her head. Maro was dead, according to Autumn, and probably had been for years. If she really did see her late partner it was just a spiritist Lying to her. There was an entire Tower full of people with enough skill to confuse a desperate ghost, and all they would have needed was the name. And she knew of at least one person who might want to break a spirit who was slowly entrenching herself with Madeira Craven.

“Calm down!”, Madeira demanded as she approached. “I need to pull the nail out. Stay still and don’t touch me”. Luckily she was sure Autumn wasn’t strong enough to kill a person with her materialization, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t do some serious damage with it. Madeira normally wouldn’t risk being this close to her in this emotional state, but this sudden appearance of her ambivalent ghost had her licking her lips. She could smell an opportunity rising, though she was not sure what it was yet.

With one hand on the slim birch tree and the other wrapped around the head of the nail, Madeira gritted her teeth and twisted the thing free, throwing it aside and backing away with her hands extended protectively.

“There! Easy, easy, you’re okay, Autumn. It’s okay. I’m here, and I’ll go with you. Where did you see Maro?”
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Postby Autumn Rose on May 1st, 2020, 3:22 am

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Madeira plodded through the snow toward her, and somewhere beyond the pain of the dart, Autumn was aware the woman was not dressed for this weather. Part of her wanted to reach out and pull Madeira up out of the drifted snow around her knees. As Autumn shifted to step out toward the spiritist though, a sudden force tugged at her, bringing another cry that seemed to emanate more from the gut than her throat. She’d forgotten she was pinned. One hand still extended to help the living person come to help her.

“Calm down! I need to pull the nail out. Stay still and don’t touch me.”

Autumn’s hand dropped back to her side. Of course, she couldn’t help. After all, she was dead. But Maro was not.

There was a moment of lessened pain, as if the spiritist’s intent to remove the dart was enough to separate it from Autumn’s soul, but then, it began to twist. She’d forgotten that the removing of a dart was the most painful part.

Once, long ago and in her early years of unlife, Autumn had asked a Cicerone, one of Black Rock’s spiritists, to shoot her with a souldart so she could know what it felt like. There were very few choices she had ever made that she regretted more than that one, and she had worked with an eager zeal to never experience it again. While being pierced by a dart was agony, it was miniscule in comparison to its removal. In the extraction of a souldart, there were three different wills- those of the ghost, the spiritist, and the dart itself- al working against each other. While the spiritist tried to pull the dart free, and the ghost pushed it away, the dart grasped at both its creator and its prisoner.

Madeira’s dart was no different. As Madeira twisted, the dart did what it did best, latching tightly on to tendrils of Autumn’s mist and ripping them from her as it was pulled away.

Something akin to a gasp left Autumn’s soul at that stab of pain, almost as if another piece of her had been torn away. Several moments passed before she could gather her bearings.

“There. Easy, easy, you’re okay, Autumn. It’s okay. I’m here, and I’ll go with you. Where did you see Maro?”

Still disoriented, Autumn cast her eyes about the snowy ground until they fell on the hole in the snow where the nail had fallen.

“He was there, Madeira.” Autumn said it more to convince herself, wanting so desperately for it to be true while at the same time praying for it to not, but doubts were beginning to arise. Could it all be a Lie? If it was though, who would know she was there and who would know to use the name of Maro? And even if they did know his name, why would her mind create him like she had seen him, so young, still a boy. “It doesn’t make sense, but I know what I saw. It was him.”

Letting her mist sink through the snow, she found the dart waiting for her, beckoning, as if there were some magnetic force meant to make the two meet. As her gentle mists stretched out toward it, it reached back with less benevolent intentions, and at her touch, it burned against her soul. Still, a part of her said she needed to do this to make things right. Hoisting the dart back up through the hole it had made in the snow, Autumn walked toward the front door, her steps making no depression in the snow.

“He’s at the Lantern, Madeira. He’s there, but I don’t even think he know he’s him. But it’s him.”

As Autumn neared Infinity, she hesitated. It was cocky, victorious, almost smug. It knew it had beat her, beat her soundly, and the energies that radiated off of it almost screamed of a dare, challenging her to try again. No thoughts of revenge lay in her mind, not yet.

Setting the nail dart on Infinity’s porch, Autumn patted it, like it was some stray pet that she run off and she was returning it safely to its home. “I’m sorry, House. I was scared, and I was angry, and I didn’t mean it. I shouldn’t’ve thrown that rock at you. I’ll make it up to you, I swear.”

She turned away, not a fearless gesture but a trusting one, hoping it didn’t put another dart in her back. Mist still sparking chaotically, Autumn started toward the Lantern. “I’ll take you to see him. You’ll see. You’ll see. I’m not mad. I can’t be. It can’t be.”

And, all at once, Autumn was certain she was certain about nothing. She was silent the rest of the way to the Lantern, mind and mists reeling as they tried to grapple with what any of this could mean. The next time she spoke up it was at the Red Lantern’s door to give Madeira directions the ghost was certain the spiritist already knew.

“Gweneveh’s room.”

With that she disappeared, traveling unseen through walls until she arrived at their destination a few ticks prior to Madeira.

When Madeira walked through the familiar door to Gweneveh’s room, she and Autumn would both see the thing that was Maro working diligently with his back to them, dusting furniture Gweneveh had found herself too busy to attend to.

Upon seeing the ghost and the spiritist in the doorway, Gweneveh tapped the boy on the shoulder and pointed toward the door. “We have guests. Say hello.”

The boy turned toward them, and Madeira was met with something that distinctly resembled the Maro she had met several years ago. Though this version was far younger, all the features were right. The ears too big for his head were even larger now that his body was younger. The canines were longer than a person’s ought to have been. His eyes, the same green that Madeira would have remembered, met hers. Perhaps there was the only part of this thing that said it might not be Maro. Where once there had been gentlness and curiosity, there was now nothing. Even as his lips formed a friendly smile, his eyes remained empty.

“Hello.”
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Postby Madeira Craven on May 6th, 2020, 7:00 pm

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Date, Season, Year
"Speech"


Madeira had grabbed her heavy fur cloak and winter shoes before setting out with Autumn. The ghost didn't seem keen to talk on the way, and Madeira simply watched the agitated mist that whipped around her flickering form as she led her down the winter darkened streets. But that was okay, she needed the space to think.

There was no such thing as a sane ghost, but Madeira had always thought Autumn to be one of the most levelheaded spirits she had encountered. To see her so undone over such a simple trick hinted at a wilder madness underneath the gentle exterior. And when they got to the Lantern, and Madeira confronted the idiot Dusk student who thought they could mess with the haunted brothel on their own, she would have to think of a way to explain to the distraught Autumn that the love of her life was still dead, and she was alone. She did not relish the task of pulling the shattered ghost together after that.

Madeira rolled her shoulders back, cracking her knuckles as her breath steamed from her nostrils like an angry bull. This whole fiasco was the work of one of her employer's students, she was sure of it. And when she found the Lier she was going to drag them back to the Tower and have them expelled on the spot. It wasn't even the idea of a overconfident student destroying a ghost's delicate psyche with their clumsy grasp on their craft that had her blood boiling. It was that this student was using it on Autumn. Autumn didn't know it, and would likely rage if she knew the extent of her feelings, but as far as Madeira was concerned, Autumn belonged to her. She was her problem, her responsibility, and most importantly one of her treasured pieces in this grand game she was playing with the rest of the world. How dare some moron play with what was hers.

The lonely red lantern that gave the brothel its name cast a bloody glow on the snow piled against the edges of the alley. “Gweneveh’s room”, Autumn spoke for the first time since leaving the house, and disappeared. Leaving the corporeal human to follow in her own limited way.

The showroom of the brothel was empty of customers. And empty of prostitutes too, it seemed. The chill had forced even the most showy of workers to pile on the wool and furs. But what she did see, to her shock, was children.

A few of the workers looked up hopefully when the door opened, even as they pulled their coats tighter against the draft. But Madeira was becoming a familiar face, and a familiar face who belonged resolutely to the Madame, so she was only offered a few polite smiles and winks before they all turned back to the newcomer in their midst. A heavy set lady wearing layers of gaudy necklaces was talking to Madame Belladonna, and behind her were a line of patient children in plain uniform, all standing with their hands neatly folded. The workers were fawning over them, which they took with a kind of reserved grace Madeira couldn't even imagine from her own children.

"Don't be disturbed, my love", a black shadow peeled itself off a low divan and approached her from behind, following the line of her eye. "They're here to offer their household services, not their charms."

"Hassin", Madeira worked up a smile and offered her hand, which he kissed gently. Though a familiar worker at the brothel, Madeira almost didn't recognize the sleek, hairless man with his body covered. Though with a sly glance she realized he was not wearing clothes, but rather a heavy blanket tied like a toga. And the question of whether Hassin actually owned any pants remained unanswered. "So the children are...?"

"Orphans and the unwanted, trained and cared for by this Miss Luthisa. They are housekeepers and domestic servants with a steep price." Incorrectly reading her distracted expression, the whore tenderly cupped her cheek. "Do not worry, our Madame is sure to refuse their services, at least in the long term. This is no place for such sweet innocence. Not when we sell such sweet experience."

Madeira was too preoccupied to let herself be taken in by his gentle charm. Trapping his fingers in hers, she kissed his knuckles and let him go. "I'm needed in Gweneveh's room. I'll see you later, Hassin."

Hassin kissed the air where she used to be and smiled in a way that had broken the heart of countless women before. "I'll be waiting, my queen."

Madeira took the stairs to the second floor two at a time, and twisted open Gweneveh's door without knocking. Gwen was there, with her back to her, supervising one of the children from below as they diligently cleaned and dusted. Madeira felt the rolling miasma of difficult emotions lifting off of Autumn in the back of the room, but she herself was only confused. Where was the student?

Then Gweneveh tapped the boy on the shoulder, and he turned to face them. Madeira felt her old Avalad madness give a nasty pull as she was confronted with the impossible. She recognized those green eyes, those big ears and boney frame. This wasn't a Lie, this was Maro.

She allowed herself one private moment to process this sudden twist, very aware that there was a child, a near stranger and a distraught ghost watching her. Thus indulged she wrestled he expression under control and tapped down her emotions, and she returned the boy's smile with as much warmth as she could muster.

"Hello there. My name is Madeira, what's yours?"

"Maro."

"That's a handsome name." Madeira approached, not lifting her eyes from him even as she waved Gweneveh off. The prostitute, already confused by the situation and the change in Autumn, took this as a step too far.

"What the hai is going on?", she hissed, casting furtive glances at Autumn. "Who is this kid?"

"Not right now", Madeira shut her down, not losing the sweetness in her voice.

"Yes right now! Something is wrong with Autumn and-"

Madeira finally looked away from the boy and shot Gwen a look that had every ounce of her authority behind it, her dull blue eyes suddenly sharp as she silently dared her to push this further. "I need to speak with the boy, if you would be so kind."

Gwen wavered for a second, recognizing that this situation was washing right over her head. Finally she turned away with a scoff, taking a few steps back and giving Madeira room to kneel in front of the boy. If the kid understood that tense exchange he didn't show it. Madeira had never seen less lively eyes in a child.

"Who gave you that name, Maro? Do you have parents?"

"No, miss."

"I'm sorry to hear that. Do you recognize me? Have you ever seen me before?"

The boy's brows narrowed, his eyes flicking between hers as he searched his memory. "No, miss." He paused for a tick. "Sorry, miss."

"That's okay", Madeira got up off her knees, dusting off her skirt. "Why don't you continue cleaning."

"Yes, miss", the boy inclined his head politely and turned back to his task almost robotically.

He wasn't like any child she had ever seen. No combination of praise and reward and punishment could make a boy that assiduous over such a boring task. She watched him for a moment as he carefully dusted the edge of a vase before returning to Autumn's side. She wasn't sure what to say to the ghost now that she had seen this 'Maro' for herself.

"Are we sure this isn't Maro's son?" she ventured, though there was little hope in her voice. "My daughter is a year old and just hit puberty. This could be some Kelvic gene." But even to her eye, having known the original Maro for only a day, this looked like an exact replica. "We should speak to this Luthisa downstairs. Just speak", she warned, "not accuse. We don't know the whole story. This could be anything."
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Postby Autumn Rose on June 25th, 2020, 4:35 pm

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“Maro.”

At that single word, Autumn’s spirit swelled and broke all at once. It was him. But if it was, why didn’t he recognize her? She had been the most important person in his life. Life. He had it again, but how was that possible? How could he remember who he was and not remember her? How could he be him without her?

That was perhaps what hurt the worst.

She had gone from being everything in someone’s life to meaning nothing to them.

“Who gave you that name, Maro?”

She had. Autumn had. He had been a nameless child before her. She had given him identity; and he, her. And now, he didn’t know. No worse. He knew. She knew he knew. He just didn’t remember.

“Do you have any parents?”

No. He didn’t have parents. Autumn could answer that one. He had never had parents, not since she had known him. He had never had parents. He had just been given to her by Dira. She, Autumn, was the only mother he had ever known, and she hadn’t been one for long.

“No, miss.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. Do you recognize me? Have you seen me before?”

Maro, the thing that used to be him yet still was, creased his brows as he thought, and in that concentration, Autumn tricked herself into thinking she saw a glint of emotion, of a soul, but those were gone in a moment.

“No, miss. Sorry, miss.”

Madeira dismissed him and turned back to Autumn, and the ghost didn’t like what she saw in the spiritist’s eyes. Miss Craven, that unstoppable force of knowledge and wit and stubbornness, had no answers. She was dumbfounded, and Autumn could only imagine how uncomfortable that felt for the young woman.

In that discomfort, Madeira offered some weak idea that had no support behind it, not ever her own. “Are we sure this isn’t Maro’s son?”

Autumn’s eyeroll was audible as her soulmist crackled against the invading air around it in irritation. Madeira quickly backtracked, offering a more helpful suggestion. “We should speak to this Luthisa downstairs. Just speak, not accuse. We don’t know the whole story. This could be anything.”

Rage boiled inside of Autumn, and the temperature in the room fell impressively again at it. How could Madeira suggest this? How could she just talk when she had seen what that woman had done to him? How could she-?

Reason struck again, the way it always did when it was unwanted. Autumn wanted to be angry. She wanted to rage and rend someone limb from limb. She wanted-

She wanted so many things, too many things, but most of all, she wanted Maro.

But she had invited Madeira here, called her here asking for her help, and this was the way Madeira worked. She talked. She asked questions. She found things out. And then, then, knowledge became her weapon. Madeira knew how to twist information to her advantage. Madeira, of course, was always right.

Autumn calmed herself, and the aching cold subsided and faded away to nothingness, allowing the cozy warmth of the indoors to return to comfort those who were living.

Her ghostly head nodded. “You’re right. We do need to talk to her, but I don’t want her knowing I’m there. I don’t want her knowing I even exist.”

That was difficult, especially if Autumn still wanted to be part of the conversation. An idea sprang into her mind, one she regretted the moment she thought it, but she voiced the idea anyhow. “What if I watched through your eyes?”

It was a bold request, full of dangerous facets and an intimacy unmatched. It was equally vulnerable for both of them, though in different ways, and with Madeira’s grasp on her art, it was probably less so for the spiritist.

“Hear me out,” Autumn pleaded. “I’ve experienced mutual possession before on Black Rock. If we do it right, I can voice my thoughts to you, and you can direct the conversation. You’ll be in control, of course. I’ll just be there to watch and listen and give you questions to ask.”

Autumn thought she saw a glimmer of what was Madeira giving her permission, and she leapt on the opportunity. Stepping forward, she collided with Madeira. It wasn’t a collision in the typical sense, but there was more resistance to it than what she typically found with most possessions.

It wasn’t so much the receptiveness of the body. In fact, Madeira fit like a glove, perhaps due to years of training herself to handle possession. Hers was the most comfortable body Autumn had ever worn, but that was it. It was the briefest experience, and then she met the soul that went with the body. Madeira was a creature who desired one thing above all. Power.

Control was something Madeira lived by, and she was not about to give that up to a spirit like Autumn. In all the familiar points Autumn had learned to find her grip on a possession, she was met with walls of sheer willpower. It was something Autumn had always known, but this was experiencing it in the flesh, so to speak. Madeira was indomitable. It was terrifying to realize how out of her depth she really was, but Autumn found an odd comfort in it as well. Madeira’s consistency was a stable thing, a reliable point on which Autumn could anchor everything. Despite how much the spiritist might want her dead dead, Madeira had other drives that Autumn knew would keep her safe, for some short time at least. The power that Madeira held over mastery of her own body and will was insurmountable. Turn after turn, every fiber of flesh that Autumn slipped into, she found Madeira waiting and ready and ungiving.

Perhaps the most frightening thought of all rose in Autumn at that. She didn’t know if she could leave the body if she wanted to. On Black Rock, she knew of several spiritists who had held a dozen or more malignant spirits imprisoned within their bodies until the could figure out a way to make them move on. It wasn’t something Autumn tested though, because she didn’t want to leave. She needed Madeira. She needed this to work, and so she stayed but did not demand control from her host. Gently, Autumn reached out, and soul met soul. Though submission wasn’t found in the soul that touched Madeira’s, it also made no demands. Instead, the contact was soothing, motherly.

Her voice reached out into the empty void where flesh didn’t matter, a voice only a spirit could hear, and she hoped Madeira could hear her.

I’ll let you take the lead. I just want to be there to give you questions to ask, if I may.

Autumn couldn’t be sure if it was a sign of trust or if Madeira just knew she outmatched Autumn, but the lightless space that was an ensnaring soul brightened as the spiritist opened her eyes to Autumn and let the ghost see what she saw. What she saw was their body stepping out through Gweneveh’s door and back into the hall that led to the stairs that led back to the welcoming room of the Lantern.

As they stepped slowly along, Autumn made certain she discussed what she wanted to Madeira to do and to say and to not say.

Whatever you do, Madeira, please don’t give our interest in Maro away. If she suspects something, if we give something away, I don’t want her to take it out on him.

That was Autumn’s primary concern, and she managed to state it several times over before they reached the main floor where Luthisa was overseeing the distribution of the children about the brothel, making sure everyone who paid was being looked after. As Madeira approached, a calm, warm, welcoming smile spread across Luthisa’s face.

“Hello, dear one. Have you come hoping for the services of one the children? I’m afraid I’ve sent the last of them off to work just now, but if you’re patient, they tend to be quick about their work. I may be able to send one to your room soon depending on how quick they are.”

Autumn seethed inside of Madeira, but she, perhaps with the spiritist’s help, kept her mists reigned in. No sign of Autumn’s presence seeped into the world around them. Instead, Autumn concentrated on the task at hand. There were things they needed to know. Remember to ask where she got these children.

Madeira did, even as she responded to Luthisa’s greeting, with a much better mind for subtlety than Autumn would’ve been able to manage.
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Postby Madeira Craven on July 3rd, 2020, 2:16 am

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“What if I watched through your eyes?”

Madeira raised a brow as Autumn continued. That was not something she expected to ever hear the spirit say. And it was a testament to how desperate the situation was that she would even suggest it.

Madeira wordlessly opened her arms, and that was all the permission Autumn needed. The ghost blinked forward and hit her soul. Madeira's entire body went numb for half a tick, but if not for the unnatural rolling of her eyes one would never guess she was being possessed. She had done this so many times with so many different ghosts that her body had ceased to be anything sacred. There was no trauma as the foreign soul wound through her bones and muscles, her own soul was completely unresisting as it was forced to lay alongside the invader.

Autumn's possession was not as brute force as Jomi and Hurik's, not fearful like Emma's and not as creeping and diseased as Renee's. Hers was... smooth, controlled. No wasted effort, no force, it was patient and fluid, moving with precision across her body. Madeira was pliant against it only because she knew that if it came down to it, she had the power to force Autumn out if she decided to push it too far. But the question of how she would even recognize that fluid soul pushing for control was not one she knew how to answer. Autumn was the water to her stone, she wouldn't be able to break her now, but with effort she could see this ghost wearing her down over time.

But Autumn didn't push. The soul that reached out wasn't searching to wound or control, but to sooth and comfort. If she had to guess, Madeira would call it motherly. The feeling was worse for its unfamiliarity, and she shivered at the contact.

Both Gwen and the child were looking at them, though without much comprehension. The whole process took less than half a chime.

"Where did Autumn go?" Gwen demanded.

Madeira tested her tongue against the roof of her mouth. Autumn was a solidly competent possessor, a fact that surprised Madeira a lot more than it should have, given her lackidasial attitude when possessing infants. But her fine motor functions weren't recovering as fast as they did with someone familiar like Jomi. She decided not to risk speaking just yet. She tapped the side of her head. Gwen looked faintly nauseous.

Autumn asked permission before flooding the space behind her eyes, and the two shared their sense of sight as they looked out on the world. I’ll let you take the lead. I just want to be there to give you questions to ask, if I may.

Your politeness is freaking me out, Madeira internalized without meaning to. Shaking herself out, she exited the room, leaving a bemused Maro and Gwen behind.

Autumn rattled off instructions to her as they descended the stairs at her slow corporeal pace. She didn't want her to give away her presence, or their interest in Maro. Madeira silently agreed. Even though that was clearly not Maro, or at least not all of him, Autumn remained fiercely protective.

We can do better, Madeira insisted when Autumn explained that she would sit back and voice her questions for Madeira top spin. Autumn was no novice, she didn't have to sit in the backseat. She could still be disguised as they spoke to this Luthisa. Have you ever tried a graceful possession?

Through the intimate contact of their minds an understanding of grace bled through. It was tricky; two souls merging together so seamlessly they could share knowledge and even skills. They would essentially become one person for as long as they could maintain the delicate balance. After feeling her possession Madeira was confident Autumn could maintain it, at least in the short term, and was confident enough in herself to make up for any lack of experience in her partner.

I'm a skilled speaker, and you know everything about Maro, together we would have everything we need to question this woman right. I won't let you say anything that would ruin this. She added, sensing the hesitancy. The moment you lose control of yourself I will pull the plug.

Suddenly she found herself in front of Luthisa herself. Rotund and flashy, she looked like every older woman who had the wealth to indulge in her eccentricities. Madeira's attention was immediately caught on her layers upon layers of simple pendent necklaces that hung around her neck. Each one glowed with an inner fire that looked nothing like the cold glint that flashed off the jewels Madeira had left at home.

"Miss Craven, please", she smiled her best, most practiced smile. She was nobody's petching 'dear one'. And Autumn got a front row seat to Madeira's disguised discomfort for being mistaken for a prostitute.

But Madeira wasn't the only one uncomfortable. She could feel Autumn pushing at the boundary of her body, could feel her anger seeping through her body like a poison. Handle yourself, Madeira snapped internally.

"I'm flattered you think I'm pretty enough to work here, but I'm just visiting a friend", she laughed, playing off her embarrassed flush as flattery. "Lucky timing, isn't it? I have a large property on this peak that suffers from my lack of homemaking skills. Tell me about these children. How were they trained? I only wish mine could be so well behaved! And where did they come from? I thought I saw a Svefra girl, and a southern boy."

She pressed the palm of her plain doeskin glove to her cheek, the corners of her eyes pulled down in uncertain concern.

"My d- Miss Craven", Luthisa corrected herself with a smile. "I can tell you have a gentle heart. Its a sad fact that there are many abandoned and orphaned children in the world. I simply travel from place to place and take them under my wing. They are all healthy and well taken care of, I promise you. I keep them fed and clothed and off the streets, and teach them a useful trade that's needed everywhere."

"That's incredibly noble. And if they're from all over that must mean-"

"I've been all over", Luthisa finished the thought with a chuckle and a wave of her hand. "You're right, I'm very well travelled."

That doesn't explain how she resurrected the dead to sell as domestic servants, she growled internally to Autumn.

"Why don't I buy you a drink while we wait? I'm very interested in hiring one of your children. The bar here isn't one for variety but it serves the most delicious wine..." She steered the conversation to the small bar in the corner. The barman held up two fingers, silently asking if Madeira wanted her usual order. She nodded her assent and two glasses of jewel red wine appeared in front of them. The barman discreetly removed himself to the other side of the bar to polish already pristine glasses as they sat.

"And my gods, again, they're so well trained!" Madeira continued the conversation, leaning in closer as if they shared a secret. "I had a friend years ago who dabbled in magic. Animation, mostly. She could make some very clever, obedient things. I swear, if we put them side by side with your kids I would never have noticed the difference." she laughed under her breath, her voice reaching a mature, velvet tone. "What's your secret? And more importantly, how can I work your magic on my own children?"

There was that word, out in the world now: magic. There was no way it would be that easy, but she was just testing the water, seeing how Luthisa reacted to the word. Internally Madeira left herself open to Autumn's commentary or her grace, inviting her to speak in any way she wanted.
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Old Friend

Postby Autumn Rose on August 16th, 2020, 2:04 pm

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Handle yourself. Madeira was not in the mood for Autumn’s roiling emotions. Perhaps this
sudden appearance of something so strange, even for a Craven, was too jarring for even Miss
Madeira Craven to handle. Perhaps she was off her game. It was a shame that Autumn too was
preoccupied with the question at hand to take advantage of it. Autumn was more thrown than
Madeira. The spiritist may have known Maro, but she had no emotional connection. This was
tearing apart Autumn’s heart or at least whatever remained of a heart when a person passed.
Rage churned inside of her, but this was something Autumn was practiced at. Patience.

So she waited and watched Madeira work her subtle, social magic. Autumn breathed a sigh of
wonder inside of Madeira’s body at the woman’s skill in the game. Say what one would
about her, they’d have to admit Madeira knew how to turn social situations to her advantage,
how to ask questions without asking them. Autumn could feel the cunning in Madeira’s words,
the manipulating intent.

Madeira growled the thought that was on both of their minds, and Autumn’s anger increased. The spiritist hissed another demand for Autumn to calm before expertly guiding the conversation to the bar where wine might loosen Luthisa’s lips.

Autumn heard the words come out of their shared mouth, but what she didn’t expect was to feel their intent. With no force, Madeira laid a word in front of them all, bared the subject for anyone to touch on. Magic. It was the only thing that made sense, the only thing that could remove the soul from a person. No amount of torture, Autumn imagined, could strip a person so wholly of themselves.

The response that came out of Luthisa wasn’t what Autumn expected, though she wasn’t quite sure what she expected. Denial? Maybe. Veiled comments? Perhaps. Many things but not this. Laughter. Luthisa laughed, and Autumn wasn’t sure whether or not she should be insulted.

“Oh, Miss Craven, if only it was so easy as magic. If I had found that secret, that magic, I would have made a merry miza teaching it and would be living off the profits now. I’m afraid it’s nothing more than the experience of motherhood, and like most mothers, I got it wrong the first time around. You never really know until it’s over and done how you would do it differently if you could do it over.”

The more Luthisa talked, especially of motherhood, the more Autumn’s anger grew, and beneath that was an even more frightening sensation. Hate. She imagined taking over Madeira’s body, wrapping their hands around this stranger’s neck, and squeezing until they could squeeze no more. As these thought tore through their shared consciousness, Autumn felt Madeira preparing to take back the control she had offered. Drawing on the deepest parts of her will, Autumn took hold of Madeira’s body as rapidly as she could before the spiritist could deny her.

And smiled.

It wasn’t Autumn’s smile. No. It felt odd to her, but these muscles and this face remembered it well. It was Madeira’s with a slight hint of knowing, and Autumn relied on the body’s familiarity with it to smile it right. Autumn’s voice came out as Madeira’s. “Is motherhood ever really done and over?”

For the first time since Autumn had seen Maro with this woman, Luthisa seemed human. Sadness, tempered by many years of separation from its cause, swept over her, but the woman hid it beneath a smile. “If you’ve done it as poorly as I did the first time around, then yes. We’re not supposed to have favorites.” Luthisa sighed. “But I think all mothers do.” It was subtle, pressing, a question without a question, and Autumn realized that Luthisa was just as familiar with social games as Madeira was, perhaps more so. She had been around longer. Luthisa moved on before Madeira could give any answer.

Autumn tried to sift through Madeira’s emotions and memories to see if she could find the answer for that, but suddenly she met a wall, as if Madeira was saying, ‘You don’t get to know that. You don’t even get to ask.’ Backing off, Autumn returned her full focus to Luthisa.

“I know I did. My eldest daughter. I thought she could be something truly great. I devoted all my time and attention to her, and she resented me for it, as did her siblings. It turns out her younger sister was the special one, but none of them will talk to me anymore.”

There was a moment of silence before Luthisa smiled. “Like I said, Miss Craven, experience. I advise you learn from others though. It’s easier.”

“And what about now? With these children?” Autumn questioned. “Do you still have favorites?”

Luthisa laughed, nodding her head. “Some of us never learn from our mistakes. It’s the little Svefra girl you noticed before. Tyllani.”

Somewhere in the shared spaces of their souls, Autumn sensed Madeira’s mildly impressed appreciation of her self-control, of her ability to stifle her hate to keep Luthisa talking. She couldn’t tell if it was just a feeling or if it was spoken to her soul, but she whispered back.

I told you when we met again that I am infinite, if I so choose to be, and patience is my greatest weapon. I will not abandon it for rage. I can wait an eternity, I will wait an eternity, if that’s what it takes to destroy her.

Giving their body something to do, Autumn sipped at the glass of wine, only able to appreciate it secondhand through Madeira’s thoughts about what she sensed while Luthisa recounted a story about Tyllani.

“I saved her. Her pod was unimpressed with her seafaring skills. She was seven at the time and still hadn’t learned how to swim. ‘A child of Laviku should know how to swim.’ That’s what they told her, what they told me, as they threw her overboard in a bay. Either she would emerge a Svefra or she would drown and the sea would claim her. I dove in after her.”

It was hard to imagine the woman doing any such thing, but they hadn’t been there and couldn’t refute it.

“When I surfaced with her, they threatened to drown us both. This was the way of things, the way of the sea, but I offered to buy their useless child from them. They were ready to refuse. Their pride was at stake, the honor of their people.

“But one thing you will learn if you’ve lived as long as I have, if you haven’t already, is that anything can be bought. Everything has a price, even love and loyalty, or at least something so close to the two that it doesn’t matter. That fact makes most people uncomfortable. They will deny it a thousand times over, but the truth is, if they were offered enough, anything they held dear could be abandoned. I made those Svefra an offer they’d be fools to refuse, and they knew it. They fished us out of the sea, and from that moment on, she was mine.”

Luthisa took several deep gulps from her own wine, set it on the bar top, decided against that, and finished it off before tapping its rim to get the bartender to fill it again.

“So you have an estate that could use the services of one of my children?”

Autumn let go of control. Madeira was far better at business than she was.
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Autumn Rose
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Postby Madeira Craven on September 19th, 2020, 11:49 pm

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Madeira was so focused on the threat in front of her that she forgot the threat inside of her, and that was her first mistake. Thoughts of her hands digging into the folds of the woman's throat flashed through her mind; the delicate blue of her face offset by the red of her twisted fingers. But by the time she recognized that the thoughts were not her own the hate was spilling over. Like water slipping around a stone, her mental defenses were bypassed, and she found her lips lifting in a numb smile.

Her own carefully practiced cadence spilled from her mouth: “Is motherhood ever really done and over?”

Now it was Autumn and Luthisa conversing, and the matron was none the wiser. Madeira recovered from the sudden change in position and was ready to tear Autumn away, but the civility in her tone stopped her. The hate was still bubbling away, poisoning the Spiritist just by being near it, but on the outside the ghost was cool and composed. Not a crack to be seen.

Madeira pulled back, reluctantly impressed with the ghost's self control. It was formidable, and she wielded it with the grace of someone who had existed for decades and would exist centuries more. Next to it she couldn't help but feel young and small.

The Spiritist existed as a silent observer until the track of the conversation changed. Business was mentioned and her and Autumn seamlessly changed places, one slipping out and the other in while the body barely twitch. They weren't going to get more out of Luthisa, not in a setting like this, not without knowing more. Of course they would need to buy Maro's services, if only to keep him close.

"I have a decently large estate. Larger than I can manage myself", Madeira smiled, buying time. She remembered being in this whorehouse ages ago and walking away with a haunted picture book. It was important to Autumn, though Madeira didn't know the specifics as to why. It was kept at the Infinity Manor now. She remembered the ghost had been incensed to have something so precious to her essentially held hostage, but it had kept her coming back. It was the reason they had this tenuous rapport now. So what if...

"Their services are five kina a day. Expensive, yes", the Luthisa simpered, correctly interpreting Madeira's raised brow. "But worth every copper. You haven't been in Lhavit long have you?"

"Almost two years now", Madeira sipped her wine. "Why, do you have a reputation?"

"For the best domestic servants money can buy." There was honest pride in her voice as she said it. Madeira marveled at it. What was this woman, who could resurrect the dead at profit and still look proud? "I insist you ask around. You'll understand our worth then."

"Oh, that's not necessary, I'm already convinced. But I do have a question...How much would it be worth to part with one of these lovely children? Have them come live with me, permanently." Anticipating some kind of reaction from Autumn, Madeira walled herself off, stiffening slightly as she armored her soul against any overspill of emotion.

"Sell my children?" the woman had the audacity to looked shocked by the question. Madeira only had to remember the dead-eyed boy upstairs for her soul to snarl.

"Adopt", Madeira corrected tactfully. "I'm just like you. I hadn't been the kind of mother I had hoped to be. I've made mistakes. Having another child around the house, one I can raise and know will take care of me when I'm old..." she trailed off, her eyes lowering to her wineglass. She let the silence stretch until Luthsia was compelled to fill it.

"You're asking a lot of a woman, you must know that."

"A lot, but not too much. You were right, everything has a price", she looked up at the woman as she threw the words back at her.

"Oh dear, I did say that, didn't I? Well, I do genuinely believe that..." Luthsia's necklaces twinkled as her chest rose and fell in a great sigh. "Did you have a child in mind?"

"I was rather taken by Tyllani, but I couldn't bear to part you two", Madeira reassured her kindly. "Perhaps a boy, to give my son a brother... Oh, who's that green-eyed boy?"

Luthsia followed her pointed finger to the other side of the room, where Gwen had just parted the curtain to the stairs, her hand leading and laid rather carefully over Maro's shoulder. It seemed the boy was done cleaning her room. He returned to the patient line of children, not sparing a glance to Madeira and Autumn at the bar.

"Maro? Oh, you have me at a dilemma Miss Craven. You seem to be a good woman. I'm sure my children would be well taken care of in your home. But what of his income? Maro is my best worker. Losing five gold a day, even excluding the cost of keeping him healthy and comfortable, is not insignificant. Now if you were to offer a trade..."

"I'm sorry?"

"You said yourself your children were unruly. I could train them up, and they will be the sweetest and most diligent people you could ever hope for. Of course, if you were to bring home someone else that wouldn't be necessary. Tyllani, perhaps?"

Luthsia was smiling as she said it, her voice reasonable and kind, and Madeira could feel its barb deep in her gut as now her own words were flung back at her. This woman knew the game. What's more, she knew Madeira had been trying to play her. Petch. She was hit with the sudden realization that this woman had seen through her from the beginning. She felt her face heat up, and she had to fight to keep the frustration off her cheeks.

"I couldn't possibly. I haven't given up hope on them yet!" she laughed it off, though it was just for show at this point. They both knew Madeira had lost. "Whatever Maro is worth, I can pay it."

She could feel the woman measuring her up, taking in the cotton dress and plain jewelry. Though there were two heavy stones on her hands, her other fingers were spiked with cheap copper and battered bone. Madeira could only hope that this woman would underestimate her value, and that in itself could lower the price. But there was old money in the way she sat, tall and proper, cradling the wineglass like she was born with one in her hand. Her skin was clear, her body frail but healthy, her inflection educated. She was giving herself away in tiny but significant ways, and she knew it. Luthsia was appraising her like cracked jewel under a loupe.

"It'll be hard to see him go, but you seem a decent person, Miss Craven. I know you'll keep him well. Because of this I'll be willing to let him go. Five thousand kina should cover my profits while I train a new boy."

Madeira didn't let the shock at the price show on her face. She simply nodded thoughtfully, though in the privacy of her head she was reeling. That was more than it would cost to buy five skilled adult slaves and an entire village of cottages to house them in, all for one housekeeper child. But even as the thought hit her another snuck up behind it: was that even a fraction of what it would take for her to give up Moritz or Amelie? If that became the measure of worth Luthsia was giving that child away for free. And once Madeira paid it Maro, and by extension Autumn, would belong to her forever.

Madeira held out her hand, her mental walls softening now the deal was done. "If you bring him to the Infinity Manor tonight I'll have the sum for you, and you can check on his living conditions."

"And give me a chance to say a proper goodbye. Very well, young lady", she drained the last of her second glass and stood, smiling down at the woman and the ghost. "I'll see you soon."
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