Solo Cut and Counter

Another day, another robbery

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A lawless town of anarchists, built on the ruins of an ancient mining city. [Lore]

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Cut and Counter

Postby Caspian on August 22nd, 2022, 6:48 pm

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50 Summer 522


The last time Caspian had really sunk his teeth into something, it was a seven-layer river reed tort dusted with a generous heap of powdered sugar, served on a porcelain plate in the parlor of one of the posher townhouses in Zeltiva’s University Quarter. But that’s not the memory he’s holding in his mind right now – no, what this particular present moment hearkens back to, is that time he was 14 and someone had shoved a bit of old leather belt between his teeth, so the quack they called a doctor could pull out the shards of steel arrowhead that had broken off in him, three inches above his right knee. Each flex of the doctor’s fingers as he moved around Caspian’s flesh had sent him into pure agony. Even though that was many years ago, and there have been more than a few beatings between then and now, Caspian doesn’t think he’d fare much better under the procedure today.

Between cake and questionable surgery, though, his current experience falls somewhere in the middle. The house Taaldros has sent him to rob is – surprise, surprise – not completely devoid of people who might want to hurt him, as was promised. As a result, mere moments after easing himself through the window on the house’s eastern side, he found himself being accosted and subsequently tackled to the ground. On his way down, he’d smacked the side of his head on a bookcase, and one of the volumes that had been knocked off the shelf nailed him right between the eyes. Both strikes to the cranium are the reason, he’s telling himself, that as he grapples with the stranger on the floor, his only viable option is to bite down on the appendage closest to him.

Which happens to be the man’s ear.

To liken this to his operation at 14, despite being the one doing the biting, he’s also enduring an excruciating amount of pain. The man either knows his wrestling or he’s just gotten damn lucky, because the way he’s wrapped around Caspian’s leg and pulling feels very much like he’s going to rip his knee out of his socket, and at an angle most unnatural. Biting down is a way to keep from screaming, and though any attempts at being stealthy at this juncture would be decidedly pointless, making additional noise probably wouldn’t help the situation either.

And anyway, the man is making enough of a racket for them both, calling Caspian every dirty word in the book, and then some.

Caspian’s right arm is trapped beneath the man’s body, his wrist crunching horribly beneath the weight. The man is only a few inches taller than him but is decidedly much heavier, and Caspian feels the full value of this disadvantage when he realizes that the pressure is enough to keep him pinned. He kicks with his free leg, jams indiscriminately upwards with his knee, getting mostly floorboards and then the man’s ribs. The contact does very little but encourage the man into another angry swear, so Caspian bites down even harder, tastes iron, drives his knee up again and again. Finally the man lets go, clutching his bloodied ear. Caspian staggers to his feet, reaches for the dagger at his side – falls over with the rest of the room, which from the two blows he’d taken to his head, now spins dizzyingly around him.

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Caspian
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Postby Caspian on August 22nd, 2022, 7:54 pm

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It takes a couple nauseating seconds, but Caspian straightens out the world as well as his eyes.

“You bit off my petching ear,” the man exclaims, looking down at the blood coating his hand in shock.

“I did not,” Caspian replies, but spits in horror anyway, just in case something like human flesh may have come off when he’d chomped down. Nothing but a few stray hairs, though, and he’ll take human grease and dandruff over accidental cannibalism any day of the week. (But – blood, though? It’s only occurring to him now that he’s shut his mouth, he’s swallowed – still swallowing – quite a bit of it. How many ounces become equivalent to, say, nibbling on the end of a person’s toe?)

But that’s something to be worried about later. The man is lunging for him, and he’s got enough of wits about him now to draw his dagger again – a thing he has, that the man does not. He swings in backhand, connecting the pommel with the man’s cheekbone. Which isn’t exactly what he’d wanted, dammit, because he’d been aiming for the temple, something to knock him out and have this over and done without any more bloodletting. It still does a number on the man, connecting with his cheekbone with a sickening crack and causing him to stumble. Caspian swings again, still with the pommel side, downwards like a hammer. The man drops to the floor.

Just stab him is surely what Taalviel would say, were she here. But he’s a thief, not a thug, and he doesn’t see the sense or appeal of causing more damage to someone if it isn’t absolutely necessary. And the other man isn’t even armed, so what does it say about Caspian if he’d gone around stabbing and slashing anyway?

That you’re just doing your job, that you’re just like everyone else in this city, Taalviel would have replied. Go with the flow, rise with the tide. You can’t be blamed just for fitting in.

But she isn’t here; it’s just him, and no one’s going to report what could only be perceived as weakness back to his stepfather. He’s going to handle things how he wants to, unless forced to otherwise.

Not to say he doesn’t see the sheer sense of slashing and stabbing, though. Because if he’d gone down that route to begin with, the man would certainly not still be moving, nor dragging himself up on his feet and throwing himself at Caspian once more.

“Why won’t you just stay down?” Caspian growls in exasperation. Clearly his screwy little needle of a knife – good for so many things, he’s not knocking it – just doesn’t have the blunt force trauma he’s looking for. Or maybe it’s just the flimsiness of his wrists. But in any case he’s grabbing a stone figuring from the shelf, carved into the bust of a man who is surely important out there to some, and swinging that right for the man’s face.

The man goes down again, and Caspian is wincing and swearing, having smashed his fingers in the process. There’s a trickle of blood running down the man’s face that has nothing to do with his ear. Had Caspian cracked his skull?

Tentatively, he approaches the now incapacitated stranger, peers at his head. He’s no doctor, though. The best he can do is hope that all he’s done is split the skin.

When the man continues to lay still for another dozen seconds, Caspian exhales in relief, eyes scanning the room. It would be incredibly helpful if the thing he’s been sent here to steal is in this very room.


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Postby Caspian on August 22nd, 2022, 8:11 pm

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That would have been entirely too convenient, however, if his target ended up being just feet away from his point of entry.

This whole thing has been such an enormous bother. Now that the intel he’d been given has been proven false, he’s catastrophizing. It’s all he can do in this situation, because he’s just opened himself up to the possibility that this entire house is crawling with strangers who aren’t supposed to be here. On his way here, under the misguided comfort of the idea that this place was going to be empty, he hadn’t paid as much attention as he should have to the building itself. How many floors is it? Two plus an attic, if that topmost eave with the circular window is anything to go by. How wide and long had it been? How many bedrooms can he guess there are per floor – and subsequently what is his best estimate for the number of residents he’ll potentially have to contend with?

He can’t knock them all out, he knows that much. The guy passed out on the floor in front of him hadn’t been too much of a challenge, but that guarantees nothing about anyone else he might run into. Which might mean proper stabbing of an innocent stranger is in his near future.

If it comes to it, it comes to it.

For now he’s creeping across the bedroom that proves to be of no value to him, easing the door open, and peering carefully out down both sides of the hallway. Very helpfully – he deserves a break every now and then – the hallway is lined with a very long rug that completely reaches both ends. There’s only two other doors on this floor, and one is a bedroom, and the other a bathroom. He presses his ears to both doors when he reaches them, holds his breath, stands very still and listens. No movement. With all the commotion he and the man had just made, surely someone would have already come running.

This assessment, though, isn’t conclusive enough for anyone who might have been on the first floor, and hard of hearing.

If he were a golden chalice, where would he be?

Not in a bedroom, he wouldn’t think; it’s not like people typically used anything that sumptuous for a nightcap. If it’s really got as much genuine gold on it as Taaldros has been led to believe, it’s something that would only be brought out for special occasions. Not even a birthday; more like a holiday, a New Year’s party.

So, then – where would such a thing be kept for the rest of the year?

With a sigh – silent and self-contained – he reasons the thing could be stored in a glass cabinet somewhere, where they keep the rest of the fine-ish china. And such a piece of furniture is likely kept in a living room or parlor of some kind, and such a room is most likely to be found on the first floor, the place of, at this time, too many unknowns.

He takes one step down the stairs and braces himself for a creak that doesn’t come.

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Caspian
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Postby Caspian on August 24th, 2022, 2:15 pm

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This house is surprisingly intact. That being the state of things in Sunberth is like - well, it’s like expecting a cracker to transcend sogginess when dipped in a glass of mop juice. Even the carpet had been refreshingly even in its plush, in the sheen of its dye, in the consistency of its patterned border, which was two hares gamboling around a daisy chain. But the staircase doesn’t creak beneath his toes for over half a dozen steps, only kinda partly sort of has some give when he touches down on the eighth and ninth, and it’s still not enough to spook him. But he’s still very much creeping and slinking, with that crooked-cat step that’s all nose out and knees first, assuming the worst as he’s been taught to do, which is that a very alert enemy lies in wait at the very end.

What he does find is that his nurtured paranoia isn’t for naught – but reality has split the difference for him, so while there is a very portly woman in a kerchief and greasy apron seated in the rocking chair in the parlor, she’s sound asleep, and snoring loud enough to wake the dead.

When he touches down off the stairs – and it’s always the same feeling, which is quite good, and satisfying, as if he’s headed the expedition into a new frontier – he pauses. Eyes her warily. Beneath the glow and crackling of the meager fire he can make out the depth of her wrinkles, the crevasses of her jowls. Who in heavens is this old biddy? Maybe the man’s grandmother, the one he’d just wrestled to the floor? But she might just be the cook or the housekeeper, given the state of her clothing. Even from this distance he can smell the reek of onions from beneath her nails.

Pensively, he sits on the last stair. From this position he can see the entirety of the parlor, and he perches here, surveying his lands. On the mantel above the fireplace are two framed illustrations, one of what might be flowers – attempts to brighten the dour room with some measure of color – and the other the profile of a man with an aquiline nose, and the artist’s best attempt at a cravat around his neck. By the fireplace, at the foot, are the usual tools – a poker, metal broom and pan, loose kindling. Ratty circular rug beneath the rocking chair; a book abandoned on the floor from where it had slipped out of the woman’s hand when she’d dozed off. A near-empty bottle of liquor beside it.

But there, across the room – the wood-and-glass cabinet, with the nice porcelain and shinier spoons. On the centermost shelf, surrounded by other goblets inlaid with specks of mother-of-pearl, is the golden chalice he’s been sent here to find.

With a sense of purpose, he rises to his feet, feels the motes sweep up with him. He grits down against the urge to sneeze, remembers that this is why he once used to prowl around with a light scarf wrapped around his face. It wasn’t so much about identity protection as just avoiding shooting oneself in the foot with involuntary bodily reactions to something as silly as dust bunnies.

As quietly as he can, he takes one step forward, then another, his intended path behind the woman in the rocking chair, towards the cabinet on the other side of the room.

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Postby Caspian on August 24th, 2022, 4:17 pm

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The first few steps go without incident. The next few – so-so, but really, they’re fine, it’s just his heightening sense of anticipation and anxiety, as he’s rounding right behind the sleeping crone, that are subsequently leading him to perceive his own movements as harsher than they really are. Now he’s wishing, again, that he’d wrapped something around his face to muffle his breathing. The adrenaline from having scrapped with the stranger upstairs is starting to get to him, indiscriminately ebbing and flowing in him, and he can feel the beginnings of bruises, where his ribs had slammed into the corner of the bookcase and how that’s starting to take a toll on his breathing. But the woman’s snoring quite loudly, due no doubt in part to the heavy dosage of liquor, the dregs of which gleam at her feet. What rouses a sleeper, and what they won’t even register, though, has never held a perfect logic for him. Once, when he was 15, he’d dropped an entire glass jar of rusted bits and ends – washers, screws, nails, and for some reason, chipped arrowheads – right next to one of Taaldros’ friends who had passed out on the back porch. It was early morning, and the man had been one of the several who had stayed up until a late hour loudly drinking and spewing obscenities loudly enough to echo down the block. Everyone else had packed off and trundled home save for this one, and that morning Caspian had been sent to clear out the shed.

With both arms full of bladeless pitchforks, one a curiously bent shovel covered in a morbidly beet-colored splatter, and that jar and some rags stacked on top – he really wanted this chore over and done with as soon as possible – he’d eased his way out of the shed and towards the wheelbarrow that would eventually be carted off to the Slag Heap. But as he passed the sleeping man, he suddenly noticed a spider making its way up one of the handles, right towards his face, and with a stifled shriek he’d panicked, pivoted, and though he hadn’t let go of everything he’d been carrying, the jar had gone sailing clean off. Thus the shattering, and also thus, the curious lack of response from the person who’d narrowly missed being struck with them outright.

Then there was the time he’d literally dropped a pin in his poor attempts to sew a dark grosgrain ribbon to one of his shirts, and Taalviel had opened her eyes, snarled, and thrown a book at his head.

In the present day, the woman remains sleeping, stays that way even as Caspian pads all the way across the length of the room and lightly places the tips of his fingers on the wooden handle of the cabinet door. There’s a flower pattern carved into the handle. It’s not perfectly symmetrical, but it’s one of those things where someone has clearly tried, where if faced with the artist he’d feel entirely compelled to assure them that what they had done was entirely worth their time and worth peddling to others, for well-earned cold hard cash.

Word count: 524
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Caspian
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Posts: 576
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Joined roleplay: August 12th, 2018, 11:26 pm
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Postby Caspian on August 24th, 2022, 5:28 pm

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Lucky streaks never last.

Perhaps, though, that’s not something worth lamenting over; if they never ended, if fortune was simply the way things were and ought to be, there would be nothing to distinguish about those times, nothing to celebrate and want to clutch close.

So here he is, frowning flatly at the cabinet door that refuses to budge, with its petching uneven excuse for a flower like a collection of cat scratches embedded in the handle before him. For good measure, he tries the other handle, oh-so-very-gently hooks his middle and index fingers around the protruding sphere of wood and delicately tugs. Listening, of course, all the while for any movement from the old woman snoring behind him. But – no. Nothing.

Damn thing is locked.

What the hell is he supposed to do now?

Stifling a heavy sigh – more difficult than holding back that sneeze – he pivots smoothly, surveys the room again. All is as it was before – crackling hearth that’s mostly dying embers, stack of kindling, soot-covered poker and sweep. Rocking chair with an old drunk biddy, and –

And that’s when he sees it.

At her waist is a ring of keys, some of great heft and weight, the kind one might have expected for stable doors. Others far daintier, little silver slivers, fit for the most delicate of music boxes to grace a fine lady’s boudoir. And so many more of size somewhere in the middle.

It’s entirely possible at least one of those many keys will open the cabinet door.

How drunk is she, exactly?

Can he do this?

Heart pounding, he slinks forward, the firelight casting his shadow long and dark across the room. When he’d gotten out of bed this morning he’d expected to be bored; at the very least, had known he’d be irritated, incensed, out of sorts as he always is when he has to interact with his stepfather. One wonders, then, why the petch he’s electing to work for the man – but at the end of the day, in its roundabout way, those who have hurt you the most are also the only ones you can trust. Besides, blood – even adopted – runs thicker than water, and he’d rather know where he stands for his employer than forever wonder how disposable he is. Even if said employer, again, is his stepfather, and his standing is not very high in esteem.

The circular rug is soft beneath his boots, further muffling even his most careful of steps. The closer he draws, the more he can see of it – the frayed weft and weave, the once-scarlet loops faded down to the color of decaying mashed fruit. Something glitters, scattered across it – and he pauses for a moment, peers down curiously. Realize they’re all beads, a whole silver smattering, that someone dropped and no one has bothered to pick up. But his eyes are back on the prize. The ring of keys hangs from a very simple woven rope belt around the woman’s waist. Carefully, he reaches for his dagger, other hand extended to grab the rope.

The woman inhales sharply, sending a cold spike of fear running through his body – but she only resumes snoring, her head turning the other way, the rocking chair creaking loudly beneath her.

Holding his breath, his hands hovering just inches away – he grasps the rope with his left, and simultaneously the ring of keys with his right, and with one simple motion cuts it free.

It jangles softly in his hands as he pulls back. Rolls back, slightly ungracefully – but that circular rug is doing its job, softening his landing, and he’s got the keys, holding his hand as still as possible to avoid rattling them.

Awkwardly, he rolls onto his side, eyes still pinned to the woman, who’s begun mumbling, though nothing particularly kind or intelligible. Some of the keys jingle and slide against one another, but the casualties are minimal, and then he’s on his knees with the hand with his dagger holding him up. He eases himself up onto one foot slowly, then the other, and then he’s standing, the woman on one side and the locked cabinet on the other.

Time to see if his gambit was worth it.

Word count: 705
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Caspian
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Posts: 576
Words: 718261
Joined roleplay: August 12th, 2018, 11:26 pm
Location: Sunberth
Race: Human, Mixed
Character sheet
Storyteller secrets
Medals: 4
Featured Character (1) Featured Thread (2)
Overlored (1)


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