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[P] Witness; Keelin
Topic Started: Fri Oct 6, 2017 3:30 pm (591 Views)
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On any given day it was common for artists to perform along the boardwalk where Istan City met the coast. Painters painted rapid, exaggerated portraits for anyone who would pay, or else painted elegant landscapes at such a practiced speed that it awed gathered would-be buyers. There were acrobats, too, trying to incite interest in circus not far from the beach; they had erected a tightrope of moderate height and walked it without a net below, promising even more daring stunts at tonight's show.

And then there were the musicians, who gave the boardwalk its vivacious pulse. It was impossible to walk more than fifty feet without encountering a different bard. So many people were out today, enjoying the hot climate, that their bodies absorbed the sounds of music and their voices often drowned it out. It could be difficult to play for a moving crowd of this magnitude, especially if one desperately needed money.

Haven stood along a section of boardwalk facing the beach and ocean, strumming their lute with expert skill and singing a song they'd first learned aboard a ship. Sea shanties were loud and fun and deeply, deeply entertaining for people who had no experience sailing. They were easy to clap along to or dance to, and so a crowd had gathered around Haven in a semicircle, with a bit of space where a young man had bravely asked a young girl he didn't know to dance with him.

Haven watched them with an interest that stemmed from a sort of condescension. Having danced with plenty of strangers in their life, Haven felt expert in that art, as well, and it was… cute, to witness shy newcomers try to figure out the ropes. Beyond the dancing couple and the clapping ground, the boardwalk lead to stairs that descended straight into the beach. The sand stretched hotly for about a mile before it connected with the ocean, whose crashing waves were audible from the boardwalk.

It sounded like home, to Haven.

An old man with stern, impatient features pushed through Haven's half-moon crowd and dropped a small coinpurse at Haven's feet. The lute's case sat closed behind Haven, and they had thought this would be proof enough that they weren't playing for money. Some younger musicians were, but Haven was by now a seasoned bard.

He thinks I'm… poor?

Haven's brows came together in offense, but they didn't stop strumming or singing. By virtue of their talent alone, it should have been obvious Haven needed no handouts. If that wasn't enough, Haven's clothes—which were by no means the tattered clothes of a desperate traveler—ought to have been enough.

But why refuse free money?

Haven could think of no reason to.

Once the song reached its end at last, Haven grinned at their new fans. "Thank you, thank you!" they said. They reached forward and caught the hands of both the young man and the young lady, and leaned down to kiss his and her knuckles. Both blushed, but, upon seeing Haven wink at them, laughed loudly.

"The show is hardly over," said Haven. "Stay as long as you like!" And so Haven began a different song, this one equally as lively, but it was no sea shanty. Some people left to go about the rest of their day, but others stayed.
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In some Celestia-based religions, the white birds of the sea -- albatrosses, a few types of storm-petrels, that sort of thing -- were considered holy. One story had a flock of seagulls descend from on high to devour the swarm of locusts that threatened the crops of a coastal farm community. Keelin visited that church once. A statue of swirling gulls formed the centerpiece of the courtyard, looking beautiful and dignified.

Those same gulls were also in front of her now, squawking and flapping like idiots while fighting over the sand-encrusted remnants of a cheese stick. Keelin felt like she was watching the punchline for an irreligious joke.

As her mount padded along the coastal road toward the rats-with-wings, they managed to rip the cheese stick in half and disperse before they would've been trampled underhoof. The things squalled and shat and gathered up with more of their filthy kind. Feeling eyes on her, Keelin turned to her left and locked stares with a whole line of them. They were perched equidistantly on a rotten fence, watching Keelin pass with their beady little seagull eyes. The mountain elf settled her hat a bit more firmly on her head, glaring at them from under the flat brim.

Steadfast the horse kicked through sand drifts that had blown over the coast road. The wind had died down, so Keelin pulled her orarion away from her face and let it drape over her shoulders like a real stole. In the not-so-far distance, a splash of color jutted out into the perilous Moonsea. She could just barely hear the hum of activity on that boardwalk and see the crowds moving. The rest of the beach was becoming more and more well-populated, too. Besides the occasional angler standing in the surf in search of cruising sea bass, Istan City spilled out right around here -- which meant that all the city-slickers with their fancy "leisure time" could spend days half-naked in the sun.

Keelin wasn't looking forward to this retrieval job.

It all started when her enkaida-infused mail deliverer belched out a report. Rolling out of bed to read it, Keelin got the news that one of her high-threat monitoring sites was compromised. Several red flags had been tripped and the angel was on the move. Then Keelin was nearly buried in a deluge of reports from regional spies identifying that a civilian was in serious danger and direct interference was necessary. Rather than force her spies to blow their cover, the elf opted to step in personally.

Pursuing her retrieval target in Istani lands wasn't technically legal, but that potential diplomatic nightmare was nothing a little plainclothes couldn't solve. Neither her jacket, shirt, nor hat betrayed any emblems of the Ivory League or its Intelligence Service she served. If she was honest with herself, she didn't look much better than a vagabond like this. It'd have to do.

She was lucky that her target had a distinct appearance description. They looked to be some kind of dark elf or a variant. Not many of those around anymore, so Keelin figured the search would go easy.

Actually, it almost went too easy. Having hitched her horse to the post at the foot of the boardwalk, Keelin ventured deeper and started to scan the crowd. It wasn't too long before she located someone who matched the description. They were performing in front of a semicircular crowd, strumming the lute and singing a sea shanty. The mountain elf stuck to the outskirts, hands in pockets in an attempt to look casual, watching the area around them. An older man dropped a coinpurse at the dark elf's feet, then left.

At first it seemed innocuous. Keelin watched the man go, but then her eye darted back to the small drawstring bag. The lute case is closed. They didn't want payment. Who would drop a whole purse, anyway? A series of assumptions and conspiracies crashed through her mind all at once. Her heart rate sped up. She stared at the coinpurse like she wanted to burn a hole through it.

Keelin hung out for a bit longer. Sweat beaded at her hairline. Continuing to read the situation and all the people around it, the elf struggled to determine a few key details.

The moment the dark elf made a move like they were reaching for the coinpurse, or even so much as twitched in that direction, Keelin blurted out: "Don't open it!"

All eyes went to her. The elf's hand, outstretched halfway, went limp to her side.

"I mean, might as well see if you get more, right?" She chuckled nervously, trying to mimic a lopsided grin so she could recover some of her acting game. Usually it was so easy for her to fake emotions that she wasn't quite sure what was going on in her head right now. Getting a bit sick of being in the epicenter of mass disasters, she supposed. Her current guess was that the coinpurse housed an explosive chemical or some kind of Celestial parasite swarm. "Your name is Haven, right? The famous musician. I was wondering if you do private jobs for people. Do you have a set rate or does it depend on the venue?" The more she spoke, the more grounded she felt.
Edited by Keelin, Sat Oct 7, 2017 3:28 am.
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The second song was a shorter one, and so it ended within a minute or two of Haven's beginning it. Some of the half-moon crowd clapped, but the applause was half-hearted. Haven didn't take offense. On a day like today, music wasn't the reason people traveled to the shore. Haven bowed deeply, one arm under their stomach around the lute and the other flung out in the air. After a moment, they leaned down and snatched up the coinpurse.

Don't open it!

Haven's violet eyes snapped to the woman who had called out. Straightening up, Haven lifted a perfectly maintained white eyebrow in her direction. The coinpurse sat in the palm of their hand, and the strings were still tied shut. The solid edges of a few circular lumps—coins, certainly—caused the fabric to bulge.

"Show's over, honey, I'm not getting any more," said Haven. There was nothing unkind in their voice. Though matter-of-fact, their voice possessed a warm, rich tone that gave them the sound of someone perpetually genial.

Leaning down, Haven popped open the leather case and set the lute down inside it. As soon as they did this, most of the gathered crowd went on their way, either toward the beach or the market stalls that were set up all along the boardwalk. Closing the lid and securing the fasteners, Haven placed the strap across their shoulder and chest so the instrument's case could lay across their back.

When they faced Keelin again, it was with a satisfied grin. The pleasure of recognition and flattery glinted in their eyes. Reaching forward, Haven took Keelin by the hand and bowed deeply again, kissing the backs of her knuckles without once breaking eye contact.

"Haven, the famous musician, at your service, mon cheri." With a wink, Haven pulled their hand away and stood. Their posture was impeccable.

"Everything is up for discussion," said Haven. "Perhaps we could have this discussion… over a drink?" Haven raised their brows. The satisfied grin grew wider. They jingled the coinpurse. "Or a meal, if you prefer. You'd look ravishing under low, romantic lighting."
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It dawned on Keelin that she had [removed]ed up a little bit.

Back when she was re-learning how to connect with people emotionally in a conversation, she began to remember that different people responded to different things... well, differently. For example, flattery made some people shrink while feeding the egos of others. The latter wasn't always a good move, either. Apparently it sometimes prompted people to bend over and kiss her knuckles like she was some kind of royalty. Keelin Madaricatu, princess of vagabonds and patron saint of cheese sticks, she thought.

After the kiss on the hand put a look of confusion and a bit of horror on Keelin's face, the dark elf suggested they talk about their music (one of her lowest priorities) over a drink, even going so far as to issue a... was it a compliment? A mixture of feelings -- embarrassment, anger, shame, disgust -- welled up like bile. Her eye hardened and she took a half-step backward. Keelin's mouth opened, but before speaking she became fully aware of the numbers of people still in the area. I can't afford to make a scene. I found my target so easily, so it seems just as easy for them to slip away.

So, steeling herself, she sidled up next to Haven and wrapped a friendly arm around their shoulder. The contact made every fiber of Keelin's being protest, but it didn't show in the perfectly mimicked look of geniality on her face. "A meal sounds excellent!" she said at normal volume, reaching into her jacket. Keelin met Haven's gaze and then glanced downward, trying to direct their attention. She withdrew a talisman from her pocket made of encrusted stone: iridescent black laced with the electric blue of lithicite. Anyone with international knowledge would recognize the symbol as the distinctive wagon-wheel of the Ivory League. She flipped it over to show off the identification rune that marked this badge as uniquely hers. The lines gave off a dim glow, verifying that she was the true owner and hadn't just stolen it off a League corpse. Having palmed it low so fewer people could see, Keelin put the badge away once she was reasonably certain that Haven had seen it.

"You're in danger. You're gonna need to come with me," she said below normal volume. Her words and tone didn't match her unchanging expression. It betrayed to Haven that she was fundamentally an actor, but she needed that capability in times like these. "No more jokes, alright? I need to take you somewhere safe. I got reports all over the place that said you risked getting seriously hurt if you stayed out in the open. Once you're secure, I'd also like to ask you a few questions."
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The woman wrapped an arm around their shoulders. Their grin expanded to take up the entirety of their face. It didn't radiate bliss or joy; it was contented, genial, easy. It was the grin of someone who was all too used to physical attentions and who welcomed such behavior from a stranger.

But then she glanced downward, and Haven lowered their gaze as well. At once a cold chill of horror expanded in their chest. Like a single ice cold drop of water dripping from an icicle and landing in a puddle below, the horror began as a tiny seed but then steadily grew. Haven made every effort to avoid the governing bodies of Imythess, especially the Ivory League. Rumors of the League's activities abounded, and Haven knew only that they didn't want to get involved.

"Ah ha, ha," Haven laughed nervously, then lifted their hands, palms toward Keelin, long fingers elegantly bent, in a gesture meant to diffuse the situation. Taking a step back, out of the caress of her arm, Haven's smile grew unsure. Their eyes darted quickly around the boardwalk, searching for a way out of this.

"Listen, love, I really don't know why I might be in danger," said Haven. "If it's a jealous husband or a murderous wife, I've dealt with that before and I can handle it again just fine on my own without being brought into… custody." It was hard to remain suave and openly amicable when a member of the Ivory League mentioned needing to ask questions. Beneath the apprehension, Haven rifles through their recent memory, trying to think of anything that might have caused such a level of alarm that they now needed protection. There were all sorts of things, but not a one seemed any more perilous than usual.

"Surely this isn't necessary," Haven continued. "Perhaps this is a misunderstanding?" They dared a joking grin. "Or an elaborate ruse to get me into bed?"
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Opportunities like this were few and far between: Keelin actually felt like she had the social upper hand on someone for once. Her lips curled almost devilishly, revealing a sliver of teeth that matched her glimmering eye. When Haven suggested that Keelin was in some kind of elaborate ruse to get them into bed, it was too late. The elf had already halfway anticipated such a joke, and it was one forced out of clear nervousness at that. "No," she said, beginning to nudge Haven toward her horse. "This isn't for you to decide, is it? Or even me. The benevolent folks without faces are looking out for you, partner. You're too valuable to them to just let you go running off into trouble, yeah?"

On second thought, it probably came off a lot more sinister than intended. Keelin admitted she'd gotten carried away with the rush of newfound superiority in the face of such recent embarrassment -- like a beggar who suddenly happened on a huge fortune and proceeded to blow it all on frivolous bullshit. She mellowed out her smile a bit as she helped Haven onto her horse and mounted the saddle herself.

"So here's what's going on." Her tone was a bit more professional again. "We found your name and some of your information on a watchlist. And not just any watchlist. It was burned into fractal light. I'm talking Celestials, Haven." Keelin paused to let that sink in, hoping her voice conveyed the sheer depth of the shit that this dark elf was in. "This means that whatever it is you did, you're now at risk of getting hit with a no-knock raid by some of the meanest pieces of work in the whole sea of planes. They'll take whatever you own that seems incriminating, plus they'll rip into the whole fiber of your being in search of the information they need. You could be left burned-out, maybe even gibbering mad. So now I have to ask..." The mountain elf tossed a severe look over her shoulder, "What the hell did someone like you do to warrant that?"
Edited by Keelin, Tue Nov 14, 2017 10:54 pm.
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This isn’t for you to decide, is it?

, thought Haven, it isn’t.

Haven’s stomach clenched, then fell deep into the pit of their center. Swallowing over a suddenly parched throat, Haven had nothing more to say: no witty comebacks, no jokes. The time for that had passed. A deep sense of terror opened inside their heart, pricking along their nerves and causing their heart to begin beating a little harder.

Climbing into the saddle, as cooperative as they could possibly be, Haven wondered if they had missed some opportunity to tip this encounter in their favor. A moment ago she had tossed her arm around their shoulders, and now they were on her horse, being lead somewhere for, supposedly, their own protection. Obeying authority rarely went wrong—but was this an instance where they should have run? The sea was right there. It wouldn’t have been the first time Haven ran to the waves for safety—

The sea couldn’t keep them safe from Celestials.

Haven knew that much.

“I didn’t mean to find it,” said Haven. The words tumbled out in a rush, their voice breathy with panic, volume barely above a whisper. “I swear to you, I didn’t—I wasn’t looking for—”

Clenching their jaw shut, Haven turned their head away, frustrated by their inability to articulate the circumstances of what had happened. Preferring silence to appearing crazed with fear—even if that was the truth—Haven took a few moments to breathe, to gather what shreds of their courage existed.

“I found myself at the home of a young Celestial woman, as one sometimes may find oneself,” said Haven, “and while she was off in another room I—noticed—some papers on her desk that I… or anyone else, for that matter, should not have seen. There was a church that wasn’t really a church—it was a cover for some sort of experimentation, but it went south, and they blamed the whole thing on Abyssals.”

Haven bit their lip, and met Keelin’s eyes. “It wasn’t Abyssals that did it, but higher-up Celestials. I didn’t want to get involved. I wish I’d never looked. I left. I wasn’t going to tell anyone or do anything about it, I was just going to live my life and pretend it had never happened. I wasn’t going to cause any trouble over it.”
Edited by Haven, Sun Dec 3, 2017 10:30 pm.
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