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The Height of Rumour
#21
Seven didn’t quite adopt as casual a posture as Ephraim, but he folded himself into the nearby cushions with a lounge of one at ease. The sharpness of his ever-amused gaze continued to roam their area, but it was an inquisitive study none the less. His two hosts teased one another like siblings, but there was a definitive lack of tension of a more passionate sort that told him the nature of their business relationship. Ephraim was simply that way, and for some reason, Zhenya tolerated it. She was quite an unusual gem, and Seven held no doubt that she could cut sharp when necessary.

Able to speak freely, Seven let out a breath, finding himself relatively relaxed. The power danced on the edges of his grasp, but he didn’t wield it at the moment. “You calling me beautiful? I am flattered." He laughed, holding the other man’s otherwise glassy gaze with a linger that could have been interpreted as both charming or flirtatious depending on the desired outcome. “When I agreed to your rendezvous, I wasn’t expecting to entertain additional company this evening. So it's a happy surprise.” He began, glancing over his shoulder to ensure she was distant. If she was eavesdropping, he wouldn’t be offended. “She’s pleasant, Ephraim, but I wonder why she is really necessary.”
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#22
[Image: Ephraim_Haart.jpg]

He grinned wolfishly, but did not answer. Perhaps his definition of beautiful was a little ingenuous, but since there was always something of a barb to Ephraim’s manner he did not qualify the statement beyond that. The glass swung a little at the ends of his fingers, toying.

“She didn’t know you would be here either. It seemed rather more amusing to me, that way,” he said. Which was more or less the truth, and he did not think Seven naive enough not to realise it was also simply a play of power, and of advantage. Not to unhinge them, necessarily, but it did make it interesting.

Ephraim did not blink at the direct question, though he did laugh. Neither did he follow Seven’s glance to ascertain whether she cared to listen in. Zhenya was ruthless, maybe, but she was also more trusting to the better nature of people than she ought. Most likely she thought she was doing Seven a favour by giving him a fair hearing of them both.

“She’s not necessary,” he said simply. “Neither are Pervaya. There are other companies that would benefit from the tech I have in mind, security and otherwise. Probably they would be an easier bargain.” He shrugged. “What she is though, is useful. To some other investments of mine, you understand.” He grinned. “So if you don’t want to work with her, Seven, I’ll let you be the one to tell her.”
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#23
Ephriam liked to dance when the tune suited him, and Seven was quickly gathering the nature of the man’s intent. To each man was beholden to his own ambition. Seven wasn’t in a place to judge, though it was duly noted.

“I am happy to have contributed to the evening’s amusement, but I would appreciate credit in the playbill next time.” His brows lifted, suggestive. It was he who was here as the favor to Ephriam. For now, the promise for the future was a strong enough lure.

Seven wasn’t one to read sinister intent in the coy tone of another man’s interests, but the last comment danced closer to manipulative purposes than he found comfortable. He took no action other than a playful wave of the hand. “I’m much too frightened to deliver that message, and her company is far too lovely to abandon after only one dance.” His laugh was golden with complete sincerity.

After a few moments, others drew his gaze, but it was a casual curiosity. The scene may have played out in any of the great cities of the Custody, but there was something different about Moscow.

“Maybe you can give me a tour of some of these other interests sometime.”
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#24
Zhenya perched on the barstool, slim legs crossed. The barman seemed a little bemused of her presence but quite keen to indulge it too, and he made for easy and pleasant company as she prevailed upon his expertise. In truth she wined and dined enough of the company’s clients to have some passing knowledge of her own, but it was her habit to listen to others; you never knew what you might learn, and in any case it helped pass the time until it might be reasonable to return. The temptation fluttered to check the face of her Wallet, but her bracelet would have notified her of any important messages, and she refrained from the rudeness. When she’d told Seven her heart belonged to this city, it was because of the people in it she had truly been speaking of. Briefly away from the sharp banter of business, her thoughts fluttered to home and hearth.

A glass of something bubbly slid across the bar with a wink while she waited, which was a rather sweet thought given that her own glass was still on the table with the boys, and earned a beatific smile as they discussed particulars. Of course she was limited in what she really knew of Seven given the brevity of the acquaintance, and although he might misjudge otherwise, Zhenya did not seek to impress because he was a prospective business partner. It was worth doing well for its own sake, and she enjoyed the challenge of it.

[Image: Ephraim_Haart.jpg]

Ephraim laughed and waved a dismissive hand. “The stage is yours, my friend. I am but a spectator. Rest assured the story cannot continue without you.” Seven was too genial in nature to be truly offended, he thought; not that it was his intention anyway, but he smoothed the sting anyhow. Knowing a man’s limits was important; the hills he would die on, and those insults he would choose to brush aside. What he might defend, and what did not rally his loyalty.

He pulled his legs from the table and leaned to refill his glass. “You would have come with preconceptions, as would she. It’s surprising how much you can dig up on a person with so little effort these days, and some men have the luxury of more resources than most. Much more organic to judge on what you see before you. So amusing to me, but a favour to you, I assure you.” He grinned. “The choice is yours, that’s all I’m saying.” He gestured with his drink, ice clinking. That was sincere, at least. Seven’s skills weren’t easily replicated.

“I’ve many interests, Seven. If this first project goes well, I’m sure you’ll meet many of them.” Also true, at least once Ephraim ascertained the level of trust he was willing to bestow. These things usually went easier with leverage, but all in good time. Brotherhood was enough for now. He glanced idly at the oval-shaped bar, where Zhenya was engaged in a laughing conversation with the attendant working at its centre. “Are you familiar with the city yet? I can arrange a tour if you’re keen. Less Ascendant Arch and gilded Red Square, and more personal insight. It’s an interesting city. Lots of scope for opportunity.”
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#25
“And I am a sober servant of opportunity?” he added at the end. Though with the nudge of his shoe against the table, he added, “Well, not exactly sober,” he chuckled. The watery remains of his drink was snatched by the graceful fingers of a worker, one who flashed him a smile and asked if he preferred something else. Upon explaining that a surprise was currently being fashioned by the talented hands of yon mixologist, Seven was left to pluck a tasty morsel instead.

Ephraim was certainly a man with resources. Of this Seven elaborated. ”Astra inclinant, sed non obligant.”* His pronunciation was precise, the retort perfectly suited to the company. While his own resources looked into the measure of the man he was to meet tonight, Seven enjoyed the chess-game of the unknown. He did not uncover too much for fear of ending the game too early.

A few moments following, a number wrote itself in the sparking line slicing through the air before him. The spark dissipated quickly, but for a few lingering moments, the smoke hung in fuzzy script.

“My fees,” he said, smile twinkling. "I made it fair out of respect for our mutual friends. A man of such esteemed resources as yourself should find no offense, but the choice is yours. That's all I'm saying."



*For though the stars incline us, they do not bind us.
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#26
Ephraim chuckled at the retort. The message was quite clear, and Seven could think whatever he wanted, but the strings were still there.

The fee was extortionate and flamboyantly made. He wondered if his barbed humour had inflated the number no matter the generosity insisted, which was unfortunate if so, but too late to rectify now he supposed. Seemed that mild exterior hid something a little more prickly -- though he was curious as to whether it was a matter of pride, or something else.

Amusement lingered, like he was not aware of having done anything to warrant suffering his own words shoved back at him. He considered negotiating, but did not want to parry for it, so he only nodded. “I want quality, and I pay for it. That’s acceptable.”

Zhenya was smiling when she returned, her hand brushing the back of Seven’s shoulder as she moved around the arrangement of furniture to reclaim her seat. Though she sensed something of a waning edge to the atmosphere, and her gaze moved a brief query between the two men, she did not comment. Ephraim could be an acquired taste.

“I trust you’re content with the vodka, Eph,” she said with a coy glance at the bottles still on the table, and he laughed, waving his present glass at her. Her gaze slid to Seven afterwards, a little mischievous. “Innovation had some help,” she said of the drink. “I suppose some things take two, no?”

It arrived on an elaborately tiered tray a moment after, smokey with tendrils of opium incense. The curved cup at its centre was made of gleaming marble of the purest white, smoother than silk and promising to be heavy in the palm -- in fact almost otherworldly in its oval design. A garnish of isonoyuki rice paper in swirls of purple and white lay hand carved into a feathered triangle, alongside a hand-grown rose of swirling peach and pink. Sanscho pink peppercorn oil droplets floated its surface, the liquid itself of deepest black; an inescapable darkness all the more mesmerising for its brilliant white marble casing.

With a rather delighted smile Zhenya thanked the attendant, who presently leaned to deliver the beverage with a flourish. She assumed Seven would enjoy the theatrics -- for it was quite a magnificent looking beverage, as artfully presented as it was sure to be divine to the taste. Gin-based, of course, as he had stated to be his preference. She seemed keen to absorb his reaction, but in the way of someone who simply enjoyed the pleasure derived in giving. She winked at him. “Enjoy.”

[[drink courtesy of Jaxen *wink* -- Seven I will pm you the full details]]
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#27
Seven was content with the verbal acceptance of the offer. He worked outside contracts and accounts, expected cash, and signed no name except the scripted numeral that identified himself. Even his official identity was tied to the number, traveling throughout the custody perfectly legal.

Ephraim was an enigma to Seven, and he enjoyed the man’s company all the more for it. The shallow world that flooded these modern days was entertaining, beautiful even, but exhausted in short bursts. Seven enjoyed the realm for all its pleasures, such as the titillating anticipation in which he waited for Zhenya’s cocktail, but roots did not grow in shallow waters. Ephraim lounged in the same superficial surf Seven was known to enjoy, but his motivations were a mystery. Why some men, women and others chose certain pursuits was an interesting twist to their fated destinies. The question led back to an entwinement of fate and freedom that Seven wouldn’t admit to pondering late into sanguine nights.

The click of her heels made him twist around to observe the elegant Zhenya’s return to the fray. Her coy smile was met with genuine gleam to Seven’s eyes that flushed fresh energy to their friendly game.

And as promised, the show unfurled before them, because all the great drinks in the world were draped with the drama of all the senses. The scent first tickled his nose, an intense mixture of spice, warmth and wood. Before their gazes beheld the spectacle of the drink, his head swarmed with euphoria that tingled his skin. Purple, white, and the deepest black presented itself before him. A brilliant smile lit him as he leaned over the drink to observe it in close detail.

“Marvelous!” he clapped.

He hated to disturb the artistry of the drink, but with the most elegant of grasps, he tipped it back. The liquid pooled on his lips, slick as a snake, and burst with heat on the tongue despite the chilled temperature that trailed down his throat.

A long exhale followed as he stared into the drink like his gaze may penetrate its inky secrets. His accolade was soulful and reverent. “To drink this is to stand before the eternal slumber of a departed beloved, dressed in all the flowers of the earth, a mixture of somber remembrance and a celebration of what once was,” he tipped his head with humble acknowledgement, before smiling brilliantly.

“I am duly amazed,” he said, and not for a moment did the praise roll in anything less than genuine admiration. "I will need to invest great thought into producing an equal surprise," he laughed merrily. Then he laid his head against the cushions and enjoyed the immensity of the all his senses.



((Praises are sung for @Jaxen Marveet))
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