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Kings of the castle
#21
Jaxen seemed cautious; more cautious than she would have guessed, from her brief impression of him. Perhaps he suspected Jon of being a con-artist – and maybe he was – but it was a fucking game, and Oriena was far too convinced of her of her own self-assuredness to worry about consequences. Of the game itself – well, she didn’t much care for it, nor for rules. It was Jaxen’s narrowed eyes that fuelled her desire to take part, and her smile sharpened on that weakness, teasing the glance he threw her way with wicked promise. What’s the worst that could happen?

Ori had worked in bars and clubs most of her adult life, and these sorts of drinking games were not unknown to her. The names and individual rules might change, but the intended result was usually the same, and she didn’t pay rapt attention while Jon outlined his “Numbers’ Gambit.” Her head was more full of why. She, at least, was convinced there was more to this than met the eye, and since the mystery rankled, she would remain pliant for as long as it took to find answers. Or until she grew bored. Fifty-fifty chance on that one. “There are plenty of gambling houses in Moscow. You’re in completely the wrong place, you know.”
The hint of a smile softened what was otherwise blatant scorn as she gestured the decadent stage.

At the stakes her brows rose, amused, and she missed Jon’s suspiciously elegant retrieval of the things the serving girl brought because her gaze had drawn naturally to Jaxen. It was a juvenile distraction, a basic truth or dare setup – the kind of thing she’d used to incite years ago in the shit-heaps she’d once worked, because it amused the customers and filled the coffers. Kallisti had its own games – not usually with dice and rules, admittedly – and since it was Jaxen’s table, she was hostess enough to realise the decision ultimately rested with him. Not that her courtesy extended to letting him back down easily. Temptress that she was, brazen challenge lit her eyes.

She offered Jaxen a card, caught between two fingers. “Ready to lose?”
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#22
Yes. Oriena had certainly taken the bait, and if Jaxen was still a little apprehensive, well...that was going to change quickly. She would be the catalyst that would lead that particular horse to water. And judging by the smoky looks she sent his way, she was going to make him take a drink.

Jon shrugged off Oriena's suggestion he was in the wrong place. He hadn't planned to come to any place this night, but had only popped into Kallisti's because he was tired of walking. It was only because Jaxen and Oriena had happened to draw his attention, and his invitation to the table, that he was sitting with them. The stage held so little interest to him it was laughable. One knew what the actors were after, desiring to provoke responses from men -- and their wallets, too. It was all an act, and a scripted one at that.

Any act at this table...well, it would certainly be unscripted.

He turned to Oriena on his left: "I believe I am in exactly the place I am supposed to be."


Now Oriena was offering one of the blank white cards to Jaxen. Stuck neatly between two fingers, accompanied by a fire in her eyes --

"Ready to lose?"


There was no way Jaxen could back down from that challenge. Jon kept his face blank, but deep within himself he was struggling to contain the laughter.


Edited by Jon Little Bird, Sep 7 2013, 02:59 AM.
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#23
Truth be told, Jaxen wasn’t exactly impressed by the game. Not that he wasn’t intrigued by having power over giving Ori ultimatums. It was tempting. But neither did he shoot down the invitation immediately. The way he watched his two competitor’s interaction, he might as well be drumming fingers with the amount of contemplation he gave the issue.

Was there anything to lose in this? Other than pride, of course. A week ago - hell, a couple days ago - he’d chime on in without a second thought. But recent events left their mark. Nobody walks away from a night of listening to a broad get eaten alive without some skepticism. Then there was the whole revelation about moving shit around with your mind, astral projection, wizarding voodoo. He was still not fully convinced Tony hadn’t just laced that cereal with some new fangled liquid sunshine. Giant LSD conspiracies made more sense than this. Yep. He was in a padded room somewhere. And Oriena wasn’t some cat curling her tail around his leg; she was probably the fat orderly that spoon-fed him pudding. Jon? Jon was probably some white-coated blob holding up rorschach cards and Jax was the idiot that kept seeing teepees, feathered hats, and tomahawks. Made sense; he did have a thing for cowboy and indian flicks as a kid.

So this was probably all in his head. But if this was the blissful ignorance of illusion, he was all for swallowing the blue pill over and over again. Better than the shithole he was probably locked up in. Besides, there was one thing he couldn’t ignore.

Jon.

Nothing was shooting across the room. But that palpable presence was returned. Now that he knew Jon was the source, he couldn’t hardly take his eyes off the guy. Even when Oriena had taken to studying him with enough intensity that Jax almost felt bad for depriving her of returning the favor.

He had to know more about this guy. Was he another Tony? How far did this rabbit hole drop?

Decision made, he placed the glass - in need of a refill - on the table in order to pluck the card from Oriena’s fingers. His smirk wasn’t corrective of her question. He didn’t particularly care about winning or losing, even at the sacrifice of his pride. So long as he won the real objective at hand here.

He dropped the blank card on his knee, swiped a pen and twirled it about the tips of his fingers, intent, and extending the introspection which represented the cards in the air, so to speak. Eventually, he wrote a number, and kept it hidden until after the dice was rolled.

10.

"So?" said Loki impatiently.  "This isn't the first time the world has come to an end, and it won't be the last either."
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#24
Jaxen continued to glance over the table at Jon even as the man took the card from Oriena's fingers and wrote down his number. Something about Jon kept drawing the man's attention away from Oriena, something had piqued Jaxen's interest in him, which had led him to invite Jon over to begin with. In the back of Jon's mind he kept telling himself he should be able to connect the chain of causality and deduce what it was. He did this sort of thing for a living, after a fashion. Probably if he was a little more sober it would make more sense to him.

Jon put his glass down and took up a pen in his left hand and with his right retrieved another of the blank white cards. He held it in his palm, concealed from view, and wrote down his number. Then he put it face down on the table in front of him, and turned to Oriena to await her selection of a number. It would be her turn to roll, as well.

Best to start things off on an interesting note.

1
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#25
Jaxen was detached from the banter, either still hesitant to play or caught on something else entirely. Either way it struck Oriena with dull irritation. Don't want to play? Then don't. The lack of fighting spirit was diminishing, and she rolled her eyes as she collected her own piece of card. She was unsure whether it was interest or suspicion he bestowed on Jon; it waned in and out of focus, like a current pulled underneath the surface of their interactions - and all she could see was a flat pool of water. She certainly didn't enjoy being out of the loop. Perhaps Jaxen simply enjoyed his pleasures both ways. That was fine by Ori. But she didn't share.

"You believe in fate then, Jon?"
I believe I am in exactly the place I am supposed to be. It was either the sort of drippy sentiment she could imagine paired nicely with that bespectacled face, else he really meant he'd intended to come here. And not for the regular entertainment. Her eyes flicked up to meet his, though she didn't pause to read his expression. Derision blanketed her brief look, an habitual armour, though it had an air of tease. Fate was not something Ori personally put much stock in.

As to Jon's game, there was little thought involved for Oriena - she'd pretty much made her decision while Jon was still outlining the terms. The odds favoured losing her own number, though even if she didn't she was an all or nothing player, less interested in securing her own superiority than providing an entertaining game. As such she didn't hesitate before scripting one on her card, flipping it over and sliding it across the table.

She could probably manipulate the dice, if she wanted, though she'd never particularly tried something requiring such gentle finesse. For now she was content to let chance run its gambit, and in fact dropped her hold of the power all together. The world rushed in depressingly dark for the few moments it took her senses to compensate for the loss, during which time she took possession of the dice and let it roll from her palm with little fanfare.
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#26
The die fell from Oriena's fingertips and made a small, satisfying thudding noise as it bounced across the center of the table. It turned over three times and finally came to rest. The face showing atop the red cube bore a single white pip. So the numbers would move to the left.

Jon turned to Oriena and slid his card across the table to her. Do you believe in fate, Jon? Fate. What an interesting concept. And a stifling one as well, the notion one was not free to make his own decisions at the end of the day. Yet it couldn't be ignored that oftentimes what appeared to be choice was dependent on some previous decision made before, a path that had to be followed to its conclusion. The man traveling down the desert highway could pay close attention to his fuel gauge and thus ensure he had enough fuel to reach his destination, or he could ignore it and find himself stranded on the side of the road, forced to take other actions such as hitchhiking or abandoning his vehicle that would set him on an entirely different path.

He caught Oriena's eye as she slid her card over to Jaxen. Yes, she had a bit of a twist to her lips as she gave her card over to him. Someone had been pleased about the roll so far – well, she had a surprise coming when she turned over Jon's card.

“I believe choice and fate both exist. If we really do have freedom to choose our destiny, then the path our choices send us down must necessarily be the one we are supposed to be on.”
He accepted Jaxen's card. “Take this game. We have a role in the setup by choosing our numbers, but the final outcome hangs on a chance roll...”


He turned his card over. It displayed a 10. He certainly wouldn't be the loser in this round.

Jaxen and Oriena turned their cards over. Both of them had a 1.

Well! What an interesting twist of chance in Jon's favor! Oriena, it seemed, had gone for Jon's play on this round, attempting to stick someone else with a certain loss, only it hadn't gone as well for her as it had for Jon. Since they had both tied for the loss with the lowest number possible, they were both required to pay a forfeit. And Jon didn't have a judge in this round to constrain him from his demand. They were both subject to his whim now.

He chuckled. “So the first forfeits belong to me,”
he mused. “What shall I do with them...”
A naughty voice in the back of his mind whispered Oriena. Shirt. Off.. He dismissed the voice with a hint of amusement. No, it wasn't time yet to descend into bawdiness. No, Jon wanted to bring some familiarity to the table amongst the three. Get them to reveal something personal, something deep. An intellectual and emotional baring of the character, not of the flesh. It would make them more vulnerable to themselves, and to each other, and perhaps, there, some real connection could be made.

“Oriena,” he said, turning to her. “I want you to
describe for me the thing in your life that makes you happiest. What gives you the fondest memories or feelings?”

And now Jaxen. Yes, that smug, arrogant exterior must certainly hide something deeper. “Everyone has something that causes them anxiety...So Jaxen, what are you most afraid of?”
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#27
Jax gave little thought to the cards. Losing wasn't particularly bothersome, but the back of his mind twinged with anticipation. Annoying. He preferred to make his own rules, not conform to others'. So he kept Oriena's card pressed to his knee until the trio displayed what each one adopted. Or what fate gave them.

He was on the verge of laughing at Jon. At least he was a philosophical drunk. There were worse personalities to surface.

He flipped his card and a flicker of disappointment turned down his brow. 1. He wasn't going to win this round. But that was fine. Let the game gain some speed before dropping the bomb he planned.
"Chance is not fate,"
Jax piped up, chucking the now useless card back to the table. A corner caught in a ring of condensation and immediately drank in the wetness. Now it was definitely useless.

He gestured at the ruined card, "not fate,"
he added smugly, lips twisted into a smirk having pointed out the obvious. He couldn't have planned it better himself.

What was not obvious was he wasn't alone in losing this round. He looked to Oriena, "well, well. Maybe I was wrong about fate after all."
He chuckled sarcastically and used the time to fix himself another drink. The soggy card he pushed out of the way. It landed carelessly on the floor.

Cold ice scoop in hand, he caught himself doing what was he was about to do, and with the epiphany sharp on his mind, he placed the glass aside so that he could leave it to lovelier hands than his to finish it. Lovelier in a sense, anyway. He'd not turn her away.

He placed the cold scoop atop Oriena's knees. "Almost forgot who was serving who, there."


Arms crossed, he sat back with the little victory and considered Jon's request at truthtelling. Until he cringed.

An immediate answer rolled freely. "Easy. Snakes. Hate them."
Profound disgust dripped from his usually silvered-tongue. His own personal brand of venom he was never quite able to spit out.

He gestured that they wait a second and unbuttoned the cuff on one arm and rolled up the sleeve until it was past the elbow.

Only the lower half of the tattoo could be seen, the rest hidden by the shirt sleeve that could roll no higher; black ink curled and wound its way around the muscle and sinew of his arm. Merely clenching his fist brought the thing to eerie life, as though reanimated by some divine touch. But it was clear what it was: the skeleton of a dead snake posed as though frozen in mid-strike. It was an intricate, bony thing. From hundreds of tiny vertebrae curled sharp ribs that formed the creature's body. The head, hidden beneath his shirt higher up and along the cap of his shoulder, was a mere skull that seemed entirely formed of jaw bones and spike-like fangs. They'd not see the rest short of taking off his shirt. Which everyone would appreciate, of course.

"The only good snake is a dead snake."
He uttered, dark gaze lingering on the symbol that in his youth he refused to acknowledge as something so fearsome he'd not even bear to look upon its form. Defiance inked this tattoo, not love.

Shortly after, he tugged the sleeve back into place and turned to Ori, voice flat with inner conflicts he refused to allow to conquer his sanity. "That drink?"



Edited by Jaxen Marveet, Sep 10 2013, 10:10 AM.
"So?" said Loki impatiently.  "This isn't the first time the world has come to an end, and it won't be the last either."
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#28
Jon was incredibly verbose, and Ori wondered if it were a result of the alcohol firing his veins or if he just took everything so seriously. Her lips twisted in a smirk, casually dismissive. She wasn't interested in engaging in a drunk philosophical discussion on the nature of fate; she'd been looking for answers of a different kind. "Fate can go fuck herself."
She shrugged and flipped Jon's card over with the same decisiveness with which she'd rolled the dice, and laughed at the stark single digit it revealed. She didn't view it as losing, perhaps because she'd dragged another down with her. She did, however, view it as a challenge, and the brunt of it glinted in the gaze she set on Jon; daring him to do his worst with a downright wicked grin.

Her look tempered somewhat at the question, a measure of surprise but not quite interest. Happy? What had Jon perceived of her to make him think such a question would dig under her skin? For a drunk game of chance it was far deeper than she might otherwise have expected, and as Jaxen answered without hesitation she considered it. Not the sharing, but the motive behind it. She certainly wasn't interested in getting to know either of these two beyond surface level, nor particularly of sharing anything of herself beyond the ephemerality of things forgotten by morning. She wasn't looking for friends. She wasn't looking for connections.

As such she wasn't initially interested in Jaxen's answer, until he began to loosen a cuff and tug back his sleeve. A languid gaze followed the tattoo curling up his arm; the extent of it she could see at least. A snake. A fucking snake. Her brows narrowed to a faint look of contemplation, and though it lacked fear her silence was tense. The irony didn't escape her, and once the cold flood of reaction had eased a thin smile replaced the serious set of her expression. The only good snake was a dead snake; he had that right. "I'll drink to that."


A shame he insisted on being such a dick.

Oriena picked the ice-scoop off her knee, ignoring a flash of irritation at the coercion of power. A drop of frigid water slid its way down her leg, though she didn't wince at the cold trail it left. Jaxen wavered between playful and entitled, and the latter would get little from Ori. She was not fond of the nouveau riche pricks at the best of times, let alone when they could not even be bothered to erect a pretence of charm. So she ignored his order, bar a dry look, and toyed with the scoop instead.

The answer to Jon's question was easy of course, if not one that was simple to share with strangers. He had asked for a description, though, and she took that at face value - omitting to name the thing she described. Not that she even had a name for it. She let the power wash in, and it resulted in a terribly decadent smile. Her gaze set on Jon. "Teetering on the brink before a flood of pleasure. In a heartbeat you stand atop the world."
If it sounded sexually suggestive -- or even like the words of an addict -- then it was supposed to, but the kick was of course in the private subtext. Ori didn't care for their judgements; the layers of meaning amused her, as did her manipulation of what was asked for. Ironically it was probably the most honest she'd be all night.

Confession offered, her gaze flickered to Jaxen. "I seem to recall needing help to get my hands dirty. And you didn't even say please."
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#29
Jaxen's mood must have rubbed up against Oriena. Or she literally at that moment sprouted red. Either way, a sharp guillotine separated her politically correct tone as owner and the scoffed expression of a pissed off broad. Jaxen was little amused by her cat and mouse game. Especially when he was the mouse.

He flicked a cold gaze upward from fixing the cufflink back to the sleeve to stare at her, unblinking, and eye to eye. "Please,"
he said flatly and dismissed the rest.

His line of sight pivoted back to the table where the pile of cards waited for the next round. Nobody seemed too eager to move on. Or maybe Jaxen's world was only blurred by the lenses of personal demons he could not explain. But before they swallowed him whole, like Oriena's cat gulping down its prey, or more accurately, a snake swallowing its dinner, the familiar streak of defiance that inked that tattoo now burned his veins. It flooded warmth and power from the inside out, prickling his skin with warmth born within. It brought him across the barrier of self-destruction and made him king of this world once more. Much like Oriena's happy place - standing on the world is about right sweetheart - he glanced at her, noticing details about her skin, the flecks of color in her eyes, and the ridge of garments beneath her dress that he'd not noticed before. He was blithely smirking without even realizing it, and drank in more of the sharp pain of joy and life, feeding an aggressive imagination working through any number of scenes for how a night with her could play out. If she were so lucky, that is.

Lustful look withdrawn, a far cry different than the last bullet of sarcasm aimed her direction, he snagged a second card from the pile and without looking up to notice whether Oriena's task was complete, he wrote down his next number.

Spoiler: click to toggle
1


He flipped the card against his knees and caught Jon's eye as though about to address the group. It was then that two and two finally put themselves together.

Though deep and dark, the mere consideration of snakes had sent his head to the edge of panic and to catch himself from falling over, he turned straight to the thing that was sure to save him. On a conscious level he knew what he'd done. That he'd been sitting there goddamn holding the very fucking Power he'd meant to hide from Jon until a more fortuitous moment presented itself.

He stared at the drunk man, willing him to keep his mouth shut for once. Tony's warnings shot through the back of his mind, but Jaxen had little idea how to make the Power work should something happen. Except at moments of instinct, all he could really do at this point was take and release it at will. Usually, anyway. He was going to have to do a much better job of staying on top of that in the future.


Edited by Jaxen Marveet, Sep 21 2013, 06:00 AM.
"So?" said Loki impatiently.  "This isn't the first time the world has come to an end, and it won't be the last either."
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#30
So Jaxen was afraid of snakes. Did he mean that in the literal sense or was there a metaphor behind that? It had been common in history for many Native tribes to refer to enemies as snakes -- which interestingly enough was how many tribes got their names. And then the warning Noah Crow's Eye had sent came to the forefront of Jon's mind: They wear the mark of the orobous. Surely that couldn't be it.

Also curious that Oriena agreed with Jaxen's disgust for the things. A thing they had in common? "No friends to snakes at this table,"
Jon mused.

Oriena spoke her answer. Yes, she was a clever one, describing a feeling and not saying what caused it. Jon briefly considered demanding she tell more. There would be no one to say otherwise if he did. But he reconsidered -- yes, he could identify with how she felt. It was much like how Jon felt when he took hold of the Great Spirit, rushing along that fine knife's edge that defined control, one foot put wrong leading to disaster, but while control was held, anything was possible.

Something...resonated from the man. A looming presence, menacing. Jon could feel an...echo, he couldn't think of any other way to describe it, even to himself, from within the grasp Jon held on the power of the Great Spirit. It was like the vibration of tuned forks. Fascinating. He'd never felt that before.

That pricking of goosebumps on his skin was back. He sipped his vodka and rubbed his arms. He realized he'd been quiet while lost in contemplation of this new force. "I accept your answers,"
he said. He turned to Oriena. "I suppose there are many ways one can achieve that feeling you describe."


Jon caught Jaxen's eye. The man was staring at him as if to say something -- that presence persisted, Jon could almost feel the surge and ebb of energy, like a tidal wave, and yes, it did clearly resonate with the force of the Great Spirit Jon maintained. Could Jaxen--?

Jon kept his face impassive and reached for another blank card and wrote down a number, turning it over so neither of his companions could see it.

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20


"Chance and fate are close cousins,"
he said. He glanced at Oriena. "Perhaps if you don't tell it to go fuck itself it'll be kinder."
It would be Jon's turn to roll, and he reached for the die, awaiting Oriena's selection of her number. As he did so, he sent a single thread of the essence of the Great Spirit -- he supposed he could call it spirit, for short, as it was an entirely separate part of the power from the other elements, by itself the most harmless of threads -- across the room to Jaxen's right.
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