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Kyo

Shadows in the Mist

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Rook was the type of thief who liked to get up early. The perception of thieves and crooks was that they prowled at night, taking advantage of the shadows to relieve poor working people of their hard earned bits. It was a fair point, a lot of thieves did operate at night. That was the problem, really. The night was where the low down and the wretched lurked. It was where Vatha lurked, if you were the superstitious sort. Rook wasn’t really sure if he was, he didn’t really have time for religion when simply feeding himself was enough of an ordeal.

And this is why Rook liked to get up early. The young boy was dressed in tattered, old dungarees and a dirty undershirt. He wore a grey baker’s boy hat, hiding his mess of dark hair, and his hands and face were grubby with filth and grime. Around him it was busy in the southern quadrant of Ark Valiant. The delicious smell of baking bread hung around in the streets, and people pulled carts along the cobbles, on their way to market. None of them paid any attention to Rook, which was just how he liked it.

Despite his grubby, run-down appearance he was actually quite keen sighted, and his sticky fingers were forever reaching, forever grabbing, and swiping. Pilfering in the morning was, Rook felt, an easier task. Mostly because there was so much food on offer, and it wasn’t uncommon for bread or fruit to fall off of carts on their way to market. No one ever thought twice, and even if they did, Rook knew from experience that most folks would forgive a young boy for stealing bread a lot quicker than they would if he’d swiped their coin purse.

So after only a short stroll, Rook found himself sat on a step outside a block of old tenements, and had scored himself a nice little haul. Two bread rolls, an apple, and a strawberry tart. He sat there, ravenously chomping at the bread as he watched passersby. This was his first meal of the day, and in all likelihood would be his last for a while. As they day stretched on in Ark Valiant, opportunities to steal food became less and less.

With a soft sigh he looked up skywards. Valiant was a sprawling, over-crowded mess of a city. Buildings were built high, and were constantly being given half-baked and often dangerous extensions that probably broke all sorts of building code violations. Of course that was the kind of thing that was tied up in Guild politics, and was so unbelievably trite to even attempt contemplating, that most people just settled for good old fashioned bribery.

The sky above Valiant was blue, with white clouds floating quite low above the city. Ark Valiant was suspended, through means no one was quite certain about, Just above the areas where the Aethermist reached, in a gap between them and the clouds. Occasionally, when the mist was bad, it would climb up higher and you could see it swirling above the city, pressing against the glass barrier that was constructed over the city, protecting everyone from the toxic mists.

Those who were fortunate enough to travel on airships and visit other Arks were always quick to complain about how stale the air was inside of the Arks. Rook had never been outside, he’d never experienced this fresh air that others spoke so fondly of. When he was younger he used to dream of being an airship Captain, and being free of this life. He had stopped dreaming a while ago now. He was 14 years old, and his situation was never going to change. He was an Orphan, and his surrogate family were never going to allow him to be anything other than a thief.

Of course he had contemplated trying to save some money, but that was a dangerous task in itself. When Rook did his morning run, he stole food for himself to eat. Yet as the afternoon came in it was time for him to go to work. His employer would not settle for scraps of food as an adequate day’s work. Jackdaw wanted coins. Rook was one of the youngest in the gang, and had never been asked to go on any of the big jobs. However, Jackdaw had insisted that Rook had to pay his way somehow, and so he put his sticky fingers to good use, walking to the streets, robbing honest men and women of their money. He hated doing it. Stealing to survive was one thing, but stealing to add money to an already towering wealth? It just didn’t seem right to him. Of course Jackdaw had never beat him, yet. That was more than he could say about any other adult who had given him the time of day. So even if he didn’t like it, he would still do it for Jackdaw.

The thing most people don’t realize about being robbed, is that it’s not normally just a random pickpocket passing them by and trying their luck. Chances are, the thief has been waiting for someone like them to come along. The thief sees something in them, a vulnerability that can be exploited. The extremely wealthy were poor targets for a pickpocket. Rich people were often very careful about their money, and a good few didn’t even carry their own money, having bodyguard or attendant carry it for them.

The poor were easier of course. Less educated, less secure, less concerned with having their money disappear, since they didn’t really have any to lose in the first place. So ultimately the best way to actually steal enough coin for thieving to be worth the hassle, it was usually best to pick a mark who was somewhere in the middle. Rook was leaning against a wall, his arms folded, trying to look inconspicuous as his eyes scanned the crowd of people passing by. Eventually his eyes fell upon a coin pouch that was jingling, attached carelessly to a belt at a man’s waist.

The man was tall and lean, he looked to be in his late thirties. He had hawkish features, with light blonde hair gently swept back over his head, and a thin stubble on his chin. His eyes were a dark emerald colour, they looked piercing and cold. He was dressed in a clean, white shirt and a dark blue waistcoat with gold filigree, and a pair of dark blue trousers. His right hand was rested on a black cane, with a silver handle, on which he leaned heavily as he walked. His left arm was currently clutching a blue frock coat that matched his trouser, which he had slung over his shoulder.

Rook eyed the man’s footwear. He was wearing black boots, with white spats. The shoes were the key factor, the real difference between the well off, and the truly wealthy. They were spotless. Rook couldn’t believe his luck. A Nobleman walking through the street, unattended, with both of his arms occupied, and his coin pouch just…hanging there. It seemed to good to be true, but there is was right in front of him. Rook smirked to himself, and then he was on the move. He weaved through the crowds of folk, carefully not to draw too much attention to himself.

The hawk-faced noble was coming at him from the other direction. He seemed entirely unconcerned with the boy, just as Rook liked it. The two passed each other just as the crowd was thickening. Rook’s sticky fingers reached out, probing and searching until it grasped the coin pouch. He gave it one swift tug, felt it give just slightly. He held his breath as the coin pouch came off into his hands, and he walked, waiting for the nobleman to turn around, to call the guards, or chase after him.

Five seconds passed. Rook had definitely felt a give when he had tugged the pouch. Surely the man would have felt it being taken from him? 10 seconds. He kept walking, his heartbeat quickening. He wanted to turn back and look, but if anyone saw him it would give him away. 15 seconds. He couldn’t take it anymore, he turned his neck around to see if the man was pursuing him. Yet when he turned, he couldn’t see the man in the crowd.

Relief washed over him, cleansing away the horribly intense fear that came after making such a play. He felt the weight of the coin pouch in his pocket. It was heavy and jingled heartily. He wondered how much a Nobleman would likely be able to carry in such a pouch. At a guess he could feel at least 20, maybe 30 Marks. It had to be marks, nobleman always carried them. Bits were the currency of the lower class, and nothing that could be bought with bits was worth a noble’s attention.

Rook started to walk away from the main roads. He wanted to find a quiet alleyway somewhere and inspect his haul. He walked for a good ten minutes at a quick pace, making sure he was well and truly shot of the noble he had robbed. Then he turned in to an alley and swept a quick glance around to make sure he was alone. He bent down behind an old crate and took the pouch, tugging on it’s string, and loosening it. He inspected the inside and frowned.

“…What are these?” Rook asked himself out loud. He took out the pieces of metal that were in the pouch, each of them roughly the size and shape of coins, but they were copper coloured, and had holes in the middle.
“Washers.” Supplied a deep, well-spoken voice from the other side of the box. Rook jumped in fright and as he stood, he looked to the other side of the box to see the nobleman standing there. He had put on his frock coat now, and was leaning against the back wall with his arms folded, his cane resting at his side. “They space them between screws and bolts.” He added, a wry smirk on his face.

“I…” Rook stammered, backing away from the man. He dropped the pouch on the floor, it’s contents toppling over the cobbles, and Rook turned and went at a run. There was a noise that sounded like air trying to escape from a tight space, the kind of hissing sigh. Dark mist swirled and danced around the exit of the alley in front of Rook, and then the mist quickly coalesced and took shape. The nobleman stood there, cane in hand, blocking his path.

“Aethermancer!” Rook gasped as he came to a stop, his whole body shaking with fright. “Y-you’re an Aethermancer!”
“Sharp, kid.” The man replied, smirking. “Now why don’t you just calm down a little, hm?” Rook went to say something, but then he stopped. He did feel a little more at ease. It was only slight but it was there. He took a deep breath and felt even calmer. Every so often fear tried to grip him again, but it was like it had been muffled, and was being held at bay.

“I’m sorry I…” Rook looked around nervously. “I don’t have any parents, I live on the streets…I’m just…”
“A poor little boy?” The nobleman finished his sentence. “That’s good, kid. A little cliché but you can’t go wrong with the classics. You’ve still got those sad child eyes and the rosy cheeks, might as well make use of them.”
“What are you talking about?” Rook asked the man.
“I’m talking about your hustle, kid.” The man replied. “You’re pretty good, you know. Observant, opportunistic, light touch. You’ve even got the sad puppy vibe. I reckon you could be great, with a bit of practice.”

“At…at stealing?” Rook asked. He caught himself and shook his head. “No sir, I…that was a one time thing, and I learned my lesson. I won’t do it again.”
“Well that’s just a waste of a talent.” The man replied, chuckling. “Look, kid, this was a test and you passed it. What’s your name?”
“Uh…Rook.”
“Like the bird?”
“I guess.” Rook shrugged. “Ja…” He trailed off. “My…guardian. He gave that name to me.”

“Well, it suits you.” The man said. He reached in to his pocket and flicked a single gold coin at Rook, who caught it and examined it.
“This is a Mark.” He said with a grin.
“Sure, you keep it.” The man said. “You can leave now, head back to your Guardian if you want to. But keep that Mark safe, Rook. If you want to see some more of those, then you go to the East Edge, look for a shop called ‘Penny Farthing’, it’s an old antique shop. In the back there’s an old fortune telling machine, one of those animatronic things. You know the ones?”
“I think so.” Rook replied.
“Well, you put that Mark in that machine, and I’ll know about it. I’ll have some more work for you, I promise.” The man turned and went to leave.

“Hey…wait a minute.” Rook said, finding a small modicum of courage. “Who are you?”
“Oh, that was rude of me, wasn’t it?” The man said, turning back around. He gave Rook a wolfish grin. “They call me ‘Gentleman’ Jack Rhodes. It was nice to meet you, Rook.” He nodded, and then he turned to leave. There was another hiss of air, a swirl of mist, and the Jack was gone. Rook shuddered, and pocketed the Mark in his hand. Then he sighed, thanking his lucky stars that the man hadn’t decided to beat him. He had to get back home now, he’d wasted too much time. And now he had nothing to give Jackdaw, except the single Mark in his pocket.

 

--- --- --- ---

 

The door to Penny Farthing Antiques opened, and Jack Rhodes stepped through the door. The shop was closed, and unattended. In truth the shop was never open, and nobody worked there. The antiques were just junk. Jack ignored the lot of them as he removed his coat and approached the old machine at the back of the shop. Inside of it was a creepy looking wooden puppet-like construct of a strange man in a turban, with a black pointed goatee and a twirling mustache. Jack retrieved a single gold Mark from his pocket, and placed it inside the machine. The machine whirred to life and the strange puppet’s eyes lit up, and it began to move in jerky, animated motions.

“Do you wish to know your fortune?” an overacting, ridiculous voice asked as the animatronic man’s mouth flapped up and down.
“I’d rather make a fortune.” Jack replied.
“Oh…sorry, I think you’ve got the wrong place.” The fortune teller replied.
“Quit fooling around, Teach!” Jack snapped at the machine.

“Ooh, bit testy today.” The fortune teller replied. “Alright, fine. Come on in.” The machine went dark again, and then there was a whir and a click, and the machine unlatched itself from the wall, swinging open to reveal a thin, descending hallway of stairs. Jack went down them, closing the fortune telling machine behind him, and he pushed open the door at the bottom.

He was greeted with a warm glow of lantern light, and a room of reds and golds, with mismatched chairs and tables, and a whole range of equally garish and clashing tapestries, decorations and furniture. The place looked like a chaotic storm of bad taste, and yet it was full of people, all of them laughing and chatting, and drinking merrily with each other. Jack ignored them all, and they appeared to ignore him as well. He made his way to the bar, where a well-dressed man was currently polishing glasses.

The barman wasn’t quite as tall as Jack, but his features were far more skinny and delicate. He had curly, brown hair hiding under a black bowler hat with a purple feather. He wore a white shirt, with a yellow waistcoat, suspenders, and black slacks. The man was well maintained, with dark brown eyes, and clean shaven with the exception of his exceptional mustache, which had been combed and styled with beeswax.

Jack sat down on the bar stool, and the barman placed a metal mug of gin next to him.
“My, you are looking rather dashing today, Jack.” The barman said, his voice was the one that had came from the fortune machine. Bartholomew Teach was Jack’s right hand man. The pair had worked together for years, and had found a stable income from the smuggling of alcohol in to Ark Valiant, and running this little speakeasy, The Penny Farthing.

However to the patrons of The Penny Farthing, Jack was simply a regular patron. Teach was simply a barman. It was how Jack’s crews had always liked to operate. After all, a crook who is infamous, is a no good crook at all. Besides which, the Penny Farthing was just one venture of theirs. Most of the work was now taken care of by other crooks and smugglers who likely didn’t even realize they were on the staff. There were only a few people Jack ever allowed in to the inner circle. People like Teach.

“I was talent scouting.” Jack explained.
“Ah yes, the old crippled noble with the loose coin purse play.” Teach said, rolling his eyes. “I shall never understand your need to recruit waifs and strays. There are plenty of decent and experienced professionals out there that could join our crew.”
“Anyone with the skills we need who is already in the game will either be looking out for themselves, or their loyalty will need to be bought. We can’t have that for what we’re planning.”
“And just what are we planning? You haven’t mentioned…” Teach said casually. Jack went to explain, and then stopped himself, frowning at Teach.

“Quit swaying me.” He growled.
“Sorry, dearie, but I don’t stop my sway for anyone, not even you.” Teach replied with a wink.
“Well I’m not telling you the plan, not yet anyway.” Jack said with a smirk, before he took the cup and sipped on it’s contents. He let out a satisfied gasp. He looked around, and noted that nobody seemed to be paying attention to him.
“Relax, chum, I’ve been blending and swaying since you came down the stairs. They don’t even know you’re here.” Teach said. “So I take it you were scouting the Red Feathers gang again?”

“Just a kid, his name’s Rook.” Jack explained. “Doesn’t seem to realize how much trouble he’s in, he’s too young. I doubt his boss, Jackdaw, lets him see everything that goes on.”
“Yes well that’s his style, Jack.” Teach said. “I’ve been running intel on the Red Feathers for weeks now. Jackdaw runs a tight ship, he’s clean. All I could muster was that he tends to take in strays, young children. He looks after them, gains their loyalty. Sort of like what you were doing with that child, Rook, was it?”

“That’s not the same thing.” Jack replied, his brow furrowed in annoyance. “I’m never going to teach a child how to whack a guy when he doesn’t pay his protection money. The kid has the talent, he could be an excellent thief if he focused. This Red Feather gang, they diversify. General thuggery, robbery, mugging, racketeering, smuggling, fencing, laundering, you name it.”
“Yes, it’s a real money maker if you ask me, boss.” Teach said with a raised brow.

“There’s no class in it.” Jack said. “Thievery is an art. That kid was good at it, especially since he’s not got any Aethermancy to help him along.”
“Unusual.” Teach said. “Jackdaw has a few of them in his gang.”
“The kid’s young, even if he did have the potential he probably wouldn’t have snapped yet.”
“Ah, true.” Teach nodded in agreement. “So, you gave the boy a job offer and let him walk?”

“Something like that.” Jack said. “I’ve got some boys tailing him. They’ll keep an eye out on him, watch where he goes, who he speaks to. Even if the kid doesn’t take my offer, he’ll lead us to some bigger fish.”
“And what if the lad tells Jackdaw about your offer?” Teach asked. “What if he leads Jackdaw and his gang straight to our little hideout here?”
“The kid doesn’t know this place is connected to me, only that I said he was to come here if he wanted more work. If Jackdaw comes I’ll make myself scarce and this will just be another secret speakeasy. No problem.”
“Oh there’s always a problem with your plans, boss.” Teach said, pouring himself a shot of whisky. “It just hasn’t happened yet…”

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In the bowels of Ark Valiant, far from the crisp, cream-coloured streets of the nobility. Hidden amongst the factories, which caked the buildings and workers in soot and disfigurements in equal measure. An abandoned warehouse, or so it was claimed. In actuality, it was the base of operations for the Red Feathers. The gang that ruled most of the southern quarter of the Ark. They were cut-throats, pickpockets and tricksters. Yet for all their crimes, for all the blood that ran through the streets of the south, they were respected. They defended the poor and the starving, for their leader, Jackdaw, was known to have risen from similar beginnings. Nor did they target the nobility... most of the time. They targeted the middle-class, and so most policeman would turn a blind eye to them. To target the nobility, would force the 'Boys in Green' to come down hard.

The street in front of the old warehouse was quiet. Not a single person walked that cobbled street. Houses lined either side, some of them were abandoned or dilapidated, but that didn't mean they were unoccupied. It was like cockroaches, scattering at the sound of approaching footsteps. These footsteps, however, belonged to a young boy. He darted through the streets, quick as his legs would carry him. Then more footsteps. He knew he shouldn't, but he couldn't help it - he looked over his shoulder. Suddenly two policemen sprinted around the corner and caught sight of him.
"There's the little chancer! Hurry up, Burnard!" The more svelte of the pair exclaimed, giving chase. The other policeman, Burnard, tried to keep pace, but he was a little more plump. His wheezing breaths fluttered his rather large moustache as his chubby little legs worked at double pace as his colleague.
"Get 'im, Michaels!" Burnard huffed, between breaths. Officer Michaels ran after the boy as Burnard slowed and bent over, suffering cramp.

Michaels was in hot pursuit of the boy, he was gaining. The boy looked over his shoulder, he was about to get caught, then he yelped in pain as he struck something hard.
"Oi!" The boy growled, looking up, to see a familiar face that made him bite his tongue. The policeman caught up to the boy, took a deep breath, and approached.
"Miss," Officer Michaels acknowledged the young woman in front of him, taking his hat off and holding it at his side. "If you'd give me the boy, 'e stole summit an' he's gotta come with me." The boy looked up at the woman, who's hands were clasped on each of his shoulders, rooting him firmly in place.
The woman was of average height for a woman in her late teens. She had a slender, boyish frame and a short mop of unruly black hair. She wore a pair of old leather trousers, a cream-coloured, short-sleeved blouse, black fingerless gloves, a black eye-patch covered her right eye and lastly, she wore a black baker's cap with a pair of goggles fitted over the top.
"What's this then, Billy?" The woman asked, looking down at the child who stared up at her, perplexed. 
"M... hu--?" She clasped a gloved hand over his mouth. 
"Has my little brother been up to thievin' again, Officer?" She asked, grinning and sighing like she already knew the answer.
"Yes, Miss, now if you'd hand him over..." Officer Michaels took a step closer, and held up his arm expectantly.

"Well, what did he steal?" She asked. This stalled the policeman.
"W-well..." He gathered himself, "A Mark."
"Did you see him steal it, Officer?"
"W-well... no, but--"
"Then how are you so sure he stole it?" 
"He ran from us!" Officer Michaels barked, then the wheezing, panting mess of a partner caught up at last. "Where were you?!" 
"... far..." Burnard panted, unable to say anything more. He coughed up some phlegm and spat it into the street.

"So he ran from you?" She shrugged, "Runnin' ain't no crime." She paused, looking down at the boy, and held out her hand expectantly. The two officers watched quietly as the boy stared up at her in defiance. She gave him a sharp, firm kick in the shin and he yelped.
"Awright!" He winced, as he pulled the single golden Mark from his pocket and handed it to her.
"How's this then, Sirs..." She held the Mark up to them, "You take the Mark, an' i'll see to it that I gives him a proper hidin'... every day... for a month." At each addition, the boy's mouth dropped further still, until he looked as though he was going to burst into tears. Eventually, Burnard sighed and held out his hand for the Mark.
"Hey, what about the kid?!" Michaels asked indignantly.
"Ah leave 'im, 'e's in enough trouble." Burnard walked up to the woman and she placed the Mark in his hand. He examined it for a moment, out of habit, and then placed it in his coat pocket. "No more trouble from you, kid, or next time your sister won't be able to talk you out of a stay in the work house." Annoyed by his partner's leniency, Officer Michaels turned and started to walk away. "Miss," Officer Burnard tipped his hat to her and followed Michaels.

They remained as still as statues until not only had the two policemen both disappeared, but their footsteps had become so distant as to be inaudible. The moment they were, she spun the boy around to face her and gave him a hard slap with the back of her hand. The boy recoiled in pain and shock.
"Oi!!" He growled, cradling his pink cheek.
"Yeh should be glad fer that!" She snarled, "Ya any idea what Jackdaw'd do to yeh if yeh got caught?!"
"I won't next time!" The boy declared defiantly.
"Stow it, gobshite, go on, away wit'yeh." She shoved him firmly, and he started to run towards the warehouse. "Oi, Rook!" She called after him. The boy turned around, upset and frustrated, but saw her holding something glittering in her right hand. It was a single gold Mark. 
"Wha--?!" Rook's mouth hung, "How'd you...?!" 
"Go on now, give it Jackdaw an' don't be talkin' 'bout bein' followed by no Green-coat bastards."
"T-thank you, Raven!" Rook nodded to her respectfully, then ran on.

Raven let out a long breath. She was hungry. She hadn't eaten all day, and doing something like that, on an empty stomach? It was rough. Food was scarce though, like most things. Food, water, money. It was all just forms of control. Jackdaw gave them a cut, her more than most, but even then, it wasn't easy living. Raven had joined the Red Feathers nearly ten years ago. Jackdaw had found her at the southern Ark dock, where the airships came in. An airship Captain had found her amongst the wreckage of an old airship floating in the mists, the only survivor. A few more hours and she would have died from thirst, or the ship would have fallen apart, and the mists would have taken her. She had no memories, but Jackdaw had given her new ones. He was like a father to her, and the Red Feathers her family.

The warehouse was bustling tonight. People were moving about, doing their own thing, talking to possible customers, showing them their merchandise. For some, that meant watches, jewellery and fine fabrics. Some it was black market goods, ink, and weapons. While for others, well, if you had an appointment with one of Jackdaw's girls, you were well-looked after. The doorman shut and locked the door behind her, and she gave him a grin before walking onto the main floor. Above, a second-floor balcony looked over the squirming mass that was the bar, trading floor, butchery, market and everything else in-between. Only the Red Feathers were allowed on the second-floor. Raven looked around, but didn't catch sight of anyone she recognised. Nothing here interested her right now, she wanted to speak to Jackdaw. She looked up to the balcony, and saw a few faces staring out at the crowd below, then she spotted him. A tall, muscular man, with a shaved head and a handlebar moustache. Wearing an aviator coat, bare-chested beneath it. His gaze caught hers, then he disappeared onto the second floor. He was waiting for her. 

As Raven walked up the stairs, she heard piano music. It had been quiet before, so much so that she hadn't heard it until she started walking up the stairs. But as she did so, the music grew louder, and louder. By the time she reached the second floor the pianist was slamming his fingers down on the ivories. 
"Hit the thing any harder, fella, an' yer gonna break it." Raven chuckled, but then she saw the pianist's face. It was blanched. He was sweating. Then she heard it, and realised why. She heard a scream come from a room at the back. She exchanged a glance with the pianist and started towards the room. Another scream.
"TURN IT UP, WOULD YA?!" A deep, bellowing voice. The pianist slammed his fingers down, trying to drown the screams. Raven opened the door, swiftly closing it behind her. Inside, there were four men. Three were standing, one was sat. Jackdaw, and two members of the Red Feathers - Finch and Gull. Finch was a little fella with curly ginger hair, and a torn-up scar around his neck from an attempted hanging. He was a quick talker, jittery and nervous in his movements. He hadn't been with them for more than a year. Gull was an older man, older maybe even than Jackdaw who was already in his forties. Gull had a quietness to him, he didn't talk much. He just watched most of the time, only speaking when asked something. Grey streaks through his hair. He had an unpleasantness about him. Like if you saw him coming on the street, you might walk the other way, than pass him. 

Jackdaw moved aside, revealing the man sat in the chair. Like Jackdaw, he was a large, muscular man himself. He had a short scraggly mess of brown hair, and a short beard. His hair, and his beard, were caked in blood. Raven saw within seconds, that the man was missing several teeth. It was likely when he sat down, he was working with a full set, she was sure of that. Gull reached for the pliers resting on a blood-splattered side table, and Jackdaw held his hand up.
"Hey now, there's a lady present." Jackdaw gave her a gentlemanly bow, "Awright there, m'dear, how'd ye find it today?" 
"It's quiet." Raven replied, curtsying to such a ridiculous degree that it was clear between the two of them, she was no lady. They laughed and Raven crossed the room and stepped up to the man, whose eyes were rolling in his head. She grabbed him by his hair and looked at his face in detail. "Don't know 'im." She muttered.
The man's eyes focused on her, "Hep meh..." He choked, through a blood-filled, gap-riddled mouth. "Ahm purrliss, pliss.... hep meh..." Raven looked at Jackdaw.
"He was bein' uncooperative, what was I supposed to do? He called my mother a whore." Jackdaw growled.
"Yer mother was a whore." Raven noted.
"Yeah but he didn't know that, did he?!" Jackdaw barked, "Smarmy little shit, he was a right pain in the arse. All o' south side, an' he's the only copper what won't take a bribe. Y'know he actually tried to arrest Gull there, right?!" She looked over to Gull, who simply nodded.

"Right, well... don't let me interrupt." Raven crossed her arms, waiting patiently.
"That's unlike you, that," Jackdaw frowned, "You've always been an impatient sort... what you done...?" 
"Not me. Rook." She replied, "Sticky-fingers swiped a Mark, almost got pinched." 
"Send him in." Jackdaw's tone was cool. 
"I've--"
"Send him... in." He repeated, raising his eyebrows. Raven rolled her tongue around the inside of her cheek, then turned and opened the door.
"ROOK!!" She yelled, then closed the door and waited. A few seconds passed, and then Rook came charging in. Now, when an animal has a fight/flight response, they sort of panic on the spot for a moment, as their brain tries to tell them which is the correct answer. Rook experienced that, as he entered the room, and saw the policeman with the missing teeth, bound in a chair, but beside him, the patiently waiting Jackdaw, who had summoned him. He wanted to run, but he found himself frozen to the spot.
"Awright there, boy, come here, would you?" Jackdaw asked.

"Y-yes, Sir." Rook stepped forwards, Jackdaw took him in an embrace. "You're a young one, right. I know you make mistakes, so I ain't mad, right. Now. Give us that Mark, would you lad?" The boy obliged without question. "Mmm..." Jackdaw turned it over in his bear-sized hand. 
"I didn't steal it!" Rook blurted out.
"Shut it, yeh stupid boy!" Raven growled, but Jackdaw held his hand up.
"Naw naw, its fine, go on lad, tell us... what didn't you steal?" Jackdaw nodded his head, turning it to put his ear near the boy's face.
"Some fancy git gave it me, din'he?" Rook replied.
"Mmm..." Jackdaw turned the coin over in his hand, "Now why'd a fella give away a Mark, I ain't never heard that one before..."
"H-he said I could put it in a machine, an' i'd get a job!" The boy added nervously. "Said East Edge, Penny Farthing Antiques, that's it!" 
"Did he, did he?" Jackdaw mused over this, then looked up at Raven. "Here." He flicked the coin to her, and she snatched it from the air. "Go to this place, and see what it's about." 
"Right." Raven turned and started to leave. 
"Take ye knives!" Jackdaw called pleasantly to her, as he smiled at Rook. Raven left, hearing Jackdaw still talking to Rook.
"Now, fella... this, is what we call a man, but he's not really a man, no, he's really more a pig, y'understand? I used to be a butcher, did ye know that, Rook?" 
"Yes, Jackdaw, Sir..." 
"Yes, well... I was a butcher, and you know what I learnt? The nearest thing to a man, is a pig. And this one's a real a pig as ye could make bacon, right, so look, you take your knife, not in the stomach, they'll just bleed and bleed, look, here's the liver, kidney, kidney, neck, and you..." 

The doors closed behind her, and the music and the bustle downstairs drowned out the man as he screamed once more. Raven went to her room on the third floor. The third floor was hers, and hers alone. Nobody went there, not even Jackdaw. He'd given her the loft as a gift, when she first arrived. She figured it had been because she had only been eight years old, and wanted to keep an eye on her, but whatever the reason, she was glad of it. She picked up a small bundle on her bed and unrolled it. Inside, were a dozen or so knives of different sizes and styles. In the space of a few seconds, she had placed all of them about her person, and only one was visible. A knife tucked into a small sheath strapped around her right leg. The rest were hidden from view. It didn't take long to reach the antiques place, not for her. When she stepped inside, it smelled musty, almost damp. It seemed as though nobody had been there in months. As she walked through the shop, she looked at the antiques scattered around the room. Nothing seemed worth stealing. She ran a finger across an old table, and the dust blackened her finger. But she noticed the fortune-telling machine at the back. Raven pulled the Mark from her pocket and eyed it, then approached the machine.

“Do you wish to know your fortune?” A ridiculous voice asked as the animatronic man’s mouth flapped up and down.
"Hmm..." Raven flicked the coin into the air and caught it between two fingers, then deposited the Mark into the slot. 
"Sweetheart, maybe you should ask somebody else for advice." The fortune teller replied.
Raven smirked, amused by the machine, then without warning she reached forwards and wrenched the puppet's head off and threw it over her shoulder. The animatronic puppet sounded as though it tried to say 'hey' before it's motor died, and then there was an eerie silence. Raven took a step back and waited, impatiently tapping the nail of her forefinger against the sheath of her knife.

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Teach was the kind of man who loved to socialize. It was certainly no mistake that he was the one who tended to the bar while Jack was off running errands. Of course, he had made it seem like it was Jack’s idea. He was good at that. He had a firm belief that the easiest way to get someone to do what you want was to convince them that it was their idea. Certainly, doing so was no easy task, although it was significantly easier for a man like Teach. He was most unlike the typical image of an Aethermancer, a powerful and dangerous individual that one should always be wary of.

Teach was, quite simply, a friend to almost all who met him. It made him an excellent bartender, and helped inspire customer loyalty. Of course a great many of them were unaware that Teach had, quite literally, encouraged that sense of loyalty and friendship inside of them. Even as he stood behind the bar, quietly cleaning glasses and seemingly minding his own business, his Aethermantic senses were stretched out across the room. Teach was something of a specialist when it came to Aethermancy. He had a very specific and detailed grasp of Sway, Blend and Archive. So much so that he could use each independently or harmoniously with each other, and could even reverse their effects.

The easiest way to describe the feeling of a mental connection through Aethermancy, was that it was like a series of vibrations, or drum beats. He felt rhythmic vibrations humming from every individual in the room, and each told a different story. In general the vibrations were all somewhat similar. There were general feelings of merriment, and a weariness that was slowly being soothed in each individual as they imbibed more drinks. Every so often he’d feel a little spike that seemed off within the room. A shudder of guilt, or a trickling of worry. From this he could often tell the tone of the conversations at each table, and could even sense how people were feeling about each other or the situation.

Of course all he could really feel were the vibrations, and without context the reason for these feelings bubbling up was something he could merely speculate about. However this was the fundamental thing that made someone like Teach stand out as a true master of the art of Sway. For Teach was a people person. His friends Jack, he could be charming, mysterious and generally well liked, but he was a man who enjoyed the puzzle. Life was a game to his friend, and whether he would admit it or not, he often saw people as pieces on a chess board.

Teach loved the complexity of people. He loved that they could feel, and could make each other feel. Many considered Sway to be the art of a terrible person. After all, how could someone manipulate people’s feelings like that. However Teach knew better. To him, Sway was simply a tool not unlike being attractive, or interesting, or wealthy. He had no shame about using it constantly, and always to his advantage. That was human nature after all. Manipulation was integral to socialization.

His musings were interrupted when Jack had returned from one of the back rooms. He had changed out of the nobleman’s attire he had been wearing earlier. He now wore a simple white shirt, with the collar popped and no tie. Over this he had on a simple, brown waistcoat, some black trousers, and a pair of knee-length, brown boots with three buckles across each thigh. Jack caught Teach’s eye and sat back down at the bar. Teach placed another cup of gin next to his friend and went back to his glass cleaning.

“You know, old boy…” Teach began, his tone casual, “Every night you come here and you sit in that chair, and you drink your gin, and occasionally you prattle on to me about your schemes and your plans, and other times you just sit there quietly.”
“What’s your point?” Jack asked, sipping at his drink. Teach felt a slight tick of annoyance in Jack, and without a single out of place motion, he gently soothed it away.
“My point is that we have a lovely little place here, business is good, there’s a lot of people in here.” Teach replied.
“So?” Jack said.

“So you could try speaking to them once in a while. You never know, you might make a friend.” Teach smiled and leaned on the bar. “Maybe even a nice lady friend, hm?” At that Jack’s feelings of annoyance bubbled more fiercely, and Teach quieted them a little. Just a little, but not all of it. That was the way to do it, if you didn’t want people catching on. Jack shook his head.
“I’ve got a friend.” He replied, “And he’s a pain in the ass.” He smirked and shot a glare at Teach.
“Well more reason to find new friends, don’t you think?” Teach replied, grinning.

“Look I have plenty of friends, Teach.” Jack said with a shrug.
“You have plenty of employees, old boy. They aren’t the same thing.”
“Hm, maybe you’re right.” Jack said with a shrug. “Doesn’t mean I’m going to do anything about it, of course.”
“Yes, of course.” Teach said, rolling his eyes. “We can’t be having people think that ‘Gentleman’ Jack is a raging socialite, can we?”

The conversation was stopped there when a crackle sounded from behind the bar, and there was a tinny sound of footsteps. Teach picked up the little metal box from behind the bar and twiddled the nobs on a little bit, and the footsteps became louder.
“Ah, excuse me. Duty calls.” Teach said, and then he cleared his throat, and when he spoke again it was in a ridiculous voice, and he put the receiver attached to the box to his mouth. “Do you wish to know your fortune?” He asked.

There was a ‘hmm’ noise, a female voice he suspected. Then he heard the familiar noise of a coin being put in the machine. Teach quickly scanned the room. He wasn’t expecting any more regulars tonight, and the place was already quite full. “Sweetheart, maybe you should ask somebody else for advice?” He suggested into the receiver. There was another pause, and then a loud crunch like something being broken. “Hey!” Teach called into the receiver, but all he could hear from the speaker was a bunch of static. He turned to Jack, and raised an eyebrow.

“That’s not the password.” Jack said, smirking.
“It’s not funny, Jack.” Teach replied tartly, “I think she broke Boris. I liked that creepy little thing…”
“Well maybe you should let her in, and she can explain herself?” Jack suggested.
“Are you kidding? This isn’t a place for bullies and ragamuffins!” Teach said, frowning.
“True, but remember what we were speaking about earlier? I whisper a little word to one of the Red Feather’s most impressionable members, and suddenly someone’s being a bit rude at our guest entrance. I mean it could be a coincidence but…”

“No, it isn’t. It never is with you.” Teach replied flatly. “Do you want to speak with her?”
“No, I think you should.” Jack said. “I’m going to take your advice and mingle a bit. Turn your blend off, I’ll use my own. She won’t even notice me.” Jack got up and grabbed his mug, and left Teach alone to deal with the potentially violent woman upstairs.
“Well…that hardly seems fair.” Teach said with a sigh. Then he pushed a button under the bar, and there was a click as the door upstairs was released. Teach turned off his blending Aethermancy, and noticed that Jack had sat himself down with a couple of other men and was making polite chit chat. He would be blending himself but there was no way for Teach to tell. He knew Jack was here, and actively recognized his presence. Even an extremely good blend couldn’t beat that. So he went back to cleaning glasses and waited for the woman to come down the stairs.

The room was thick with smoke, it hung beneath the ceiling like a blanket, and beneath that it was a haze. The room was packed. People sat at every table, dancing on the floor in the centre, a bar in front of her. As Raven entered the speakeasy, she felt the eyes of the room on her. They were nervous. She glanced over at the barman and saw he wasn't entirely focused on the glass in his hands. She quickly crossed to the bar, pulled up a stool and sat down.
"Well, you're not the owner." Raven stated, looking the man up and down.

“Oh I very much am, dearie.” Teach replied, a soft smile on his face. As he spoke he was gently soothing the nervousness within the room, and analyzing the pulses of emotions that were resonating from the newcomer. “I’d ask if you were old enough to drink, but I suppose that’s sort of irrelevant during prohibition, wouldn’t you say?”
"That's alright fella, didn't come here to drink." She turned on her stool and looked around the room, "So Where's the rest of yeh?" Raven's sharp eyes scanned the floor.

“The rest of who, dear?” Teach asked. He could feel a multitude of emotions bubbling away in her. Caution was there, but she was calm. There was a hint of frustration growing, still small, he wasn’t sure if she’d even notice it in herself. He gently soothed the frustration, but left the calm and the caution. They were smart emotions, and he didn’t particularly want to rob her of them.
"Alright." Raven nodded, tapping her leg thoughtfully. "Make me a drink then, bartender." She lingered on her last word, inspecting the man's face, keeping his gaze for as long as he looked at her.

Teach noticed her stare, but did not hold it any longer than was appropriate. He knew what she was up to, and unfortunately she was playing that game with the wrong man. Teach was not the aggressive, assertive sort, but he was no timid fool either. He grabbed a clean glass and placed it in front of her. He paused a moment, feigning contemplation, before pouring her a shot of whisky. “Did I get that right?” He asked, rubbing at his chin. “You seem like a whisky girl.”
Raven picked up the glass, sniffed it then drank it back in a single gulp. She held the glass for a few seconds, then placed it back down on the counter. "Wouldn't know, never had it. Yer a nosey bastard, y'know that?"


“Guilty as charged.” Teach said with a smirk, throwing his hands up in mock surrender. “Call it a barman’s habit, if you will. I’m partial to a bit of gossip, and I don’t hide it.” He held out his hand, offering it to her. “Call me Teach, everybody does.” He gave her his best disarming smile, and then he made his first real attempt at swaying her. He nudged her affection just slightly, soothed her frustration a little more, she would no doubt attribute it to the drink. Then he nudged up her apprehension just a touch. Emotions were rarely certain, after all.

Raven saw something in Teach, she studied his hand. It took a moment but she finally accepted his hand and shook it firmly. Then with her other hand, she picked up her glass and placed it in his palm. "Pour me another." She let go of his hands and waited. Teach nodded and poured her another drink.
“So, you’re new here.” He said. “I never forget a face, and yours is new. What brings you to The Penny Farthing?”

Whilst this was going on Jack sat with the two men he had struck up a conversation with. He was nodding along as they spoke, but his attention was at the bar. He had activated his Sense, which he had not attuned particularly well for this sort of thing. The room had grown brighter, the smells more vibrant, the taste of his gin was sharper. He could also feel the a chilly draft from the entrance that he wouldn’t have normally, and the brightness was already beginning to give him a headache. However he was focused more on his hearing, which was amplified enough that he could hear Teach’s conversation with the girl. It could also hear every other bloody noise in the room, and so he had to concentrate to make any sense of it.

"Thank you," Raven smiled at Teach, lifted the glass and downed it. "Ya got anything to eat around here? I'm real hungry. Yeh get me some food first, an' then I'll tell yeh my business." Teach folded his arms and appeared thoughtful.
“We’re not really that sort of bar.” He admitted. “I can’t give you anything hot but I suppose I could whip you up a ham sandwich. Just sit tight, and I’ll be right back.” Teach nodded and he left the bar, disappearing in to the back room, leaving Raven alone. Jack took the opportunity to lower his Sense. He sipped on his drink, draining it, before making his excuses and leaving the table.

He moved towards the bar, leaning heavily on his cane, and sat two stools down from Raven, and allowed his Blend to subside. He made a point of looking around searchingly for Teach, and then sighed in frustration, before settling down to wait for the barman to return and top up his drink.
Raven heard the scrape of a stool and glanced at the man taking a seat. He was different from the other customers. He looked calm, relaxed, comfortable in himself. Yet the customers seemed acutely aware that they were doing something illegal. That perhaps at any moment the Greencoats were going to knock the door down and charge in. But why was he different? She frowned and looked back at the bar. That bartender was taking his time. He could be loading his pistol. She reached for the knife at her waist, ready to react.

The moments passed by and Jack simply waited. He didn’t need Aethermancy to notice the subtle clues of hostility the young girl was giving off. He noted how she had primed her body, ready for conflict to break out at any moment. That wasn’t to say she was being obvious about it, in fact Jack noted that she was quite good. However, he had the advantage of experience, and also knowledge of who the girl was, or at least he had suspicions. Her look and demeanor matched that of Raven of the Red Feathers, and the fact that she seemed to be, as far as he could tell, at least more aware of the room than the average person. She had the mind of a lawbreaker, a smart one that had managed to avoid a stint in a cell.

Teach returned not long after, a plate with two ham sandwiches sitting on it, cut neatly into triangles. He put the plate down in front of Raven and, without much of a reaction, he turned to Jack and filled his mug with gin without a word to him.
“Thanks.” Jack said, nodding once and tipping his glass at Teach before taking a sip.
“Most welcome, as always.” Teach replied, and he turned to Raven. “I do hope that’s to your liking, but if it isn’t then you’re out of luck, dear. I haven’t gotten around to hiring a chef.”

"Why don't you ask your boss?" Raven asked, eating the sandwich placed in front of her.
“Because, my dear, that is not why he hired me.” Teach said with a knowing smirk, “If I had to run to him for things then I’d hardly be any use at all now, would I?”
"Yeh hardly have to run," Raven replied, taking another mouthful of ham sandwich. Her mouth still full of food, "He's sat right there, ain't he?" She jerked her head in the direction of the man sat two stools over.

Teach raised one eyebrow and let out a little sigh, then he shook his head.
“I can’t work like this.” He said, holding his hands up, “Jack, you should have stayed at the table and everything would have been fine.”
“Probably.” Jack agreed, and he turned his head to Raven and nodded at her. “That wasn’t the point though. I wasn’t interested in how she was with you, I wanted to see how she was with her surroundings.”
“Ah, so I was a stooge? How does that not surprise me?” Teach said, rolling his eyes. Jack chuckled and turned around in his stool so he was facing Raven.
“So, Miss Raven.” He said, “You are more than welcome here, and I will personally guarantee you that you’re not in any danger. That being said, that situation could change depending on how itchy those fingers are. I don’t know your reasons for being here, but know that this is a nice place for those folks…” He thumbed towards the patrons, “To relax and forget about how terrible their life is. I’d like to keep it that way.”

"First," Raven finished her sandwich, "Thank ye fer the food, an' the drinks. In this day an' age generosity's a rare thing. Second, the only one who can guarantee that I'm not in any danger... Is me." She turned in her stool and looked at the man, "Jack, was it? Yeh might find more success in bein' straightforward with folks. I came in here an' yer man is givin' me some rubbish about workin' alone, but that don't matter none." Raven took her hand from her waist and placed both hands on her knees, "I came here t'kill the lot o'yeh. But that's cus Jackdaw thinks yeh some kinda upstart looking to take his business. But I'm inclined to believe that's not the case, seein' ya. Would I be wrong, now?"

“Ah, I see.” Jack said, nodding. “I think you will find the difference between Jackdaw and I, is that I do not consider murder to be an easy or preferable solution to my problems. Here’s the truth; you don’t have a clue about my intentions. You’re thinking far too small. I am a careful man, and the reason I am so careful is because I value life, not just mine but those who work with me. Now ask yourself if such a man would entrust the safety of his organization to an impressionable child, unless he had something else in mind perhaps?”

"I think yeh a reckless fecker that thinks to trust yeh lives on a series a gambles." Raven replied, standing, "The fact I'm even here says that much. Yeh don't know me well enough to trust all these lives to that. Yeh let me in, armed, an' put yeh mate at risk by 'assessin'' me. Are ye really so careful or yeh gonna cut the crap?" At this Jack simply chuckled. When he was done his smile remained and he sipped from his mug again.

“I think you’re a smart girl, Raven. Just not as smart as you think you are.” He said, folding his arms. “I’m not going to tell you anything, because I don’t have to and because I don’t want to. Trust is a valuable currency, and I’m afraid I have none of it to offer you without something in return. In fact, I think I got everything I wanted the minute you showed up here. You can leave if you like, or you can stay and have a drink, and a chat, and enjoy yourself. However, you will not cause violence here. No one in this room will cause you direct harm, we’ve seen to that.”

“Well, I’ve seen to it.” Teach corrected. “Haven’t you noticed, dearie? No one in this room has paid you the slightest bit of attention except for myself and Jack. If anyone asked them if they’d seen you tonight, I doubt any of them could truthfully confirm they had.”
“My point.” Jack said, eyeing Teach, “Is that we have everything under control. I dislike threats, and so I don’t make them. I am simply, and honestly telling you that we mean no harm to you. So I would ask that you respond in kind. A request, not a demand.”

"Yeh a man that says one thing and does another. At least Jackdaw tells yeh when he's gonna gut yeh." Raven glanced back to Teach, "Thanks fer the food." She gave him a quick grin, "Keep to yerself so," She added, looking to Jack, "I'll tell Jackdaw yeh just some two-bit crook, he'll leave yeh be." Raven walked up the steps and left.

“Well,” Teach said as she left. “That all seemed a bit pointless.”
“Maybe so.” Jack said with a shrug. “However I think I got what I wanted. It seems that Raven is Jackdaw’s enforcer in these matters. It’s always good to know who’s coming for you.”
“Hm, true. However most men would have killed her upon gleaming that knowledge.”
“Most men lack vision.” Jack replied with a smile. “I’m thinking of bringing her on.”

“Are you insane?” Teach asked, laughing a little. “She came here to kill us.”
“And she left well fed and watered.” Jack replied. “She’s just like all the other kids on the street. They all grow fangs, eventually. The difference is she’s smart and capable. Good understanding of how crews work, excellent environmental awareness. Her confidence suggest she’s also good in a fight.”
“Also loyal, don’t forget loyal.” Teach said said, pouring himself a drink. “To Jackdaw, that is.”

“Details, Teach.” Jack replied dismissively. “I’m just going to cast out a net. It’s her choice whether she decides to bite or not.” He stood up and drained his mug.
“Do you really think she’s capable enough to warrant a partnership with us?” Teach asked.
“She could be, with some training.” Jack said, “Now, I’m off to run some more errands. We’ll pick this up tomorrow.”

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The walk home was quiet and Raven found herself reflective. She'd set out to snub a potential problem for Jackdaw, only to find a small-time crook trying to run a speakeasy. It wasn't much, but that was enough for Jackdaw to send in the Red Feathers. So she'd have to lie to him. Lying to Jackdaw wasn't something she did often, so she found herself asking why she was taking the risk in this case. Despite her heavy thoughts, she walked with a skip in her step. Her belly was full of food and drink, she was going home to a warm bed and one of her favourite past-times - reading a book by candlelight. It was one of the few times she could be alone.
A dog barked. Raven was pulled from her thoughts and watched as a mongrel dog ran across the cobbled street and into one of the back-alleys. The light from the overhead lamp flickered. She blinked in surprise as the alley was momentarily cast into shadow and she reflexively looked up at the silhouette of the streetlamp only for it to reignite with a spark and blinded her. The white light dazzled her into a stupor.

As the white began to fade, and her eyes readjusted to the light, she saw someone standing at the end of the alley. It was a young girl. Raven squinted, but couldn't see anyone else with her. She was alone. Raven took a step towards the girl, and she didn't move. "Hey!" Raven called out, "Y'know where yeh are?!" She asked, starting to walk towards the girl. Before she could get close enough the girl ran into the nearest alley, Raven quickened her pace but as she turned the corner, there was nobody there. She shook her head. The light had dazzled her. She needed to get home and out of the cold. Putting the image of the girl from her mind, Raven promptly returned to the warehouse. What she was greeted with, however, was the opposite of what she had been hoping for. 

"There you are, girlie!" Jackdaw cried, smiling as she stepped inside. Gone were the trading merchants, women of the night, and all manner of customer. The warehouse was dead but for a handful of people. All members of the Red Feathers. Jackdaw wiped something off his cheek. It was blood. "You're late, y'know?" 
"Oh... sorry." Raven muttered. She looked at each of their faces. They were stressed. Jackdaw seemed nonchalant. "What's that?" She asked, but as soon as she did, Jackdaw moved aside and she needn't have been given a reply. It was a large brown sack, tied in strange places, almost like someone was trying to make a very large sausage link. 
"It's our friend from earlier, innit?" Jackdaw grinned. Raven looked to Rook who was stood next to Jackdaw, his face was white as a sheet.
"I'm going upstairs. Come on, Rook..." Raven held her hand out for him, and he quickly moved towards her. Jackdaw grabbed the boy.
"Oi!" Jackdaw laughed, and patted Rook on the shoulder, "Where you think you're goin', fella? We got a big night ahead of us, here." Then he turned his attention to her, "An' you, what happened at that uh... the antiques place?" His question put her on the spot. She wasn't sure what to tell him. She had never had a problem speaking plainly to Jackdaw before. She'd never held the truth from him. But now her earlier idle musings were turning to reality. She opened her mouth, and found herself spinning a web of lies.

"--and I couldn't get through. Don't know what it was supposed to be, I think it was just an old toy. I broke the head off just trying to get it to work."
"But the man said--" Rook interrupted.
"--the man was wrong." Raven stopped the boy and continued, "I didn't find anything, Jackdaw. I wasted my night trying." 
"Ah..." Jackdaw grunted, biting his lip thoughtfully, "Well," He laughed, "Nevermind! But you're not for bed yet, here, come help me with this, would you?" Raven nodded dutifully, putting her plans for the night on hold. She walked over and leaned down to grab the sack, but as she lifted it up, an arm fell out and as it brushed her own, it grabbed hold of her.
"Mmmhrrmm..." The bag groaned.
"Jackdaw?" Raven asked, trying to sound neutral. 
"We're goin' for a little jaunt is all, songbird, let's go." Jackdaw lifted the front end of the bag onto his shoulder and she took the back end of the bag. "You too, Rook, you're comin' an' all." Raven put her hand around Rook's shoulder and gave it a squeeze as they followed Jackdaw back out into the night.

 


 

The gentle howling moan of the wind reverberated from deep within the ventilation shaft. Raven stared into the darkness and turned back to look at Jackdaw, "What're we doin' here exactly?" Raven asked, as Jackdaw pried open the ventilation tunnel. The tunnel itself was tall and wide enough that several people could simply walk into it unhindered. It was one of thousands of vents scattered around the outer edge of the city, designed to filter out the traces of mist that permeated into the city. Few people ever saw the inside of these tunnels. But this had not been the first time Raven had stepped inside one, and she was quite sure, it wouldn't be the last.
"What do you think?" Jackdaw asked a question he knew she wouldn't answer. He walked into the tunnel, forcing Raven to follow with Rook trailing along close beside her. The howling wind of the tunnel mixed with the growing moans from the sack. A few seconds down the tunnel and Jackdaw pulled a breathing mask onto his face and handed one to Rook and herself. "Put 'em on." He nodded at the masks.

The winding tunnels seemed to go on forever. The walls of the tunnels were cool and damp, the floors coated in a strange moss spotted amongst the little stream of water flowing through. Suddenly Jackdaw came to a stop. She could see light around the next bend. "This way!" He called, his voice bouncing around the tunnel. They turned the corner, and Raven gasped. The tunnel opened directly out into the air. Dark grey-purple mist swirled down below, and a haunting groan drifted up from deep within. Raven shuddered. Jackdaw took the sack and dropped it to the floor and undid one end, opening it to reveal a face. The face of the man they had been torturing earlier.
"What are yeh goin' to do, Jackdaw?" Raven asked, "Yeh can't just toss 'im over the side an' be done with it. He's a Green-coat."
"Is he?" Jackdaw asked, then bent down next to the groaning man and grabbed him by the jaw, and shook his jaw like a puppet as he spoke for him, "Well i'm darn sorry to tell ya missus but I told Mr. Jackdaw 'ere that I work for some fella named Jack, in an antiques store!" 
Raven could feel all the warmth drain from her face. She swallowed, but tried to remain calm. Jack's eyes burned into her own, but after a few seconds of careful examination he laughed and shrugged it off, letting go of the man's jaw and pulling him to his feet, still bound inside the sack.
"So, there was somethin' in the antiques store..." Raven muttered, carefully.
"Aye so there was, nobody's perfect though, songbird, so hows about you just do me this favour, would ye?" Jackdaw pushed the man into her. Raven was forced to hold him up as there was not a single ounce of strength left in him. "Kill 'im, would ye kindly." Jackdaw smiled pleasantly, expectantly.

At this request, Jackdaw stepped back, and held a hand out to the open air at the edge of the tunnel, "Well in your own time, darlin'..." He then grabbed Rook and pulled him in close, "Now here, little man, is a proper killer, showed her all my tricks, didn't I? She knows right where to strike..." Raven looked to Jackdaw, holding the man upright as he spoke, "She's got a real mean streak this one, you can't teach that, and she always does as she's told, right?" As Raven held the man to the edge of the tunnel, she felt Jackdaw's words burning into her. She felt like he knew. She couldn't tell if she was second-guessing herself out of fear, or if Jackdaw truly recognised the lies she had told, but either way she couldn't help but feel as though she were being tested at that very moment. 
"Mm... pleash..." The man opened his mouth and blood dribbled down his chin, "Am jush... home... my ki--" 

Raven plunged the knife into the man's stomach and he went rigid. His eyes seemed to turn to glass as he stared off at some point beyond her, then she let go of him, yanking the blade from him gut as he fell, and a gurgled moan escaped his lips as he plummeted into the mists below. There were a few seconds of silence, a sharp scream, like the air being let from a balloon too quickly, and then silence. 
"Huh, maybe there's one out there now, huh?" Jackdaw laughed, patting Rook on the head, "That's cold, that." He added, ushering Rook back down the corridor as he turned back to look at Raven, still teetering on the edge of the tunnel, "Stab 'im in the gut? Could have just switched his light off..."
"... it was more than he deserved." She lied. Jackdaw sucked his lips, then walked on ahead with Rook, leaving her in the tunnel. Raven swallowed, put her back to the wall of the tunnel and slid down into a sitting position. For the first time, she seemed to realise the knife in her hand, as though she was holding something so hot it was burning her skin. She tossed the blade into the mist and pulling her knees up to her chest, she cradled her head in her arms. Something in her had changed. Something had broken.

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When Jack left The Penny Farthing it was well in to the night. He had put on a long, black, fitted coat with delicate, silver buckles at it’s straps. The coat was tight fitted around the chest, comfortable but form fitting, with the length beyond his waist left loose for ease of movement. As he walked along the cobbles he pulled the hood of his jacket over his head and continued walking, leaning heavily on his cane, maintaining the pronounced limp he always did in public. It was fake, that was obvious to anyone with half a brain, but for the rest it was always good to keep up the appearance. Whenever it was possible, Jack always made a point of giving people reason to underestimate him.

Without the aid of the sun the city’s glass dome was overrun with the rising mists of Aether, their presence snuffing out the stars on nights where the mist was heavy. Sometimes, though not always, the mists were strong enough to permeate through the Ark’s filters and cast themselves over the city itself. This mist was harmless, the toxic Aether was gathered up in the filters but they didn’t almost stop the hazy byproduct. Tonight the mists were thick, and so their haze coated the cobbles, whispy tendrils creeping up the walls, hungrily reaching for the skies.

The daytime life of a scoundrel like Jack was one of illusion, misdirection and deception. In the light of day Jack was forever conscious of how he presented himself. Depending on the situation he would change his attire, his posture, his mannerisms, even his voice. For there were many who knew of Jack, and many more who knew him as one of his aliases. Yes, the daytime was where most of the deception happened. Yet now, in the dark night, there was no need for the deception. At least for a Aethermancer.

There were few who really understood what it was to be an Aethermancer. While the gifts were not especially common, nor where they especially rare. Still, those who had snapped and awakened their latent abilities rarely garnered the opportunity to fully harness them. Most folks knew of Quicksteps, Scouts, Listeners, Ironarms. None of these terms were official, but they described the common Aethermancers. Those who had scraped together enough coin for a tiny vial of squid ink. They had one simple ability, usually the one they gained upon snapping, and they used them in the most boring of ways.

Most Aethermancers made their living in conventional ways. A Titan user would normally become a labourer, or perhaps a courier, although Blinks were preferred. Those of Sense would often made their living as scouts or sentries. Those who used Blend were hired to monitor meetings that required privacy, and those of Sway often became salesman. Archivers became scribes and scholars, and those born of Flare, well they were perhaps the least fortunate. For Flare could only amplify the other Aethermantic abilities, and so those who snapped with Flare often never realized they had any power at all.

Yet, in Jack’s opinion, none of these people truly understood what it meant to be an Aethermancer. He had snapped later in his life, a natural Blend user. Yet he had quickly found the urge to make up for lost time. He had used his skills in ways that brought him enough coin, and that coin brought him squid ink. In even a few short years he had gathered enough to allow him access to each of the 7 Aethermantic abilities, at least in their most basic form. Specialist savants like Teach might have considered this a poor use of ink, for they saw the rewards of having deeper knowledge and understanding of their talents.

They had a point, Jack admitted. He could Sway a man, but not in the same way that Teach could. Yet he had always been a man who had made the most of the little he had. Having each of the Aethermantic abilities provided him with options, and options, even simple ones, were what made him powerful.

With only a small effort Jack reached within himself with his mind. It is difficult to describe exactly how one can feel the different reserves of Aethemantic power within themselves, but Jack often envisioned it as seven candles. Currently only one candle was burning. His Blend was something he almost always kept lit, even if only a little. Like it’s cousin, Sway, Blend affected the mind of the user and those around him. While Sway communicated emotion through rhythmic pulses, Blend provided a more straightforward queue.

When people noticed Jack, he saw a thin, blue line connecting between himself and that person. The more the person took notice of him, the thicker and brighter the line became. But by focusing on the lines he could erode a person’s ability to notice him. He could target specific people, and he could send out general waves that targeted within a certain radius. He could also do a lot more than that, but for now he was simply sending out general waves to the people around him.

He watched the network of blue lines flicker and dance around him, each one slowly fading, until they seemed to flicker and tremble. It was difficult to erase a line completely, as doing so would effectively render the Aethermancer as invisible. Jack had no doubt that, with the right tattoos, and combined with Flare, this was possible. Yet he had found it to be entirely unnecessary. How many people passed each other by without a thought? How many could describe the unassuming man they had just passed by in the street?

When he felt comfortable, Jack turned a corner and lit his Sense. Suddenly the dark night became a clear twilight to his eyes, the orbs of the streetlamps like small fires to his Aether enhanced vision. He could hear footsteps from two streets across. The smell of piss and dirt filled his nostrils with an offensive ferocity. He could feel the fibers of his clothing rubbing against his skin, and he could feel all the tiny little grooves and imperfections along the metal of his cane handle. He was suddenly quite drowsy, the effects of the gin and of his daily fatigue now becoming all the more severe to his heightened senses.

But even that had it’s counter. He lit Titan. Suddenly he felt energy wash over him. In an instant he felt alert, and agile. His muscles were primed and ready for action. Pain and fatigue were pushed away by speed and strength. In the night his Aether enhanced vision was perfect, and he examined the streets around him with utmost clarity. He assessed the verticality of his environment, gauged the distances of the various landing points within his range. He chose one. He drew in his breath and lit Blink.

In an instant, his world collapsed into a haze of white mist. The ground fell away beneath his feet, a sensation he had once found incredibly uncomfortable. Then the mist took shape as quickly as it had appeared, and his feet touched something solid once more. He now stood on a ledge, several stories above the street level where he had once been. A wolfish grin spread across his face as he gazed across the city from his new vantage point. This was what most Aethermancers missed. They didn’t realize that this was their home. In the shadows, on the rooftops, in the dead of night and skulking in the mist. This was what they were born for.

He took off at a run. He moved blindingly quick thanks to Titan. Even a basic user like himself could outrun a horse when they burned Titan. Using Sense he had an advantage over a pure Titan user, for his enhanced senses allowed him to see where he was travelling more quickly, he could assess his movement and his environment, and he could react quick enough to fully utilize his physical power. He leapt from rooftop to rooftop, Titan giving him the strength to jump higher and farther than a normal man.

He cut a path over the city in no time. He rarely travelled on the flying barges or by carriage. Aethermancy was generally quicker, he found. Eventually he reached the end of the group of tenements and was sprinting steadily towards Central Square, a large, open space built around a brass statue of a man and a woman caught in a struggle. The statue was a depiction of Maeve and Vatha, the Gods that the people of Ark Valiant believed to lord over Elorra. Jack, originally from Ark Imperius, knew them by another name. Order and Chaos.

As he reached the lip of the building he knew that he could not possibly leap the large gap that was the Central Square. He tapped into Flare. He felt his strength intensify in a sudden burst, and when he jumped he shot upwards over the square, blending himself so no one would take any notice. His vision became so sharp, and his depth of field grew farther. He saw a ledge on the other side, took in a breath, and blinked the rest of the gap, landing on the rooftop and diving in to a forward roll to account for the built up momentum from the jump. That was the thing about blinking, you maintained the momentum of whatever position you were in previously. Thus blinking in freefall usually required careful calculation. He stood up and turned back to the square, scanning the blue lines connecting him to the people in the square.  

It was always important to check. Even if his blend could hide him from the average person, it would do less if there was a Sense user among them. Someone with enhanced senses was all the more perceptive, and thus harder to fool. That was, perhaps, the major flaw in Aethermancy. As powerful as you might be, there were always others with abilities that could counter your own. Which is why a smart Aethermancer should always be vigilant. Jack nodded, satisfied his cover was instant, and then he took off once more across the rooftops.

--- --- --- ---

Jack eventually descended from the rooftops as he reached the edge of the city. He dropped back down to the cobbles and pulled back his hood, resumed his limp, and once again began to act like all the ordinary people. He made his way to Port Hasting, one of the larger airship ports on Valiant. Port Hasting was outside of the glass dome covering the city, and was instead protected by an anti-aether field. He wasn’t exactly sure of the science behind it, but as far as he understood it was a field of disruptive energy that disrupted the Aether within the mist. Somewhat ironically, like a great deal of the more modern technologies, it was powered by the artificially manufactured Aether Shards.

Apparently the field required a lot of energy, and covering the entire city with it proved to be an expensive and inefficient endeavor, especially when the glass dome and filters did an acceptable job. The advantage of using it at the port, however, was obvious. It would allow airships to pass in and out of the port, and kept the workers and airship crews from inhaling toxic aether while they were here. There were breathers, of course, but they weren’t exactly the most comfortable devices to wear, and even airship crews deserved a break at some point.

Port Hasting, despite being one of the larger ports, was not particularly heavy with military vessels. Most of the airships docked on the edge of the Ark were simple schooners and galleons belonging to traders and mist fishing crews. The area around the dock was surprisingly busy even at that late hour, and the lantern light illuminated several bands of jolly miscreants from all over the place. Sailors were always a strange lot, always wearing mismatched clothing, never in fashion, and they were often crude and lacking in morals.

Jack allowed his blend to fade quite significantly, for in this case he wanted to be seen. The one he had come here to see was not likely to just be standing around. Yet he would have Sense Aethermancers on lookout for him, that was no doubt. As Jack moved through the crowds he smiled as men and women danced to violins and clapping. While there was no liquor on show, it was quite clear that many of the folk here were blind drunk. The prohibition of alcohol had always perplexed Jack, but at the same time he did not complain for her reaped the benefits that came from smuggling in booze and running a speakeasy. It wasn’t even all that dangerous, really. Half the greencoats in his district were regulars at his bar.

Jack took note of a single, bright, solid line of blue that appeared in his vision. While most folks were only vaguely aware of him, the person on the other side of that line was focused on him intently. An Aethermancer. He made his way towards the man, who eyed him cautiously for a moment, before attempting to seem relaxed. The man was thin, dressed in scruffy sailor attire, with a thin stubble and a great deal of razor burn across his face.
“Evening.” Jack said with a nod.
“He’s busy.” The man replied.
“Oh, I don’t think he’s that busy.” Jack said. He lit his Sway. Immediately he began to feel the pulsing vibrations of the man’s emotions. “Tell him Jack Rhodes is here.” He felt the sudden shift in the vibrations. What was it? Fear? No. Uncertainty, perhaps. He tried to remember what Teach had explained to him, but he wasn’t as adept as the old beanpole. He nudged the emotion gently, hopefuly that it would help his case.

“He’s busy.” The man insisted. “Too busy to be dealing with you, anyway.”
“Hmph!” Jack said with a smirk, cursing his inability with Sway. “Old fashioned way I suppose.” He said with a sigh, and reached into his jacket. He produced a coin pouch and retrieved three marks from it, and handed it to the man. “How busy is he now?” He asked. The man eyed the coins in his hand, looked back at the airship in the dock behind him, then back to Jack.
“Looks like his schedule just cleared up, mate.” The man said with a sly grin. “You’ll be leaving that dueling cane with me though.”

Jack smirked and lifted his cane. The man had keen senses indeed to notice that his cane was one that carried a hidden blade. He handed the cane to the man.
“I’ll want that back when I return.” He said.
“And you’ll ‘ave it, assuming he doesn’t throw you overboard.” The man replied with a smirk. Jack smiled back and stepped past the man and down the wooden board towards the ship. He walked on to the deck and made his way to the Captain’s cabin, and wrapped three time on the door.

“Bugger off!” A grouchy, old voice yelled from indoors. Jack grabbed the handle and opened the door, stepping inside. The cabin was small but was full of personal baubles and trinkets that suggested the owner was a man of considerable wealth despite the modest means of his ship. The man in question was sat behind a desk, a flask that, Jack’s enhanced senses detected, was filled with rum. The man looked to be pitching near 60, and his fine, grey hair was slicked back over his head. He had a thin beard, an a sunken, haggard face. Steely grey eyes narrowed towards Jack, flickering with recognition for a moment, before resolving their hardness once more.

“Well if it isn’t ‘Gentleman’ Jack.” The man said. “Did you not hear me telling you to bugger off?”
“Hello Decker.” Jack said, smiling. “Long time no see.”
“Not long enough.” Decker replied. “Don’t play me for a fool, Jack. I’ve got plenty enough eyes and ears to know your game in Valiant. If you think I’m having my crew doing booze runs for your little pub you’ve got another thing coming.”

“Now, now, Decker.” Jack said, holding his hands up in surrender. “I’ve got plenty of contacts in the smuggling world. I’m here for something only you can provide me.” Decker eyed Jack and shifted uncomfortably in his chair. Jack noted the clear change in Decker’s emotional pulses. Anxiety, wariness, and a little bit of guilt. Jack gently tried to soothe them. Yet as he did the emotions were completely overwhelmed by sudden anger.
“Don’t you dare try to sway me, Jack!” Decker said with a growl. Jack was taken aback slightly, he had thought he was being subtle about it. Clearly Sway was a more delicate art than he realized. Or, perhaps it was just Decker’s nature.

“Sorry.” Jack said. “I do need your particular expertise though. You’ve got the best Sense users I know. Hell, you are the best Sense user I know.”
“Ah I’m sure there are plenty of good lads elsewhere on Valiant.” Decker said.
“Don’t give me that.” Jack said. “You’ve got a guy out there being a spotter. I’ll bet you knew I was here before he did.”
“Well…” Decker shrugged. “I heard you walking with that bloody cane and false limp from a mile off. Didn’t know it was you, though.”

“Look, Decker, I’ve got some big jobs coming up.” Jack said. “I need a decent crew of spotters and listeners. Otherwise trouble might catch on to me before I’m ready to let them.”
“And who’s trouble this time?” Decker asked.
“The Red Feathers, potentially.” Jack replied. “There’s a few other players but those guys are a risk. I thought they could maybe be a part of my plan but…that Jackdaw isn’t right for this sort of work.”
“Jackdaw isn’t the sort of man you mess with, Jack.” Decker said, “He’s got a reputation.”

“A crook with a reputation is a lousy crook.” Jack said with a shrug.
“If you thought he was lousy you wouldn’t be coming to me.” Decker said. “It isn’t cheap to have a pro like me watching your back.”
“I can afford it.” Jack said. “Plus a little extra. I’ll need surveillance too. I’ve got a couple of boys on them at the moment, one of them missed a check in though. I’m pulling the others off the job, don’t want to risk it.”

“Surveillence…who do you want watched? Jackdaw?” Decker asked.
“No. He doesn’t really keep a low profile. He doesn’t need to, he’s too well respected to have any need to hide.”
“So who then?” He asked.
“A few people.” Jack said. He reached in to his pocket and retrieved a small object, and tossed it to Decker. The old man caught it with little effort, displaying his keen reflexes. He examined the object, a small marble of silver. “All the information is in there.”

“Pure silver…” Decker said as he eyed the marble. “How much can you archive in that?”
“3 hours of memory.” Jack said, “Or thereabouts. It’s protected, only you and I can access it.”
“Must have taken a lot of work, Jackie boy.” Decker said with a smirk. “A bit of a waste if I say no though.”

“Just read the thing.” Jack said, turning. “I’ve got a feeling you won’t say no.”
“We’ll see.” Decker said with a smirk. “I’ll send one of my boys with a decision by tomorrow night. Until then, if Jackdaw is eyeballing you, I suggest you lay low.”
“Oh I’m pretty good at staying hidden.” Jack said as he opened the door.
“Then how’d Jackdaw get his eye on you in the first place?” Decker asked.
“Ah…” Jack said with a smile. “The plot thickens.” He closed the door behind him.

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