1920's America. World War I has sounded the death-knell for 'golems'--human soldiers magically fused to substances that enhance their combat ability, once the premiere footsoldiers of kings and czars. The ban on the creation of these golems is about as flexible as the ban on alcohol. Either way, the ones from the old times are still kicking around, and there's not much legitimate work for someone whose existence and skillset both are outlawed. Of course, discovered golems don't die--the laws are for their protection--but the draft isn't any more appealing than death to a generation just coming out of a major war that most golems fought in. On top of everything, reliable maintenance is a must, and so every golem seeks out a discreet mage who can keep their bodies functioning and not rat them out. In the end, the best place to be for an illegal golem to find work and maintenance is among those who deal in other illegal goods...
All magic is fusion of materials.
Fusion of like objects can fix breaks, enhance utility, and reduce aging/wear-and-tear.
Fusion of unalike objects creates a new material which displays the properties of both. Skilled mages can hand-pick which properties are displayed, while unskilled mages fuse and pray it comes out workable.
A 'golem' is any human fused with an inanimate material . Their flesh exhibits the properties of both, becoming living tissue with the durability and strength of the fused material. Where and how the material displays itself on the skin is up to the skill and discretion of the mage. Pros: Durability, strength, decreased metabolism, increased lifespan. Cons: Increased weight, decreased reflexes/speed, possible brittleness , decreased ability to withstand various weather conditions such as temperature or rain.
A 'chimera' is any human fused with an animate material . Their flesh exhibits the properties of both, becoming a mix of biologies. Again, aesthetics and specific skills and properties derived from the fused creature are at the discretion and skill level of the mage. Pros: Enhanced reflexes/senses, enhanced survival skills, specific animal or plant traits . Cons: No enhanced lifespan or decreased metabolism, enhanced strength not guaranteed, easily botched fusion.
Both golems and chimeras have historically been treated as subhuman combat machines or servants. Both require regular magical maintenance. Frequency of maintenance depends on the complexity of the fusion and how many materials required. More materials require more frequent maintenance. A standard human-granite fusion, for example, would require bi-yearly visits for optimal health, while a human-shark-bear would require a visit every three months.
Lack of maintenance results in the slow subsumation of one fused material in favor of the other. In the case of golems and chimeras, this is always the subsumation of the human by the fused material. Eventually, a golem will become a statue and a chimera lose its human mind to an animal one.
Daniel Alldyce - Police officer with the organized crime division. A trained mage. So far unbribable, though he's been approached a few times--possibly more dense and unobservant than truly moral?
Laurel Lake - 'The Silver Lady'. White copper golem. Exhibits the usual increases in strength and durability, in addition to her arms, which are all white copper from the elbows down, with visible clockwork at the joints, and spring-loaded blades in the forearm panels. Here and there are faint decorative impressions of what might have been leaves or frost. She is cold and not very personable. Her origins go back to ancient China.
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Food was brought over with an absolute absence of sass; Matteo smirked at Silver, more than a little intrigued by how it smelled. And tasted. Damn, that was some fine cooking. This girl was the whole package, huh? Cooked, fought, killed, and a darling in bed, by most accounts. It was almost enough to interest Matteo, if it wasn't for his utter lack of interest in older women.
Still, it seemed her age came in handy every now and again. She recognized the symbol. And not only that;they were regaled with a veritable history lesson. Honestly. She could've left it at "it's a dangerous Chinese cult." What else did they need to know? Though it was helpful to know that Tom would be awakened now. Dead soon, in all likelihood. He found himself pondering if there weren't ways to exploit that, to part Tom from his money under the guise of helping and drive him into the depths of despair; it'd be a fine way to end a former enemy, sometimes ally. Though then again, he supposed, not something to plot while Tom was working with him. More like, he'd have to make sure the big guy kept going until he'd lived out his usefulness.
"So the Triads are behind this?" Matteo asked, glancing at Silver. They hadn't had much of a presence in this city, ever. Was this some kind of aggressive move? Were they looking to expand their territory into little old Matteo's turf?
Ignoring Matteo, Tom made eye contact with the woman. "You were in the colonial wars as well?" he asked, suddenly curious. "That's where I was fused. Well. Initially," he added, with half a glance towards Dice. "I'm surprised I never heard of you. Usually we fused-types kept pretty close--I was sure I knew every golem and chimera in the whole damn army."
He ignored the golem's pointed remarks about his oncoming mortality. Acknowledging it wouldn't make death wait any longer. Surprisingly, he didn't find himself despairing. He'd lived long enough. Watched enough friends die. It was almost comforting to know that death was waiting for him, no longer an abstract, distant concept, but real, and near. It had always been there, looming in the back of his mind. Now he was facing it down, and found himself glad for the challenge.
Never mind that he felt perfectly fine. He knew the success rate of three-part fusions was incredibly low, that he wouldn't feel a thing until death was already upon him, but it remained true that aside from the lingering pain of the bullet wounds, he felt fine. Another thing to be grateful for, he supposed: that death would come quickly, instead of slowly creeping up on him in the form of white hairs and growing weakness.
"They recognized you? How? Are they all golems, too?" Matteo asked, tone of voice insisting clearly that he thought such a thing ridiculous. Then he sat up a bit and looked Silver in the eye. "...they aren't, are they?" he asked, a little more hesitant. One golem was bad enough. He didn't even want to imagine a whole cult of golems.
Laurel didn’t want to spare the attention for anything fancy, even for the purposes of annoying Mr. Sorenzo. He’d seemed annoyingly unfazed by her earlier attempts anyway. So she simply chopped up whatever vegetables first fell to hand and tossed them in a pan for stir-fry. It only took a few rapid slices to dice anything she had—even with a knife and not her arm-blades, she was proficient at chopping. The lack of complication allowed her to keep half an eye on Tom and Alldyce in the living room. She snorted, noting Mr. Sorenzo’s inability to keep his hands off the young officer. So it wasn’t just her, then? He’d hit on anything nearby? Good to know.
The frying part of stir-fry took her attention away from them for a couple minutes. She added cubed chicken and noodles, and within minutes everything was sizzling nicely. She dumped the scramble onto a few different plates and carted them all out to the coffee table in the living room. Food deposited, she leaned over the back of the couch to see what Tom was holding out to Mr. Sorenzo.
“That’s a yin yang,” she said. It was carved with great precision into a small, flattened surface on the ovoid piece of green stone. “It’s a Chinese symbol used by mages and alchemists. It symbolizes, variously, any two equal and opposite forces joined together—heaven and earth, male and female, fused materials, that kind of thing.” She glanced up to meet Tom’s eyes and smirk. “It also, of course, means a golem or a chimera. The human is the spiritual yin and the, say, tiger is the earthly yang. You must have been made, like me, when this kind of fusion was still considered sacred instead of an abomination.” A delicate, deliberate hesitation, a glance down at his green chest. “Well. Two unlike things in harmony is sacred, anyway. Three things is considered a bit off-balance. Unstable. Deadly, even.”
Honestly, it was a bit of a surpsise that Tom was sitting up and talking right now. So soon after a traumatic wound, and then a traumatic extra fusion. This Alldyce child didn’t exactly strike her as one of the great magicians of old , but he must have been a talent of some kind. A trinity fusion was rare. A trinity chimera was even rarer. It was amazing that with so little prep and so little time, this one had taken.
She kind of thought it couldn’t last long. Hours, days, or weeks—eventually, Tom’s patchwork body would fail him. Alldyce might have merely bought him a sliver of time, compared to the ages the chimera had already lived.
Laurel came around the couch to flop down on Sorenzo’s other side. She picked up her plate and began to pick at it. “In any case, it’s not a normal yin yang. Those characters around the edges are not Chinese. I don’t know what they say, exactly, but I recognize them. It’s an old, old faction. One could say a cult, which many politicians and military leaders have been part of. I last came up against them personally in the Arrow War. Ironically, at that point I was working for the British. I was meant to infiltrate their order, suss out some kind of command structure, and kill them. I failed terribly and was forced to use the chaos of the Indian uprising to flee.” Laurel frowned, remembering the incident. She’d identified many members of the faction, then. That symbol of theirs was unmistakable. She’d been so sure… but none of them would respond to her. None of them! For soldiers, fighting a war, far from home, that was… It wasn’t true to her usual experience of men, anyway. Not a single one of them had given in, no matter how she’d tried.
Eventually, she said, “I think they recognized me.” She was just one golem. No matter how striking in appearance, she couldn’t be everywhere all the time, and most of her jobs back then had relied on stealth. It was unusual for her to be known. Also unusual was the fact that, if they had in fact recognized her, they’d chosen not to kill her then and there. She wouldn’t have seen it coming. She’d still been in her prime, then, of youth and arrogance both. It would have been relatively easy. Especially since the faction included so many magicians and golems itself .
“You’re claiming a mysterious Far East cult is framing you, an immortal Chinese assassin in the employ of the local mafia, for the murder of a random proprietor of a local speakeasy?” Alldyce piped up, flatly. “Do you sell these stories in monthly installments at the newsstands, or do I have to mail order a subscription?”
“I don’t know what their goals are,” Laurel shrugged. “I don’t know if they mean to frame anybody, or if it’s just bad luck that my employer and I were there when the murderers saw an opportunity.”
Tom woke up slowly. The first thing he was aware of was pain, deep and piercing. He'd been shot again. By who, he didn't know. He twitched a finger, trying to get a feel of the battleground, nose shifting subtly as he scented. Blood, gunpowder... perfume and the musk of a grown woman, cooking chicken, and was it cloth under his fingers? Growing wildly more confused by the second, Tom contrived to remain sleeping, at least in appearance. This was no battlefield. There were no--no sounds. No screams or shots or resounding booms as cannons went off. Just quiet. Unnerving quiet.
Finally giving up the ghost, he slid an eye open to peek around. He found himself in an unfamiliar apartment, though one peopled by unhappily familiar people. Sorenzo was sitting at a table with the damn magician he usually went to, and there was the lady they'd been following earlier; and Dice, of all things. His brows crinkled at that, more confused by Dice's presence than anyone else's. He'd been... Matteo had come by to threaten him, and then...
And then Dice had come in, and everything had gone to hell.
He groaned and sat up, surprised to find that no one had restrained him; the answer to his unspoken question came a second later, when the mere act of sitting up almost caused him to pass out all over again, his heart pounding, ache buzzing in his head as blood traveled through his body. He'd been shot, right. Bled out. And then... he looked down at his chest, fingers sliding over green in a confused sort of way. What was this, now? When had this gotten there? He scratched at it, but it hurt, so he stopped.
"You can thank your friend here for that," Sorenzo said, smirking. "Ain't that right, mage-boy." He reached out and scruffed Dice's hair.
Tom grimaced, displaying impressive eyeteeth in his disapproval. "I didn't want you to bring anyone else into this," he snapped.
"I didn't have a choice, now, did I?" Sorenzo asked. His hand rested on Dice's head for another second; he couldn't help it. The way Tom's face contorted when he touched the little mage-boy was simply amazing. He could do this all day. The boy was 'his,' huh? He wondered if Tom scented things, the way a cat did, rubbing his neck all over them, then almost laughed aloud at the thought of the giant man rubbing his chin on his desk, or Dice, or anything else.
Tom's eyes narrowed. He knew that look in Sorenzo's eyes. The man wasn't thinking of anything good.
"I like this kid, you know? Cuts right to the chase. And he's a smart one. Figured out it was about Mr. Jones, right off the bat! Now that's the kind of deduction the police force could use, don't you think? He's got a bright future, a bright future indeed." Sorenzo eyed Tom, then shook his head. "Oy, Silver, you got anything cooked up yet? We should feed the cat before he eats us."
"I will murder you," Tom promised, in a low voice.
"Aye, you and half the city," Sorenzo said, bored. "So dish. I've shared my half: we didn't do the hit on ol' Jonesie. What did your types find that got you so convinced it was us? I'm curious."
Tom frowned. He glanced at Dice, then sighed. He wasn't going to get anywhere by resisting. At this point, they might as well work with Sorenzo. It was the quickest way to get out of this shitty situation. He reached in his pocket and pulled out the worry stone with the symbol on it, held it out to Sorenzo. "Found this. Mean anything to your types?"
His gaze lingered on the Asian woman; Silver, was it? He recalled seeing that symbol overseas, during the war. Maybe she'd know something.
Things got clearer as the movement slowed to a familiar, comfortable sway, rythmic and rattling. A car's engine rumbling under him. The sway of the vehicle was emphasized by the way he was squashed right up against the door, his whole body molded to its shape. On his other side, similarly jammed in, was a body. Dice's magical awareness tingled, jumped. Magicians couldn't sense ambient magic or tell a golem by looking the way people seemed to think they could, but he could sure as hell recognize the feeling of the complicated work he had just been wrapped up in when it was pressed directly against his skin. That was Tom's huge, limp self draped against Dice's side, squashing him into the door. And on Tom's other side were Miss Lake and the other gangster. The magician and the moll. Miss Lake was looking dead ahead, expressionless as porcelain. It reminded Dice pretty distinctly of two cats he'd once seen on the same stool, pressed together, each staring ahead and pretending it didn't notice the other cat.
In the front seat was a new gangster driving them, and Matteo.
It briefly struck Dice as strange that he and Tom had ended up so close together, and Dice up against a door like this. He could just leap out right into the street. They were all bloody; surely someone'd notice and call the cops.
But just as noticeable as the blood were the feline ears sticking out of Tom's hair, the poor tail currently crumpled up underneath the mafioso magician. The patch of growing green on his chest.
Tom was a chimera. He'd be conscripted or maybe put to death. Dice would be arrested for fusing the bamboo to him, regardless of whether he'd already been fused with a tiger. The sentence for fusion of a human with organic material was not a lenient one--Dice would be lucky to spend the rest of his life in jail. People were that scared of rogue magicians just walking around fusing whoever against their will. And hell, apparently Tom had been working with the mafia too . So the cops were looking almost as bad as getting kidnapped by the mob right now.
The car rattled up to a new apartment building. The mobsters all piled out, Miss Lake leading the way quick as a whip. She scanned the area with a critical eye before reaching in to haul Tom out by the armpits. Apparently nobody was around. Dice opened his door and stumbled out. Surprisingly, they let him. Even the big muscley driver just kind of stood there watching Dice without making any kind of move to come closer. All the guns had been hidden by this point so what...
Oh. They were avoiding touching him. That's why he'd been shoved in with Tom in the back; the only things he could tamper with were his friend or the vehicle that he was also inside of. Not great options for getting away.
Unfortunately, now that they were here, the guns were making a reappearance, if subtly. The mob magician gestured with a distinct, suspicious shape concealed in his pants pocket. "Don't make a scene. Follow the Lady upstairs."
Dice wracked his brain, but he couldn't think of anything to do except obey.
He picked his way behind Miss Lake into the building and up the stairs. Splinters jabbed his bare feet. There was nobody around he could see, nobody who might help him. He just didn't know what to do. He was rattled, and way beyond the parameters of any kind of training or advice he'd ever been given. To think, he'd been all upset about a desk job not long ago. He'd give anything to go back to that. To not have had to fuse Tom.
He was as much a criminal as any of them, now.
The apartment that they one and all piled into was shabby but unremarkable. Miss Lake deposited Tom on the couch with a worrying groan of wood. She darted into a back room, returning moments later with a gleam of amusement in her strange eyes and a gleam of metal in her strange hands. More metal than usual, that is.
"Mage mitts," she explained, holding them up. The contraption was basically handcuffs, but with a canvas bag on each cuff. The metal would cinch around his wrists and trap his hands in the canvas, preventing him from touching or grabbing anything. It was very dumb, with a gun already being held on him, but Dice's fear spiked at the sight.
"Silver!" the magician whistled. "Swanning around like the Virgin Mary when you got a set of THOSE in your bedroom? I knew you couldn't really be that frigid."
The look Miss Lake was giving him was frigid indeed. She didn't comment. She approached Dice carefully, cuffs up. "Lift your hands."
"I, uh, can they... stay in front of me?"
"It would be preferable, actually. In front, we can see them." No more fusing coats under the table. Technically, Dice could use magic with any bodily contact, not just his hands. But it required bare skin, and it was a lot harder. Besides, it wasn't often that fusing the clothes he was wearing to something was actually that good of an idea. It'd be pretty hard to subtly do magic by pressing his face against anything, too. He'd gotten some lucky breaks today so far. Except for all of the parts where he'd been held at gunpoint, and the part where bags were being slipped over his hands, metal cinched around his wrists till he could feel it clamped against the bone.
Safely neutered, Dice was shoved into a chair. Bizarrely, the rest of the mafiosi appeared to be settling into their own seats, guns still more or less to hand, but almost casual now. Somebody was lighting up a cigarette. Miss Lake was puttering around in the kitchen. It was... weirdly relaxed, for all of the mortal fear pounding through Dice's exhausted body.
"...This is about Mr. Jones, isn't it?" Dice asked the room at large.
Laurel passed him on his way out of Tom's room, coated in the man's blood. Matteo didn't have any time to worry about what the oddball golem was up to. They needed the chimera healed, now.
The police magician was prodded over to Tom easily enough, but once he got there, he just crouched on the floor, muttering helplessly to himself about things that didn't even make sense to Matteo. "So what? Fuse some wood in there or something, Silver's doing fine with metal in her gut. Or hell, he's got plenty of body to go around. Slim him out a bit."
This was apparently not an acceptable idea. Matteo threw his hands up and looked at Arturo, exasperated, but the man just shook his head. What, was this magician actually speaking comprehensible words, as long as the other one was also a magician? And then Silver wandered over and joined in, and Matteo wondered if he was the one going mad, the only one in the room who [i didn't] understand the police brat's rambling.
He turned back towards Tom, and in passing, his eyes latched onto Silver. A second later, he whipped back around and took her in a second time. The--the hell? What on... Tom's clothes? Had to be. Silver had never been a big woman, but like, this, she looked like a child, absolutely tiny, swimming in Tom's clothes. It was kind of attractive, in an odd way. He wondered if she'd look just as small in his clothes--ha, fat chance. More like, Matteo would look just as small in Tom's clothes. The man was a mountain.
It solved the issue of her looking like a butcher, at least. One thing about Silver: the girl was resourceful.
The magician ran off, all of a sudden. Matteo reached for his gun, but Silver let him pass unmolested, so he relaxed a hair. He trusted Silver's instincts. The policeman came back with a pot of bamboo, which made Matteo frown. What the hell? Wood was no good, but bamboo was fine? What kind of nonsense rules did magic abide by? None of this made any sense at all. And maybe that was why he wasn't a magician, he thought to himself, smirking a bit. Didn't have that edge of crazy to him.
Then there was silence, as the magician did what magicians do. Matteo cracked his revolver open and popped bullets back in, then shut it; after a moment of sitting there, bored, he started spinning the chamber idly. How long was the kid going to take? The police weren't going to wait all day. They'd come even faster when they heard it was one of their own who was in trouble. They had to get moving.
"Ay Silver, grab Tom a change of clothes, huh?" he suggested after a beat. If Silver was the butcher, then Tom was the flayed pig, absolutely soaked in blood. It didn't make for an inconspicuous party. Once they got somewhere safe, they could get Tom to change; then, at least, no one would be actively drenched in blood.
Whatever the kid was doing, it seemed to be working. Tom's wounds closed, blood no longer seeping into the carpet. He didn't envy Tom's maid service, but that was aside the point--looked like the man was going to live. As soon as Tom started to look healthy, Matteo grabbed the kid's arm and pulled him away. "Let's get a move on," he snapped.
Rather to his surprise, the kid was completely unconscious. He glanced at Arturo and Silver, but neither of them seemed surprised. Rather than break his hard-boiled facade, Matteo just raised his eyebrows to himself and hoisted the boy up, carrying him in a fireman's hold. He hadn't thought to bring extra shoes, dammit, and those had been fine leather--no time for regrets. "Arturo, anything you can do about the evidence?" he asked, gesturing at the various shoes locked here and there around the room. If he was going to be caught, he sure as hell didn't want it to be Cinderella-style.
That aside, it'd tell the police how many were here--four men, one woman, and that was more information than he wanted the police to have.
"You and Silver can take Tom," he said, heading for the door. He waited a beat while Arturo touched the carpet and fused the shoes in deeper, until they were no more than splotches of shoe-leather mixed into the carpet--the best he could hope for, really--then led the way as Silver and Arturo took Tom. He hustled out the door and out the back exit--now was not the time to pass the front door lady--and hurried to where they'd left the car. He threw the policeman in the back with the rest and nodded at his driver.
"Let's head home," he sighed, getting comfortable in the passenger's seat. He'd had enough excitement for one day.
Laurel recoiled as the gunshots rang out. The movement made her wobble, jerk to stay upright, as she discovered that her feet had been welded to the floor sometime mid-fight. She spared an irritated look for Arturo while she yanked her feet free from the shoes one by one. It was a blessing that women’s heels didn’t lace up like men’s loafers did. She was free in a heartbeat. On the other hand, women’s shoes were more expensive, and Laurel’s heavier-than-average tread wore out shoes very quickly. She’d have to go shopping at some point now.
For more than one reason. Laurel switched her glare to her ruined dress, now splashed with red from neck to hem. Damn it, someone would be calling the police soon about those shots, and here she stood looking like the end of a production of Shakespeare. One of the ones that wasn’t all about sex. Laurel didn’t trust Mr. Sorenzo not to throw her under the bus if it kept him out of jail. She’d have to do something about this.
On the bright side, Tom was not a bad fighter. She hadn’t landed any hits that would register to a detective as something more than splinters from broken furniture, or maybe a dinner knife. She pressed her blades back into her forearms and made for the bedroom, stepping around the spreading pool of blood.
On the way in, she had to press against the wall to prevent the police magician from touching her as he went by. He was being shepherded back into the room by Mr. Sorenzo’s gun. With his barefoot, half-dressed appearance and his dazed expression of horror, he looked rather like the victim of some kind of natural disaster.
In the room, Laurel threw aside her bloodied clothes and rooted through the piles of disordered items until she unearthed a wrinkled shirt and slacks. Tom was probably twice the size of Laurel, so she kept going till she found a set of braces as well. A belt was already in the loops. Typical bachelor, laundry all over the floor. Laurel had changed in a moment. The hems of the slacks went well over her feet, even rolled up three or four times, which suited her just fine. That way nobody could tell she was barefoot. She looked strange enough swimming in a man’s clothes, but hopefully right now she just looked like a woman of ill repute. Her metal-enhanced feet were tough enough to withstand going barefoot over nearly anything short of big pieces of glass or metal. And there was no way Tom’s shoes would stay on her. The sleeves were rolled up too, the cloche hat traded for one of Tom’s ear-hiding ones, and then Laurel was back in the living room. She considered grabbing something for Mr. Sorenzo or Arturo along the way, but it looked like both of them had been far enough away to avoid the splash. The bloodiest one now aside from poor Tom himself was the younger officer, kneeling in the pool of blood with his hands working to unbutton Tom’s shirt.
“—can’t heal him without something to seal the wounds with,” he was saying, his voice steadier than his pale face would suggest. “I can’t alter mass, which means I can’t make more flesh to go over the wound.”
“You can seal together anything that’s severed internally,” Laurel interrupted, leaning against the doorframe. He wasn’t wrong. That many wounds of those size wouldn’t shut with just the material already at hand—he’d have to take it from elsewhere on the man’s body, opening up another wound. “Can you use body fat to seal it?”
“I don’t know,” the man shot her a glare from the corner of his eyes. “I never studied biology or chimerae. I don’t know what fat is made of. It doesn’t seem helpful to move it into the wound.”
“So pick something in this room that does seem helpful,” Laurel flicked her fingers. “Quickly.”
The man cast around frantically. Wood, clothes… those were all dead organic material, he was pretty sure you couldn’t fuse dead material to a living person. His wrist was next to Tom’s mouth, feeling the faint breath puff across the thin skin. He WAS still living. For now.
But… there was nothing alive in here except for people. None of them would be donating tissue anytime soon. He couldn’t add inorganic material—nobody survived for long as a golem-chimera hybrid. It was too risky, it wouldn’t save him!
Sitting here wasn’t saving him either!
Dice got up and dashed into the bedroom, brushing past Laurel. Laurel let him go, twisting a little to watch him seize something on the dresser before dashing back out. Her eyebrows lifted, intrigued. Potted bamboo. Maybe a gift, maybe a reminder of home. It was green and still alive. The man was going to add a plant to an animal chimera? He was certainly ambitious. Laurel had been waiting for him to give in and give his own tissue to save Tom. He could have chosen nonfatal places in his own body to open up the wounds. He was either dumber or more of a coward than Laurel had thought, and she didn’t have a high opinion of him to begin with.
Dice ripped the bamboo stalks from the pot, showering himself and Tom with dirt which rapidly melted into bloody mud. The wounds were scattered far and wide across his chest. Dice laid out the stalks and roots in a mat across his torso, trying to touch each wound with the main shaft of a bamboo stalk. Magic COULD shift the materials around inside each other after fusion, but it required finesse and practice that Dice didn’t think he had time for. He’d try to do this quick and dirty.
He pressed his palms over a web of plant matter and lukewarm skin and pushed outwards.
It was very different, fusing a third material into a chimera. Difficult. Dice had never fused a human before, but he’d fused plants. They pushed a little against the fusion; not due to any personal will or magical explanation, but simply because they were complex organisms, and it was hard to slot another material into a machine that already functioned. Like trying to add a cog to a still-ticking clock without stopping it for more than an instant. A human body was like that times ten. A human body already fused with a tiger body was as if he was physically wrestling that tiger using only his hands and a length of bamboo.
Dice lost awareness of his own body, his mind sucked away into the fret and bustle of constructing a kind of mental lattice. Tiger here, human here, bamboo here. Slot that into that so it didn’t interfere with that, move that over there so that this could grow here…
He felt his hands being ripped away from Tom more acutely with his mind than with his actual skin. His connection to the fusion was broken. It took a few long seconds for his physical senses to slot back into his conscious awareness. First, the stench of metal and gunpowder. Then the taste of pennies in his mouth. Then the feel of an iron grip around his upper arms, the strange smack of his bare feet stumbling against the floor. The sound of people hissing at each other, people walking quickly. And lastly, the sight of Tom suspended limply between Arturo and Miss Lake, listing heavily towards the petite woman. From here, Dice couldn’t see his chest. Had the bamboo taken? Was he still alive, or were they hurrying to throw away his corpse now?
There was just enough left of human rationality for Tom to notice when the table went flying and dodge it, aiming a low kick that the woman neatly leaped over. Sorenzo braced himself for impact; no time to dodge a whole table, when he also had to dodge a warring golem and chimera. The table hit him hard, and he staggered back. Should've shot the kid, should've shot him, then he wouldn't have been able to focus to use magic or bolt or anything. Ugh, he'd been naieve to think he was fine with just a hostage! Stupid! Stupid, stupid, stupid. It was a softie, a rookie mistake. But who'd expect a magician on the police's side? Sure, they could be legal, but even the legal ones weren't usually too friendly with the brass!
Yeah, and he'd heard of the police recruiting magicians. Should've known.
The kid--the kid was the most dangerous one right now. Tom he could manipulate, but if the kid got free, he'd be shouting to high heavens that Sorenzo was plotting with Tom and things would get messy from every which direction. He glanced around, but Silver was busy. Arturo--Arturo was being completely useless, cowering on the floor--
And then he suddenly couldn't lift his feet.
Matteo smirked. Ha, so Arturo was good for something!
Tom jerked to a halt mid-blow and wavered, caught unexpectedly by his feet. He glanced down, confused, and in that second Matteo raised his gun. "Silver, down!" he snapped, then fired.
The bullet pierced through Tom's chest, blood bursting out on the opposite side as it exited. Tom staggered, a hand to his chest as he fought free of his shoes. Claws passed clean through the shoe leather, the pain of being shot pushing him on. Just a little more. A little more, and he'd be--
Pain burst out again, again, Matteo firing slowly, carefully. His chest was on fire, his legs aching; one gave out as the bullet passed through it. He sagged to the floor, still struggling. One hand reached out for Matteo as he fell, but he couldn't reach. Not even close.
Tom sank to the floor, blood pooling around him. His body was caught at an awkward ankle with his feet bound to the floor, but Matteo didn't signal for Arturo to release the spell; he'd been around chimeras enough to know they could survive just about anything. Tom could be faking. Instead, he knelt and primly untied his laces with a pair of short pulls, then, giving Tom a wide berth, walked into Tom's bedroom, where the other mage had fled. It was more cave than bedroom, things strewn seemingly at random in the dark; the only thing he was interested in was the mage. He put his gun, the barrel still warm, against the police-mage's head.
"You're going to come with me and heal Tom, or you won't be going anywhere at all," he said, voice calm and measured even though the plan had gone seven shades of awry. Things could still work out. If he got this mage's hands dirty with the chimera's blood, maybe he'd be able to blackmail him with that as well; the police-mage liked Tom, right? He wouldn't just leave him to die. And using magic on a chimera was illegal. He could hold it over this kid's head. Maybe. He was grasping at straws, but it was all he had left to grasp at. They needed to move, get out of here before the police came, and he couldn't leave Tom or the kid behind alive--but he didn't want Tom dead. He needed the police's cooperation, or they'd never figure this out. "We're going to leave this place together, or you and Tom will disappear, understand?"
Dice couldn't... was Tom ROARING? Dice gaped, astonished, as his coworker went toe-to-toe with a golem. Really, each combatant was equally startling in their skill. It might have been comical under other circumstances--a dame of Laurel's size going at a guy Tom's size bare-fisted. It should have been over in a second. But golems were something else.
As, apparently, was Tom.
The woman slashed at the big man with silver blades on either arm. Her robe was big and loose enough so that it didn't impede her as she wove this way and that, dodging his return blows. Tom wasn't half as graceful, but was devastatingly powerful. His claws smashed the edge of a chair, and the whole thing just about fell to pieces, legs and splinters flying, like it'd been hit with a cannonball. And behind him lashed a long, striped tail.
Dice panted, staring, staring at the chimera, staring at the gun pointed in his direction. He was a deer in the headlights. Nothing useful was within touching distance. His magic was no use if he couldn't touch anything! In a fight, without magic, Dice wasn't anything special. Tom was busy, Tom couldn't save him. Would Tom save him at all? Dice didn't know anymore.
Forget Tom! He had to focus on the gangster with a gun! Okay, he was unarmed, if he moved he'd be shot, there was nothing to hide behind, and the only thing in touching distance was...
Dice seized the edge of the table and heaved it at Sorenzo. Glasses of whiskey went flying to smash to pieces on the floor. The gangster without a gun dove sideways, avoiding the flying furniture, but landing hard on the carpet. He couldn't see what happened to Sorenzo. While the table was still settling, Dice turned and fled into the next room of Tom's apartment. If he could just get to the fire escape!
He paused long enough to slam the door behind him. Was there a key? No time to find it. No time to barricade it either. He whirled on the spot, looking frantically for a window. Tom's bedroom was small, and not particularly clean, but it had a window on the far wall. Dice bulled towards it, pulse beating fear through his whole body.
Just a step away from the window, something gripped Dice's foot and held it. He wobbled, tried to throw out his other foot only to find it stuck as well. No amount of pulling could free it. He was standing on bare carpet! What could be...?
Dice gripped his own ankle and stilled. That wasn't shoe-leather. That was...
The other gangster was a mage. And Dice's shoes were melded to the floor.
The second cop's reaction was amusing, and Tom's was even better; the man bristled, the long, flat tiger hairs visibly rising on the back of his neck, a scowl growing on his face. "Dice, quiet. You don't understand," Tom growled.
"Damn right he doesn't, doesn't he, Tom ol' pal? Dirty cop, huh? Ha! Tom worked for us before he was ever on the force!" Matteo said with a laugh, grinning wildly at Tom. Negotiations had already broken down. Might as well enjoy himself before he had to fight his way out of here. "He practically babysat me as a young'un, ain't that right?"
Tom just held back a growl, too-sharp teeth bared, and Sorenzo laughed aloud, more than amused, and pushed the gun into the cop's back. "Now then, why don't you sit back and--"
The cop suddenly bucked free, jumping out of Sorenzo's grip. He pulled the trigger, but his gun was fuzzy and oddly soft, and made a pathetic popping sound when the hammer descended. He jolted and looked down, only to find that the gun and jacket were now one useless item. A magician? A fucking magician? Dammit, it'd be the one magician on the force he took hostage! He dropped the useless item and jammed his hand into his coat to grab his second gun.
Silver jumped forward and demanded they all stop moving, which was a pointless endeavor. Sorenzo ran for the door and put his back to it to stop anyone from leaving, one hand to the doorknob so he could make a hasty exit if he had to; he pointed the gun at the magician. He didn't understand magic, but it was potent stuff, and he didn't want the man touching anything he could use. "Stand down!" he snapped. "Let's talk this out!"
It was too late for that. Silver had already launched herself at Tom, and Tom leaped at her. Sorenzo's eyes flicked to the cop as Tom's cap fell off, revealing twisted, furred ears and a few suspicious black stripes in the man's hair; Tom himself didn't even notice. All the pent-up instincts screaming that he should attack, kill, [i rend] the one who was threatening him took control, and he snarled aloud as he launched himself at Sorenzo's golem, claws extending. Fuck this, fuck it all. He'd murder that damn Sorenzo bastard and be done with this! He could explain things to Dice afterwards! He slammed against the golem with his full strength--something he didn't usually do to ladies, but a golem could take it. "Get back!" he shouted at her. "Let me kill him!"
"The rot goes deep!" Sorenzo taunted back, grinning at Tom. "Look, kiddo, look how dirty he really is! Going to kill a man without any evidence! It doesn't get any worse than that!"
Tom just snarled, beyond rationality. If Sorenzo died, it was all over. It was the only thing on his mind. He fought mindlessly against the golem, hitting her with strength but no subtlety, human mind too far gone for proper fighting. Only Sorenzo visible in his tunnel vision, everything else blurred to red. He was going to kill him, gut him, paint the room with his blood--!
A tiger was a good animal. A very auspicious one to be fused with. Laurel had seen many, many tiger chimeras in her lifetime, before she'd left her homeland.
America didn't have many native animals that could match it, aside from their mountain-tigers. She wondered how old this man was. He didn't look like he was from China.
He'd left a score through the fading filigree on her left arm, one deep one with two shallow ghosts to either side. Not deep enough to sting, not on a part of her body that was more metal than flesh. She'd still feel it if he'd chopped the whole thing off at the elbow, of course, but there wasn't much chance of that with claws. If he'd been a fellow golem, she might have had an issue.
As it was, the only issue was that so far, Laurel rather liked this Tom Birchwood. She sipped the offered drink placidly, smiling with her eyes, as her employer terrorized Tom and his poor, unfortunate friend into position around the table. Smartest thing Mr. Sorenzo had done all day, in her opinion. If he'd asked her to restrain the hapless idiot, they'd have both been ripped apart by a tiger in seconds. This way, she was free in case the chimera got uppity.
The man was looking around with headlamp eyes. "Tom? What is Sorenzo doing here?"
Laurel caught his eyes with hers, and put her finger up in a shushing motion. "It's business. Hush." He gaped at her metal hand, fully revealed by the motion. She could almost see the pieces falling together in his head. The Sessas, the meeting at the club, the murdered man, and now they were here. Any second now, he'd understand--
"Are you kidding me?" the cop burst out. "You're a dirty cop?!"
Unbeknownst to Laurel, Dice was internally berating himself. First friend he actively tries to make out of school, and he's a dirty cop! Nicest guy on the force , and he's a dirty cop! Was the drug dealer in university not enough? Was the sex offender in high school not enough? Was Dice really this bad at judging people?
The man holding a gun on him shifted, possibly to reprimand him for the way he was working himself up. The muzzle of the gun jammed hard into Dice's spine, pinning down his jacket. A twist of his fingers, and Dice was gripping the cuff of his wool jacket.
Dice gritted his teeth and slammed his will outward.
The hard press of the gun blunted, softened. Dice flailed, yanking his arms free from his jacket sleeves, thanking God he'd left the thing unbuttoned. Behind him, the pressure of the muzzle collapsed, as gunmetal melded with wool fibers, jacket and gun becoming one.
Laurel couldn't see the gun, but she saw the cop begin to flail. Mr. Sorenzo wasn't shooting! She sprang to her feet, lunging pre-emptively at Tom. "Stay still!" she barked at the room at large. Both her palms flattened on the opposite forearm, releasing both blades.
Naturally, nobody listened to her.
Tom took his time at the cabinet, looking over his selection of liquor. Something nice. He needed something nice right now. His hand paused at a cut-glass bottle with a simple black label--yeah, that was the ticket. With his elbow, he shut the cabinet, and the liquor disappeared behind a second, much shallower cabinet that held expired spices. They rattled when the cabinet shut, glass clinking on the other side, and Tom grimaced. He was being too rough with things. That was the worst bit, always having to be gentle, even when the worst pain in his ass was sitting right across the table from him like he owned the damn place, because if he used even a scrap of strength he'd ruin the whole house. It made him want to cry or scream or rip Matteo's head off, but those weren't options at the moment.
He fetched cups and walked over to the table, setting one out in front of the woman and one in front of Matteo. One for the mage was begrudgingly offered, and he ignored the bodyguard. If the bodyguard was worth his salt, he'd only have to refuse anyways.
"Well, what've we got here? Lawman's got his own supply," Sorenzo sneered.
Tom gave him a level gaze, unbothered. "Aye, come by the office and tattle sometime, we'll take you in with open arms," he said. Sorenzo didn't impress him. If he thought he was going to threaten Tom, he had another thing coming. He was retiring this year, and if he was really worried about Sorenzo spilling the beans, well, the idiot had just waltzed into his lair. No one threatened Tom in his home and left alive.
Of course, there was the matter of the little lady. His eyes flicked to her. A golem like he'd suspected, eh? His nostrils widened, trying to guess her mix. Copper, maybe? But that was odd. Copper wasn't silver.
It wasn't the iron he'd smelled earlier, though. He relaxed just a hair. Whatever it was he'd smelled in the shop, it didn't belong to this group.
He poured himself a good cup, the lady a sip, and hovered the bottle over the mage's cup before moving away. "Hey!" the sleazy man complained, but neither Tom nor Matteo paid him any attention. Matteo got a full cup as well; [i in vino veritas], after all. He wanted the man to speak truth. Not that he expected it.
"So what's the dirt, Sorenzo," he asked, lifting his cup and sipping at it.
Matteo simply looked at the liquor, suspicious, then disregarded it. "It wasn't me or my men who did it," he said.
Tom just raised an eyebrow.
"We were working out a new deal with Jonesy--it's why we were there. They were making more money than usual, but they weren't paying us the full percentage. Just the usual slip up, where Jonesy forgets it's not a flat rate and I pop by to remind him how insurance works."
"Insurance," Tom muttered, smirking.
Matteo continued, ignoring the snide comments. "He seemed real distracted, though. I think he was waiting for someone else. And here's the real dirt--"
Someone rapped at the door, and everyone at the table went utterly still. Slowly, Tom set his glass down on the table, claws itching, ready to attack. Who was it? Who was coming over at this hour? He didn't have friends. No, this was no coincidence. No one would just casually stop by. Not when he had Sorenzo in his apartment. He rose, battle instincts rising.
A cheerful voice called out. Tom's face fell flat, confusion flashing through his mind. Why...? Oh, he had--had Dice taken it seriously? And tonight, of all nights!
Sorenzo peered at Tom, face unreadable. "Friend of yours?"
Tom just snorted. They were quiet enough. Give Dice a moment, and he'd disappear. He sat back down. "It's no one."
Sorenzo stood and walked to the door. Tom jumped up, but the table was between him and the mafioso. He rushed him, but for once, he was too slow, the room too small and the distance too short to use his speed properly. Matteo opened the door and gave Dice a smile so predatory, he might as well have been fused with a shark. "Come on in, the party's just getting started," he invited Dice, even as Tom came up behind him, doing his best to not look like he'd been running over to the door.
"Dice, go home," he growled from over Matteo's head. He didn't know why Sorenzo wanted Dice to come in. Seeing Tom with Sorenzo was already bad enough; he could understand Sorenzo wanting to make his junior think Tom was working with the mafia. It'd ruin their trust. But inviting him in? Did he really want more policemen to hear whatever dirt he had to tell? He had some ulterior motive, and Tom didn't want to find out what it was.
"No, no, I won't have you turning away guests for my sake," Sorenzo said, grabbing Dice's arm and pulling him inside. "He can sit with us! Come on, the more the merrier."
Tom grabbed Dice's other arm and pulled back, moving his junior towards him and away from Sorenzo. "He sits with me," he snarled, done with Sorenzo's antics.
"No," Sorenzo replied. Something flashed in his other hand, and Tom made out a gun, pressed to Dice's back. "He sits with me. And you're going to sit over there and listen quietly and stop smirking, and when I'm done, you're going to do exactly what I tell you, or Dice here is going to go home with a few extra holes in his hide."
Tom growled aloud, beyond frustrated. A hostage, dammit, of course! Why had Dice come over tonight, of all nights? He'd spent so long working to ensure he'd never become the Sessa's pawn, and in two seconds, Dice had undone years of work. He glared at Dice, then turned away. It wasn't the man's fault. He knew that.
"Do we have a deal?" Sorenzo asked, prodding Dice over to the table at gunpoint.
"We have," Tom gritted out, "a deal." He kicked back the rest of the glass of whiskey, then poured himself some more. He was going to need plenty of alcohol, if he'd be working for the Sessas again.
It really wasn't that Dice was a workaholic. He loved his job, yes, and would love it especially if he could start doing more with it than what he was currently doing. Okay, his social life had suffered in the face of that, but it was temporary. Eventually, he'd get out and start meeting people his age, people who weren't work colleagues. He just had to get more settled first, more...
Fine, Dice was a little bit of a workaholic. But it wasn't like he disliked social interactions either. He WAS pretty lonely.
That really made it only slightly less pathetic that he was trudging over to his senior colleague's apartment at six on a weeknight, simply because Tom had offered a breezy 'Drop by sometime'. He probably hadn't meant it. Who really meant that kind of invitation to a coworker? Dice's social sense was grating up against his impression of Tom. The man had never been anything but genuine towards him, and very kind as well. He sure didn't seem like the type of guy to issue an empty invitation. Besides, however much he outranked Dice, and whatever kind of growth hormones he'd been eating, Tom wasn't THAT much older than Dice. Maybe he didn't have a lot of friends either.
Dice comforted himself with these thoughts, and others . He'd just drop in, share a smoke, and guage his interest in an actual hang-out sometime. That was it. Twenty minutes tops.
At the door, Dice was stopped for a moment by the guard. "Another friend of Tom's?" the man asked.
Dice hesitated. "Yeah. I am." His nervousness doubled. Tom already had friends over? Was that worse or was that better? He was waved into the building, and the rest of the journey to the correct room number was uneventful. From this side of the door, there wasn't much noise. If Tom had friends over, they sure weren't the rowdy type. Dice rapped his knuckles a couple times.
"Hey, Tom, it's Dice. You in there?"
Things were always interesting with Silver around. They could be good, like the fish she'd served at dinner or bad, like whatever it was she thought passed for breakfast, but they were always interesting. On his part, Matteo had considered taking the lady to the bedroom to help pass the time, then reconsidered on account of her preferred method of assassination, and the unknown number of diseases said method had likely left her with. Also because of the real threat of death. Call him vanilla, but Matteo preferred the ladies whose beds he could be sure weren't full of knives. And the white hair... it'd be like fucking a grandma. Matteo was many things, but a grandma-fucker wasn't one of them.
Caught in the train of thought, he eyed Arturo. Had he...? Sure, he didn't have a history of it, but... well, surely he'd treated the little lady for hysteria once or twice, eh? Not that he ever promoted sleeping with the help. She'd be no use to them with a bun in the oven.
Wait. Could she have kids? Could... could any fused person have kids, chimera or golem? He frowned. Wait, but then... If Tom had kids, would they be part tiger? Have tails and fur and... surely not. But... did anyone know? Had it happened?
The car pulled to a stop, and he blinked. Thank goodness. Been wandering down a rabbit hole there.
Matteo climbed out of the car and pulled his jacket tight. Silver put on the best smile he'd ever seen from her to charm the doorman, and the floozy bought it. "You'd brighten up the office if you used that smile more often, bird," Matteo commented, quietly noting the back and forth between them. So they hadn't, but not for lack of Arturo trying, huh? He'd have to keep a close eye on the resident mage and his patients. The last thing they needed was mutant half-animal or half-metal babies. Yuck.
They pulled up to Tom's door. Silver stepped back and waited for him to knock, nice and respectful-like. See, now that was a real lady. None of that bra-burning emancipation crap. Titties tucked nicely where they belonged, and she was standing where she belonged, too; right behind a man. Nodding approvingly to himself, Matteo stalked forward.
The door opened before he could touch it, and Tom glared down at them, all but filling the whole doorway. "YOU," he snarled.
Matteo shrank back instinctively, fighting the vestigal monkey inside him that screamed for him to run from the big scary cat and hide up a tree. Shit. Looked like Tom hadn't calmed down. No--NO! He wasn't going to be scared by some damn half-man. He stood tall and squared his shoulders. "Now listen here, I didn't--"
Claws swiped down at him, faster than he could track, all Tom's considerable weight and strength behind them, and Matteo's voice squawked into silence. His life flashed before his eyes, all the bad decisions that had led up to this moment playing out--
There was a heavy thud, and a wind blew past Matteo's oil-slicked hair. He peeled his eyes open. He... wasn't dead?
No. Silver stood between him and Tom, hands raised to block the blow. Matteo blinked. Wow. Didn't know she'd had it in her. Her gloves were shredded by Tom's claws, but his hand was caught, and there was nothing he could do.
Matteo cleared his throat and fixed his coat, pretending desperately like he hadn't just almost shat himself. "Listen here, Tom, I didn't do it."
"They all say that," Tom growled, unconvinced.
Matteo raised an eyebrow at him. "Tom, I know you're a reasonable man. And more than that, you're a lawman. I respect lawmen, don't'cha'know?"
"Like hell you do," Tom snapped.
"We're causing a scene," Matteo replied calmly, eyes fixed on Tom's claws, fully extended and visible. "Shouldn't you invite your guests in?"
"Should I," Tom repeated.
For a beat, Matteo's eyes widened. He didn't care? He didn't--well that was all his plans down the shitter! Fuck! No. He--he couldn't give up. Not yet.
"Listen, man," Matteo hissed. If anyone actually came out, they'd all be fucked; Tom for being a chimera, and him for hiding a golem. He knew Tom didn't want that. He was just bluffing. Probably. "I've got dirt on the--the whatever it was that happened at Jones', dirt that you don't know about! Let me in, I'll spill whatever you want, but you've gotta help me here. I didn't do it. You'll be killing an innocent man."
Tom glared at him, and Matteo held his breath. The neighbors were going to notice, they'd come out and notice, any second now, her arms were shining in the damned light, by God, they were all going to jail--
The chimera laughed, a deep, hearty laugh, and retracted his claws, lifting his arm off Laurel's. "Now that's a good one," he guffawed, shaking his head. "You, innocent."
"Do we have a deal?" Matteo asked.
Tom looked at him, then turned and walked into his apartment. Matteo pushed Laurel in and followed closely after. "Not a deal," Tom said, heading straight for his liquor closet, "not yet. But I'll listen to what you have to say."
"Good enough," Matteo said. That was all he needed. Give him an inch, and he'd take a mile, it was how he'd lived his whole life and he wasn't about to stop now. He'd make this into what he needed it to be, no problem.
Laurel breathed in deeply as she stepped out of the car. The air was endless, crisp and refreshing. It felt freeing, like her too-heavy body might actually fly away into the vast evening sky.
She'd spent a full day indoors with Matteo Sorenzo, his bodyguard, and Arturo. Laurel had had actual sex with sleazy, awful men she was being paid to kill that had been less awkward than this. She'd had to send Arturo for groceries with a hand-written list, then sit in interminable silence with Mr. Sorenzo until somebody had had the idea to turn on the radio. Then they'd sat through an interminable talk show about somebody-or-other's opinion on politics. Her only escape had been that she was clearly expected to cook the meals without help. It had been a relief, and she got the petty enjoyment of serving her employer a dish from her native country--steamed sea bass, heads included.
For dinner, anyway. Breakfast was a nice, healthy congee. With soy sauce and tofu. Who could object to that?
Ah, the looks on their faces.
In any case, the ride over had been tense. There had been a brief discussion, but in the end all four of them had piled into Mr. Sorenzo's car and gone together to Tom's house. Laurel got the impression that no one was sure that she'd be able to fight Tom on equal footing, and therefore a mage and a man with visible muscles were required to make Mr. Sorenzo feel more safe.
The sun slanted painfully bright down the spacious street. Everything was orange, striped with black tree-shadows. Laurel smiled. Just like a tiger's pelt. How appropriate. She ran her eyes over the building before them. It was nothing special, as apartment buildings went. Classes better than the dump where she lived. Still, it was unexpected. Laurel had thought the man would have his own house, at his age.
Well. At his rank, anyway. His physical age was just right for bachelorhood.
Laurel led the way up the stoop, and through the entryway. Unlike her heap, this building actually had a doorman. Laurel idly reached up to adjust her cloche, and offered him a smile.
"Hi! I'm Laurel; I'm a friend of Mr. Tom Birchwood. Is he in? We're meeting up at his place tonight."
The man looked at her, then at the well-dressed men behind her. He didn't look suspicious, but he still hesitated. "I've never seen Tom with friends before."
Laurel rolled her eyes. "Of course not! Work, work, work with him! Well tonight I said to my Jim, we'll bring the get-together to him if he can never make it to ours!"
The man, at last, dropped his shoulders. "Alright, then. Try to keep it down. Our residents all work."
"No promises!" Laurel sailed past him, chin high. The men thumped along in her wake. Once in the stairwell, her smile evaporated into the air. Arturo nudged her.
"Your Jim, huh?"
She favored him with a gimlet eye. In her flattest tone, she said, "My apologies. I overacted. I must have been nervous."
Arturo's smile widened. "If you're starting to rust, I can take a look at you anytime, Lady."
That would teach her to joke. And teach her to ever go to this man for serious maintenance. What mage thought copper rusted?
At the apartment door, Laurel stepped aside to allow Mr. Sorenzo to knock.
Dice stepped over to the door and sealed it shut, releasing Tom to go to the more interesting work of exploring the speakeasy. For the first time in a long time, he showed the skills he'd been hired for and prevented any other witnesses from making a quick exit out that door. Tom watched with interest. No matter how many times he saw it, he couldn't get used to it. It was just...the way they did it so easily, bending the very laws of matter to their will. And someone had done that to him. Taken two things and...blended them together. He looked down at his hand and flexed it, claws itching in their sheathes, then shook his head and turned away. Best not to dwell on that.
He nodded to Dice. Seemed like the young man was stewing over something. Maybe having lost a witness? It certainly wasn't a perfect investigation. But then again, what investigation was? He gave the witnesses one last stern glare for good measure, then stepped into the speakeasy.
He could've stepped into any speakeasy anywhere in town. The scent was the first thing that hit him, food and drink and alcohol, tobacco smoke a thick and unpleasant aftertaste. He flicked the lights on. The carpet was cheap and full of poorly-hidden cigarette holes, the wall stained from smoke. At a guess, they usually kept the lights half-lit, to add a bit of atmosphere, but this was an investigation, not a pleasant visit. Glasses stood on the tables, some still half full, some toppled, spilling the amber liquid over the carpet and tables. Coats still hung from the coathanger; he suspected they'd go missing from some people's closets soon, never to be seen again.
Before Dice could come back, he put his nose to the job, lifting it into the air. Matteo Sorenzo... yes, he'd sat here. His cheap cologne hung in the air like a cloud. And the girl. No surprise; the mafia had been visiting the speakeasy. Next he'd discover that fish swam in the ocean.
Something lying on a table beside Sorenzo's caught his attention, and he shifted closer. It looked like a worry stone, rubbed smooth from use, only it was an impossibility; jade melded smoothly into ivory, the two blurring where they fused. Tom picked it up and frowned at it, turning it over in his hands. The yin-yang symbol was one he was familiar with, from the Continental wars, but why here? In the air, too, was an oddly familiar scent, one he hadn't smelled in a long time, but one he couldn't quite place. What was it? He frowned. Something...metallic. Iron? No, but... familiar...
His ears flicked, the sound of Dice returning with the men proceeding the man himself, and he stepped back from the table. The token slid into his pocket before he realized what he was doing. He started to correct himself, but before he could, they had arrived, flashing cameras and bagging samples, so he merely stood back and let them do their jobs. His junior wandered the room and found a new hidden door--and what he'd suspected all along: that Sorenzo had a golem. He jogged over to the door and examined the handprint; tiny, delicate. The woman. Just like he'd suspected. Just as he'd hoped not to be. He grimaced. This was not going to be fun.
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