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Charlene stood obediently, though curious about what her masked friend would do next. He quieted the crowd of common folk, he looked to her and before she could stop him he reached for her pistol. Now one of the big rules about gun ownership was to never let your gun fall into another’s hands. As he showcased her firearm, she glared daggers at him, fists held tightly at her sides. Was he trying to make a fool of her?
The answer became an obvious no, as he handed it back to her and turned her towards the inner ring. Ahead of her were several balloons bobbing gently in the air. Some were low to the ground, others high up towards the rafters. She gave him a look. Was this a test? Whatever it was, she could see him roll those green eyes of his behind his mask and mimicked with his hands for her to shoot them. Now it was her turn to roll her eyes. She spun her pistol around her finger before gripping it and squeezing the trigger. The loud crack and bang of the pistol echoed in the tent but the balloon was reduced to a puff of dust. She looked back at him as if to ask ‘is that all you’ve got?’
No… no, it was not.
He wanted her to fire at the other balloons that now bounced about the air. Having no issue with a moving target, she withdrew her second pistol and fired at each of them with quick succession. Each bullet hit its mark, but instead of dust, or glitter, each balloon burst into something else. When the smoke and rebounding sound of gunfire had settled, Charlene looked back to Isaksson to see a look of mild confusion and concern on his face. Hadn’t he done this? This was his magic, wasn’t it? That’s what this was -who he was. A Magician. Parlor tricks and cunning wickedness. She was beginning to wonder if she could or rather, should, trust him at all. That distrust only grew as she watched the elemental baubles begin to align themselves and form into a spinning vortex of power.
Unaware of what was happening, the crowd gasped and cheered with wonderment. Charlene looked on bewildered, and not the least bit trusting. The wheel of elements turned faster and quicker until lightning even began to spark with the pressure. Charlene slowly advanced, watching with worry, and wishing she had her rifle instead of her pistols. Charlene didn’t know what was going to come out of that dark void, but she knew she wasn’t going to like it. It spun faster and faster until a large crack of lightning snapped out at both of them and Charlene had to jump back to avoid being struck. She wanted to reach over and smack the fool for endangering the crowd, herself and her fellow performers, but she never had the chance.
It looked like a giant penny, melted and shiny, and Charlene was more confused than ever. She looked over at Isaksson with a glare, her hat knocked off and now sitting in the sand nearby.
[#008000 “What have you done?”] she demanded to know, but she was cut short from getting an answer as an enormous creature made of stone stepped out of the portal. This was definitely not normal. Behind her, she heard gasps and screams from her fellow showmen, and her horse was neighing anxious to be reunited with its owner and away from this monster.
Charlene wasn’t sure how to take down such a creature, but it had to be real, as it stomped and shook the ground with its every step. She wasn’t sure what Isaksson was up to, but in an effort to keep the monster from turning on the patrons, she raised her guns and fired until she ran out of ammo. There was a deflating click of her pistols when she had spent her last bullet, and she looked up to see its face turning on her. Instead of fear, she showed fierce determination. Her brows pinched together and she anticipated playing bait to allow Isaksson to fix his mistake, or take matters into her own hands. If that was even possible.
Much to her horror, she watched helplessly as Isaksson was not only knocked clear across the arena but hoisted up by the creature. [#008000 “You have got to be kidding me…”] she murmured. The creature looked ready to fling Isaksson about like a dog with a chew toy. People were now afraid, wising up and rushing to the exits to safety. Charlene however, was still trapped in the arena with a captured Isaksson and a stone giant. She braced herself to shout and make a call to draw the giant her way and away from the audience, but before she could whistle a wooden rod plunged into the dirt at her feet. Isaksson had thrown it at her, and read the words: [i ‘Use the rod - Contritum.’]
The rod? She looked around and saw what he was talking about. It laid on the packed dirt floor, shiny and black. It was the same rod he had used against that man earlier in the week during their first encounter. She looked from the rod to the giant and they both seemed to realize what was there, as the giant seemed to roar at her, Charlene sprang and dove towards the ground, just as a giant fist slammed down where she once stood. She managed to grab the rod and rolled away to safety. Now to use it. How was she going to use this? Would it even work? What would happen to Isaksson if it did work? What if she hit him?
Too many ‘what ifs’ filtered through her mind, but there wasn’t time to be indecisive. She raised the rod and shouted what he had told her to. [#008000 “HEY, UGLY! OVER HERE!”] she shouted. The giant turned on her again and came at her, but Charlene held her ground and repeated the word. [#008000 “Contritum!”] The blast was not what she was expecting it to be. The rod had one hell of a kickback, but a charge of power went flying from the rod straight for the stone giant. The vibration and pressure from the force made her fingers tingle as if they were asleep, and she watched as the power overtook the creature and rendered it inert.
It wobbled and shook for a moment, and then all cohesion broke apart and the creature tumbled boulders to the ground. Charlene had to jump away, rod still in hand and watched as dust wafted up into the air. She looked wide-eyed to the rod in her hand and murmured [#008000 “I’ve got to get me one of these…”] Isaksson was still trapped by the creature, while around her fellow showmen, and patrons were still running wildly in fear. The only creature not afraid was her horse. The mare was mounted by her good friend Troy who came running to help her.
[#das520 “Charlene! You alright?”] he hollered, dismounting as he reached her. Charlene looked to him and managed to smile.
[#008000 “I’m fine… I don’t think our magician is though.”] She went to get up and rush the debris to help Isaksson, but Troy held her steady, his eyes narrowed in distrust.
[#daa520 “You can’t go over there, what if it comes back? That fool damn near killed us all with his demon.”] he snapped, dark hands holding her steady. Charlene struggled against him until she finally relented and just stared at the debris, the clouds of dust settling around it.
[#008000 “Isaksson?!”] she shouted towards the mess. Dear God she hoped he wasn’t dead. Her horse of all things trotted over to the fallen debris and seemed to have found something…. Isaksson perhaps? The old mare chuffed and stamped at the dirt, and Troy was unable to hold Charlene back any longer. She rushed forward falling to her hands and knees by the rubble and began to lift what smaller rocks she could until she finally found his face and then his arm. [#008000 “Mr. Isaksson?”] she asked again this time reaching out and touching his face to see if he was alright, or simply knocked unconscious. Troy, realizing the man was still there hurried over to help as well. Together they managed to drag Isaksson out from under the rubble. Charlene had grabbed his arms and eventually stumbled back until Isaksson’s head was rested in the folds of her pleated pants. She gave his shoulder a shake trying to wake him up, and when his eyes finally open she gave a great sigh of relief and smile, but that smile was short lived as she finally smacked his arm. [#008000 “You idiot! How could you do that?! How could you bring such a monster and terrorize these people! What is wrong with you?”] she demanded angrily, her voice betraying the careful way she held him in case of any injuries. Regardless…. She sure was mad.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Her pout brought nothing but joy to his eyes and he did not hesitate to continue her momentum once she had been thrust out of the curtains. Taking her hand in his he led her forward, the light on him now growing to cover both of them though the rest of the space was dark. He raised her hand up to the crowd in triumph at coaxing her out. Perhaps they were simply happy to have the show go on and see this spectacle play out. Perhaps in a childish manner they were happy to get their collective way and the woman had been brought out due to their clapping. Likely they applauded for her as her name and fame proceed her and they are ecstatic to have such a marvel finally out before them. The crowd was a loose rabble at best and must be coerced into believing what you wanted. But they amicable and he would not dampen their moods.
The masked figure led the woman to front center back where he had begun his act. Allowing them all to gawp at her and the children cheer wildly at the 'woman with the guns' - they were simple British common folk after all - he played into this for a time until he raised his hands to quieten them all down. Turning to her, now at her side so as not to block the view as much, he raised a finger to her and with his free hand snatched out at her waist. It seemed vaguely sexual at first, his hand darting to her side as his upheld finger drew her attention. His eyes focused on hers, their dull olive colour standing out and vivid behind the plain mask.
Of course this was all a ruse - what of his act hadn't been? Pulling back from her he raised the hand from her waist to reveal one of her pistols, holding it up by the barrel until he placed it between both hands to show to the crowd. He missed Charlene's reaction to his thievery but nevertheless he could imagine it was not a pleased one. And regardless of her reaction he took a moment to exhibit the firearm to those around them before returning to her side and handed the weapon back. Placing an arm around her shoulder, grasping her upper arm firmly, he moved around and turned her to face back into the arena flooring.
Once more the lights turned on and before them had been arranged several colourful balloons at all manners of heights though nothing seemed to be anchoring them in place. Some were as high as twenty feet whilst others were quite low to the ground. Stepping away the light parted and the one source from above illuminated them in two separate circles.
When she looked at him a little bewildered he rolled his eyes and lifted one hand, index and middle finger together, pointing at the balloons as his thumb mimicked the cocking action of her revolver. It was quite clear he wanted her to shoot the targets and quickly she grasped the intent. Cautious at first she aimed for a lower mark and with a bit of flair in drawing her pistol she dispatched of it in a small puff of smoke, the rubber disintegrating into dust on being punctured. The crack of the gun and pop of the balloon brought squeals of frightened delight to the masses, unaccustomed to such sounds. Charlene seemed in her element at that moment and only perhaps the introduction of her horse would have made her any more content. But the masked man was not one to let her sit in her comfort zone and with a click of his fingers the balloons began moving.
Hovering as they were the movement was graceful, rhythmic and majestic and they flew through the air in a manner most captivating. When the woman had looked across to him, looking for a signal to continue as she was becoming more accustomed to the often outlandish acts that took place around Isaksson. No doubt she was not fazed by several sailing balloons compared to a man disintegrating into dust. However this time when she shot the targets their destruction came with elemental effects and by the end they were left with several unique and floating materials; a bubbling ball of lava, a pool of water with the bullet floating in the middle, a swirling funnel of thick black smoke that sparked similar to lightning, and a clump of sod that squelched as the bullet slipped inside like gelatine. This introduction was given heavy applause, not least due to the sharp shooting of Charlene, however Isaksson was watching this with concern. He had not done that. And he had certainly not given further instructions whereby the materials began to float down in unison forming a circle, like a wheel, before beginning to turn like said object. Immediately the masked man was moving, his hand delving into his inner jacket pocket, searching for something that remained elusive.
At the moment he had begun his search the wheel of elements rotation increased exponentially. The water, lava and sod melded together, cooling, heating and drawing up one another until a perfect obsidian ring formed in it's place. The smoke had been pulled to the centre where it filled the inner ring, several wild tendrils of lightning sparking outward and striking the ground about the magician and the markswoman scorching the sand beneath them and forcing the latter to duck out of the way. This continued for several seconds before with a thunderous blast did the circle become complete. The elements were dispelled immediately and left floating before the audience was a ten foot diameter ring of pure obsidian with a seemingly liquid inside the colour of rust. And for a moment, all was silent. Nary a child cried not a person took a breath in wonder, even the magician had remained inanimate in a rare lapse.
It provide quite key though as a large stone fist emerged from the swirling rust liquid, grasping at the frame as it pulled the rest of the figure attached through. To describe the manifestation that stepped through, yes stepped, it had legs, would be to call it a collection of stacked stones in the form of a fifteen foot high humanoid. Yet to the knowledgeable mind of Isaksson, he knew it as a stone golem. An old Jewish fable to some this was oh so real and as it stood up to it's full height, limbs grating and grinding as the tough sedimentary material of it's physique moved, the semblance of a face turned on him.
Isaksson reacted quickest of those who stared dumbfounded at the monstrosity, hand clasped about the same onyx coloured metal rod from days earlier. With a seemingly wild flick of his wrist he sent a bolt of green lightning from the silver tip and it struck the obsidian portal with a dense reverberating thud. The shiny façade cracked where it had been hit and as it began to crumble to the ground, the swirling mass in it's centre twinkled to nothingness. Having dealt with that issue he heard several loud pops to his side, looking across to see the markswoman shooting at the creature to no effect but ricocheted bullets.
Shaking his head as if to chastise her for such a foolish action he turned to confront the golem directly only to be swatted to one side by a lumbering arm, throwing him fifteen feet to land on his side far from Charlene, his onyx rod dropped close to her. He had no time to try and scramble back across, a large fist wrapped tightly about his foot and his body lifted up into the air, leaving him dangling precariously. Staring across to the golem's makeshift face he could sense the anger and hatred in it's actions and he knew he would be mercilessly thrust into the ground if he did not escape very soon. Yet without the rod he could not cast and he would not be able to free himself nor deal with the golem otherwise.
Delving into his pocket as he swayed through the air he retrieved a small wooden pole, about a foot in length – again a marvel to draw forth from such a small pocket. His free hand meanwhile became emblazoned at the fingertips by turquoise flames. The fiery fingers danger across the wooden pole and in a few seconds he had finished, drawing his right arm back and thrusting the pole downward toward the woman. Though it had been a mildly weak throw, the wood had zipped through the air and embedded into the ground before her, words etched into the wood like fresh embers;
[b [center [i 'Use the rod - Contritum.']
The days ticked by for Charlene, and ever closer the final show drew near, as did her eventual departure from London. She had not heard a peep, nor seen a shadow of the man she had met with. She did however, on a trip into town learn of her mysterious stranger’s name. As it were, she was out one sunny afternoon hoping to purchase a small moment for her time in London when she recognized one of the constables from the event that had started this whole ordeal. He was strolling casually through the street, as she was, and he recognized her most instantly. It was rather hard to forget a woman who dressed in a suit. After short polite conversation, Charlene had figured to ask if the man might know of the detective from the explosion.
[#008000 “I had a nice chat with him, and I’d like to be able to get ahold of him, only I never caught his name. Perhaps you might know him? Tall, older, but still very fit, and has green eyes?”] The constable thought for a moment, and remembered, for the man had put his Sergeant in quite the tizzy that morning.
[#0000ff “No Detective ma’am. Was a member of the Queen’s Guard from what I heard, went by the name of Isaksson. Only name I have for you, Miss.”] Charlene assured him, it was more than she had hoped to originally get, and by stroke of luck they had crossed paths. Her comment was made with a friendly hand to his arm. This had earned her a slight blush from the young constable, who had noticed she was not English or European, and proceeded to ask her how she had enjoyed London. Not wanting to linger much longer or disappoint the poor man, Charlene made quick work to inform him she had enjoyed London, but was looking forward to seeing France. Crestfallen, but gentlemanly and respectable, he wished her a good day and safe travels.
Finally possessing a name to a face, Charlene was more calm about the matter… at least now the recipient of her kiss had a name, and was no simple stranger. She did feel it was rather odd, that she had felt such a connection, and such curiosity that names did not seem important, even if he had known hers. What she had seen was unnatural, then again, she believed there was a perfectly rational explanation for it. That day she had gone to a Natural History Museum where she was able to see a great wooly mammoth, and many other interesting creatures from around the world. Some were stuffed and positioned, others nothing more than their skeletal remains. Charlene was even fascinated by the many glittering colors of different minerals that were on display. She also saw to an art museum, even though the Louvre was still on her list of places to see.
By the time the final show came to its opening curtain call, Charlene was certain she would not be seeing Isaksson again anytime soon. She was sure, if he was to contact her, he would have done so. He did not seem the type who preferred to make some grand entrance, would procrastinate to the last second, or be so indecisive he could not make up his mind. Then again… Charlene had been wrong before.
The seats were packed with excited audience members, all vying for a chance to see the strange Americans. Charlene did as she always did, she warmed her horse up, and checked her rifle, her pistols and made sure she had stock of all the ammo she would need for the show. Last minute changes in the show were not something she was prepared for, as she led her horse to the back wings of the tent behind the main theater floor and ring. The music was strange and melancholy. This was not her music. She frowned looking around when someone bumped into her with a quick apology. She was half tempted to go and see what was happening, but more than anything, she wanted an answer as to why the sets had been changed. Why had no one informed her? Her questioning gaze was caught by a fellow showhand, who waved her over quickly. He was black as night, with deep set eyes the color of chocolate, and kinky black hair that he kept short to his head and under a black cap.
[#008000 “Do you know what’s happening, Troy? Have you heard of my set being moved?”] The man down at a set of papers that had the show scrawled out in its order, but showed nothing out of the ordinary.
[#Daa520 “I ain’t heard nothing, Charlene. Santos is out with some new Magician that came in to cover for ours.”] Charlene found that odd, a magician just magically showed up at the hour of their need? Why did that seem oddly suspicious to her?
Troy continued to inform her, that as far as he knew the show would be going according to plan, but out of curiosity they both decided to try and sneak a peak. Charlene’s pale face looked out under Troy’s dark face, both of them looking startled by the stunning women and their flashy costumes. Charlene frowned, however, for where was that light coming from? This tent didn’t have much in the way of stage lighting. They had no electricity or gas to power such things, and it left Charlene to observe more closely. Troy was right, their Ringmaster Santos was participating in the magician’s trick. Every stagehand, snorted or laughed at the sight of their usually harsh Ringmaster dressed in scandalous women’s clothes. Even Charlene was not immune from snorting laughter, she wasn’t particularly fond of Santos, or the way he spoke to some of the members of the show. To Santos, if you weren’t white, you weren’t right. It never truly made sense the hate some people had for others, simply because they were different.
It was nice to see him get ridiculed for once. Even Troy chuckled from above her, but quickly silence himself in fear. Charlene could only look up at him and grin.
[#008000 “It’s certainly his color isn’t it?”] that earned another grin from Troy, who was suddenly missing from her gaze as the room went dark once more, and Charlene looked over curiously to see the strange new Magician. She hadn’t noticed before how he wore a mask, and she watched as he walked directly towards the wings of the ring and stage. She expected he might go to one of the other cast members, but much to her shock he came right to her and held his hand out. Troy looked down at her expectantly, but Charlene seemed reluctant. She arched her brow at the man and made sure to look closely.
Those eyes… playful mischief, in an olive swirl of green. It was something she’d memorized and while she was certain she knew this was who she thought it was, she wasn’t about to let him get the better of her. He began a slow clap shortly after her slight pout at him, a look that questioned if he couldn’t find another poor sap to play his tricks on. Troy was the one to finally push her out and towards the Magician, citing with laughter: [#daa520 “The show must go on. I’ll handle your horse.”] Charlene pasted a fake smile on her face, having no choice but to take the Magician’s hand.
The applause at her acceptance was acceptable, and she allowed the Magician to lead her out on the stage, waving to the crowd as she moved to where he wanted her to be. She watched him closely, patiently awaiting what it was he intended to do. Charlene hoped it wasn’t anything too embarrassing, and knew that under these circumstances, for the sake of the show, she was at his mercy. So long as he didn’t do to her what he’d done to Santos, he wouldn’t end up as a target in her set.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat It was rather difficult for Isaksson to sit there and watch her as she slammed down the flier before him. His olive eyes flickered to the piece of paper for a moment before they were drawn swiftly back to her as she spoke animatedly about her beliefs behind their meeting. With no words forthcoming she had left him there, his hand flicking out to stop her leaving. At that moment he thought over how prudent it would be to force her to stay, for he had the skill set and power to do so, but swiftly decided on dropping his hand back to the table and sitting back in his seat which groaned along with him.
Watching the woman leave through the doorway the man who had served them quickly swept in to retrieve empty cups and the remnants of her pastry treat before slipping away.
This left Isaksson alone to think and a thinking Isaksson was not always a sensible Isaksson. On one hand, she was terribly overreacting to the entire situation. So he had bamboozled her, made her believe she was poisoned and stolen a kiss, it was not exactly the end of her world. Also, she [i had] gotten a lovely cup of specially brewed tea and a sweet treat for her time. But, perhaps he had been a touch insensitive to her with his forwardness.
Yet a small part of his mind pondered if this was all a ruse on her part. That she was using this negative reaction as a façade and a means of drawing him to follow after her. She had been perturbed by his actions and as such wanted him to know how it felt to chase after her, to come to her to ask her to join him. Role reversal.
Of course he would do no such thing. Yet perhaps a small show of his curiosity, his interest in her as a person, would be enough to persuade a change of heart. Oh yes, the thoughts were flooding forward.
Several days passed uneventfully for Charlene. Or rather without sight of nor action from Isaksson. There were no sightings if she returned to the city, nor was he seen around the show – at least no-one reported to her that a strange bearded man in a long-coat was asking about for her.
Come Saturday after a day of excellent British weather, the evening show began as the sun fell close to the horizon. All day the crowds had been energised and reached a zenith as the shows whimsical stay in the city of London came to this grand send off – and what a send off it would be. Two things were askew for this show however, different to the previous set that day.
Firstly, the magician and his assistant had come down with a terrible illness after the morning show. A bout of vomiting and high fevers would see them put out of action until the morning. Well, one would imagine. Of course there was no telling how long such illnesses could last.
The second change would become apparent as Charlene approached with her mare to complete her final set, for the usual tune of William Tell did not play from the band. This time it was a more solemn tune, with long violins and minimal brass. A light tune to play in the background.
As she stood trying to make sense of the music, and whether she had missed her cue or a change to the ordering, one of the stage hands who helped in keeping the show going knocked into her in his haste to look out of the opening she would have left through to begin her act.[+coral “Sorry Miss Charlene, dint' see ya there.”] His accent was thick, tone apologetic as he sheepishly backed away and pushed at some of the smeller helpers who were jostling for position at the gap. The announcers voice mingled with the music and quiet murmurs of the crowd. If curiosity got the better of her, this is what she would see.
The announcer had finished speaking and was calmly walking away out the far side, leaving the performance area empty. For a little time it remained that way. When the confusion at the lack of activity had grown enough a series of small explosions and plumes of white smoke erupted from the center to the surprise of the onlookers.
From the thick haze stepped forth a slender woman with bare legs for days capped by black pumps. Her attire was quite risqué; a sleeveless bodice that flared outwards as a blooming dress over her shapely hips yet stopping before her knee, quite titillating. It was navy blue in colour with turquoise lace trim. Golden blonde hair in a fetching bustles style, a light application of make up to frame her face, and a quite dazzling smile of course, she was quite the beauty. She gave a wave as she stepped out from the smoke, carrying a roll of cloth and moving off to the right side of the crowd. Just a few steps behind her a second woman followed and moved off to the left, an exact match for the first in every way. It certainly drew the attention of the men in the crowd and a smattering of applause and whistles went up at the duo's sudden arrival.
A few blown kisses and they walked back to where the smoke was beginning to dissipate. Between them the red fabric was unfurled, one hand holding it above them as the other made fanciful waves, curling back and forth before in perfect unison. With a series of flashes behind the sheet of material it was dropped to reveal a man.
A ripple of applause rose from the crowd as he stepped forward and took a bow before them. He was in a rather fetching suit, black as tar with a matching waistcoat and a white buttoned shirt beneath. He would not look out of place in the Houses of Parliament save for a white mask he wore, a plain and unassuming face though it framed distinctive and wise olive eyes. Upon drawing the crowds attention he clicked his fingers and the entire performance area began to darken despite the light of the waning sun outside, as if a shadow had slipped before the star.
With the lighting lowered he gave a second click of his fingers and a golden shaft of light shone down on him. If you traced where the light was coming from you would find no source, it seemingly evaporated before reaching the upper canvas. This act was repeated on both hands, the two women now revealed in a similar light and stood before two tall glass chambers some seven feet tall. Turning to the twins the masked man nodded and each climbed into their respective box, doors closed. Approaching the left first he removed a chain from his inner jacket pocket, far larger than you would think would fit. Interweaving it between the door handle and piece of the box he clasped in place a padlock, pulling at at the lock to show it was fastened securely. This process was repeated on the second door and tested likewise.
Moving away, he stood facing the crowd and raised his hands up at his sides. Clicking his fingers on each hand the lights dropped off them leaving only himself illuminated. Three or four seconds of watching the crowd and he clicked once more, lights returning, the left box empty, right box containing both women in. There was applause but it was muted.
Nodding he dropped both hands and a good portion of the entire floor was bathed in the golden glow. A twitch of his fingers and both boxes moved further apart. How they moved was a question of itself, but the trick was repeated once more in the same manner as before, both boxes plunged into darkness and both women now appearing in the left box, smiling and waving. With the added visibility the act received more applause, a few soft gasps from the more easily impressed.
The man repeated the trick twice more, once with a child from the audience on the approval of his mother, and secondly with the announcer, though when the lights came back up he was dressed in one of the women's outfits and she in his suit. The laughter was raucous at the sight and the masked man clasped his hands together apologetically as he turned to the crowd and wagged his finger as if to chastise them for laughing. With the man returned to the first box, and in his correct clothing, he sheepishly left the floor to an applause led by the magician.
As the boxes had served their use the flooring light dimmed to darkness for a moment before returning, the boxes gone and his two assistants stood behind him. He allowed the crowd a moment of respite but paused as he looked off to the side. Holding up a finger to the crowd for their patience he headed off to the side of the tent, his personal light following him as he stopped before the curtain and held a hand out to Charlene, beckoning her forth to join him. When there was hesitation he turned back to the crowd, starting a slow clap and instigating their assistance in coaxing the foreign beauty from the shadows, his eyes catching hers as he looked back – humour most definitely played in his gaze.
She kissed him, and it was no simple pressing of lips to one another. Charlene decided if she was going to do it, she’d at least do it right, and not a cowardly peck. She hadn’t been expecting him to look so shocked when he finally broke the kiss and sat back. He got what he wanted, and his reaction was certain one she hadn’t seen before after being kissed. She stared at him curiously, the most she could tell was that he had not been expecting her kiss to be whatever he had preconceived. She braced herself for the words that would come with rejection, and returned to her own seat, her look expectant of bad news.
[#008000 “You look awfully confused for someone who got what they wanted,”] she prompted. She knew he wanted to say something, it was clear on his face.
He confessed that no one had ever opted for the kiss, and that he did not poison her. Apparently she found herself in the rituals of some initiation ceremony. He seemed uncertain how to proceed. She had done something others hadn’t. Had they passed these little tests? Had she failed? Oddly she hadn’t see it as an ultimatum. She had perceived things differently. She had chosen to follow this man, and in a way that meant she had to trust him. Here she had been thinking he was testing her ability to trust and take risks. They way Charlene saw it, when he asked her for the kiss; he was asking her to do something bold. For a woman, kissing a strange man could be an act of courage -though she imagined he saw it as an act of desperation. Still, no regrets. If nothing else, at least she could say she shared a nice kiss with a handsome stranger.
She rapped her nails on the table for a moment in thought, maybe impatience. To stay or go? She could see he needed a moment to figure things out, and that meant the ball was in her court for the time being. She also knew that without a confirmed hire, she had to leave and return before the afternoon show. Decision made, she stood up and dug into her pant pocket removing a flier for the show she traveled with and pressed it flat in front of him. She met his eye when he looked from the flier to her.
[#008000 “I will be in London performing until the end of the week. Sunday morning the show will board a train for France. I can see I’ve left you with some things to sort out, but just so you know, you ‘n I approached this situation with entirely different mindsets. What you perceive as blind faith, as saw as a tactical move. Poison a potential enemy. Once you’ve assured they can be trusted -offer the antidote. To the kiss, and as a woman, it was a question if I can trust you. That’s the way I see it. Take what you will. You know where to find me if you make up your mind.”] Charlene tapped the paper one last time and strolled out the parlor and into the street.
So the meeting hadn’t exactly gone according to any scenario she had fabricated in her head last night. She had tossed and turned wondering what he might say, how would she respond, what crazy hijinks was this man willing to include her in? No answers it seemed, but more of the unfortunate same. She came face to face with her horse. The old black mare stared back with deep soulful brown eyes. [#008000 “Back to the show for now girl. Momma couldn’t find us a new adventure to run off to... but that’s alright,”] she said brushing her hands along the side of the mare until she mounted her ride and took the reins in hand. [#008000 “I’ve got you, and that means I’ve at least got one friend here to share my adventure with. Now come on. I want to find you a tasty apple and return to camp... and lets try not to get lost this time.”] The horse neighed as if agreeing with her and followed the command to move.
Charlene spared one last glance towards the tea house, the inhabitants were still absorbed in their own conversations. A part of her hand hoped the man would have come out to stop her, that he’d changed his mind, but she knew that wasn’t likely. She couldn’t sit around all day waiting for someone to make up their mind either. Charlene knew what she wanted, and dressing up to preform basic skills she had learned from her childhood was not one of those things. She had only agreed to it so she could travel for free and get paid.
London was alright, she had never been big on cities, but as far as cities go she was more excited to see France. She wouldn’t see it if she stayed with the stranger searching strange things. Perhaps he was right, perhaps she was too quick to blindly accept something. She still didn’t know his name, what he had done to that other fellow yesterday, what he was capable of, and what exactly this secret world was. Perhaps she had dodged a bullet. Maybe it wasn’t any of those enticing things, but something worse. Charlene could have found herself in a very dangerous and bad situation. At least at the show she knew where she stood, what to expect, and what to avoid. She decided not to dwell on it too much. She supposed she’d have her answer by the end of the week. Either the man would come and find her, or he wouldn’t. In which case... it was off to France.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The long pause between his words and her moving forward had left him in no doubts she would refute his request. She looked at him with irritation and disgust and yet it was interwoven with interest and a touch of resignation. That last one left him feeling uneasy. For a woman to feel uneasy in his presence or for what he had said had not been his intention. Indeed he had hoped to keep things light and refreshing between them; they had been up until this moment.
Isaksson had intended to sit back in his seat upon her rejection but she darted forward and with such gusto he felt the table shake beneath them. She was on him in moments and looking into Charlene's dark oak gaze he could see the animosity that came with her tone of voice. She was quite imposing when she wanted to be, and yet her final words had him a touch befuddled.
His dark olive irises watched her sceptically with their noses briefly touching as she leaned over the table. For a moment he thought she would be toying with him and would fall back in a fit of laughter. But the rosy glow to her cheeks and the soft warm staggered breaths that blew over his bristled jawline gave away her unique appetite and in a flash she had pressed her lips to his. It was, well, startling! And that was to say the least of the kiss.
To be rather frank; the kiss was very good. Her lips were supple and warm, her face brought a certain heat to the area and his eyelids faltered for a moment as his body began to succumb to the delight of her touch. All of this in a kiss that lasted barely a second. Well, two at a push. Okay three at the absolute most. Certainly by the fourth he was thinking of pulling away. By the fifth second he had made good on his promise and pulled back, it was done, over, no more. Looking at her the overwhelming image she would see on his face is that of surprise.
[+teal “No-one.. no-one has ever opted for the kiss before..”] His voice is a whisper, the sounds about them slowly returning as if they had muted for the duration of the embrace and yet no-one around them would have seen the act, his gesture from earlier giving them a moment of secrecy to the rest of the room.
Sheepishly he sits back into his seat and pulls his hands to sit either side of his cup and empty thimble. He is trying to process the moment in his mind and yet there was not a whole lot he could say but the truth,
[+teal “I did not poison you.”] He finally says as she settles back into her own seat.[+teal “You see, this is not the first time I have done this.. initiation ceremony. My first two lessons are not to trust everything you hear as truth and not to do what others tell you to do.”] A little bit of guilt came in at the second point as he could quite see it as a [i 'do what I say or go away'] deal and she had decided this was too interesting to pass up. But as he said; no-one had kissed him before. Certainly not in that manner at least. He was a tad flummoxed for how to proceed.
Charlene wasn’t sure why, but the tea kept calling her back. There was a flavor she couldn’t put her finger on, and she wanted to figure it out. It wasn’t her priority however, and she decided to enjoy it and the scone as Issackson seemed incredulous about her reasons. She shrugged he was asked if she would abandon her job. Oddly, he also seemed delighted and called for the waiter to come over with two shot glasses of liquor. She arched a brow at the display and his command to drink it.
[#008000 “You brits must start your drinking early in the day…”] she began, but he quickly finished his thoughts by mention of the poison that had been in her tea. She blanched, hands near her teacup and tilting it towards her to see, like a fool, she had drank it all. Her mouth began to feel dry and she turned her look of shock from the drinks towards the man, in stunned disbelief.
[#008000 “You poisoned me.”] She licked her lips as he played it off. ‘A taster of things to come’ he had called it.
She watched him lift his shot and drink it smoothly, but Charlene was having a hard time convincing herself to take the shot as well. Her mouth continued to grow drier, her throat now feeling as if a fire was beginning to grow. She tried to cough, and realized he wasn’t joking about the poison. He looked fine and content, Charlene felt an inferno grow inside her. Afraid her throat might close up soon, she reached forward and took the thimble, finally drinking the antidote. It was a blanket of silken ice, and she felt it slide down her throat and to her belly where it quickly stamped out the effects of whatever that poison she drank was. As relief came, a glare grew on her face. If it wasn’t for all the folk around here, she would have drawn her gun on him.
Instead she was thrown a second time by the man. No for his actions of poisoning her, but for his words. Enamored? With her? Well he certainly was the only one enamored at the table. It would figure he would call her a girl, Charlene supposed she looked younger than she really was, but she was definitely no girl. Girls were innocent and naive, Charlene was none of those things. Her glare and her stiff disposition only grew as he suddenly leaned in across the table towards her. Her eyes met his, and though his looked amused, Charlene was not. She didn’t find being poisoned a very humorous event. Even more frightening was how he seemed to not only know her name, but knew exactly where she was from. How was that even possible? She didn’t even know his name yet!
He wanted her to make a promise, several in fact. Do as he says, listen, and forget everything she thought was real -things adults make children promise to do. It was a bit insulting. Still, she let her mind wander with thoughts. Was she certain she wanted adventure? Yes. Was she sure this man was sane? Hell no, he just tried to poison her… and yet… She looked back across the table to him and knew whatever she said, there was be no going back. As if sensing her hesitation, or her thoughts he spoke: “If you agree, then give me a kiss.”
A Kiss? Now he wanted a kiss? She pursed her lips in irritation, but her desire for adventure won out. It wasn’t only that, but a slight irritation that he felt so sure of himself. Oddly enough she found his refined confidence attractive. He was wholly different from any man she had met, and American men generally left much to be desired. At least the men she had met. Even the men she worked with disgusted her, but this man with his manicured short beard, and enticing youthful eyes had her a little unnerved. He might have assumed she was used to men’s advances, and in a way she was. The men who made advances at her were not the sort any self respecting woman would entertain, but the man before her had class… not crass. She supposed if she was going to kiss a man for a job, this one was hands down the best looking, most well mannered one, and she had conversed with worst before. However her more American vocabulary wouldn’t have been appreciated in this setting. She’d already unnerved the finely dressed women with her own apparel enough today, a belligerent and profane retort was simply out of the question.
She leaned in towards him, her own dark eyes going steely and filled with a warning of her own, he wasn’t the first man to dole out orders and believe she would follow them like a mindless twit. So when she spoke, her own voice was quiet, but there was nothing soft about it. A Whisper of warning.
[#008000 “Before I agree to any of this, I’m going to make my own stipulation very clear. I don’t take kindly to being made a fool, or not being taken seriously. I don’t like that you poisoned me, but I can tell it was a test. One I must have passed, and while I can prepare myself for the unexpected, and do what you ask of me. Kissing you? Is not something you can, or will ask for again. I am the master of my own body, and I won’t trade it for anything. So consider this, my token of good faith,”]
Without much more to say, and an understanding she could see in his gaze, she leaned forward across the table to press her lips against his. She just wasn’t expecting to catch herself nose to nose with him. A minor hesitation, a second guess... among other things. She could smell his cologne, the hint of tea still on his lips, she even noticed the subtle peppering of grey in his hair. He couldn’t be much older than her, and he certainly wasn’t her usual type, but at their nearness she felt a warmth blossom in her chest. Could she actually do this? Why was she so nervous all of a sudden? Much to her embarrassment he was the most attractive man she could claim to have kissed. Did he not think she would do it? Why did her mouth feel dry again? Why was she overthinking this! It was a silly kiss, and nothing was probably going to happen. Unable to let her mind ramble, or let him unnerve her with his gaze, she closed her eyes and finally pressed her lips against his.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Contrary to the looks around them, all concentrated upon the foreigner’s attire and little else, Isaksson was rather taken with how she dressed. It was novel, fun, out of the ordinary and it suited her figure rather well. She was refreshing to have sat opposite him and the disgusted looks she received only made him like her that much more. When she blushed he could quite imagine she was harassed by smitten men regularly. Sun-kissed skin, dark eyes, enviable physique and an accent that had anyone around them leaning a little closer to listen in to her. A flick of his wrist had them returning to their own conversations; this was a private affair.
As she speaks of her reasons why he must take her in and indulge her natural curiosity, his gestured for the worker from before to come across, seeing her eating into her scone and nodding to confirm he had heard what she had said. He could manage two actions at once.
[+teal “So, you want to indulge your adventurous and wild personality and, at the same time as you do this, you will abandon your only means of employment in this city?”] She was a breath of fresh air and he nodded approvingly of his summation of her points. The man returned with a small silver platter, two ornate golden thimbles of liquor placed down and the bearded man opposite her presents one toward her when they are left alone again. She finished the rest of her tea at that and he smiled as she placed down her cup once more.
[+teal “Drink that,”] he gestured at the milky substance in the thimble,[+teal “it will counter the poison in the tea.”] Isaksson spoke so softly and calmly it was a moment or two before she would truly take in his words and he looked across to her with a small frown.[+teal “What? Consider it a taster of things to come. If you leave here with me today then this is what will become the norm.”] He could see she was dubious of his claim but regardless of her reaction he took his own shot of antidote, placing the container back in the small metallic stand it came in. Now he wished to return to the conversation at hand.
[+teal “I will admit you have me rather at a disadvantage as I find myself enamoured with you.”] Not one to skirt the subject he had hit it head on.[+teal “A pretty girl, away from her homeland, who actively wishes to become involved in a world she has no idea trundles along under her very nose.”] Still sat back in his seat he eyes her critically in silence for several seconds. His dark olive gaze seeks out her eyes and when they meet she would see the humour and playfulness in his own wise eyes. Oh this would be terribly fun indeed. He shifted forward, resting his hands on either side of the table, leaning across it half way toward her.
[+teal “So, Charlene Doger of Wyoming, U.S.A,”] he spelled out her country slowly, letting each letter trickle off his tongue,[+teal “do you promise to listen to what I say? Do you promise to do what I tell you and when I tell you? To forgo everything you have [i known] to be the truth and real, and instead delve into a world of the unexplainable and brazenly mad?”] It was a threat as much as it was enticing. She had to understand this was not going to be a simple boat ride to a new country and new customs. This is where her world would change entirely.
[+teal “If you agree, then give me a kiss.”] His voice dropped an octave, his eyes narrowing on her and watching her intently for her response.
The tea shop sure was a fancy place, and Charlene had been so nervous of being late that she hadn’t taken the time to take in the view. It mostly consisted of dainty dollies and women in fine clothes with delicately crafted china held in their gloved hands. Several eyes were on her, mostly curious, some scornful, others downright appalled. She had to hide a slight grin at how she enjoyed seeing the people put off by her choice of apparel. Isaksson however, was clearly not accustomed to her being an American. Nor did he seem to like her description of his ‘little stick’, as he warned her she could have ended up like the other fellow from yesterday. She blushed quickly realizing the error of her comment and how it could have been construed differently than her intention. However, that was all put on hold when her scone and tea arrived. She watched curiously as he poured their tea, but she wasn’t expecting to be warned about eating before drinking. She had already broken off a piece to stuff in her mouth when he made his comment, and promptly put it back down.
She didn’t know a thing about tea, she supposed she ought to listen, and set the bite back on her plate to watch him finish pouring their tea. Another quick glance around the room and she noted she had poor manners… regardless of being a man or a woman. She promptly removed her elbows from the table and attempted to sit with a bit more grace, mimicking an especially graceful and pretty girl across the room and in view. He warned her that not forgetting meant dealing with consequences and she looked to see him toasting their tea.
Charline observed the way his eyes fluttered closed as if relishing in the taste. It must have been pretty good. She looked down at the tea and noticed it’s odd violet color and was curious to note it did not have a scent to it. Definitely nothing like coffee. She didn’t want to be rude or fickle and lifted the tea cup to sip at the steaming brew. It was oddly flavored, yet delicately sweet. Different flavorful tones danced on her tongue and she found herself mildly shocked she enjoyed it. She let Isaksson finish speaking, asking her what she expected to see and why he should show her. Charlene frowned, she supposed he made a good point. Yet he’d also invited her to tea, so she wasn’t certain at what game he was playing. Not to mention his playful gaze was making her slightly nervous. She wasn’t sure what to expect from this odd man.
[#008000 “Honestly, Sir, I don’t know what I expect to see. I’ve been traveling from San Fransisco all the way to New York and now London. I’ve run around with all sorts of folks, and even grew up having an Indian friend. There’s something special about them, and they see the world differently. I suppose I’m just trying to find a way to see it myself, and you showed me something that perhaps I wasn’t meant to see. But I saw it and there’s no taking it back. I’m not saying I’m going to be helpful, or that I know what I’m getting into. Truth is, I came here looking for an adventure. There’s not much left for me in America unless I want to marry and become a brow beaten housewife. So I’ve been wandering for a while now, and yesterday was the first time I saw something worth looking into. Plus, I’d like to bid my days as a traveling showgirl good riddance.”] she smirked and finally took that bite of scone she’d been pining over since she walked in.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The tea room was rather lovely from both the outside and inside. Decorated with several smaller tables, with some larger ones off toward the back, the servers chassé about and regularly refill cups or offer up dainty pastries and small cakes. Truth be told it was a mixture of cafe and tea room but there was still an animosity toward most things French, especially in a British capital.
Around our olive eyed 'detective', people talked in hushed tones and the occasional laughter ripples across the quietness of the room. The crowd around was primarily women, older, dressed accordingly though wrapped in thick furs and long flowing dresses that would skirt the ground when they walked. The gentle tinkle of spoons on porcelain came time and again and only the dulcet tones of a harpist would have made it any more quaint and idyllic.
He sat with a paper in hand, reading through the previous days issues and making a note of the story regarding his crime scene. As expected there was no mention of either himself or the chase after the pale and now deceased being. The night had been spent troubling over just what to do with the information he had gathered. How could he utilise it best to suit his purposes of finding the answers to his questions. Often it was about perseverance, but of late it had been about finding a bit of luck. Perhaps he had found it yesterday.
In a certain foreigner, a very particular cross dressing woman, who in one second had shattered that serene and peaceful moment, bursting through the doorway. Thankfully she took her intended seat quickly.
Listening to her ramble on he was rather bored by the end but feigned interest in what she had to say. Her path was chosen the moment she stated she would [i [+green 'like to see more']]. That could certainly be arranged. Whilst she continued on to list her reasons for following, to which he found some incredibility that it was just a feeling, he raised his hand to a waiting server who had stayed toward the back of the room the moment she entered. Seeing him raise two fingers and a thumb the young man nodded and stepped forward to take her order.
With her hands flush to the table she asked for a cup of his own particular blend to which he gave a consenting nod of his head; he would be taking the bill on this it would seem. The choice of food was interesting but he had no appetite and merely remained silent with a soft smile looking across at her. He did find the suit rather fetching on her. It hid yet accentuated her figure in different places and made her tanned face all the more striking. The ribbon in hair he found childish but he knew the Americans were fond of their little touches here and there.
[+teal “And hello to you too.”] Isaksson said at last and raised his brow, a little irritated by her lack of manners but, again, she was American.[+teal “Firstly the only way my 'little stick' could have made you forget would have been to repeat said act you witnessed and have you gone for good.”] He placed down the paper on the table and took up the remnants of his cup, sipping it until it was empty and replacing it on it's saucer.
The young server returned with a tray, upon it a fresh pot of tea and a plate with a raspberry scone as ordered. Removed from said tray he retreated as Isaksson sat forward and very carefully poured our a helping of tea for her. It was quite silent as he did so. He took his time and not a drop was lost as he refilled his own, a liquid closer to violet in colour now sitting in their cups.
[+teal “I would warn you against eating before the tea. Rather, sip once and then eat.”] It was an odd warning but nothing about this man was ever simple it seemed.[+teal “As to your second point I did not give you the choice. Everyone had the option. We facilitate the means to the decision. Those who wish to forget, can. And those who do not must deal with any consequences.”] He lifted his cup in a toast to her and took a sip, eyes fluttering closed for a moment as the concoction his his taste buds. It would be interesting to see how it suited her as it was different to near everyone.
[+teal “But, to return to your opening statement; you want to see more. You will have to humour me but what do you expect me to show you? And more importantly why?”] He was very calm and relaxed, a little terse though that was just his tone. His face showed playfulness and kindness. He was a different man after his morning tea but before his afternoon coffee. That was another story.
He didn’t answer her question, at least not directly. Instead from his coat he produced a single black card and held it up between two fingers for her. Charlene frowned at him before reaching up to take the card from him and look it over. She eyed him cautiously one last time and flipped the card over in her hand to see the back. She heard his offer to forget what she’d seen, and to possibly explain why she followed. She had no explanation other than genuine curiosity, foolish bravery, and intuition. Her eyes widened for a moment in mesmerized wonder at the developing image on the card in her hand.
[#008000 “The Queen’s Hand, a Tea Room…”] If she so wished, he began, she was to meet him at that exact place at 10 in the morning. What if she didn’t want to forget? As if reading her mind he warned he to keep it to herself lest she end up in Bedlam. Bedlam? It took her a moment to realize what he was speaking about, before she turned slightly pale for a moment. The thought horrifying. She wasn’t crazy though, she knew what she saw… and she’d seen other wonders in her time too. He left her then, and she spared one last look to the card, but when she lifted her head, she saw she was all alone. [#008000 “Well I’ll be…”] She murmured looking around the area.
She retraced her steps back to the crime scene and found her way back to her horse. She did not go to the fires where the rest of the traveling troupe gathered at night for drinks and merry making, but instead groomed her horse and went to her tent. She laid down in her bed and stared up at the patched together ceiling of her tent. She’d seen a man dissolve into dust. No doubt by magic… Charlene grew up in the wilds of America and had seen some things she could only chalk up to magic as well. By the time she finally fell asleep, she knew she didn’t want to forget, but she wasn’t going to let it go either. She would meet this Mr. Isakson, but instead of asking how she might forget… she wanted to know more. She had come to London looking for adventure, and it seemed she might have found it.
She woke up early that morning, she didn’t want to be late, and she wanted to look her best. She combed her hair out and dressed in the same tailored suit from the other day, this time she wore cleaner boots and put a ribbon in her hair. Finding the Tea Shop in question hadn’t been difficult, and she arrived with out a moment to spare. He had said he did not like tardiness, but she had not expected it to take so long to reach. She rushed into the tea room and looked around, quickly removing her hat and realizing it might have been best to wear a skirt of some sort. Eyes turned towards her and many women as well as men, looked shocked to see her in pants. Charlene at least spotted Isaksson quickly and hurried towards his table and sat down across from him.
[#008000 “I gave it some thought,”] she began hands flat on the table with her hat sitting off to the side. [#008000 “I don’t want to forget the things I saw. I know what others might think, but I know what I saw, and I gotta say… I’d like to see more. I came here to find an adventure, and fortune, if I could be so lucky, Mister. I don’t really know what to tell you about what happened yesterday. Just that I had a feeling I ought to follow, and well… there you were with that fellow. I’m not so sure what all I saw, but I imagine you still don’t want me talking about it too freely, because if there’s one of ya, there’s bound to be more. I know you could have waved that little stick and made me forget yesterday… what made you decide to give me the choice?”] she asked her voice low, but stopping as the shop keeper came to ask what sort of Tea they would like. Not really knowing much about tea, Charlene informed the man she would be having whatever Isaksson was having, as well as a raspberry scone. They simply smelled too good upon her entering for her not to have one. Once the man left though, Charlene turned her attention back to the strange man awaiting his answer.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat When she offered little more than a raised weapon and mistrustful stare he could tell she was harmless. People who were prone to attacking would have taken their chance and shot by now. She was different; and that did not just apply to the attire.
Watching her silently he was interested by how she had reacted. She had followed after the duo without thought for her own wellbeing. She had next to no knowledge what had come to pass would happen and yet here she was. Tracking and keeping a pace with them showed good agility and though the pistol was a quite crude and simple weapon, the hand around it held steady – she had an abundant amount of experience wielding them. To find a woman so acutely in tune with gunpowder weaponry was another unique string to her bow.
Regardless of what he thought of her reaction to the situation and the weaponry she held, the threat had been dealt with and thus he was keen to return and collect his belongings. Given her surprise arrival he had lost his chance to ascertain just why the man had destroyed the building and killed the inhabitants. So many questions lingered and as her pistol lowered to her side, he stepped forward toward the end of the alley.
Her hand caught his arm, soft but firm in her approach but it seemed her own questions took precedent over his investigation. His steely gaze looks down to her grip as his own hand tightens around the onyx rod. Isaksson did not take kindly to being manhandled and especially so from strange women frolicking about in men’s attire. Her questions were moronic in nature too; [i ‘what happened?’, ‘where did he go?’] He bit back on inquiring sarcastically as to whether her eyes functioned or were merely for show.
On that however he looked up, catching her warm hazel gaze with his own olive irises. There was a pause in her questioning when it happened and he felt her hand loosen on him a touch. Without moving himself his eyes ran over her tailored attire. It was nothing magnificent. Adequately made, a few stitches out of place and several marks where the outfit had been mended. And yet she wore muddy, heavily worn boots. Curious. The inspection also took in her figure, noting the slender hips that her pistol holsters rest on, the bronzed glow to the few places her skin showed such as the hand placed upon said holster, the minute fraying at the tips of her auburn hair bleached lighter from foreign sunlight. By the time his inspection of her physique ends she had moved her attention elsewhere to the rod in hand.
Her wording was most peculiar. Though he offered no hint or semblance towards the act she had struck upon magic as a means for the device. True, some stage performers used black cylinders of wood with painted white caps at either end, tapping them here and there to draw animals from hats and exclaiming in exaggerated tones [i [b ‘abra kadabra’]]. But she did not say it in jest, more in certainty, and that peaked Isaksson’s interest in her.
When her attention dithers yet again he uses her distracted state to slip the rod back into his long coat and in its wake is a square piece of card. He offers it toward her, meeting her curious eyes with a look of indifference as to whether she took it or not. After a moment, she hesitantly released her hold of him and took the card, their fingers momentarily brushing one another, turning it over in hand though he regains her attention for a second to speak;
[+teal “I have no doubt a lot of this has been troubling to see and attempt to comprehend. Whilst I don’t necessarily blame you for this, though why you followed I would love to learn one day, I can offer you a means to forget.”] He nods for her to inspect the card.
It is quite small, no larger than her palm, a crème white in colour. On one side it is blank. The other side starts blank though like a bloodstain seeping through cloth a black ink begins to rise up and slowly shifts into the very detailed image of a shop front. The image shivers and the ink slides about, as if focusing in on the shop and revealing a perfect copy of the name as it hangs from a sign that ripples and sways as if she stands before the very one. It reads; The Queen’s Hand, Tea Room.
[+teal “If you so wish,”] he continues on from his previous point as she looks at the card,[+teal “meet me there tomorrow, ten o’clock in the morning and not a minute late. I don’t like being followed but I simply detest being kept waiting.”] He pulls his coat closer to him as a slight breeze blows into the alleyway and he looks up to the sky to discern if more bad weather is coming – as he can see, no, thankfully.
[+teal “If you choose not to attend I understand but a word to the wise; I suggest keeping this to yourself lest you end up in Bedlam.”] He nods his head to her in farewell before leaving her to her decision. He had a bag to collect a sleepless night ahead of him.
She knew she should have gone back the way the officer told her to. Back to her horse and away from danger. She’d seen the officer who left the building suddenly take off after a suspect, and a gut feeling urged her to follow. Glancing around, she saw none of the other officers had noticed, and so she slipped away to assist… or eavesdrop. She followed them as they ran for several blocks. Charlene kept a safe distance from them both, but she didn’t lose sight of them, not until they both went down an alley between two brick buildings. She noticed she was now in a different part of town and away from the crowds. Cursing, she knew she was lost again.
She could hear them arguing, indiscernible words being shot back and forth, until she reached the corner of brick and listened in. She couldn’t say what it was that had inspired her to chase after the two men. Curiosity, the thrill of danger… it was hard to tell, but in reality it boiled down to instinct. She had a gut feeling that told her to go and follow. She’d learned over the years of her life never to distrust her gut. By the time she reached the corner of stone she could hear the officer demanding to know the purpose of the attack. The assailant informed him he was not allowed to know. This clearly angered the officer, for he then threatened the suspect. She had no idea how starlight came into play or what an Empryean even was, but she knew it was something important. Had to be by the way the officer spoke. She was interested to know what happened in Balaclava. She hadn’t heard any news… to be fair, this was the first she was hearing of any placed by that name. Whatever it was, it must have been rather traumatic. The suspect had more to say and at the mention of the Officer’s name, Charlene boldly dared a look around the corner. At least now she had a name to the officer who had eyeballed her curiously earlier. She knew… women in men’s clothing… weird.
She should have been paying better attention to their body movements, because the conversation suddenly stopped. They both spotted her, Isaksson and the suspect. She couldn’t hide now, and by the glint of the suspect’s eyes she knew something was about to happen. Her gut was warning her to get out of the way. Charlene couldn’t stop the gasp that left her lips at the sight of the suspect, he was glowing and without warning charged at her. She’d never seen anything like that in her life! How was he doing that?! Quickly she reached for the pistols at her sides ready to draw and fire. She managed a few steps back, but before she had a chance to fire glowing hands reaching for her. She didn’t want to fire at him unless he posed a legitimate threat, and just before he could grasp at her, she cocked the pistol. It happened simultaneously with the click of her gun, she heard a sound like the clash of waves and snap of lightning from behind the charging bull of a man before her. Instantly the assailant fell to the ground with a thud, and Charlene was left to stand there with her gun aimed and cocked. Her finger hovered over the trigger, ready to fire if he moved. Her stance was well practiced, but her nerves were less so in these sorts of situations. She looked up in near horror and confusion to Isaksson as the assailant began to decompose into dust and embers right before her eyes.
Charlene was left speechless, and horrified. Where did the assailant go? He was just there! Now he was gone, scattered to the wind like dust. The view that remained to greet her was Isaksson holding a long piece of black metal. She watched him wave it and make the stones that had fallen around him move around and back into place. He had repaired the masonry work with a flick of his wrist. Charlene backed up from the strange man. What was he? How was he doing that? Would she be next? For once she wondered if she should have ignored her gut feeling, but it remained quiet right now. It wasn’t warning her that Isaksson was dangerous, but clearly he was. Unsure she turned her aim on him, which was crazy and bound to doom her fate, as the man was an officer of the law; but at his gaze and lack of attack Charlene finally lowered her pistol. Hesitantly she cleared the chamber and holstered it back at her side. For a long moment she said nothing just staring back at the older man, and knew his gaze was expectant for a reason why she was there. Too bad she didn’t have one. He obviously had his questions, but Charlene had so many more.
[#008000 “What just happened? Where did he go?”] she finally managed to ask, her gun safely holstered back at her side, but her hand still rested on it… just in case. A Gal could never be too safe in a strange foreign city. She eyed the stick Isaksson carried, but dared not go anywhere near him. [#008000 “What’s that thingy you got there in your hand? Ain’t never seen a pistol like that before. You magic or sumthin? Or maybe this is just an odd dream…”] she muttered looking around, but as far as she knew… this was real life.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Two men left the building remnants behind and stepped out onto the clammy street. They walked slowly at first to save a twisted ankle on a loose piece of timber or slip on slick pages that littered the floor. Whilst Isaksson kept himself calm and composed, a man in deep thought as he directed them both to the wagon that had brought extra officers, Constable Daniels was like the proverbial puppy, head up and swivelling in every direction, insatiable in his movement.
[+teal “Daniels,”] the older man started with a deep sigh,[+teal “keep your head still for two seconds and simply focus please.”] He lifted his bag, taken with them as they left, and deposited it on the side of the wagon, which shook and rattled some from it's lopsided load.
[+purple “Yes sir, I'm just trying to find that man from earlier.”] His eyes do come down to the detective for a moment but not for long.
[+teal “Understood but one must learn in these moments to use tact.”] He looks across to see the man focus on him finally, only with a dumbfounded look. He sighs softly.[+teal “Finesse?”] The look only worsens.[+teal “We are trying to look for him without looking. Pretend you are attempting to glance at an attractive woman without her seeing you do so because it would be terribly rude and she may run away. Yes?”] His hand squeezed the man's shoulder.
[+purple “Oh, I follow now Sir. We have to be like my cousin Nathaniel.”] He taps at his nose knowingly and the older man emits a soft groan. It seemed he was inferring understanding; that would do.
[+teal “We do not want him running away especially before we identify where he is. Now, take this,”] he handed over a small notebook,[+teal “and pretend to be taking notes whilst looking at me. That way you can look behind me and I behind you, and we can scan the crowd-”] He stopped as Daniels interjected;
[+purple “Without the man knowing that is what we are doing. Fiendishly clever Sir.”] [i By God the boy had got it!]
Isaksson nods with godly composure, a flicker of a smile as he keeps a serene look on his face. He turns to face Daniels – who retrieves his sharpened pencil – and proceeds to sprout, well, gibberish. A mixture of cooking recipes, opening chess moves and a paragraph from a book on French Kings he had been reading in his spare time. Not needing to focus upon their talk, it allowed him to look past the man at the crowd.
[+purple “Sorry sir,”] Daniels speaks up in a lull with a furrowed brow,[+purple “but whom succeeded Louis? I didn't quite catch that part.”]
[+teal “Not to worry,”] he replies with a nod of satisfaction,[+teal “I see the man in question. Leave this to me.”]
[+purple “But sir, I should help. If he did this,”] he gestures the destruction about them,[+purple “then he must be very dangerous.”]
[+teal “Trust me when I say you cannot do anything further but to get in the way of things.”] He grasps the man's shoulder firmly.[+teal “You are a good officer, but this is above you. Just remain here and guard my belongings, please, Daniels.”] They nod at one another before Isaksson steps around him swiftly, slowly making his way across to the crowd as to not unsettle the suspect.
The detective moves ahead and into the crowd, easing himself into the throng, though he pauses momentarily as he passes by Charlene near to the front. An inspection of her masculine clothing ends with a longing gaze over delicate feminine features has him raise an eyebrow in questioning fashion. He had seen women disguise themselves as men but to be so brazen in leaving her high cheekbones, enviable jawline and smouldering eyes exposed spoke to her character; not least the pistols that hung from curving hips. This inspection took all of a few seconds before he turned back for the ashen-skinned man, noting they were already drifting apart further. The man had seen him leave the building and even someone with just two brain cells remaining could fathom the notion that Isaksson was coming for him. He backed his way to the edge of the crowd,[i [+teal 'don't run.. don't run..']], repeating on a loop through Isaksson's mind, but of course, he did just that.
With a growl of annoyance Isaksson bundled his way through the remainder of the sparse gathering before him and takes off in pursuit. It started badly, the man twenty to thirty feet ahead of him. The only benefit to the bearded chaser was that the other man had to dart through those dithering about the streets on this Sunday afternoon, knocking into some whilst thrusting others back and hopefully into the chasers path. He manages to avoid them for the most part, darting around them and paying those who cried out no heed in his sole intent to chase down the man.
They continue their hunt down the main street turning into Drayton's Market, a large open space originally used as a gathering area for public hangings many years before. Now it hosts a spot for speakers to stand up and exclaim to anyone who will listen their views on subjects from pre-marital coitus, the need to combat the French or the desire to see a particular politician publicly hanged. Many drew only small, single numbered listeners, but the general number of people in the square gave the other man a means to escape sight and Isaksson is slowed for a few moments as he tries to reacquire his target.
Given the man's distinct hairstyle – or lack there of – he was easier to seek out, especially given any man worth his salt wore a hat on any outing. Of course he was also barrelling through people and the cries of alarm from man and woman alike drew focus toward him whilst simultaneously creating a route through the crowd. Back off at a run and given an easier path to follow allows the detective to close the gap to around ten feet as they leave the square and dart into an alleyway not far off.
Isaksson rounded the corner and the duo went on for only a few feet before he raised his right hand up swiftly and with palm upward. The cobbled path lifted up before them, the very bricks in the alley ahead rising up in unison as if the world now turned at a sharp angle to form a barrier before the man. Hemmed in by this new wall, and with either side blocked by the buildings themselves, he had no escape and had been cornered, though he still looked about him for some means to do so for a moment before Isaksson spoke.
[+teal “You cannot get away from this,”] he pants heavily but is regaining his breath fast,[+teal “I will not let you escape.”]
[+maroon “I honestly had never expected to I hoped for this meeting.”] The man spoke in a foreign tone, his accent sounded Arabic to the ear, at best guest Ottoman given flicks of syllables here and there. Regardless of this he turned around slowly, a devious grin on shimmering lips, eyes devoid of colour.
[+teal “If you planned this meeting, why run?”]
[+maroon “The crowd. You see, they would only cause more trouble than benefit for me. Best we have our secrecy.”] His smile is unnerving but Isaksson seems quite attuned to it.
[+teal “Why the destruction, the slaughter? What was the purpose of the attack?”] His hand returns to his side, his body turned almost side on to the other man.
[+maroon “I'm afraid you do not get to know that.”] He chuckled deeply.
[+teal “Tell me or I will severe your link to the starlight.”] There is a look of slight surprise on the others face, smile faltering.[+teal “Yes, I know you're from the empyrean.”]
[+maroon “You know nothing!”] He shrieks back.
[+teal “I know more than you could hope to in several lifetimes. I have dealt with your kind before, most recently.. at Balaclava.”] The last word draws a more visible response, the mans eyes widen and his hands flex.[+teal “You know what happened there. You know what that means and you know who I am. Now tell me why you did this.”] The pale figure shakes his head slowly. His eyes shut tight, hand clutching at his forehead as he gritted his teeth, chest fluctuating faster, breathing increased. It builds to a much lighter laugh that echos down the alleyway.[+teal “Give me your name. Tell me what you are doing here.”]
[+maroon “No.. noo.. no, no no no!”] His voice builds to a shout.[+maroon “You can't study the darkness,”] his voice hisses as looks back up, a single ring of red swirls in the darkness of his eyes now,[+maroon “by flooding it with light, Isaksson.”] The name trails off as if spoken by a serpent.
There is no time to take in the new voice and decipher a meaning behind it, though he has an inkling. The bald mans head snaps in attention to something behind Isaksson and he spares a moment to look back himself in curiosity, seeing a figure stood half behind the corner watching.
[i The cross-dressing woman?] How long had she been there? [i Why] was she there?
A screech from his trapped prisoner draws back his attention and his eyes caught the shimmering light that runs from it's finger tips and up it's limbs, turning on the woman with lethal intent.
[+teal “No wait, stop!!”] He shouted in a pleading manner but the man did not heed him any attention, his mind focused and set upon a task. Taking advantage of the momentary distraction and with a growl of rage he shifted his feet and charged forward. He was quick. The twenty or so feet to Charlene was closed in mere moments and his rage only grew.
As a shimmering hand reached out to grasp her a booming shockwave of air struck him in the back, jolting him forward before he was drawn back. The man's physical being disintegrated as he was pulled back, shifting into a mass of golden particles and wispy smoke that seemed to hang in the air, twinkling and flashing like sparks from a forge. After a further second all this matter was brought to a central point where his chest had been, flashing from existence. The air was left dry and crisp about her as if the moisture was drawn out of it.
Isaksson stood with a length of onyx metal in his hand, some twelve inches or so, the tip capped with silver and pointing toward the woman and her would be attacker. The world seemed frozen at that moment, leaving just Isaksson and Charlene, a look of regret in the mans deep and wise gaze. He turned this outstretched arm to the wall of cobble stones and with a flick of his wrist it began to unfurl and replace itself back on the ground – perhaps more orderly than it had been before – leaving no evidence that it had once stood upright.
His eyes remained on her, questioning and accusing her in equal measure over why she had followed, though he said nothing - yet.
[b “Come one, come all! You won’t believe your eyes! From across the ocean this show comes to you straight from the wilds of America! We have bears from the mountains of Wyoming, Alligators from the glades of the French Quarter, a real life Bison and many more animals available in our petting zoo. Perfect for children of all ages! We even have a genuine real life American Cowgirl! An Indian Dancing troupe, and so much more! You won’t want to miss it!”] A mustached herald called out to a busy street of people, standing with him were several others handing out paper fliers for the show that had come to London for the week before it began its tour of the English Countryside and surrounding countries. [b “You too can view the wonders and bizarre for the low price of 5 pence!”]
[i Later that day on a field by the Thames …]
The crowd of British Patrons filtered into the field that was currently occupied by makeshift fences, wooden bleachers, and a crudely constructed show ring. Surrounding it was a scattering of tents and cages where the animals were kept. From one tent a woman looked out at the crowd while they oohed and awed at the way her fellow showman. Bruce managed to get his American Black Bears to sit on stools, ride a unicycle, and other parlor tricks. They each wore little hats and costumes, and Bruce always kept a bag of cut meat on him to reward them for a job well done. Those two bears, Bella and Jerry, were the most spoiled animals on the planet… next to her horse.
[b “Doger, you’re up next!”] a voice called to the woman, she turned her head to see who called, but they had already left the tent through the back and was on their way to the next performer after her. Charlene was her name, but her last name was what she tended to go by. She turned towards the small mirror and checked her appearance one last time before she went out into the ring. She thought the costume was a nightmare, all bright colors and star shaped patches. Money was money, and as a single woman with no family she had to make due. She had a talent and a skill predominately held by men, and she planned to monopolize it the best she could, take her earnings and go on to the next adventure.
Charlene gave her figure one last look, dressed in a knee length pair of pants made to look like a skirt, with a matching vest the colors of red white and blue. Yellow Stars decorated her vest, and she had a brilliant white hat to go with it all. Her boots were the only thing, worn in, normal, and covered in mud. At her hip was a length of rope. Charlene was a pretty woman, she had a fine strong figure, all her teeth, long shiny brown hair, perpetually tanned skin, and warm hazel eyes. All in all, she was plain, but pretty. All that was left was for her to grab her leather gloves, her rifle, and the ammo she would need for her show.
The people applauded as the bears Bella and Jerry bowed with Bruce, and he with his handlers, moved the bears from the ring to their cages to be moved to their small enclosure. At the other end of the ring, Charlene mounted her horse, and the small band began their fanfare of William Tell and Charlene rode into the ring. Standing in the saddle she fired three shots into the air with a pistol in one hand, and in the other she kept a lasso spinning over her head. In the midst of it all she whistled and yee’hawed. As usual, city slickers flinched at the sound of gunfire, but were interested in what she was going to do with the rope. That became all too clear when a riled up pig came flying into the ring, squealing and shouting as it ran about. Charlene brought her horse around to the edge of the pen, while clowns frightened the small pig to continue its terrified run around the pen. Charlene wore a smile towards the crowd, inside she was bored. Catching and tying a hog was nothing new for Charlene.
She spun the lasso from side to side of her body, stepping through and bringing it to the other side, she even added a little twirl before she flung the rope forward towards the pig, snagged him and brought him to the ground where she quickly tied up his legs in near record time. She rose up to the sound of applause and laughter. With her lasso trick done she moved on by skipping over to where her Rifle was kept on the horses saddle, and with quick movements, loaded the ammo and turned with rapid fire to hit every single tin target behind her. Positioned around the ring, were spring loaded targets that would pop up at a scheduled time, then Charlene would hit her target. She did her first few rounds on foot, to display her skill, but the talent came when she mounted her horse and rode the ring and hit her targets while moving. Stationary targets and even discs flung into the air, not a single bullet missed its mark.
The crowd was impressed, but only enough to allow for polite applause. By the end of her performance, Charlene wasn’t sure if she was that awful at preforming, or if the English didn’t know how to hoot and holler. She quickly learned it was the latter. With the show over, Charlene was able to change from her costume and into her regular clothes. Technically they were men’s clothes, but Charlene had never been much for women’s clothes. Sure they were pretty, and soft, but Charlene didn’t trust herself to keep something that pretty clean for very long. So she wore a tailored set of pants and jacket, with a vest and blouse. The dark green of the fabric made her skin more olive and tan that any color would have, while also making the green in her eyes stand out.
She certainly earned her fair share of odd looks as she walked through London dressed as a man. It was funny enough to see an American in london, funnier to see an American woman dressed like a man. On her hips sat her faithful pistols, and her hat hung down her back from off her neck. It was definitely not bright enough to have her hat on, and she could count the hours on her hands she’d seen the sun since arriving to this place. She had believed the smoke in New York have been bad, but London was certainly running for worst air quality. It made her miss the country, and its fresh clean air. Her horse was tied up to a post a few blocks down the street, and with the remainder of her afternoon free, Charlene was able to take in the sights.
Of course it didn’t help that Charlene had no idea how to get around in London. She eventually found herself lost in the city, and far away from where she had started, and where she had left her horse. It didn’t frighten her to be lost in a strange city, but it did make her anxious. Looking around at the street signs she noticed she was in an obvious residential area. Brownstones lined the streets, and down the way she spotted a crowd. They were huddled around one building, and the closer she got she noticed a Police Wagon, and several officers trying to cord off the area from curious bystanders such as herself. Her main concern was finding an officer to tell her how to get back to where she started. However she was intrigued by the scorch marks on the building. It appeared an explosion had happened. She’d seen similar things before with nitro glycerin explosions. Doing her best to politely make her way through the crowd she reached the front of the corded off area and waved down an officer.
[b “Excuse me sir, oh... ma’am,”] he tipped his head, blushing with embarrassment at his mistake. Charlene only grinned at him, not offended in the least. [b “This is a crime scene, I’ll need you to step back.”] Charlene did so compliantly but still reached out for him.
[#008000 “I was hoping to ask for yer help,”]
[b “American...”] he muttered, and Charlene couldn’t tell if he was intrigued or offended.
[#008000 “Yes’sir. I’m a little lost here, I was a‘ hoping you might be able to tell me how to get back to my horse.”] She told the officer the location she had left her horse, and chuckled at her admittance to how she managed to get lost. The officer was kind enough to oblige her and give her directions back to where she wanted to go. Before she could thank the man and leave on her way, she spotted officers coming from the building, and curiosity got the better of her. She decided to linger and see if she could learn what happened here.
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