Three On A Match
⁂ Third on a match. Meaning: bad luck.


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Mid-Summer

It's hot, it's time to hit the beaches!


El que la hace, la paga
Upper Fens 


Evening, after dark
#1
Angela Dune Offline
Cursed Human
Mischance
Directly following this thread

Dune absconded across the parking lot, her mind ticking through possibilities. Things to do, escape routes, when she ought to turn and fight. This was far from the worst situation she'd been in, but with Wil's life on the line, she wasn't taking anything for granted.

Behind her, she could hear the third thug's footsteps on the asphalts. It was the more able-bodied one, she suspected, rather than the one she'd beamed with a crowbar, since he was gaining steadily. On the other side of the parking lot was another strip mall, this one smaller and more run-down than the one they'd come from. Well, run-down relative to the Upper Fens.

It was better described as empty, with rental spaces still up for grabs. The sidewalks around it were clean, though the stark white outdoor lighting was spotty at best. It wasn't inviting for foot traffic after dark, which was likely why the owner was having issues leasing it to small businesses.

Dune reached the curb at the end of the parking lot, jumped the grassy median and ran past the empty storefronts. She wasn't breathing hard yet, though she could feel her lungs catch just slightly, a sign that she ought to cut back on the cigarettes sooner rather than later. At the mouth of another alley, she paused a moment, peeking down that way to see if there was anywhere she could hide. If she could catch the guy unawares, she might be able to question him. If that failed, though, she could track Wil's badge.
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#2
Gaius Merula Offline
Strix Undying
Charnel
Cantrip (Abidance)
Strike Failure


Gaius enjoyed the city at night. Perhaps that was only natural for one such as him, an omen who thrived in darkness and who was weakened in light. He was to prey on humans through social engineering, tricking them to trust him to get his sustenance. He did not prey on the helpless. Well, not these days, at least. He was an omen and he liked to find good reasons to glut himself outside the carefully controlled offerings of his servants.

There was no heroic impulse behind preying on those who preyed on others. It was simply convenient. They would not be missed, in many cases, and he did it only rarely. His hunger for flesh was undeniable, but it was one he did not indulge too often. The Strix kept an eye out for opportunities, however, and that was why the sound of two pairs of running feet piquet his interest.

A rapid pace, not the steady cadence of a jog. Heavy breathing from exertion, racing heartbeats. Not far from where he was, just over the buildings. The Strix, dressed in black feathers and claws, jumped from his perch, spreading his dark wings wide as he flew up and over the expensive boutique street he'd been observing. He followed the sound of pursuit a few streets over, coming to a sorry street of strip malls.

The more winding roads of an older city, defined by naturals paths rather than grids, was left behind. The modern monstrosity of a strip mall loomed in the black, pools of light scattered around black asphalt that did no good to anyone but foul-smelling automobiles. He was half a mind to eat those who spearheaded such building projects, with no elegance or beauty in their greedy little heads.

But there, below. Two running figures. The ragged breath of those who were in genuine pursuit, perhaps even a little fear. The lead figure paused by an alleyway—looking for somewhere to hide?—as the other closed the distance. The pursuer was bigger. Male and muscular. Gaius did not care what the situation between the two was, but he was in a mood and as he swooped down to have a closer look, he could see the myriad of weaknesses he could exploit.

Hungry ears took in the sound of a heart pumping rapidly, lungs expanding and contracting. Ravenous eyes saw the old hamstring injury, and the glint of the moist ocular organs sitting in the man's skull. The Strix was an omen, but sometimes one saw the omen too late.

He dove down, snapping his wings out just in time to obscure the man's vision forward. Claws went for the eyes, his beak pecked, feeling soft flesh give way as the man tripped and screamed in horrified pain. They went down, the man falling to the side and rolling onto his back, hands grasping at the flapping raven as the Strix tugged and pulled at the juicy eye.

It was seated too firmly to be pulled free, so the Strix clawed and flapped, insistent that the eye should be his to consume.
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#3
Angela Dune Offline
Cursed Human
Mischance
A glance down the alleyway didn't reveal much but a way behind the buildings, dotted with dumpsters, and recessed doorways. Not many places to hide or to make a stand. Dune turned in a small circle, her heartrate spiking when she heard footsteps at the far end of the sidewalk. That was the end of her retreat then. As she turned, she unholstered her sidearm, unwilling to rely on the curse when her hearing was only just ringing back.

As she did, she caught the blur of movement, something dark and huge swooping in from the sky. Without knowing what she was looking at, she clicked the safety on her gun, staying back a distance while the unfortunate man screamed and crumpled.

As he struggled, Dune caught the sight of blood, black and shiny, and although she didn't immediately recognize the attacker or understand its intent, she left it to its grisly work. She had no sympathy and she and other agents had been given license to use deadly force against the cult--clandestine justice for sure, but it was a mess they would have to clean up after everything was all said and done.

The Exchange agent started to step around the corner of the alleyway, out of sight but as she watched the scene unfold, the black blur resolved itself in her vision, the shapes of black feathers, claws, and a cruel beak outlined with streetlights against the shadows. Surprised, she paused for a few heartbeats, before taking a chance, stepping closer and calling out. “Merula?” If so, she couldn't believe her luck, even if black birds were usually a bad omen.
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#4
Gaius Merula Offline
Strix Undying
Charnel
Strike Exceptional success

As the man struggled on the ground, striking at the raven with desperate hands, the Strix persisted. Talons clung to the soft flesh of his face, the beak dogged as he pecked and pried at the soft ocular organ. He managed to get a solid grip on it with his beak, holding onto the eyeball. He tugged, once, twice, and then with a high pitched shriek, it ripped free. With the prize he'd wanted, the Strix hopped off the man's face, talons letting go and leaving bleeding gouges in his skin. He had to flap and hop out of the way of the man's hands, the withdrawal hardly peaceful.

Then, a familiar voice echoed in the dark space. Speaking his name, which had the Strix relatively relaxed as he flapped his wings and gained some height rather than remain on the ground and within reach of the man now missing an eye. The eye he had in his beak. He settled on a low brick wall, taking in the woman who'd been running from the man, the gun in her hands. A familiar woman.

He lowered the eye to grip it in his talons, holding off on consuming it like he wanted, as hungry as he felt with the soft tissue giving way under his beak and talons. With his beak clear, he spoke. “Agent,” the Strix intoned, darkly amused at the circumstance of their meeting. The man was shrieking and begging, blood blinding his remaining eye. “Not one of yours, I hope?” There was not a single ounce of regret in his voice. He'd already judged that the man had not been a friend of hers, which was why he'd made the spontaneous decision to do some preying of his own.
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#5
Angela Dune Offline
Cursed Human
Mischance
Dune felt a twinge of disgust as the huge raven tore the man's eye out, a bare shade of sympathy, but she didn't flinch from the gore. It stretched, the man screamed, and then it popped free. Merula fluttered away, and she was certain it was him before he spoke. Nodding as he addressed her, a smile tugged at her lips at his casual tone--she too was darkly amused, though she doubted Merula knew the half of her situation. It would likely make it even funnier to a mischievous spirit like him.

“Nah. Count me in your debt, my feathery friend,” she confirmed, panting to catch her breath. One unforeseen benefit of the curse was that she was able to use her preferred kit again, now that she didn't need to rely on one arm to draw and fire her gun. She'd been sick of keeping it on her hip. In the relative peace, she reholstered her sidearm, absently patting it in its shoulder holster as she passed the raven and stood over the man.

He turned out to be the uninjured one, like she'd suspected, and as his begging dissolved into whimpers, she dispassionately nudged him with her foot. Blood, black and slick, spread across the sidewalk, squeezing between his hands. It was a shame to lose an eye so young, but he was working with killers and she didn't feel too bad. Wishing she had a cigarette, Dune went on thoughtfully, “His buddies took one of ours though. I gotta get what I can out of this guy and track 'em down.”
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#6
Gaius Merula Offline
Strix Undying
Charnel
The eye in his talons squished quietly as he tightened his grip on it, the Strix's beady eyes following his friend the Exchange Agent as she caught her breath. He cocked his head at her vocalising a debt, turning it so he could see her fully through one eye. She'd caught his interest further when she said this man's brothers-in-arms had caught one of their own. Inviting disaster, knowing the Inquisitor's temper.

“Time is of the essence, then,” Gaius observed conversationally, squishing the eyeball again. The man had devolved into quiet whimpering, his remaining eye blinking through the blood and flicking between the pair of them. Sometimes, it looked at the eyeball the Strix had ripped out of his skull and the look of horror was... quite satisfactory. “Do you know his... associations?” Some manner of criminality, if the man was chasing an agent.
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#7
Angela Dune Offline
Cursed Human
Mischance
“I suspect they're part of that cabal that keeps killing half-bloods,” she murmured, still grimacing down at the man. Resisting the urge to pettily jam the toe of her boot into his side again, she looked up at Merula and asked, “Can I... trade you something for that eye?” With a wry smile, she lifted her eyebrows, understanding that it was his prize, but she thought she could offer something better in return for a bit of leverage.

Time was of the essence which meant she was at the raven's mercy, but she'd trade quite a lot for a solid chance to rescue a fellow agent.
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#8
Gaius Merula Offline
Strix Undying
Charnel
The Strix clacked his beak at the news that he hadn't simply brought low a petty criminal, but a budding serial killer. If anything, he was even more satisfied with his well-timed strike, even if he saw the necessity now for Dune to negotiate with the man to find out where his brethren were. Her request for a... trade for the man's eye was a novel approach, but Gaius gave her a shrewd look and didn't deny her outright. He was hungry, but he had an inkling of what might be at stake.

Not that he wouldn't try to get his pound of flesh in the exchange, of course. He was an omen, not some creature of good fortune.

“I could be convinced,” the raven said coyly, tipping his beak down as he turned his head to fix one eye on Dune. It might have been cute if he hadn't been holding an eyeball in his talons. “What do you offer to trade?”
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#9
Angela Dune Offline
Cursed Human
Mischance
Dune hoped the man on the ground could see the bloody raven holding his eye hostage. Merula was not some towering monster, but he'd already brought a grown man low and he was clearly not to be trifled with. His shrewd look heightened that, but Dune only smiled, grimly pleased he was willing to play ball.

“Blood,” Dune offered without hesitation. She felt the man on the ground's attention cut to her, and she went on, her smile growing sharper. “Mine, if it's your preference. Though...” The agent hummed, putting on a contemplative look as she glanced down at their bleeding hostage. “If this one doesn't talk, I'll look the other way.” Look the other way and hide the body.

Initially, Dune had hoped to offer the man his eye in return for information, but wheeling and dealing with Merula offered a chance for her to make it clear what the alternative could be. She wasn't about to just leave a kidnapper like him unpunished--where would the justice be in that? Leaving him to be savaged by the raven seemed fitting.

Dune looked up at Merula, eyebrows raised to see if this suited him or if he wanted more. She was ready to offer quite a lot more, so he had the advantage, but she wasn't quite on the backfoot.
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#10
Gaius Merula Offline
Strix Undying
Charnel
The Strix maintained direct eye contact with the woman, even if, as a raven, it meant he had to keep his head turned. The offer of blood was tempting, although he turned his disdainful eye on the man on the ground as she more or less offered him the whole. He saw her ploy, even if he was sure the offer was genuine. Hmm... he rarely ate human flesh, these days. It was too troublesome when people turned up missing, but the blood of a foul man wasn't to Gaius' exacting taste.

Turning his head back to Dune, he let out a low hum. “It has been a long time since I have had human flesh...” he began, speaking slowly, thoughtfully, even as he spoke clearly enough to be heard by the man. “They squeal so when flesh is torn from bone, but this... man.” The raven made a low 'tch' noise, disapproval. “I only drink fine vintages, so... your blood is the preference. What more is this eye worth to you?”

Lifting the talon the eye was clutched in, Gaius made as if to study it. The nerve connectors dangled and the eyeball shone in the streetlights above them. The man on the ground let out a low moan and a whimper.
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#11
Angela Dune Offline
Cursed Human
Mischance
Dune couldn't help the way her grin grew with a vicious kind of delight as Merula carried on with her ploy. Her eyes held a light of appreciation as well--they made a surprisingly good team, and she found she was enjoying this gruesome work. The man on the ground made a low, pathetic noise as the raven judged him unworthy. She heard him suck in a labored breath, about to speak, but she spoke over him.

“A favor,” she offered, still holding tight to this thread on the hopes they could get to Wil in time. “To be fulfilled when and how you see fit, so long as it doesn't contradict my work as an agent of the Exchange.”

Finally, the man on the ground managed to swear, knowing that name even through the haze of pain and blood. Dune nudged him with her foot again, a little sharper than she ought to but he just wasn't worth the air he was breathing.
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#12
Gaius Merula Offline
Strix Undying
Charnel
“A favour,” the raven said, a finality to his tone. He accepted her terms, and some might view it as a high price for a singular eyeball, but Gaius could see she was gaining far more than an eyeball. It certainly helped that he was curious now, intent on following the progression of her current case. “I accept these terms. Your blood, and a favour to be named in the future. Without compromising your organisation, of course.”

The Strix lowered his beak to take the eyeball from his talons, freeing up his legs to hop down from the wall he'd perched on. He hobbled closer to the man writhing on the ground, pondering if forcing order on the eyeball to fit back in its socket would make the man faint from the pain, of if it would impose more of the terror he privately enjoyed to encourage. The raven did nothing yet, though, looking up at Dune as he waited for her to speak the oath. She was mundane, he thought, but there was an order to things. Rituals and rules to be followed.
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#13
Angela Dune Offline
Cursed Human
Mischance
Merula accepted her terms and Dune smiled, the look grim as ever, even though she was satisfied. In silence, she watched him hop down from the wall and when he paused, she realized he wanted it to be binding. Too conscious of her curse and the binding nature of oaths, she’d managed to avoid any careless promises, so this would be her first.

She nodded, and then cleared her throat, unconsciously straightening to attention as she said, “In return exchange for this man’s eyeball, I promise you, Merula, my blood for a feeding as well as a favor, to be fulfilled at a time and place of your choosing, so long as it does not compromise my work.”

The oath wasn’t without its loopholes but it was as airtight as she could make it with the time she had on hand. She found she did trust Merula—he was a dangerous, monstrous entity, yes, but he was consistent, and, she liked to think, a friend.

Dune felt the oath as a twinge in her arm, like she’d just knocked her funny bone, but not quite painful. Glancing down at it, she flexed her metal fingers and then shook them out as the sensation settled over the rest of her body, an intangible weight that slowly ebbed away.
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#14
Gaius Merula Offline
Strix Undying
Charnel
The Strix was pleased when he did not have to ask for her to speak the oath properly, listening to her words with some satisfaction. What came as she spoke, however, intrigued him. The raven let out a thoughtful sound, deep in his throat, as he felt the oath settle. That weight of an oath, draping across his shoulders like a cloak, something that bound the pair of them together until the oath was fulfilled, or the agent died.

“Have you been keeping secrets?” The Strix teased, his tone pleasant enough that it was clear the secret keeping had not offended him. It was, for those such as him, a matter of course, but it was always interesting when those thought to be mundanely human turned out to... not be. The movement of her hand caught his attention, and he watched with undisguised curiosity at the movement of the hand that was no longer the human he thought it to be. Did it go further up? Her sleeve obscured it.
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#15
Angela Dune Offline
Cursed Human
Mischance
Once Dune spoke the oath, she knew that Merula would know something was a little different. When he pressed her, catching on quickly, she grinned and huffed a soft laugh. She was amused by his playful tone, and held out her left hand for the bloodied eyeball, now that their deal was struck. It glinted in the low light, metal moving like organic flesh.

“Not on purpose,” she replied, jokingly defensive. She tipped her head then, her softer expression promising that she'd explain. “But I suppose we'll need to catch up after we help this poor man tell us where to find his friends.”
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#16
Gaius Merula Offline
Strix Undying
Charnel
Gaius did not hand over the eyeball, even if he did give her hand an interesting once-over. It would be an interesting conversation, to learn how it had happened, and why it looked like that. Instead, he hopped closer to the man's head, ignoring the pitiful whimpering as the man's single eye tracked the raven's movement.

“Yes, we must,” the Strix asserted, quite interested in hearing what new adventurous disasters Dune had run into, but he continued speaking. “I can affix his eye back in place if you wish it? After we get the information you want.”

It would be a painful process, and it wasn't healing so much as... forcefully putting things where they were supposed to be. The eye might not even work properly after, requiring a burst of proper healing to become properly functional again. Or perhaps he would be permanently blind if it was not done soon enough. Gaius did not care, either way, and he may even forget to mention it.
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#17
Angela Dune Offline
Cursed Human
Mischance
She tracked Merula's movement as he approached the man's head, and distantly approved of the quiet whimper. They were taking their sweet time around this conversation, and she hoped it only heightened his anxiety. That would only make him more pliable. The offer made her nod.

“Sure,” Dune agreed amiably, composed, as if interrogating a bloodied man was perfectly routine. Distantly, she recalled what Merula's healing power felt like, if it could be called healing at all. She wasn't sure he even termed it that. Had he? Regardless, she didn't think it would be strictly helpful, but it would at least return the eyeball safely to the man's skull. Whatever he did afterward would be up to him. Hopefully it would serve as a very painful reminder not to mess with the Exchange again.

In the meantime, Dune knelt carefully next to the man to get close enough that she wouldn't miss whatever he might say. “So... I'd say this is a pretty sweet deal,” she said conversationally. “You get to leave here in one piece if you just tell us where your guys took my friend. If you don't, or you lie... Well, I guess that's the end of the conversation.” Dune shrugged, her metal hand glinting as she flipped it up in a casual 'what're you gonna do' gesture. She'd make good on her threat and let Merula do what he wanted with the man.

After all their banter, the pain, and the clear threat to his life, the wounded man cracked relatively easily. The location came out in a rush, punctuated by a gentle sob. It sounded legitimate to Dune, although she waited for Merula's reply, in case the raven had any preternatural insight. He tended to see things for how they really were, in her experience.
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#18
Gaius Merula Offline
Strix Undying
Charnel
Cinder (Abidance) Exceptional success

Dune accepted the Strix's offer of hidden cruelty for their victim with casual ease, but he could not be certain she truly understood how it might feel for the man to have his eye forcibly reinserted. No matter. It would take the eye off their hands, and into the hands of the one it belonged to, to do with as he wished. It would not matter if they got what they needed, and the agent didn't wait long to start her interrogation.

They had quite effectively softened up the man, and as the raven looked at him askance, the secrets of his ilk tumbled from his lips as easily as breathing. Rushed, hasty, desperate. There was nothing in his manner than implied he gave them lies, his heart beating rabbit-fast–but that was fear, not falsehood. The unbecoming sobbing was genuine, not an act. A look to the agent and she seemed as satisfied with the truth of his answers as the Strix was.

Pleased with their bounty, Gaius hopped forward, dropping the eyeball on the man's face and getting a small yelp out of the man. Unnecessary, really, more for his own amusement, as he picked the eye up again with his beak and jabbed it back into the bleeding eyesocket, sending a spark of magic through the organ as he did. It fit back in, but the man shrieked as tendons and nerves reconnected and the pain set in. He flailed, and the raven skittered out of range, letting out a bored hum as the man writhed and whimpered.

Grounding 3/4
Power dev. #2
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