1 - A Poet in the Peacock King's Court

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Picture this:

Me, all lanky arms and lean, strong legs, standing easy with my weight shifted ever-so-slightly forward, casual but always ready to attack. I'm wearing faded black jeans with all my pockets sewn in. Dust still rests in the creases of my leather boots. I have my hat stowed away somewhere, but with the bandana tied loose around my neck I still manage to practically spell "gunslinger" with the buttons on the front of my dark blue shirt. Carrying my guns out would complete the effect, but I've stowed them. They tend to speak with their own voices, and that might just give me away.

I am standing right in the middle of the poser king's court and no one even knows I'm here. I'm elbow-to-elbow with posh. I'm getting dust on their fancy shoes. No one pays me heed.

It's a little trick I learned when I turned Poet almost overnight, you see. I just act like I'm not here, think that I'm not here, and then project that to the rest of the room. And if I do it right, if I hold my stance and tilt my eyes just right, then it works.

It took some practice, but not too much. I'd already earned my Arms, and was one of the most discreet of my brood. I took up the skill well.

So the guards don't see me, and the puffed-up aristocrats don't see me, and the King, he sure as Hell doesn't see me as he glides into the room.

Smart, aren't I? I sure do think so. But not so over-smart that I don't drop my guard. A good thing, too I almost get found out in the next split-second.

His eyes run over me. The right one fading gold-to red, the left fading purple-to-green. A rainbow visage, and dropped right into the middle of it? A gray-violet onyx teardrop with an ashen slit through the center. A stone eye set right into the middle of his crown.

It's only pure instinct that keeps me from looking directly at it. The reports I had didn't give me that tip. See, you can only depend so much on spy intel. Some things you have to learn firsthand. Hopefully you survive the lesson.

But his gold crown doesn't find out, just perches atop his head with its arched wheatstalks slanting back from the king's brow.

That imposter king, that mockery of royalty. The Peacock King. Look at his tail. Look at the scales in his robe, huge and round and overlapped, brown and scarlet and orange and violet. Look at his pride just slide off of him, ooze onto the floor in a trail right off his fancy draping silks.

And he holds the room with it. He has them all entranced. His face is painted a stark black and white, but his eyes have all the color it needs. Like gemstones, they charm the greedy and those that are hungry for power.

I see one long-fingered, manicured hand reach into the folds of his robe, and come out holding a token-box. It's fine carved wood, I can see from here, decorated with a copper and gold acorn. There's more gold inside, surely, or some fine commodity of equal expense. It's a payment, after all, and he profers it to buy the slave that is offered in the center of the floor.

One more lad in a collar. One more pretty boy, already entranced, already far-gone. Drugs, possibly, but it could just be the sheer effect of standing this close to the Peacock King.

He tames. He has always tamed. See the peacocks he's named for, see them perched to each side of his throne. Docile, quiet, collared little pets. Such proud, loud birds - they might as well be mute sparrows now. 

There's some dickering over price, or at least, the merchant draped in his silks and baubles attempts to dicker. He learns fast that there is no haggling with the Peacock King. The rainbow-eyed one doesn't even argue with him, only stands with his hips tilted just-so, arms crossed, and that smile on his face. It says "go on". He even nods a little, ever more pleased with the merchant's fast-talk.

He says nothing, just stands there with that look, and watches the merchant talk himself out of a steeper price. He smiles wider, and more smug, when the merchant's words trip themselves into a lower price. Lower, and lower still, and I see sweat bead the merchant's brow, until finally the Peacock King lets him go. It's a lucky merchant. He's still allowed to keep a pittance of what he's been given. Just the box. Empty of pay.

More than most who try to haggle the Peacock King usually manage. The bird-lord's happy today, it seems. Must be pleased with his purchase.

And why not? It's a fine boy, dressed well for a slave. And kept well, able to stand straight, though he's crouching a bit in the King's presence. Unbroken, unmarred. Hair's a bit shaggy--


I can't let my guise slip, can't let the glamour I'm casting fall and give away my presence. So I only have so much to probe with at the moment, especially with my fear of the slave himself giving me away. Still, it's enough to get a good whiff of him, smell the lack of humanity on the boy.

He's no boy at all, really.

The beads in his hair, feathers along his collar. The feral clench to his jaw, animal spark - drugged, but still very there - in his eyes. The crouch, not from fear but from natural stance. He's an animism. A forest spirit. From a far-away woods, if I'm right.

Whistling godsouls, is the King of Mockery trading in THEM now? I didn't even know you could buy one. I've never seen one that could be sold without the owners getting killed by the attempt to keep one captive.

The Peacock King reaches his hand forward, turns it palm up to perch his fingers under the animism's chin. Tilts it up. Cocks his head just-so, a quick motion, beady eyes beholding his new accquisition. Daring it.

The animism manages a hiss. It's low, but it echoes through the audience chamber just the same.

A noblewoman asks to pet it. I almost shoot her. Then I thank myself for stowing my Arms. We of the Bullets tend to shoot first, ask later. I may be subtler now that I'm a Poet, but some habits die hard. Such as calling someone's attention to common decency in the bluntest way possible.

The Peacock King denies her with a delicate handwave and a low chuckle, shaking his head. "He's not just a kitten, you know. This animal..." he lifts the chin just a little higher, "...has sharper claws and a deeper, quicker bite. And he may appear docile...but that is only because I am focusing so much of my Will right now. Do you know, I'll admit it to the room? I'm actually straining from this." The smile tucks into the corner of his smooth painted cheek, looks sick in so many senses of the word. "It's been such a time since I've had the pleasure of trying to train, of having to. How much fun...eh?" he asks the animism in a soft tone, a lilt to his voice. Teasing.

The creature snaps at his finger, but the King anticipated the move, more's the pity. It has a jaw on it, and sharp enough teeth in it, that could have severed that finger right off. If it could eat, the feral thing would probably enjoy the meal. But the Tamer has all of his hand left after the snap, and he just grins. Grins so happily that I almost begin to feel nervous.

"Oh, I was just waiting for you to do that, you little creature, you dancer." The grin etches deeper, grows crooked and more cryptic. Any further and it'll run past his jawline. "Faun-doe."

The animism looks sicker by the second. His crouch deepens, slips, and gives away its true nature - he's growing less and less able to stand on his own. The Peacock reaches forward, dips his hand down, and then catches a handful of nothing and closes his fist on it. As he tightens his grip, there's a canine grunt from his captive as the animism sinks to his knees. His hands don't quite make it to the collar on his neck, but it's obvious that he would claw at it if he weren't unconscious.

It's pitiful to watch. They're not tame, the animisms. And they're not ones to be tamed, hunters and guardians that they are. What I am seeing goes beyond crime.

But it is very much calling to the Law. I catch myself before my hand tries to slip to a gun that's not even strapped onto my hip now. The call is strong. Oh Father, how strong is that call.

I let it pass. I let it pass to watch, to witness, to record. There'll come a time later when justice is served. When that time comes, I'll be there to watch. Maybe even to fire the bullet myself.

I watch the body of the animism be carefully loaded into a handcart that's really an expensive-looking cage on wheels. He's down for the count, but His Silkenbritches had to have gone through much trouble to accquire this beast, even if he didn't exactly pay much for it. He'll be secure about it. He's actually headed right towards me - a well-dressed servant pushing the cart in front of the King, who glides through his court like a gilded parade float. I subtlely scoot to the side so that I'm not spotted. Glamour won't work if I'm too obvious of a tourist attraction. Or run into with a damned bejeweled, gold-laquered cart. I watch them pass. The Peacock King waves out one fine-boned, thin hand, a single gesture dismissing all of those assembled in his audience chamber.

...This leaves me with a short amount of time to decide whether or not I should be following him.

My mission is to spy. It's long-term recon, not just some skirmish to dart in and bust out some new squirrel he's keeping. I'm supposed to ease in subtlely, gather information from the King's audiences with his court and report it to my own superiors. I'm not to take action on instinct. That's the mission directives.

...Back t'Hell with it, if they really wanted all that to be followed to the letter, I wouldn't even be on this assignment. Likely none of us would.

It means a shift in my tactics, though. Which will be a bit of a danger if I put it off past this point. I sidle to the back wall of the chamber, facing the Throne, and ease myself behind one of the gigantic pieces of statuary lined up like chess pieces back here. I catch a bit of my mind on one of the servants attending behind the King as I make myself comfortable. It's a feat to juggle the two tasks - but I'm well-practiced at making trouble, with this particular tactic in fact. I put my body at rest in a sitting position, legs crossed, cast my glamour into something more permanent that'll run itself without my attentions. The part of my mind that's caught onto one of the servants secures its hold, eases a little bit closer to the lad's consciousness so that it can hide there. I'm hitching a ride on him without he nor the Peacock King knowing. The trick is in making the ride -and anyone watching him- think that I'm just another part of his thoughts. It's important not to get caught.

I get caught, not only do I give away that I'm a spy and I'm here - I'll also likely as not lose the part of myself that's latched onto the servant like a remora to a shark. Or even worse, once they own a bit of my mind...well, I'd rather not list all the hazards to you right now. Trust me, it'll turn into a grisly affair if I'm not careful.

It's such a good thing that I'm always so careful.

It's a long trip to where he's keeping this pet. I'm surprised he takes so many servants with him, considering the likely value of the way into the place where he keeps his...living treasures. I'd say it's because he trusts these implicitly, but really, it's much more likely that he doesn't think them capable of betraying him. I've already marked that weakness in him before, as have others before me. So outside this glittering chamber is a small sitting room, and then through there...tough to map. It's very warded, and some of the space feels...loose. He's relying on a lot of security measures here, it seems. It'll make it all the more fun to break into. I can make a rough mental map, in any case.

Surroundings are so hazy from this view, especially with the wards interfering, but I can sense that where he stops, there are cells. Well-kept cells, similar in design to the cage on wheels - decorated and sculpted to seem less like a prison. He slides the one he calls Faun into the nearest cell. I don't sense any others being kept in that area, but it's possible I can't detect them while reaching like this. He steps inside with the animism, oversees the chaining of the creature. Pauses in there, and I can guarantee that the extra time spent in there is time spent gloating.

He's in there for awhile. Possibly waiting for Faun to wake up. But it's doubtful. That animism is far from his territory, and kept inside a place of humans against his will. And considering that he was able to be dragged in here at all...whatever was done to him to allow for that also has to be taken into account. No, Mister Faun-doe is too vulnerable in here, too weak.

It'd be to his advantage to sleep anyways, give him time to recover and rest. And plan. Animisms are clever creatures. It would take a lot of trouble to convince me that the Peacock King could keep him for long--

My attention shifts to my body, for it's being looked at right now, and the looker sees me. My glamour isn't shielding me from the inspection. The stray piece of my consciousness still stays with the Peacock King's servant. I don't have the focus to guide it back now, especially with wards to contend with - the servant hiding my mental chunk is allowed in those places, but likely I'm not.

Also, I'm a spy, and I've just been found. That's a bit high on the priorities list. Which is why I'm throwing so much, right now, into staying, and appearing, calm.  I mentally cast my glance upwards before I physically shift my gaze--

"Nice, very smooth. I'd hardly have detected you in the first place. So skilled." There's a tiny smirk embedded right into the voice. I'd want to punch him, but he sounds so damn likeable. So familiar. I hazard a glance up with my eyes.

...Mother of...

His face brightens as the recognition dawns over my face. "I missed you. You'd never write home, you know. Some poet you are." He reaches forward with a coiled-up whip, almost taps my chin with it...then decides against it. He glances up for a second, over each shoulder. "Are you here to follow the new catch? I'd sure like the company." His smile falls upon me again, eyes closed. But he could sense my reaction without even looking at me, I know.

He is supposed to be my brother, after all.

He raises an eyebrow at my silence, looks at me with open eyes. "Hmm. Not so talkative on the job? Figures. I'll meet up with you later." He turns, surveys the room, and the doors that the Peacock King departed through. "I've an appointment due anyhow..."

I reach up, tug on his sleeve. Long and belled, with the scallopped edges along it that have come to be one of the Peacock King's motifs. "What's your name?"

He blinks, obviously flustered for a moment. Then laughs. "Lotus now, brother. And you, you I won't have a public name to put to you for quite awhile yet, hmm? But it should be fine that way. I'll always think of you as Gerald." I know something has to show on my face in reaction. Something that makes him look a little taken aback. "...Well! It's been a long time, yes? I do treasure my occasional family reunions. I must be elsewhere now, though, as I said." He makes a bow, a servant's bow at dismissal. "You should write me a letter. I miss reading poetry." With that, he's gone, strolling out the same door that the King himself left from.

But that's no coincidence. I have no doubt of who his upcoming 'appointment' is with.

Oh, Lyric. You and your many names. I'm not even going to tell Father I've seen you here, just yet. He'd only get angry. Or much, much worse...sad.

I check my glamour. Still the same, still just as secure. He only found me because he was my brother. And I'd not thought to put in safeguards to screen myself from family. After all, what family could possibly be here that didn't already know I was here? But of course, I forgot to account for Lyric. Our little runaway. Daddy's troublemaker.

...Well, we were all troublemakers.

It's still a surprise to see him here, though. I knew he'd wandered off, but...to a place like this? He's not stupid, no matter how he might act. Well, not that stupid, anyways. He knows what kind of a kingdom this is. He knows what kind of a King rules it.

Just what is he planning!?

Damnit, I'm not here to watch him, I'm not here to babysit him, I'm here to get a mission done. It's not my job to figure out what in or out of Hell he's up to. That'll just end up getting me closer to getting killed here.

...Which is, of course, why I'm going to end up doing it anyways, I know, but I wanted to affirm all of that to myself, just to hear it in my head.

Oh, what's that I sense? The piece of me that's listening in via the King's servant just recognized my brother entering the room. Straight for the King. Of course. Because Lyric can't just settle for small-time trouble. He aims high.

It's a small miracle that I'm so perfectly positioned to witness just a little of what he's up to, then.

That's what I think before someone grasps my mind, yanks it off of the servant I've attached it to, and drives it without my direction.


  1. oooh, very good! Great imagery, great characters. Very interesting story line. looking forward to the second!

  2. The frist crack into this dangerous and lush place makes me hunger for more as I keep reading heart in mouth I forget everything.

    Signed by Ruby

  3. I get caught, not only do I give away that I'm a spy and I'm here - I'll also likely as not lose the part of myself that's latched onto the servant like a remora to a shark.

    I feel like the above sentence should start with an 'If,' possibly? At first I thought our protagonist (Gerald?) had been caught.