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 The Golden Heart

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Pirates

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Age : 25
Location : Minnesnowta

PostSubject: The Golden Heart   Fri 9 Sep - 19:02

((Third time's the charm. Padawan, ignore this. It's just... testing...))

Ari Little stared down at the quivering letter in her hand, her stomach unpleasantly tight. It was her hand, of course, that was shaking. Not the letter. But that was beside the point. The letter was quivering; the words were blurring; the room was spinning.

Closing her eyes, Ari willed it all away for a moment, but that only brought it closer. In her mind’s eye, she saw it all: the fights, the escalating tension, the hurled abuse. She saw herself running. Fast – but never fast enough. And in her darkest hour, there he’d been, as if called by her need – her anguish.

She’d never known his name, she realized now. No, it had always been about her. Ari, this, Ari that, poor Ari. And he’d let her cry on his shoulder more times than she cared to count. He’d allowed her to draw strength from those understanding smiles, those trustworthy eyes. He’d whispered bravado into her, given her unjustifiable confidence, and then… he’d given her the greatest gift imaginable.

“You could run from it all, you know,” he’d said. “You could run forever and ever and never stop. Never look back.” She’d blinked in surprise when he’d explained that he was speaking literally – that he could give her the supernatural gift of speed and endurance. And however skeptical Ari was, she was also desperate. But she’d also trusted him more than she should have.

Now, almost five years later, Ari was alone with her secret. She’d never gone back home, never looked back. But neither had she settled into a new home. Everywhere there was someone new to run from, and so she’d used his gift well. Somehow, though, she didn’t think she’d be able to outrun this letter.

My dearest Ari,

It’s been a long time, and I can truly say that I’ve missed you. Over the last five years, I’ve watched you grow from the scared girl of sixteen I once comforted to a spirited woman who will stop for no one. But it’s time to stop running now.

Let us be frank with each other, Ari. You are no happier now than you were before. You are alone. You are alone in a world of happy couples and happy families, and you know that the only reason you don’t have one of your own is because you keep running. Does the knowledge leave a bitter taste in your mouth? You cannot blame me. I offered you the apple, but it was you who bit into it.

Do not deny your regret; I see it in your eyes every time you pack up again and prepare to run. Regardless of your satisfaction, the time has come, Ari. The time has come for you to pay for what you have taken. Join me for dinner in two days’ time to discuss payment. Directions are enclosed. I hope you do not mind that I have invited a few others as well.

Do you want to stop running, Ari?
It’s time.

Eagerly awaiting your arrival,
In anticipation of a game to remember –

It was not signed.

The allotted two days had passed, and Ari knew he was right. It was time to stop running. She’d struck a bargain with the devil, and now it was time to pay.

--

James Miner feared death. He had since 1692. But he was also tired of life. He was tired of meeting the devil at every turn, never able to slip past him into the next life. Well now, he really had no one to blame but himself. He’d looked straight into the devil’s eyes and shaken his hand – sold his soul so he could dance over the grave, so to speak.

The dance had been beautiful at first, but it was not long before his revelry turned to bitterness – before he realized that he would long outlive those he loved.

The letter crumpled in his hand. He was mistaken if he thought James was only now going to pay for what he’d taken. No, no. He’d been paying for that one handshake since the winter of 1692.

--

He had gone by many names over the years. Sometimes they had meant something to him- other times, he simply chose the name because he liked the sound. At still others, he went by the name his victims thought of him as. At present, he had no name at all, and strangely enough, it did not bother him. Usually, he donned a name and shrugged it off like an old and worn coat, exchanging it for something new and exciting. But not now. Now it was simply enough to simply… be.

Humming softly, an eerie tune, he ran his hand along the boarder of the game board lying open on the table. Several stone pieces lined the starting square, and he gave each of them a small nod and a soft smile. “Just a little longer, my dears,” he whispered, his voice coming out in just barely a whisper. One would have to lean forward in anticipation to hear it. Perhaps he spoke in such a way purposefully, though one could never really tell when it came to him. “Then it’ll all be over. I know it’s hard to wait. They come from all corners of the earth... Soon we shall begin. And this shall be a game to remember…”

The venue he’d chosen for this round was, if he did say so himself, one of his best finds yet—a large, old Victorian mansion with light pink siding on the outside and peeling, floral wallpaper on the interior. The inside was a maze of rooms and closets, side passages and hidden doors. And once they made their way in… it would be difficult to find the way out.

The soft tread of an apprehensive footfall fell on his ears, and he turned with a soft smile on his face. That would be… Miner. His first guest had arrived, but he would make sure he was well out of sight by the time Miner made it to the game room. The gallery on the second floor that wrapped all along the room, looking down upon the game table. Shrouded in shadows, it would afford the perfect place for him to look on, undetected. If push came to shove, he needn’t remain visible to them, but it was just so much more fun this way! With that sense of danger… that he might be spotted at any moment. Except that he wouldn’t. He would never, ever be caught.

The front door creaked open just as he took the first step onto the metal spiral staircase. He’d left instructions… they would find their way to the game room. It was so delicious he could hardly stand it. Just as he stepped from the stairs and into the shadowed recesses of the gallery, the door to the game room opened a crack, and a young man stepped inside, looking rather edgy. Dark hair, dark eyes… worn. This was James Henry Miner, aged eighteen years in appearance... but his soul… his soul was three hundred and thirty-six years of age. Oh, what fun it would be!

He watched as Miner stepped into the room, leaving the door ajar behind him, and stepped up to the game table, his eyes immediately fixated on the board. An old and worn board, square in shape, painted in bright colors at one point, but now dulled with age, it looked like nothing any of them would have come across before. A path of squares wound haphazardly towards the center of the board, doubling back multiple times and twisting into a tangled mess that none of them would be able to follow. At the center… a blackened mass. It almost looked like a scorch mark… as though some image previously occupying the winning space had been blasted away….

Hardly daring to breath now, he sank to a squat, leaning forward as far as he dared as Miner leaned over the board and reached out for a game piece. He could have laughed! Miner had already stepped into the house… the game had already begun… the piece would not move.

Sure enough, the stone figure budged not an inch, no matter how hard Miner pulled at it. Just then, the door creaked open a second time, and a girl stepped into the room. Jumping a little, Miner spun around and sagged against the table. Apparently, his nerves were already frayed. In the gallery above, a devilish smile spread across his face. Oh, let the games begin, let the games begin!
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Ark Von Doom

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PostSubject: Re: The Golden Heart   Sun 11 Sep - 23:23

All of Eisel Marmott's friends were dead.

Most of them hadn't been dead long when he found them. The less remains there were, the harder his task became. And the sight of the things collapsing over themselves and falling apart was still just too much to bear, even for him. The entire thing was painful to him, of course, but, somehow, he managed to go through most of it anyway, and take some grim satisfaction in knowing that somehow he was doing a poor soul justice where it was due. Sometimes that poor soul was himself (hey, nobody's perfect), but at the very least he'd never hurt anyone. Significantly.

It began with tragedy. When his little sister passed, Eisel hadn't taken it well. His parents understood. He knew they felt it as much as he did. But he was only a kid at the time. He was stupid enough to think he could actually do something about it, and what was more enticing than magic for a young boy of sixteen and a half years of age? The internet called it 'Necromancy'. It also said, even on Wikipedia, that it was fake. Something for old stories. But that was how victorious hero stories always began, right? Someone told someone that something was impossible, and the other person went out and did it anyway? So he had tried everything he could find. All sorts of creepy, stupid things he never should have considered.

If he had known everything he did now, as far along as he was on a path to some half-useless Biology degree, he would have slapped his younger self, gotten his younger self a nice coat, and sent his younger self to a proper edicate school to learn about dignity and basic logic (because,as a note, strange parts of chickens being burned ritually in no way corresponded to the reactivation of the human cerebellum; a fact unlikely to change anytime soon). But the chance to bludgeon himself straight never came. Because that, was when 'He' had come along.

Oh, the fellow was a crafty one. Under any other circumstances, 'He' would have been a wonderful individual; charming, witty, the sort of person Eisel would like to entertain at a party or similar festivity, but would always keep at arms length. Young Eisel had none of the reservations or common sense of his current counterpart though, and when 'He' came along with his fast-talking and sly words, the poor little guy had fallen for it hook, line, and sinker. It was everything the internet could offer and more, and without even the neccessity of any credit or social security number- what silly little teenager wouldn't accept?

It was a healing touch. A magic touch. He started with animals: the local pet cemetary, and for that matter, vet. He would leave nothing to chance. The long dead dog shambled to life, the canary with a broken wing could fly again, and the cat that walked in front of a car caused allergies all over town, good as new! And it didn't stop at bringing back their bodies. It took time for Eisel to realize it, working with goldfish and such, but what he was also gaining with every single body he touched, were memories.

He knew, for instance, what kibble tasted like. It was chewy. He knew that the bird had broken it's wing because it was shot by a BB pellet at twenty paces, and that the cat had gone in front of the car because it had confused a hose across the street with a ball of yarn, and been tempted to its doom. And, when Eisel touched his first human... He knew so much more. Humans had so many memories; entire lives of failures and triumphs, and at once they were all vivid and clear in his head, like deranged documentaries! When he touched the years dead math teacher of his elementary school, he even knew that the teacher felt guilty for not giving partial credit, but that he never had the chance because of those darn dirty college board members.

But that wasn't what he WANTED. 'He' hadn't said anything about it, but the fact was clear, something plastered up at any and every turn that Eisel made, starting at the moment when his once kind grade school teacher decided to try and take a bite out of Eisel's unfortunately exposed shoulder. Revival, that was easy. But ressurection? Ressurection was IMPOSSIBLE! To mend the flesh, to spark the cells and knit the muscle and sinew to function, that was something that came easily to him. It always seemed to work fine with the animals, the things that ran off their baser instincts from the start, but there was a difference between what was alive and what was human! The piece that made a body more than a body, the soul, the thoughtfulness, the compassion and the mistrust and the logic and reason and the chance to learn and to grow was GONE. Gone when the machine stopped ticking out the slow and steady beat of a pulse, and whatever it was that made man man moved on to a place even Eisel couldn't reach it.

The newly barking neighborhood dog caught the run over cat, but they both mauled eachother to the point that the pound shot them both. The flying bird was just fine; which was why it had a perfect view of his old teacher's body when it washed up, apparently drowned, almost a week later. The man had been dead for years but apparently some darn kids had pulled a prank and dug him up, and the whole town was mortified for weeks. Which was when Eisel began to connect a few dots. Like the fact 'He' was just a fake. A fraud. What use was the ability to heal if the only person Eisel cared about was already too dead for it to help? 'He' had made it sound like anything was possible, but... but...

"Eisel, you're pressing pretty hard on that scalpel..." A concerned, meek voice broke into Eisel's recollections. "Hey, Eisel? Maybe you should let up on the..."

A squirt of darkish liquid plopping against Eisel's gloved hand was what finally drew him out of his reverie, the crowded classroom around him fading slowly back into focus as the dead frog lying with its guts open on the table jerked awkwardly at the sudden intrusion of a precision scapel into spots not marked on Eisel's instructional lab sheet. He had meant to cut away the lungs, but Eisel could see that he had passed right through that thin surface and made a brash incision into the heart that would normally not have been required until step twelve. How silly of him, or whatever.

The mishap didn't bother Eisel, but he was sorry for having spooked his partner. Fidel was, Eisel conceded, one of the closest things he had to a living friend, even if the extent of their relationship had been their time together in the single lab class they shared at the University. Poor Fidel was a great, hard worker; a real biologist through and through, who loved his work and wanted to do some big, helpful, biological... thing, with it!

But fate was cruel. Fidel had a cataract growing in his left eye. There was no telling whether he'd be able to use it and, if he couldn't, then it was bye bye professional career! Next to that story, Eisel was downright selfish, taking the course only because his gift had made it almost unbearably easy for him. He had no interest in the subject at all past its big letter A's on his college graduation card. After all, there was nothing that Eisel ever expected Biology to be able to do for him. At least at this point.

Where magic had failed, Eisel had turned his path loosely to more scientific approaches, and out of conveniance had stuck with them later. But his 'quest' was long over. He had decided a long time ago that he could never try his gift on his sister, even if he wanted to, out of the sheer and horrible knowledge of what she would become. When she went, she had been happy. He was leaving her that way. And that once pressing goal was now a distant little fantasy in the back of his head, that he only thought about when he was bored and needed a distraction. Even in that use, it had faded, because despite his lack of any lasting reltionships, Eisel was a suprisingly social creature, and was known favorably and by name at every place in the town where a civilized talk or formal gala might be had.

He chatted for the interaction. Because even though his gift had never helped him the way he wanted it to, Eisel had not skimped on using it fully. And he was determined, if he was going to live as some bizarre and modern Necromancer, than he would do it with class and style.

"Sorry Fidel, I guess I'm just a little off my game today," Eisel shot the man a reassuring smile, an air of confidence in his voice. "I've got it now. Would you pass me those tweezers?"

Fidel hesitated before meekly consenting, and Eisel waited for the the poor guy to turn before slipping his goo slicked hand down under the table and into the top of his narrowly open backpack. From his angle, and no one elses, he could make out a small face within, its color a pale but defined grey of undeath, with short, sporty black hair and greedy, reddish eyes. The clearly feminine figure, more specifically a once-twelve year old named Kiele, nibbled affectionately on his hand when he extended it, slurping off the goop in a satisfied manner, its teeth biting just strongly enough to push down without actually hurting his hand (though that difference wasn't made by the zombie itself, but rather the protective, slick black gloves that Eisel wore even when he wasn't in the lab).

When she finished, Eisel had to carefully pull his hand away to keep her from following it out, and Kiele grudgingly dropped back into the bag. Eisel didn't feel particularly bad. She'd already had her feeding time: for her, this was an added bonus. But he still slipped a small doggie treat to her from the frontal pocket, and closed the zipper on the large, hiking backpack he kept her in to stifle the sound of her hungrily digging into it.

Kiele was by far his favorite zombie. In life, she had been a very active girl; a soccer player with a knack for kicking the game winning goal, and an avid folower of the local theatrical arts. In the months before she died, Kiele had been overjoyed to learn that her parents had gotten her tickets to the classic musical 'Columba', and had been only three games away from her championship game in the little leagues. It wasn't Kiele's fault that a drunk driver decided to run her over on her way back from practice, and, left the wonderfully active girl a sad and paralyzed thing for a full three weeks before she finally passed in the night.

As a matter of ethics, Eisel did not do miracle worker cases. He didn't go looking around for charity cases to pull from the edge. But when he had seen her picture in the obituary, he had done his work quickly, and for one of the undead she was suprisingly well preserved. Kiele's team got their act together after her loss and worked hard, winning the rest season; and the one after that. And Eisel had taken her to every game. Kiele had also been the proud front row guest of the first production of Columba to feature a live sheep in its second act. He thought she would have liked that.

Eisel didn't keep his zombies often. They were a danger to themselves as much as others, a mess to clean up after (even if they didn't decompose, they still bumped into things and lost limbs in all sorts of unfortunate places), and the of course, most importantly, the risk of one walking out into the open and being spotted never left his mind. But Kiele had been something special. He hadn't managed to let her go, and had in fact kept her with him ever since they first met, in the very privledged position of his backpack.

He had a few other constants too, of course. Heinaggan, a butler by career who died at forty-five from lung cancer, had parents who immigrated from a land with wonderful, large castles, and he had dreamed all of his life of moving back there and being the caretaker of one of those great historic places. Eisel's mansion (he got it cheap because, laughably, the last occupants had been murdered in it) downtown was the oldest, two floor gated manor within a two hundred mile radius. And Eisel maintained the nearly skeletal fellow (whom he had only discovered many decades post-mortem) as his own personal manservant, letting him take care of the place as best he could.

The others, he had only divided into two categories: the Lifters were (at the moment) permanent, from a demolition accident that trapped several construction workers under rubble, helped Eisel move furniture, while the Droppers were whatever small projects Eisel was working on, righting the last few mistakes of their lives before sending their bodies back to the beyond with their souls.

"I don't see tweezers..." Fidel turned back, and Eisel offered him a confused shrug in return.

"Huh. I was sure they were over there. Oh well." Eisel removed the bits of lung with his fingers instead, to Fidel's obvious discomfort, and went back to work as usual. It was boring. But it was what he was used to. Which was why 'His' letter, turning up in a stack of party invitations after all these years, had come as a major shock. Normally he would never get so worked up about what he did. He was your everday, average under-trying but overacheiving party-going wannabe-social Necromancer, who lived in a creepy mansion and listened to upbeat jazz with showtunes on an Ipod, and he was fine with that!

And, in many ways, he was proud to say he was about as far from every creepy norm as he could get. And from anyone's mental picture of a Biologist. A young man of twenty two, Eisel was naturally 5'11, attractive enough that he drew girls attention without being obnoxious, with wavy blond hair out of some old surfer ad, and chocolate brown eyes. And while taking Kiele everywhere might have been a chore, it had also made him in all likelihood the most athletic man in his major. He had a strong back and good shoulders, and took to wearing a dark blue blazer and black jeans; whereas he was pretty sure most of the students he knew were dressed up in cardigans by their mothers. He was content with where he was.

But as much as he wanted to simply ignore 'his' letter, and act like the whole thing never happened, there was a part of Eisel that still cursed the man for what he had done. Eisel may have taken the bait, but to dangle it over a cliff for a poor fool in a troubled time was horrible. Monstrous. It was clear that there was no violent solution, however tempting; if 'He' had given Eisel the ability to heal, then certainly his own skills would make him no less than immortal. But even if he couldn't give him a good punch, Eisel wanted just once to tell 'Him' that what he was doing was wrong. Even if it didn't do accomplish at all...

* * *

With the last lab of the week out his way, there was nothing left to hold Eisel back. He never acted too eager; he cleaned up his equipment, placed it all properly away, and even slowed his pace a few steps so that he could walk beside his more studious colleague on the way to the parking lot. They were going to be on a three day weekend now, but Eisel hoped to not be gone that long. Despite his hiking backpack being large enough to carry weeks of clothing (and heavy enough for that matter), it contained only Kiele, a single change of clothes (but four socks) and some bare neccesities for the road. He had locked Heinaggan and the others with two weeks worth of meat in the wine cellar. The zombies had no real intelligence, but they never bothered eachother as far as he could tell, and given they'd yet to open a door in his time with them he was doubtful they'd make it out anywhere in his absense. Just one room to clean up when he returned...

"Well, Fidel, I guess this is farewell for a while." Eisel smiled at his companion, his small enviromentally friendly car coming into view. With a broad gesture, he slung his arm around the other man and made a dramatic gesture in the air. "I'm off to face my destiny! The fate of this poor hero has been thrown into question, tossed on the wind like a terrifying salad!"

"Huh?" Fidel blinked in surprise, one eye brighter than the other as always. Of course Eisel had never told him anything about the letter, or his gift, or anything of the like. It wasn't that he didn't trust him. He had just never told anyone, and he saw no reason to start in the waning days of his college life.

"Oh, I was just thinking about what an interesting weekend it's going to be." Eisel beeped his trunk open, gently placing his jumbo-backpack inside. He would take Kiele out at the first rest stop they came across. "Any special plans?"

"Oh. Eh, no. I'm probably just going to sit around in my room and study." Fidel shrugged, sadly. "I don't know how you can be so relaxed. The midterms next week."

Eisel simply shrugged in reply, closing the trunk. "Oh, just call me cocky."

"You're cocky." Fidel chuckled back.

"Ouch!" Eisel put his hand on hit heart as if in pain. "You wound my very soul with your harsh words!"

"Well, I should probably be going." Fidel gave a little half-hearted wave, and turned to leave. "Books, and everything."

Ahh. Eisel didn't do charity cases. But something told him that if he didn't handle this now, he might never get the chance. "Hey, wait a moment."

Fidel waited, a confused look on his innocent little face. Eisel opened his car door, gave the man a once over... And promptly reached up and poked him in the eye with his finger.

"AH!" Fidel stumbled back. "What was that for?"

"Oh, no reason." Suddenly, Eisel felt a little guilty. "Does it hurt?"

"No, just kinda sting-y..." The student kept rubbing at his eyes, confused. "Why would you poke me in the eye?"

"Oh, just a little parting gift. Smell you later Fidel!" Eisel hopped in his car and drove off, leaving the baffled scientist blinking as he made his way down the road to his destiny.

* * *

The mansion, as it turned out, really *was* in the middle of nowhere. Eisel had assumed it was an exaggeration, but even his tiny 'fuel-efficient' car was only just above half a tank by the time he reached it. And, much to Eisel's dismay, it was fancier than his own place. If only by a bit. As he pulled up in front of the porch, Eisel took down the barrier he had set up between his spot and the backseat, where he let Kiele ride. He wished he could take the girl in the front, but between people gawking at her in his car, and the possibility she might try to munch on him while driving, the idea simply wasn't practical. Still, since he was about to be going away awhile, he reached back and patted the girl on the head, and was pleased to be met with her actual hair instead of her teeth.

"Now, you wait right here. You're all full, right? And you don't need to use the bathroom or anything?" He eyed her, but wasn't expecting an answer, and indeed the once-twelve year old simply blinked dully at him. He had laid down plastic in the back of his car just in case, but he didn't think it would be needed.

Cutting off the engine, Eisel reached to turn off his Ipod, but thought better of it, and let the speakers continue to sing the opening melody of Columba in all its glory. He shot Kiele a smile. "There, you'll have some music to keep you company."

Kiele said nothing, but Eisel got the vague feeling she was pleased. He offered her a nod before putting the barrier back into place. "I'll try not to be to long. You be good."

Whistling to himself, Eisel, at last, made his way into the mansion. He wasn't going to show 'Him' any sort of nervousness, no matter what he felt in his gut. He'd go in bold, say what he had to, and get out again. And, striding into the living room, Eisel did just that!

Well, the go in bold part. The sight of the two others there, both near his age, caught him before he could say anything, and, noticing their silence, he stopped in the front of the room, raising his hands in a mild apology and standing respectfully and silently by the wall. 'He' had mentioned other guests. Well, these had to be them. And there was no sign of any rampart zombie activity... So he could only guess that they'd left theirs outside somewhere as well. Hopefully they were as responsible about it as he was. Or, of course, they weren't Necromancers at all. Unlikely, but, just in case, he wasn't going to say anything. It was bad manners to be the first to speak at a party- especially if it wasn't yours. The same rules, could be applied for this.

The only thing different from a normal. Small party was the gameboard in the center of the room. Eisel didn't pay much attention to that though. 'He' could finish whatever bizarre version of monopoly he was playing AFTER 'he'd gotten the lecture that was coming to him!
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Ark Von Doom

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PostSubject: Re: The Golden Heart   Sun 11 Sep - 23:48

"I got niney nine pwoblems but a witch ain't one." Crossing her legs and leaning back in her seat, Maphy giggled to herself as the booming base shook the shoddy old truck once again. Beside her, Lukas watched the old mansion through a set of gas station binoculars, sitting in the driver's seat in a wife-beater and jeans. His arms were both bare, except for a large tattoo of an eagle-dragon-thingy on his right shoulder, and the tiny circled band around his left ring finger. Maphy shared that same band on her own ring finger; though at the moment hers was very cleverly covered by a My Little Pony bandaid.

"I don't like this..." Lukas squinted into the bincoluars. "They're both pretty young looking, aren't they?" He rested the binoculars on his lap and turned to her. "It's not that I don't think you could take on a chick and a teen, but this whole thing just feels weird. This guy... He's older, right? What is he doing inviting a bunch of people like this to a mansion in the middle of nowhere? It all feels like a bad horror movie."

"Rewax Lukas." Maphy yawned, stretching her legs. She had been cooped up in the red wreck of a vehicle all day, waiting for the 'few others' that 'He' had mentioned in his letter. She hadn't wanted to wait; if they couldn't trust Him, who could they trust afterall? But Lukas had insisted, and when he looked at her with those big ol' puppy dog eyes... Heh. Maphy was sure she was just a sucker for pretty boy blondes.

"We done yet?" Back in the truckbed, Bonny shifted the hat on his head nervously. "It's freakin hot back here bro."

"We're working on it Bonny, don't get antsy." Lukas rasied the bincoulars again. "Crap... Someone else just went in. I couldn't get a glimpse of em."

"Bonaparte. I'm freakin Bonaparte." Bonny grumbled, adjusting himself as the radio shook the car again. "Like Napolean... We're not doing this."

"But it's cuuute Bonny!" Beside Bonny, Clyde leaned in and landed on top of him, knocking off his hat and resting her shoulders on his back. "C'mon, we make a pawfact couple. It's a convasation starta."

"I ain't lookin to start no convasations." Bonny pushed her off and sat crosslegged in the back, returning his hat firmly back to the top of his irritated noggin. "Come on Lukas, that's gotta be the last of em."

"I still think we should wait a little longer..." Lukas looked over at Maphy, but she could only offer him a sympathetic look in return. As much as she liked him looking out for her (it was one of his more attractive qualities), they were already conspicuous enough as it was, and if 'He' was inside she didn't want to seem rude. Either something was going to happen, or it wasn't, but sitting around now wasn't going to gain them anything.

"Rewax..." She leaned over onto his shoulder and put an arm around him. "Just... Rewax."

"Do you have to do the lisp?" Lukas frowned, but he returned her gesture all the same. "It seems a little much."

"Lukas, I'm only faive yearth old." She held up four fingers on her small hand and giggled. "Besides, it's cute. Nobody's gonna hurt a wittle girl with a wisp."

Lukas still didn't seem content, but Maphy patted him on the head. "It's time Lukas. I've gotta do this, we owe him a wot." Unbuckling her seatbelt (Lukas had insisted that if she was going to be three foot five she would need it), she leaned in and tilted her head back and forth to give him a good view. "Is my bandaid on straight?"

Lukas reached out and softly smoothed out the edges of the bandaid on the bridge of her nose, covering the horizontal scar across it from a knife wound when she was twelve; the only wound, she was proud to say on her face. And a well placed one, as far as stylish scars went. Lukas was gentle with it, like he always was with her, and even the strange motion managed to feel affectionate.

"You're good." He paused, and gave her a serious look. "Thirty-six hours. Whether you call me or not, I'm coming back for you in thirty-six hours."

"You're always so pwecise." Maphy poked his nose and made Lukas wince backwards. "Wuv you."

Without another word, she hopped out of the truck. Clyde waved to her as they drove away, her voice vibrating slightly as the car shook its way down the road. "See ya soon Maaaaphy!"

Maphy tilted her green-dinosaur hood and grinned in response, before stopping to look herself over one last time. She was short, at least at the moment when she was five (technically six, but seriously, like someone was going to ask a woman her age), her hair was blond and short, a ragged scruffy sort of look that would fit a boy but never look as cute on him. Both of her eyes were a light red. 'Like Bloody Mary's on a beach' was the way she described them after reading it in one of the few magazines the prison allowed. She was dressed in her finest khaki shorts, which, at the moment, were about five sizes too big and held up with a belt, and a big baggy green hoody styled to look like a cartoon dinosaur's head; complete with big blushing cheeks. It was a T-Rex head, to be exact. Rawr.

Of course, she knew she only got to look like this for the sake of her meeting with 'Him'. Not that Maphy was any less of a looker in her normal thirties outfit... But when you could change your age and size at will, why not experiment? Especially when she was walking into who knows what kind of a situation with a man she had met only once in her life. And, the last time, in a prison. She wanted sooo badly to trust him after he gave her the chance to get out but... As Lukas always said, she had to be cautious first and friendly later.

It hadn't mattered which she was in prison. Every day had been the same. Wake up at six. Mess. Work. Grounds. Work. Cell. Sleep. And every day... Every day, the only thing she couldn't predict was the one thing she never wanted to see...

Dorian..." Maphy growled to herself, and was suddenly glad she hadn't yet opened the door and stepped into the mansion. Dorian Pade... He was small, he was wiry... But as he'd said every time, he was still a bigger fish than her. A bigger freakin fish than her. Every time he... But that had worked out so well for him, hadn't it? Because 'He' let her get big. Bigger than everyone. Big enough that when she broke her and Lukas, and B-C out... She had squashed him. Stepped on him like a bug. And smashed him, and smashed him, until the only thing she could see was...

Lukas... Had had to stop her. She never had time to look back at him; to see a mangled body, or, more likely, a smear of blood on pavement. But there wasn't anything left that she needed to see. She had been thorough. It was over.

They had been on the road for months now. She could always turn young, or old, or whatever she needed to buy them supplies: a seventy year old granny was'nt questioned much when she bought jerky and liquor, even if she did get some weird looks. But when they got the letter from 'Him', stuck under their windsheild wiper like a Chinese restuarant ad, Maphy knew that she had to say thank you. And Lukas had trusted her. So now she needed to trust 'Him'. They had bought the gas, made the detour, and now here she was. In, as even Lukas had been more than ready to point out, the middle of nowhere.

Without 'Him', she'd still have been locked away with that monster. She knew that Lukas meant well, but Maphy herself was actually happy for the chance to be able to thank him after all this time. Hopefully he'd view her itty bitty cute form as an 'enjoying the power' statement rather than any form of secrecy. But just in case...

"La-dah, duh duh duh, DADAAADAAA, LALA-LALA-DUHDUH, LALALA-LALA-LA-LALA-LAAAAAAAA!" Stomping her loud way in the door, Maphy skipped her way into the manor, belting out her cute little voice like a full marching parade. Putting on her best 'I'mma widdle girl, wuv me' look, she hopped into the center of the only occupied room she could find and stuck her hands into the air. "I'mma here!"

There were a total of three people in the room, as far as she could tell. It was impossible to tell what the first two were thinking, but Maphy was glad that the other blond in the room clapped his hands enthusiastically at her performance, though as far as words went offered only a wry smile. People being an immediate dud, and the silence in the room palpable, Maphy shrugged her cute little shoulders and sat in the middle of the floor, crossing her legs and mumbling, for effect "criss-cross applesauce" when she did so. 'He' was still nowhere to be seen. But that was okay. She'd wait as long as she needed to. Or at least for five minutes. Whichever came first!
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PostSubject: Re: The Golden Heart   Mon 12 Sep - 16:59

Her pilgrimage to the rendezvous had, appropriately, begun as every other exodus in her life had. Packing everything she possessed and cherished into one over-large hiking backpack, tightening the laces on her running shoes, and squaring her shoulders, she had uprooted herself from one community after another. Alternating between hitchhiking and sprinting for miles on end until the passing countryside appeared to be nothing more than a monotonous blur, Ari had had plenty of opportunity wonder. Why now? After five years of wondering whether she’d ever see him again, Ari had nearly given up that hope. Yes, it still was a hope. It was his old charm, his old sweetness that she missed most of all. Because since him, she had not allowed anyone else to step into that role. She’d been alone. It had left her bitter, as he’d predicted. It had left her forever guarded, as he’d known it would. But as much as she’d wanted to believe, she knew that he wasn’t inviting her back under his wing. He was demanding payment.

So when Ari stepped cautiously into the appointed room, she was had to confess herself slightly disappointed that it was not empty and that he was not there. Instead, there was a young man, tall and dark-haired. A slight blush of self-consciousness brushed her cheeks as she noted the formalwear he sported—a pressed white dress shirt and slacks—and then looked down to her own sweat and travel-stained Tee and running shorts. Either he’d wanted to make an impression or she hadn’t gotten the formalwear memo…. Curtains of dark brown hair framed either side of his face, and his eyes glittered, beetle black as they darted away from her with haste.

Coughing to dispel the awkward silence, Ari strode with purposeful steps over to the polished mahogany table against which the man was leaning, pulling her hair binder out of her tomato red hair as she went and pulling the loose strands back into the ponytail. Eyes falling to the game board set out, Ari examined it intently for a moment before she’d gathered the courage to turn to the young man. “So are you… ? He said there would be others.”

A short nod.

“Right…” His silence becoming oppressive, Ari cast about for another question—preferably one that would demand a verbal answer. “And… what’s this?” She jerked her head to the game board.

“I can’t be certain… he set it there, though, I’m sure,” the man said, and Ari looked up in surprise. He spoke with a light accent, but one which was not readily discernable. There was a softness in his voice and a deliberateness that suggested a foreign pull on the words. He crossed to the opposite side of the table, the better to examine the board as he’d been doing when she’d entered, and indicated the stone pieces lined up at the board’s edge that she had not before noticed. “Four tokens. And they’re… well…”

Ari gasped as she noticed that the first game piece in the stolid row of stone men looked… no, was a miniature replica of herself. She examined it and each of the others wordlessly until the man again drew her attention, holding up a manila envelop.

“And there’s this as well. From… him, I believe. Though we should wait for the others.”

Lips pressed tightly together, Ari only nodded, crossing her arms tightly across her chest in a rather defensive manner.

Looking rather uncomfortable himself, the young man opened his mouth again as if to speak, though it took him a moment to force the words out. “I’m James. James Miner.” He proffered his hand, and Ari grasped it briefly, more for the sake of politeness than a want to make his acquaintance.

“Ari Little.”

James nodded, and looked on the verge of speaking again when the sound of footsteps came echoing down the corridor. Both turned in time to see the third guest enter, a spring of boldness in his steps. He seemed content to follow their lead in silence, though, and Ari found herself almost praying that James would not break the silence again until the forth and final member of their strange gathering had arrived, for he looked about to do so several times.

The long minutes stretched out in silence, though once or twice Ari could swear she’d heard the soft chime of simpering laughter. At last, the sound of girlish humming floated toward them, long preceding the owner of the small voice, and when the forth member of their party finally entered the game room with a flourish and a wave, the second man responded with hearty applause, which James quickly imitated.

As their applause died out, Ari found herself with only one word on her mind. Awkward.
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PostSubject: Re: The Golden Heart   Fri 16 Sep - 19:05

Was this what the summoners of the undead were supposed to look like? Eisel wasn't seeing it nearly as much as he had expected. The gentleman in the suit, perhaps. He looked stuffy enough for something that arcane, though from Eisel's experience the actual spark of life was never a pretty enough process to wear a suit for. The human body carried many... fluids, which it tended to release upon times of excitement. Say, the moment of death. Or, the moment of un-death. Not to mention embalming fluid. A proper suit would be ruined by the stuff; formaldehyde had a terrible odor and with all the hubbub and fuss made about funerals these days, bodies were pumped chock full of it. A man could look younger and more flushed dead than he had for years of actual life. And they always put the corpse in a suit. Very stylish.

But though he looked like a paranoid wreck, the suited gentleman's skin was just colored enough to keep him among the living. Had he been gray, or smelled of preservative, or if the girl had for that matter, then Eisel would not have been surprised if they themselves were not corpses too. They hadn't spoken since he'd arrived after all, and it took very little effort to stand around and look alive. But their fourth guest rather quickly dispelled that thought- and threw his idea of the standard necromancer for a loop at that. She couldn't have been more than six (Eisel had an eye for ages), and when she performed her entrance he was drawn back immediately to the cheesy pageants he had performed in elementary school. It... wasn't the best rendition of that particular song he'd heard, but he felt almost compelled to clap, and he did so with the full enthusiasm he would give any theatrical piece worth it's cost in props.

When the other man clapped too, Eisel was at last motivated enough to speak himself, the little girl having shattered whatever ice there had been into tiny little pieces.

"Well, then, if we're all going to be here a while." Eisel placed one hand in front of his chest and the other behind him, like a proper butler (Heinaggan had been full of social insights), giving a small bow. "Eisel Marmott, at your service." Rising he gestured around at the room. "Did we all get letters, or am I just late to the weekly party?"

"I gotsa letter too," Maphy offered. Figuring that if he was introducing herself she may as well do it, Maphy crossed her arms behind her head and laid back on the floor. "I'm Maphy. I can spell it too." And she could, but Maphy didn't actually go through it for them. They'd have to trust her on that one. "I'm faive yearthold."

That seemed good enough. Maphy didn't bother to put out her last name. While it might not have had any sort of scare factor with it, it *had* been on a few newscasts after she landed in prison, and again when she broke out. Better safe than sorry, even with a sweaty girl, a weird suited guy that looked like a unsocial shut-in, and even the one who had actually introduced himself. He seemed nice enough, but there was a saying about it always being the chatty ones. Not the quiet ones. That was a cliche. In prison, everyone was pretty much quiet when they weren't grunting over weights or, like Lukas, doing something practical like reading a book aloud or talking about fancy politics stuff. But the people that talked all the time? It either meant they were new, and doing it out of nerves... Or they were the kind of nuts that were just waiting for someone to talk back to go crazy.

"Charmed." Eisel offered his hand, and for a moment Maphy stared at it. Not because he had gloves on; that wasn't that weird really. But seeing how big his hand was in comparison to her own made her even more aware of how tiny she was. Besides, five year olds didn't shake hands. Unless they'd spit in the hand first. and Maphy liked her hand spit-free. Besides, now that he actually hand his hand out... She did notice something about him.

"You smell funny," Maphy offered, as nievely as possible. And he did. There was also something vaguely off about the edges of his sleeves, as if they'd been dipped in something a few many too times, so the color was slightly off. She wouldn't have been able to see, or smell it except, y'know, she was the same height as the guy's sleeves. And... Now that she thought about it, that was probably not the only thing she'd be smelling. Being little wasn't such a great idea if she was gonna be stuck at fart level.

"Drat, you're right..." The man surprised her by admitting to it instantly, checking his sleeves with distaste. "I didn't trust the motel shower on the way here. And that place gave all my stuff a weird smell. Apologies."

That didn't seem like the real reason... But then again, she only had sleeves to go on. Maybe they were just wet from washing his hands, or something. He didn't have to be a nutcase serial killer for that. So Maphy just shrugged in her spot on the floor. "S'cool. I don't like thowers much either." Prison showers especially. Yech.

Eisel chuckled, nodding understandingly to her before gesturing to the board in the center of the room. "So, are we playing a game? Looks a bit more complex than Monopoly, doesn't it?"

"Top hat!" Maphy called out from her comfy bit of floor. After a moment, it dawned on her that she didn't know the other two peoples names, and she pointed randomly in their general direction, her arm making little circles. "Oh, yeah. And who're you?"
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PostSubject: Re: The Golden Heart   Sun 25 Sep - 20:42

“Top hat?! I’d say I’m head and heels better than any rotten top hat you’d find in the game box! But am I appreciated? Are we appreciated? Nooooooo. Just another part of the game. Might as well be no more significant than flowered wall paper for all the attention we’re getting.”

The voice of indignation came from the game board. Or, more precisely, from the small stone replica of the self-proclaimed Maphy, which stood last in the line (and shortest) of stone men ranged along the stark gray starting square. The small, hot-tempered figure stood with her toes against the edge of the board, seemingly straining to escape the boundary. What it would do upon attaining such freedom, however, was unclear. In any case, it didn’t seem capable of escaping the starting square yet, much less the game board, for though it seemed to strain to jump free, it was always against invisible bonds.

As soon as the Maphy look alike spoke up, the others joined in, all jockeying to be heard. Ari’s shouted for the game to begin, wishing to be freed from the cramped starting square. Eisel’s was busy sniffing its hands worriedly. And James’ was still and silent. None of this activity seemed to perterb the real Maphy, still sitting comfortably on the floor, however, for after a moment she seemed to realize (pulling off her child-like innocence flawlessly) that she did not yet know the names of the other two. Before either of them could answer, however, Ari’s stone replica spoke up with an impatient ring in her voice. “That’s Ari Little,” she said, pointing almost accusingly. “She’s not pleased to meet you.”

“And he,” James’ piece said, picking up on the heels of its neighbor’s words, “will not introduce himself. But he really is pleased to meet you.” It smiled in a disarming fashion.

Looking a little unnerved at the introductions made for them by their game pieces, James looked over to Ari momentarily before straightening slightly where he stood and looking around at the group. “Ehem…” He seemed uncomfortable with all eyes on him, especially in the wake of the stone man’s accusation. “My name is James Miner, I am pleased to meet each of you, and—“

“James,” Ari cut in tersely, her arms crossed firmly across her chest. “The envelope.”

“Oh… don’t you think we should—“

“No. I think we should read it and get whatever this is started. We’re not here to make friends.”

Looking uncomfortable, James grimaced, and then looked apologetically over to Eisel and Maphy before slitting open the manila envelope he’d been holding. “As you wish.”

Extracting the contents of the envelope, James held it up and skimmed it quickly once, an unreadable, questioning look crossing his face as he did so.

“All right…” he said slowly, glancing up over the paper at them. “This was here when I arrived. I can only assume it is from him, and it reads thus:

My dearest guests! Welcome!

Thank you for coming to this special event I’ve prepared. Just for you.

As you may have noticed, you’ll each be participating in a little game I invented a number of years ago. Please do not think you do not need to take this seriously. It is begun and cannot be reversed. Your participation is mandatory. As incentive, I would like to remind you of the secret you each have been living with for various lengths of time now. Lose the game and I take it back. Only one may win.

Remember:

The golden heart wins the game
And points along the path lay blame
On the deceiving one who only came
To sow deception and redirect your aim
Away from the golden heart that wins the game.

Good luck.

P.S. Do not enter my basement.”

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PostSubject: Re: The Golden Heart   Wed 28 Sep - 16:44

The sound of a voice from the table made Eisel jump- and this was from someone who lived with zombies. That the other three took it so well made him embarassed; after all, he had walked in feeling at the very least prepared, but now he felt like the one student who hadn't known there was a test when they walked into class. The little girl, Maphy, even seemed almost pleased with the development, and was looking at the game pieces with something bordering on awe. If he hadn't had so much time to realize the morbid drama of his powers, Eisel would have found it neat as well. Talking game pieces were a very nice touch. And he hadn't even thought to look at the pieces on it but their resemblances were... Uncanny. 'He' was a bit of an artist, it seemed. And Eisel could appreciate that.

Though now that he thought about it... They really were fascinating. Were those pieces really fully living inanimate objects? Was this what his own powers would lead to? Another, stronger variation of bringing back living tissue? No. Eisel's touch only healed- it couldn't actually give something life or he'd have figured it out by now. So maybe there was some sort of animal corpse within them, and 'He' had some way of animating that, so the piece looked like it was moving! That wouldn't let them talk though. They could have voiceboxes inside too, maybe. Judging by their failed efforts to 'escape' there *was* a possibility they were just tiny robots with area restrictions...

But somehow, Eisel didn't see 'him' as having the massive budget to build such a thing (intellect, on the other hand, was a factor he'd reserve judgement on at the moment). So... He had no answer for the pieces at all. At least not one that made sense. Grrr... Not satisfactory. Eisel was supposed to be a scientist; it was time to form some testable hypotheses. But before that...

"Stop sniffing yourself!" Eisel scolded his minature version. It was true, he was tempted to make the small sneaky check of just how badly he smelled for Maphy to have picked up on it, but that didn't mean it was okay to do so in polite society! Unless, of course, you were a zombie. Eisel knew that the poor things were just trying to find out if something was even vaguely edible before chowing down, and, even it resulted in a few too many pillows being lost (and later... "recovered"), he wasn't going to begrudge them the action.

"Well, you're cuter than a top hat..." Eisel stopped scolding further as Maphy approached her own statue, kneeling beside the table and looking at it as if sorely tempted to pick it up and start playing.

Which Maphy was, but that wasn't for him to know, even if she did notice Eisel eyeing her. A talking mini-her? That was awwwesome! It looked just like her too! 'He' had to have made them. That was talent. Like, awesome talent! She'd already used awesome though. Oh pffft, whatever. It was totally wicked! Even if mini-Maphy did look silly, running up against the end of the square like that. But hey, it fit with what she was going for. There was nothing kids liked better than running around like maniacs. As long as mini-Maphy stuck to that, Maphy was totally down with it.

Though her question hadn't exactly gotten the answers Maphy had wanted. How nice- one of their teammates didn't like the rest of them already, and the other one was a total wimp. Getting bossed around by a playing piece and a girl within like a two minute period? Lame. Maphy actually felt sorry for the guy. He wouldn't have lasted five seconds back in prison. The sweaty girl wouldn't either. Maphy was sure she was supposed to be tough, or something... but the people that went in there and thought they could get by without friends were the first to get walloped. Or worse.

Maphy just didn't like unfriendly people either. But, as a 'faive year old' she didn't say anything. Learning that the letter they were talking about was written by 'Him' was enough to spark her attention anyway- enough that she'd restrain herself and not spit on Ari's shoes while James read.

What Maphy *couldn't* resist, however, was leaning towards her game piece and whispering in her tiny lisp as James started his recitation. "But why couldn't you have been me *in* a top hat!?" Maphy stuck out her bottom lip in a pout. "I'd look awwwthome in a top hat..."

"I... Would also like a tophat, actually." Maphy jumped when a voice whispered beside her, but giggled when she realized it was Eisel, his face overdramatically serious and whispering to his own mini-playing piece. "Can I get one of those fancy ones? With the leaf on the brim?"

"My dearest guests! Welcome!"

Maphy shifted her attention back to James, at once clinging on his every word. Secret... Her secret? Her power? Maphy liked her gift. She liked it a lot. The threat of losing it surprised her. He had always been so nice before- if he wanted to play a game, it wasn't like she was going to say no without the that looming over her head. But it did provide some motivation. And... Oh jeez. He said only one person could win. That meant...

...That not only did he give them such terrible power, but now he thought he could just take it back at will. Use it as *leverage* of all things! Eisel wasn't here to play games. Especially not one with something as vague as a riddle for its instructions. Unless it was literal... A biological shift in the genetics of the heart? Proper chemicals could make a heart golden, perhaps. Maybe that was the source of their powers then? But that meant... If he could figure out how to reproduce that, this game was another story entirely. It was all conjecture, of course. But this was a guess he could actually test!

The basement be darned, at least for the moment. It was the same place Eisel kept his zombies, so of course 'He' wouldn't want those running about causing mischief. But that didn't mean Eisel would hesitate if going there meant he might get to the bottom of this. It would be a calculated risk. Not that he'd face it now. For now, there was only one thing to do, in fact.

"Well then." Eisel eyed his fellow... 'playmates'. "I think we all know what this means." Eisel scanned the board, looking for some way to begin. "Let's play a game, shall we?"
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PostSubject: Re: The Golden Heart   Sat 1 Oct - 23:17

James’ eyes remained fixed upon the letter long after he’d finished reading it. Eisel’s words did not seem to reach him as he carefully folded the letter and replaced it in the envelope, contemplating the meaning of the rhyme as much as he hoped the others were. Well… James’ eyes flitted down to Maphy. The first letter he had received and now this one suggested that ‘he’ had met and forged powerful relationships with each of those gathered. And he had granted each of them a boon. For James, it had been the peace of mind and later the horrible nightmare that he would never die. But the others…? Surely a little girl the likes of Maphy did not fear death? Then again, what troubles did such a small, innocent creature as her have that would call ‘him’ to her? It was not hard to see that Ari hid a fragile weakness beneath her abrasive exterior—something that had called ‘him’ to her. And Eisel… like Maphy, he was more veiled. Never mind what it was each of them possessed… after this, only one would walk away with his gift intact.

Coldness swept through James at the very thought. For how long had he loathed the gift? And how long since he’d sworn he would shake it if he could? And now, given the opportunity, James was inwardly horrified at the cruel, cruel thought. How could he now do anything but fight for his very life? All he could do for the others would be to hope that they did not stand to lose quite so much.

“Right, then. How do we start?” Ari seemed to be addressing the game pieces. Though he was now growing accustomed to the idea of the stone men walking around and talking, it still struck James as slightly surreal when Ari’s piece stepped forward (in an authoritative bordering on bossy fashion, he thought) and pointed to a pair of dice that had most certainly not been resting on the table a moment before.

“Obviously, you roll the dice. We’re first.”

This generated a round of grumbles from the other game pieces. Maphy’s even aimed a stubby-legged kick at Ari’s, though being separated from her by the other two, she ended up achieving nothing more than catching James’ in the shins. It was simply unbelievable, how much noise the little stone men could make. James stood transfixed, watching as Eisel’s man roughly pulled his and Maphy’s apart, all the while with Ari’s shouting for Ari to “roll the damn dice” in the background.

When order was finally restored, Ari held the dice in one hand, her face set almost defiantly. But it was clear to James that she was no less apprehensive than he was at the thought of losing whatever she had been gifted with.

“Don’t do it,” he said, without quite realizing that he had decided to speak.

She looked up, hand held over the board.

“We don’t need to play by his rules. This is only the beginning,” he continued, waving a hand at the game board and talking pieces. “Who knows what else is to come?”

“We don’t know what he’ll do if we don’t,” she answered levelly.

Instinctively, James reached out to stop her, his hand closing over hers the moment she released the dice. Both watched as they fell to the table and tumbled over and over.

“Ooooh, now you’ve done it! Now you’ve done it!” James’ replica stamped his foot angrily on the board as the first die tumbled to a stop. It was not of the normal sort, covered with small black dots to indicate a number. Rather, each side indicated a different color, and it had landed red-side up.

The small game piece had sunk to its knees at this point, and was holding its head in its hands, nearly shaking. “Look what you’ve done! Look at it… oh, what did I do to deserve this? I don’t want to see it! I don’t even want to see it!”

“See what?” James snapped, suddenly impatient with the seemingly overblown response.

His game piece did not answer, however, instead waving a hand at four neat stacks of cards lined up along the board.

“The red one,” Ari’s piece said, quite unnecessarily. When he reached out to take it, however, all four stone men shrieked yet again, immediately calling out for him to stop. “It’s hers! She must be the one to take it!”

“Fine, fine! Take it,” James said bitterly, gesturing Ari towards the stack.

She did so with little hesitation, looking just as surprised by their reaction as James had been. Drawing out the first red card, Ari took a moment to read it, her brow creasing. “I think… it’s for you,” she said, proffering the card to James after a moment.

“They said it was yours,” he grumbled, taking the card. It was old and worn looking, like that of a well-used deck of cards. Completely red but for the stripe of black running around the edges, it seemed unlikely that it had been meant for any but him, for his initials adorned the top. It read thus:

J.M.
This once shall I pardon
Your indiscretion;
Your crime once only
Will I forgive.
Beware lest you again fall into temptation
And meddle in matters not wholly your own.
This one mercy granted,
Your grace is expired.
Step not again out of line.

“Well…” Carefully folding the card in two, James slipped it into his pocket, feigning nonchalance. “I believe the turn is yours now,” he said, turning to Eisel.
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PostSubject: Re: The Golden Heart   Sun 2 Oct - 13:17

Was... that it? Maphy didn't know what exactly she had been expecting, but when the result of James' panicking and the game piece's general crazyness was just a little red card, she had to admit she was dissapointed. She had hoped, no some weird level, for something exciting to come out of the board game. Like in that movie where everytime they drew a card the house turned into a jungle... Or that other, crappy movie where it turned into a spaceship! Or that one episode of that show... or was it the other, where everyone became reeeeaaally tiny and got stuck playing the game as the pieces themselves.

The prison, needless to say, had a bunch of movie nights. Probably coming from the idea that if the angry, fight-seeking criminals were busy watching a childrens movie, they wouldn't be thinking about beating eachother up. In reality, it meant the lights in a room were off, and several people always had bloody noses by the end of the picture, even if it was that one where the dancing elephant that talked about finding his mom or something. Come to think of it, those movie nights seemed more dangerous than this game did currently. Even if the stakes now were a lot more personal. And the problem wasn't one that could be solved with fists alone.

Not that her fists right now could accomplish much right now anyway. Being faive years old did have its disadvantages. But... but that didn't mean she wanted to lose her ability to do it either! That had to be what the letter was talking about. Her power had given her... well, power. Before it, no matter how strong she was, Maphy had always felt weak, and helpless. No matter what she did, she was always trapped. In a prison, in a cell- sometimes, in her own body. And... with Dorian. That, most of all. But her power had let her break free. She couldn't lose it. Maphy didn't want to compete with anyone, but if those were the stakes, she wasn't going to just sit around and lose either.

...Of course, they were never going to figure out what 'winning' even meant if everyone just hid their cards right after getting them. There was no telling *what* James had on his, but Maphy was more than happy to shoot him a pouting face when he tried to stow it away. She wanted to know what they were getting into, and even if she had to do it with a lisp, she wasn't going to let him slide by *that* easily.

"Well, that doesn't seem very fair." Eisel's voice beat Maphy to the punch, the blond man stepping towards James as if to accuse him, but instead moving past him to lean on the table holding the mysterious cards and board. "Sending me out to the front when only half of us have the intel.
A fine speech about not doing things his way doesn't hold much weight if you cave in the first time things don't go your way."

In fact, Eisel was dissapointed that James' resistance had died out so quickly. 'He' was already turning them against eachother- it started with keeping secrets, and ended with them all scrambling like squirrels over a stray nut. It would have been nice if someone besides himself were willing to be the stand-out and take the risks when it came to opposing 'him', but if Eisel had to...

That said, the game wasn't nearly as awe-inspiring as it could have been thus far. In fact, it was almost normal, considering the strange circumstances around it. Eisel was sure it wouldn't stay that way. But if things moved as quickly as they had, even *with* resistance, the game might not take any time at all. Eisel wasn't in a hurry, per se... But he was a very time concious man. And he knew that Kiele was going to have to get some attention and eat eventually.

Eisel had learned soon enough that the zombies didn't really care much what they ate, as long as it was organic. They hungered constantly, but while he was sure on some level they might have wanted brains, they were perfectly subdued with low grade meat and raisin bran, both of which were easily and cheaply available at his local market, and fulfilled whatever base needs they had. Technically, they didn't even need something as digestible as that, but some sort of decent food in their diet made... cleanup, much easier. That alone made it worth the funds required for real chow. He even cooked their meat, if only lightly. That was just a precaution though. He had never seen one of his zombies get so much as a common cold, and he suspected on some level that his power was continuing to work within them, keeping them as fit and healthy as walking corpses could be.

But no matter how effficiently they ran, it didn't mean that Eisel could become lax with his treatment of them. Esepecially Kiele. He didn't like seeing the girl in any form of distress, and the longer zombies went without a meal the more ornery they got. So, though his eyes never gave up on James, Eisel did pick up the dice himself.

"But I won't hold up the *rest* of us. Objections?" Eisel looked to the pieces, but while Maphy's did take swipe at James' and start another small scuffling between the two, the protests that went along with James' interference weren't present.

"Well then. Blow on them for me, would you?" With a sly smile, Eisel held the dice out to Maphy, falling back on the old gamblers tradition of having a lady blow on the dice for luck before rolling them. The little girl gave him a weird look, but shrugged her little shoulders and blew on the dice in his hand with a sound like someone raspberrying. With an appreciative nod and a grin, Eisel turned and rolled his dice across the table, but turned away before the results could come up, and looked out and up into an imaginary distance (anything of note being blocked by a ceiling) extending a palm towards the dice as if to distance himself from them.

"Alas! What dire chromatic fate waits me?"
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PostSubject: Re: The Golden Heart   Sun 16 Oct - 16:49

“We’re all in this for ourselves,” Ari said stiffly, standing with her arms crossed as she glared across the table at James. “That much he has already made clear. If there is any advantage in taking the first card, he will keep it for himself.” She glared challengingly at James, who simply stared back at her, quiet silent for a moment, a look of confusion on his face.

“But you… read the card?”

“No, how could I?” she returned defensively, tapping out her nerves with one foot. “It’s not even written in English.”

“Yes, of course it…” James pulled the card from his pocket. “… Is.” He blinked. Had he simply read it without thinking? Or had it changed since the last time he’d looked at it? Puzzled, he stared at the card until Ari jerked it out of his hands.

“No, it’s not even written in Latin characters. This is Cyrillic.”

James snatched the card back, looking at it more closely again. She was right. “It wasn’t when I read it,” he muttered, turning the card around to see if anything was written on the back. But there was nothing but a field of red.

“It was when I drew it,” Ari pressed, as if this settled the matter. “So what does it say? Since you apparently understood it.”

Jaw muscles tense, James glanced upward as if seeking patience. When he looked back at the others, he seemed ready to yield. “It was a warning. Against cheating in this game. That is all. Now—“ He gestured Eisel towards his own card. “While I don’t think it wise for us to play by his rules without question… we do need to start somewhere.”

He glanced down to Eisel’s role—blue five—and waited as the young man drew a blue card and read:


E.M.
A simple vanity it was, your search to save
But the pall had fallen; you were too late.
Call out again
Dare you seek her still?
Every life repaired after
Found unjustifiable cost in rest forgotten.
Finally realization comes.
Endowed with power too late to save,
Do you let the dream slip away?
Closeted in the mouth of the wolf is the key of choice.
Bring it forth
And hope for her rekindles.

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PostSubject: Re: The Golden Heart   Sun 16 Oct - 17:50

When he first picked up the card, Eisel opened his mouth to read it aloud. But as the meaning of the first phrase sunk in, his mouth closed into a bitter snarl. The rest only managed to make things worse, to the point that, when he was finished with the short script, he was tempted to toss it out on principle. Somehow he restrained himself however, and instead glared at the words for a moment, wondering just what exactly it was supposed to mean.

Was it some kind of moral lecture? If so, who was he to call Eisel's actions "unjustifiable"? He gave what was long and gone a new purpose. The same thing could be said of people that renovated museums, or restored old manuscripts for a museum. He just happened to work his craft on... Deader, materials. and, from a logical standpoint, it was about time someone did! They were all only sitting there after all. And 'He' couldn't possibly be doing anything different with them. at the game even longer than
eisel, there was no telling how many bodies 'He''d drudged up and repurposed for his own intentions. 'He' was just hypocrite with too much power for his own good, in the end.

Besides... What was the end supposed to mean? Rekindle hope? For his sister? As if he'd want to, after all this time! The idea was dead to him. Truly dead, not the kind he could just poke back to life with a touch. The process was impossible, at least with what he had now. Even if the prize from this game was some sort of amplifier, there was no way 'He' could be sure that Eisel would even put it to that use any more! He was too old, too clever now to think of such things as possible. Besides...

"Is this implying I should go get myself bitten?" Eisel spun the card in his fingers, and, after a moment of consideration, handed it down to the girl already trying to peek over his shoulder. At the very least he could play the charitable character in times like this. Just because the aggressive, sweaty girl decided she wanted to be a loner didn't mean everyone else had to follow suit. Especially considering that was probably exactly what 'He' wanted. "Because I've seen what rabies does to a fellow. Quite the nasty process."

"Bwing it foth." Maphy took the small note eagerly, suprised even after Eisel's talk that he let go of it so easily. It was easy for a girl her age (physically, at least) to seem like a curious little innocent when big things like these were going around, and she had almost gotten a good glimpse from beneath his arm when Eisel actually offered it to her on his own. She was liking him more than the others so far; even if his hands smelled. 'James' was as stiff as a board- he was beginning to remind her of one of those creepy ash-tray holding wooden butlers they sometimes had at conveniance stores, even if his face didn't match up. And Ari had already made it more than clear that she wasn't going to be doing any favors for others. Between the two of them they were adding boatloads of uneccessary tension to the already eerie game; and it wasn't helping anyone.

Maphy raised an eyebrow and, after considering her own options for a second, handed the card to James before returning her thoughts to it's contents. "Sounds like a challenge?"

"Yes, that would make sense. I'm guessing the key it mentions isn't on the board either..." Eisel scanned over the board anyway to be sure. "Which means that this is either some incentive for me to take up animal spirits as a religious practice, or a riddle for something around here that will let me go forward."

"Am I close?" Eisel redirected his attention to his own figure on the board- after all, if he couldn't rely on himself... Or something like that. But as a parting shot, he did eye James suspiciously, having noticed the fact that, whether through magic or personal history, he had managed to understand the strange letters on his card to the point that he mistook them as English. "Or does my question have to be asked in some other obscure foreign tongue. I'm assuming you know the verbal brand of that extra language you read?"
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PostSubject: Re: The Golden Heart   Fri 21 Oct - 21:05

Reaching out, James took the blue card between two outstretched fingers and held it up for examination. Eisel’s card, like his own, was about the size of a regular playing card and had the feel of a well-worn deck. The back boasted a field of diamonds, alternating between shades of smoky grey and opaque blue. His eyes lingered on a miniscule tear at the bottom right edge before he finally turned it over in his hand. There was something hidden in the cards themselves… he was sure of it. Or at least he was sure of the feeling. The words on the card would be for Eisel and Eisel alone. Just as his had been. If not in another language, then the message would be written in code, in riddles, in rhyme. Something would give the words meaning only for Eisel, but the rest of it….

James read the message quickly, and found that he was not half wrong. Only Eisel would know the full import of the card’s meaning through the words. But… James had a shrewd idea he could guess at the other half of it.

Placing the card on the table for Eisel to take back if he wished or Ari to snatch up if curiosity had seized her despite her claims that this was an individual game, James withdrew from the game table a few steps, receding into his thoughts. A simple vanity it was, your search to save/ But the pall had fallen… Was it really as straightforward as it seemed? James’ eyes traveled upward, resting on Eisel’s young face. He was only slightly older than James himself appeared to be. And unless his looks were as deceptive as James’ own were… he yet retained a youth that should never yet have seen up close the tragedy of death. Your search to save… Was it guilt he felt? And as for the fifth line… Every life repaired… James frowned. Did he really intend to give away their secrets so easily?

"… which means that this is either some incentive for me to take up animal spirits as a religious practice, or a riddle for something around here that will let me go forward. Am I close?"

James looked down to the stone men, all of them still grouped uncomfortably on the starting square, as they began shuffling around nervously.

“I don’t think they’re meant to help us,” he muttered. “Or can you…?”

Both his token and Eisel’s immediately shook their heads. “Warn, admonish… berate.”

“Yes, the contract clearly said we could berate the living daylights out of you.”

“He had to give us some incentive to play…”

Eisel cut off his stone man mid-sentence, his eyes on James now. “Or does my question have to be asked in some other obscure foreign tongue. I'm assuming you know the verbal brand of that extra language you read?"

Wetting his lips, James looked around the room once, only to find that all eyes were on him now. A prickle of irritation running through him, he focused on Eisel, giving him a pointed look. “You might try a dead language. I’m sure he’s fluent in all of them.” His message could not have been clearer. If Eisel wished to dig into his secrets, he would retaliate. And James wasn’t sure either of them would like the outcome if it came to that.
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PostSubject: Re: The Golden Heart   Sun 23 Oct - 20:16

Is that how they were going to play this then? Eisel eyed James unflinchingly, more than tempted, if this were to turn into a battle of wits, to tear the badly suited geneltman apart. But he beat down his antagonistic thoughts as quickly as they could rise. This was exactly what "He" wanted. He was doing well... Socially, at least. He hadn't come here to make anyone hate him, except, perhaps their mysterious host, and as sure as he was that he could come out on top, Eisel also knew that no one would want to be allies with someone who was either showoffish or short-tempered. And help in this place already seemed like it would be hard to come by. From what the little stone figures had said, even his own piece existed only to set him back, and the stakes meant that everyone would, in all likelihood, be determined to make themselves the victor. It was a plan of divide and conquer, and Eisel didn't like it one bit.

So, grudgingly, Eisel forced himself into a surrendering shrug, and moved on. He had a challenge to complete after all, and even if the card hadn't mentioned a timer, he had his own with Kiele. Now, where would he find something like a wolf? Wolf could be a metaphor for a great number of things. It was a canine; that could be a room number, nine, or a room letter K. A wolf was a pack animal, so he could be meant to search a pack. Something to do with the moon? A time when the moon was up, such as midnight? A clock, then? But that seemed... Eisel frowned. He was overthinking this. He had to be. Besides, the only clock in the room wasn't a Cuckoo-clock, so there was no place remotely like a mouth for a key to be 'closeted' in.

...Oh for crying out... Was the key just in a closet? That would make things infinitely easier.

"Does this juth mean the wof heads in the hallway?" Maphy suddenly interjected, and Eisel resisted the urge to smack his head out of not seeing it instantly.

"Well, that *would* make things easy..." Eisel offered, taking the obvious revelation in stride. "You see that ladies and gentlemen? *That* is perception." With a tip of an imaginary hat, Eisel nodded at Maphy and stepped towards the hallway. "Merci, madamoiselle."

"Enchantur," Maphy replied, raising an eyebrow and fussing over the word that she had actually heard use back, her mistake for once from her actual confusion over pronunciation than her fake lisp. Eisel didn't seem to mind however, and drifted off into the hallway anyway...

Where he discovered that even something as obvious as a wolf's head would not be so easy to find. The hallway was covered in an entire row of grisly trophies... That, in fact, Eisel did not remember being there when he entered. That seemed far-fetched, even for this bizarre game; entire hallways of fur and mounted animal heads did not just appear out of nowhere. But some nagging feeling told him that he was not wrong in his beleif that, somehow, it had.

It wasn't hard to pick out a wolf's head amongst the buffalo, deer... There was even a badger, wasn't there? But it also wasn't hard to pick out another wolf's head. And another. Eisel's eyes narrowed. Had "He" just gone out and slaughtered an entire pack? Bringing something back to life was one thing, but, despite his arts, Eisel was not a fan of hunting. Killing for sport... He had been forced to put down enough of his own works to know that it wasn't easy to take the life of even something that was intended to be dead. The idea of doing it without even a scientific purpose (which he could respect) was even stranger a concept to Eisel than the entire game they were all caught up in.

But at least the challenge was now simple. Passing by a glaring buffalo, and a frowning fox, Eisel approached the first of the wolven head in the hallway, a pale brown female, if his biological studies told him anything. He couldn't see much more than some caked dust, but it wasn't enough that the idea of some sort of key being inside could be so easily dismissed. Sighing, Eisel pulled up his sleeve (no use to stink them up further), and reached inside the wolf's mouth...

Then cried out in pain as the head ravenously bit into his hand, the inanimate fixture sudden a snarling, growling beast. Tearing his hand away, Eisel stumbled back and felt his head collide with the buffalo behind himself, which let out a loud "MOOOOOOOOOOOO!"

The pain was already ebbing (thank heavens his gloves were already made to lessen the effects of biting from his usual crowd of chompers), but the wolf's head, which with a dull horror Eisel realized his powers must have activated, was still thrashing about, stuck in its place. Visions shot through his head; a pack, running through the forest as the tender rear of a buck galloped uselessly away. The female could see another, grey wolf, and another with a scar just below its jaw... It occured to Eisel that these really were the same wolves around him, not the individual trophies of many brave hunts but the incident of a single, mass slaughter. Growling, Eisel managed to scramble to his feet as the memories sped themselves through his head, having only been half-aware that he had fallen in the first place.

"Well..." Eisel grumbled as Maphy's shocked face greeted him, just now coming out of the living room. "Maybe this won't be so easy after all. Heh."
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PostSubject: Re: The Golden Heart   Sun 23 Oct - 22:28

James held Eisel’s gaze evenly, not willing to back down so long as the challenge remained in Eisel’s eyes. Information of any kind, if in the wrong hands, could be detrimental to James’ own interests in the game. Who knew what would unravel his secret? If the insight of his native language was enough to do it… but that was ridiculous. None of them would gather anything from his card except that he spoke more languages than they did. Even so… Eisel was a smart one. And for some reason unknown, James felt it safest to keep his secrets as closely guarded as possible. If Eisel wanted to give away clues to whatever secrets he held, that was fine by James. But he showed weakness in doing so. Even if he hadn’t expected the little girl to be able to read his card.

At length, Eisel turned away, evidently pondering the meaning of his card. It was Maphy, however, who suggested the first tangible possibility. The mounted heads in the main hallway. Of course.

Following Maphy and Eisel out into the hallway, James lifted his eyes to the game mounted on the walls. Bucks, foxes, wolves, badgers, and even a few ducks and geese. It wasn’t difficult to pick out the wolves, though some of them were high enough up along the walls to be out of reach without fetching a ladder or stool. But… it wouldn’t be as easy as that, would it? Closer inspection of the wolf heads nearer to eye level told James that it wouldn’t necessarily be a pleasant task. The jaws of each wolf were set in a tight, stiff snarl, teeth bared. Even if they were able to see the glint of a key in the right wolf’s mouth, they would have to pry it open by force and hear the sickening crack of the breaking jawbone. Reaching up, he fingered the wolf’s snout, prodding at the stiff, and unyielding form of the jaw. If the key was held in the jaw of this one, there would be no way to tell but to crack it open.

Wondering whether he should do just that or allow Eisel to do it himself (for he did not know if such help in the search would be counted as further cheating), James glanced back to Eisel just in time to see the wolf he’d been examining snap into life and immediately chomp down on his extended hand. Reeling backwards, Eisel slammed into the head of an enormous buffalo, which also sprang to life, exactly as the wolf had. It immediately began tossing its head back and forth, bellowing and bleeting, and making such a racket that the wolf’s snarls were nearly drowned out. Fortunately, though, it remained firmly fixed to the wall.

Recovering from shock, James came back to himself in time to offer Eisel a hand in straightening up. “Are you all right?” he asked, glancing down to the other man’s fortunately gloved hand. It didn’t look as though the wolf’s sharp teeth had penetrated the strong, protective gloves Eisel just happened to be wearing….

“They don’t seem to spring into life for me,” he continued, keeping his voice just light enough so as not to seem to imply anything. He shrugged. “Could be the effects of your card…. Allow me.” His brow arched upward as he looked Eisel in the eyes, silently conveying the simple offering of a truce.
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PostSubject: Re: The Golden Heart   Mon 24 Oct - 19:13

Didn't come to life for...?

Wait, did that mean they couldn't bring them to life? Eisel was suddenly much more concerned with his companions than the bleating buffalo or snarling wolf. Sure, it was one thing to think that they simply couldn't bring back these particular heads back to life... But somehow, James' tone didn't imply that. No, it sounded like James was saying he couldn't ressurect the dead at *all*. And that, both literally and metaphorically, was a game changer. It had been nagging him how none of the others wore gloves; Maphy had even commented that he smelled funny, but someone operating with their bare hands on corpses would smell infinitely worse. And, for that matter, have the bites to show for it.

But 'He' hadn't said anything about necromancy... not in any of his letters. It was always 'secret' or some other broad category; if everyone shared the same trait, why wouldn't he bring it up at least once? It wasn't as if anyone intercepting the notes would have beleived it anyway. Even with all of that aside, Eisel had managed to bring the two heads he had back to life without even trying. Normally he had complete control over when he fixed someone (or something) up, but this time it had happened automatically. While that actually might have meant they were custom tailored to by 'Him' to only react to Eisel, or, in fact, being activated by "He" himself whenever Eisel tried them, the idea of someone else with his gift trying at the test and failing seemed absurd. Even a stray speck of dust could be revived, as useless and disgusting as that always turned out to be (it was never fun to find out what someone had been doing as dead skin came peeling and dropping from their body; even if it was a pretty girl. Something about the shedding bits of flesh for *some reason* made the memories lose their appeal).

There was one conclusion he could reach: that there was a very real possibility no one in the mansion with him was a necromancer. With that in mind, he would have to tread more carefully than ever.

"I'd take you up on that..." Eisel began. "But there's no gurantee that if you check... The key will be there at all. If that makes sense." Playing off the idea that the card now had something to do with it, Eisel waved at the other heads. "There are clearly strange forces at work here. If these heads can come alive, what's to stop one from swallowing the key if someone besides me tries to take it? And, further..."

At this point, Eisel trailed off, looking back into the living room as a frown slowly grew on his face. The memory of the red card was still vivid in his head. "There's no telling if 'He' might consider that cheating."

"MOOOOOOOOOOOOOO," The buffalo replied.

"That's... kinda getting annoying." Maphy frowned, looking around to see if anyone else shared her opinion. And Eisel, most definitely did.

"Agreed. I've a plan, I think, to work this out without losing any digits. But before anything..." Eisel turned and strode from the hallway. Maphy was tempted to follow, but he was back before she had the chance, a long black object grasped in his head that she recognized as a poker from the unused fireplace in the other room. Before she could question his motives, Eisel strode up to the wolf head and brought down the poker with a horrific thud, rending the thing across the skull enough that the head split down the middle.

...But it kept snarling. There was barely a pause. Maphy closed her eyes. She was pretty desensitized to violence, but the sight of the wolf snarling as its face collapsed in two was a bit much even for her.

A second thwunk followed, and the snarling abruptly cut out. Maphy didn't open her eyes, knowing what was next. Sure enough, three long thwumps later, the bellows of the buffalo fell to bleats, and then dissapeared altogether. Finally risking a glance out from between her fingers, Maphy found that it was much less disturbing when the things had stopped moving; and, mercifully, there was no blood around. The heads had been dead way too long for that.

Panting slightly, Eisel straightened himself, wiping the poker against the wall. "I should be able to pry their mouths open with this. But I need to make sure they don't swallow the any key if it's in there." He looked at James. "Could you hold their throats to make sure they don't... Choke up, on the prize?"
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