Starstruck

Cyrus

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His eyes opened, and all he saw was red. The primitive part of his brain was the first to wake up, and it knew that something was wrong, but he couldn't place what. His senses began flooding in: a whistling and rustling, rushing up and all around him. Endless redness in all directions. A whisp of something pale and soft in the distance: the word formed in his mind as though from somewhere far away, "cloud", and close behind, "sky".

He was on his back, staring at the sky, and beneath...

He twisted in midair, and saw the chaos of a city rushing up towards him. He was falling. Was that all right? Was there something wrong? He didn't know anymore. He stared in rapt curiosity, now turned and parallel to the ground that was rushing to meet him. The buildings were rust-colored and dusty. People in the streets pointed, and distantly, somebody shouted.

WHUMP.

He paused for a long moment after he collided with the cracked street. People were screaming and he could hear the sounds of them running toward him. Why? Was something wrong? He pressed his palms into the ground and lifted himself up slowly. Gritty flecks of pebble fell from his forehead and nose, and he slowly sat back on his heels and blinked. A high sound stood out amongst the chaotic din: a tiny clink of glass. He blinked again, and slowly lifted his fingers to the glasses on his nose. The lenses suspended in the dark square frames had cracked magnificently, and half of one had fallen to bounce away into the street. He pressed the pads of his fingers gingerly along the sharp edges of his glasses, but a greater curiosity summoned him.

"Hey, man, are you okay?"

He looked up into the face of a horrified looking teenage boy. A crowd of people had drawn near enough to see, but only the dark skinned youth had been bold enough to come forward.

"I," he started, and stopped at the low and lovely sound of his own voice. "I'm fine, I think." He felt like smiling all of a sudden, and so he did.

"You just fell out of the sky, man! How are you okay? Uh.. does anything hurt? Feel broken? How, how many fingers am I holding up?"

"Four," he smiled wider, and unfolded himself upright to his full, lanky height.

The youth stepped back in alarm, and then again. "Shit," he breathed. The nearby crowd had begun to mutter and wonder aloud as well.

"Where am I?" He asked softly, looking all around himself in wonder.

"Whe-- Ladrillo." The youth responded.

"What planet?"

"Planet? Mesa Roja, what do y--"

"What system?" His voice was amused and he turned to smile at the boy with an excited gleam in his bright eyes.

"System?!" The boy's eyebrows came together in frustrated confusion. "Bro, where are you FROM?"

That was the million dollar question, wasn't it? And with all of the honesty in the world, the man smiled in a fatigued sort of way, and said, "I have no idea."
 
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Cyrus

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Among the crowd gathered were the odd criminal and scoundrel: the was, in fact, Ladrillo. The sprawling outpost was a clustered and expanding tangle of warehouses, trading shacks, underground fighting rings, and bars. This was the sort of place you came for an easy target, like this jabroni, staring at his hands as though he'd never seen them before.

That would be fine, except the freak had fallen from the sky and had nothing to show for it, save broken glasses and a dusty shirt. And, as the sun was setting in its' bloody sky, the man was putting out a slight glow from his purple skin.

No thanks. The next guy can have him.

The man took a staggering step, and then another, and paused to witness this action, too. The crowd watched as he turned his ankle in his boot, observed its' motion, smiled. In time, he silently trudged away from the throng of people, and none dared follow the strange creature that dropped from the sky.

--

I can walk just fine, he pondered as he plodded through the dirty streets. Why was that fine? He couldn't remember. He knew how to walk, talk, he knew the boy was only trying to help, and he knew most of all that he was pleased. He felt as if he had accomplished something. Everything he did here in this strange, dry city felt like an exciting discovery, and in some way it was: the things his eyes roamed over took several long seconds to summon their contextual meaning, and the word that described it: Wall. Window. Street. Alley. Dog. Fire. These concepts took time to return to him. More than the pleasure of newness was another feeling, a deep and tickling ghost of something he longed to remember, because he could taste satisfaction and triumph. What had he done? He couldn't remember.

He walked for a long time, and pressed himself to find that gleaming seed of purpose in his mind. He was close, but searching for comprehension made him feel a little frustrated, and so he turned his attention to his environment.

Ladrillo, the boy had called it. The corners of the streets had an early evening shadow to them, and whisper of a night breeze was winding its way through the day's earlier press of heat. The man did not know what to compare this place to, but he did not feel as though it was a friendly city. Garbage cans and packed dumpsters crouched in the darkened, cramped alleyways behind clay and stone buildings. Long stretches of old laundry line crisscrossed above, and the man passed more than one alley fire, flickering faintly behind the hulking shapes of men who shot him conspiratorial looks as he passed.

Night was falling, and the man had no idea where he was going. His feet did not ache, and he did not feel sore fatigue between his shoulders, and that struck him as vaguely strange: another far-away hint of something he no longer understood. He pressed on through the streets, and the smell of something wonderful carried itself above the reek of neglect and abandon. The concept of somebody cooking flitted past his mind's eye, and he tracked the scent, moving through a winding alley and straight into a clumsy collision with a scrawny but feisty looking man.

"Hey, s-screw you, asshole, give me your money!" The man spat, immediately drawing a knife and brandishing the sharp little instrument toward the tall, purple man.

He looked down at the knife without flinching. "What is this?" He asked with a songlike tilt of friendly curiosity. His foggy reference of experience held only the faintest grasp of this concept.

The skinny thug snarled and jabbed outward threateningly, "You got a death wish, pal?"

"No." The taller man smiled and looked up to meet the other's frantic blue eyes.

"The-then give me your money! Empty your pockets!" The thief was rapidly growing impatient, and his gaze darted all across the alley. He was considering bailing. He could always bail, after all.

"My pockets," the tall man murmured in a dreamy way, as though he just realized he had pockets. He moved his long fingers to the slip of his trousers, and down into his pockets. An array of bizarre objects were plucked forth: a crumpled wad of small papers, a solid rectangle with colorful images stamped upon it, a few round, shiny pieces of--

"Give it! Hurry up, asshole!" The thief looked around and surrendered to the impossible urge to run: he rushed forward and snatched the coins out of the freak's open, purple hand, and took off at a breakneck sprint. The tall man didn't know it, but he was lucky to have encountered one of the least dangerous street rats in Ladrillo. What he did know, was something new: something that descended upon him like a flame warming his bones, something that begged to be understood.

He stared at the rectangle in his hands. It was white, and stamped with tiny black images in neat little lines. A red shape here in the corner, an embossed crest there in another, but most important was the dominant image that demanded half of the space on this little rectangle: the image of a man. Pale skin. Little dark spots on his cheeks. Brown hair tousled back from his broad forehead. A long, bony face with a great big smile. And glasses: dark, square glasses.

The man slowly reached up to his face with his other hand, touched the curve of the shattered lens that still clung there, and thought hard, for a long time.
 
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Elise

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The bleary, red-eyed sun of the Crossroads blinked off the flat horizon of Mesa Roja, allowing the blistering heat of late evening to sizzle off into the cold clutch of the desert night. Inside a long-empty water cistern on top of the old, abandoned Henry house, red eyes blinked on. A single, buckled, platform boot kicked a open the heavy lid of a coffin, shaking the empty water tank with a sharp bang. Dust fell and spiders scattered back to their corners as Elise stretched like a lithe cat. She smacked her mouth, which was hollow with accursed dryness. Black fingernails felt their way back along the left, shave side of her head as she contemplated her itinerary for the evening.

As she pulled on her fingerless gloves, she acknowledged her hunger and her thirst. Really, when you were a vampire, they were basically the same thing. As Elise methodically buttoned each one of the polished, silver skulls on her combination blouse and tank-top, she thought about where she was in her magical studies. Not far enough. Never far enough. Finally, the young vampire grabbed a clutch purse full of magical totems, knives, pins, and black makeup. She sat down next to a small, empty bucket that was covered with damp rags. Elise gently tapped the edge of it, causing three curious tentacles and a single, bulbous eye to poke up from the damp detritus.

You gonna stay here tonight? Elise asked the cephalopod in perfect sign language. The tiny arms wriggled and flashed a series of patterns in response. Greenstripes, her familiar terratopus, indicated that he was content to sit in his grimy little den and digest yesterday's meal of discarded viscera and rodents from Elise's experimentation. She nodded, but handed Greenstripes her lipstick and compact all the same, and the little terrestrial octopus dabbed and prodded her face with the black pigments until she was appropriately ghoulish. When one cannot rely on mirrors, or even reflective magic, for grooming purposes, it was really nice to have such a good friend around at all times.

As she finished getting herself ready for the night, Elise cast a half-bored glance over at yesterday's meal and experiment. Several jugs of drained blood sat next to a vivisected and ritually brutalized corpse. Some junky drifter from the outskirts of town. Not to be missed, but she would have to ditch the cadaver at some poit. Nothing a high rock and some buzzards couldn't fix, but that was a chore for another night. No, tonight Elise's mind was on fire with her recent discoveries. She had just perfected a new spell, and had acquired an extremely large book to write her discoveries in. Finding hard-back, black leather bound book with blank pages had cost her a pretty penny in the intellectually deficient world of Mesa Roja, but she had scored big with some local contacts and a recent trade caravan.

Now it was time to put it into practice.

The violet gloam of early evening was practically daylight compared to the tenebrous depths of the water tank, but it didn't matter to Elise's heightened senses. She reveled in the silhouette she must strike; a cloaked, crouching figure cast against a dark blue canvas. She hugged her book tightly and crept down the side of the building, eager to set her new Ephemeris trap for the first clueless patsy who wanted to dawdle into it. Granted...granted they wouldn't be harmed, but then again, a cat doesn't always kill their prey when they first catch it, right?

Right.
 

Elise

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As the night grew darker, Elise crunched down empty, half-lit streets, reviewing the ritual in her head. It brewed an uncomfortable bolus of excitment in her unbreathing chest. She had long grasped the basics of magic theory and arcana, insofar as she could perform a few basic party tricks and sling some basic 'defensive' spells, but the Ephemeris curse was her first real foray into proper wizardry.

Her enthusiasm demanded the spell be used tonight, or else she might actually be tempted to bite somebody for once. Not really. But it would feel nice to kill someone in a way that wasn't efficiently clinical.

Elise froze in her tracks, backed behind a small stack of rubbish bundles. At the far end of this half-road she could see a pair of figures bickering. It looked like any other common mugging in Ladrillo, but it appeared as if one of the participants was an amethyst. Elise began scrawling the magical circle in the dust, casting frantic glances at the two scabs. Just before the confrontation ended, heralded by the jingle of coins, Elise waved her hands over the Ephemeris and uttered the incantation.

The dirty, orange lights of the alleyway cast dense shadows for her cloaked form to meld with as she swiftly ducked behind the ragged heap of refuse.

Much to Elise's disdain, it appeared the normal-skinned, mundane street rat was the one dashing in her direction. She'd harvested a hundred of his kind from towns all over Mesa Roja in her years of solitude. He would make a poor test subject, and the young vampire didn't have time for scrubs.

"Sahj Itary Ohs!" she hissed. A gleaming soear of crackling orange crystal wove itself together above her head and snapped through the air towards the fleeing mugger. She smiled gleefully as she caught his wide-eyed panic before the arcane lance nailed him bodily into the stucco wall opposite her hiding place. Served the toothless codger right. Probably. It was fair to assume that any Ladrillo nightlife had what was coming to them.

As his last few heartbeats strained into the void, Elise stalked forward like a panther. The steaming crystal barb dissipated with a small fizzle, causing the mugger's body to lurch forwards. Elise caught his chin in a single, pale hand and turned his head this way and that, not bothering to make eye contact as his eyes fluttered shut. She dismissed the idea of feeding from his wound, and flung the new corpse behind her into the rubbish.

She was slightly self-conscious of her brutality, on some level. Part of her would always be that doe-eyed little deaf girl that had been raised to be patient and kind. Elise wondered if her disregard for life was some other aspect of the vampiric curse, or if it was just the result of a girl too jaded to care anymore. Probably both. But what had never diminished was her thirst for answers and power. To that end, it pleased her that the gem had stayed put during this sequence of violent extermination. Her black lips parted into a grim smile as she stormed towards the purple warrior, eager to examine one of these bizarre creatures first-hand. She had only heard about them anecdotally, and seeing one this deep in a scavenger town was a rare opportunity. Luring it into the Ephemeris was, therefore?strictly mandatory.

"Not gonna run, eh? I always did hear your kind liked to throw down." Elise jeered, approaching the softly gleaming creature. He was more svelt than she had been expecting, and his clothing didn't strike her as that of a warrior. She also noticed that he wasn't paying attention at all.

Rude.

"Hey, grape-face! What's y-" Elise stammered as the man looked at her with a dreamy, vacant expression. He was in fact, so damn harmless looking that she almost felt an emotion tangential to pity.

"Oh, hello." the man hummed. His features stretched into a placid smile upon seeing her. Elise didn't like it. People were supposed to get spooky and flighty when they saw her. This wasn't the case and she didn't like it. He wasn't scared at all. Was he just that confident? Elise peered at him with her shrewd intellect.

No. Just a literal damn baby. What the hell.

A silent moment passed, and a dog somewhere barked five times. A rat scratched and fumbled in a rain barrel a few feet away, and the orange sulfur lighting of the alley lamps hummed patiently.

Elise needed to experiment on this man-thing. Badly.

"Are you a gem? Amethyst? The hell are you doing here?" Elise said, trying to maintain her tone of violent authority. The man seemed to chew on these questions thoughtfully, for slightly longer than was reasonable.

"I don't think I am a mineral, no. It's possible. The place we are in is called 'ground'. I know this." the purple guy said, shooting a glance at Elise, as if to secure her affirmation that his statement was valid. The vampire just stared.

"I have a hypothesis." he said abruptly. The happiness and enthisiasm in his voice was upsettingly genuine, and Elise's goth soul was inspired to flee somewhere and smoke a cigarette.

"Okay." she said flatly. The man fumbled around with some junk in his hands before showing some sort of card with a photo on it. Despite her better judgement, Elise approached and glanced at the proffered token.

"I found these items in the pockets of the pants I am wearing. I believe this might indicate they are related to me, right?"

Elise opened her mouth, and screamed noiselessly. What.
 

Cyrus

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He trusted the girl implicitly as he stood there in the alley, hand thrust out, offering the most tantalizing and valuable item he possessed.
Money was far beyond his memory, fame and fortune even further. The thing to eventually be understood about this optimistic specimen was this: though he did not remember specifics, he knew the way things made him feel. In his spine, in his gut, in his fight-or-flight reflex, in the savage and lizard parts of his brain. His body remembered where his memory synapses were blank and nonfunctional for the moment. And yet, he had no context for any of the things he felt. The concept of ‘vampire’ was so far removed from the image of a young lady, albeit terrifically goth, that his innate hardwired instinct delivered upon him nothing but trust, kindness, and a little bit of protectiveness.

After a long moment of disbelief moved through Elise, she raised her hands to her face and massaged the whole damn thing. Temples, sinuses, eye sockets, cheekbones, all the way down to her chin in a dramatic pull of her face that exposed her sneering fangs.

“Are you fucking with me?” She asked flatly.

“Am I—" the tall man processed these implications with his eyebrows together.

"No, never mind, forget I said anything. You’re clearly not." Elise fanned one hand at him and squeezed the bridge of her nose with another and she thought about what to do. Her thoughts turned to Greenstripes, and she wished savagely that her familiar had come with her tonight. His presence gave her comfort, and this creature gave her headaches. She thought harder, and harder, but then she opened her eyes.

"Hey, uh, why don’t you come closer. I can’t, uh, see you well," she stammered an excuse that used to matter to her: being formerly deaf, lamplight was still an uncomfortable place to have a conversation. In reality, the girl had a plan.

The man began walking forward obediently, his fingers still dangling the little plastic card for the girl to take. Elise had to skip backwards a few steps, as she hadn’t expected him to comply so readily, and she shot glances around the heels of her platform boots as she reeled him in, perfectly centered.

They danced a few feet further into the alley, and before long, the man’s boot crossed an invisible threshold, followed by the next, and Elise stopped. A gust of light swarmed up and around the man: silvery-violet, illuminating him from the bottom up. His hair lifted at its roots and settled, and his eyes brightened in curiosity. He looked down at the light swiftly, but just as quickly as it began, the flare faded and the alley continued to exist as a stale, forgettable place, barely lit by low orange lamps.
The man continue to look at his boots, thinking, processing. He slowly lowered his outstretched hand to his side, and glanced up to look into Elise’s eyes. There was something new there, in his trusting and innocent face. He looked serious now, and slowly, he began to speak.

"Magic," he breathed inside wonder, and the corners of his cheeks moved. "I knew magic," he said slowly, and looked back down at his hands, to Elise again.

Elise stood rooted to the spot, and chewed her lip. She had been flooded with information that she didn’t know how to rationalize, and she thought about it for a few moments. Her own face held a newness as well: a look of burgeoning respect. She stuck her hand out, now. "Let me see that."

The man complied, surrendering his lifeline, the little square of plastic.

Elise brought it into the light and squinted at it. "I don’t think I know this language. It looks like ‘Cyrus’, though. Is that your name?’

"Cyrus," he repeated, feeling comfortable with the way the name fit in his mouth. "I think so. "

"Yeah, " Elise affirmed, passing the card back to the tall, purple man. "I like it too. I’m Elise. It’s nice to meet you." Her voice was a little gentler, her mind still firing on all cylinders with what she had gleaned.

Cyrus remembered something else: he took a step forward to take his card, and gripped her whole hand instead, in his great big palm and long fingers. He shook her hand once and clapped his other hand all around their grip. "It’s nice to meet you, too." He rehearsed in a long-forgotten way, and smiled.
 

Elise

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Her book, where was her damn book. Fucking bitch-ass black book. Elise half-mindedly pawed at her various straps, bags, and pockets, looking for the freshly pressed, bound volume she had just purchased. After a moment she clenched her hands and allowed a minor shudder of rage to filter through her body. She must have left it back in her lair. She could feel a flood of self-imposed chastisement creeping into the back of her mind. All the times her instructors and parents had told her that she was too quick to rush. Always rushing out the door half-dressed and never thinking of the consequences. She slapped them back into the dark pits of her psyche with a frustrated snarl and jerk of her head.

"Are you okay, Elise?"

The vampire's smoldering red eyes snapped back to the cosmic oaf standing just a foot away from her. The Ephemeris curse had worked perfectly, and now she could feel his radiant, pulsating soul as easily as breathing in a useless, undead breath. But this Cyrus guy was more than just a glittery, purple schmuck. There were two souls in there; one was in a man, and one was ricocheting around inside his mortal body like a fiery pingpong ball, just itching to explode and burn and shout and learn. It was scary, and not like anything she had ever felt before. Whatever Cyrus was, he was dangerous and harmless at the same time. A scintillating, lanky enigma that provided no immediate answers. He was also still looking at her with concern.

"Uh, yeah man. Also sorry about the..." she said, waving vaguely at the ground, "...the magic. Ladrillo is a dangerous kinda place. Shit keeps me informed on threats and such." she finished, folding her arms.

"Like the man you killed." Cyrus said with a solemn, understanding look. It wasn't possible for Elise to blanche, or for that matter, blush, but she felt her cheeks grow hot all the same. Why though? This guy didn't fucking know her deal. Fuck him.

"Exactly." she said flatly. Her entire night had been derailed. Elise hated that. But here was an arcane find that would have made the entire Nona Board of Arcana piss themselves with excitement. What to do with him though? She was feeling suddenly out of her depth, despite her feeling at the top of her game an hour ago. She glanced back at the collapsed garbage heap where the mugger's corpse had been buried. So he knew but he didn't care? No...he cared. He just trusted that she knew what she was doing. What should she even do with this guy?
 

Elise

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In all her years of arcane study and trudging through the underworld of the Crossroads, Elise had never once been tasked with babysitting any sort of creature, let alone a grown man with a wellspring of cosmic energy inside him. Sure, she took care of Greenstripes well-enough, but a Familiar was savvy! They knew a thing or two, even if it was Elise who called all the shots.

Now, as the vampire stood there staring at the gleaming gentleman, she had no idea what sort of decisions she needed to be thinking about, let alone what the right decision was. She kept checking jer own loss for initiative, trying to tell herself that this guy wasn't worth the effort. Chalk the Ephemeris up to a success and move on with her life, and possibly end his...and yet...she couldn't bring herself to ditch him. Cyrus, as he was now called, brought out the sympathetic, appeasement focused person she had been before the Bite.

Elise rubbed the scars from Jules' fangs. It was a subconscious tic, but she was aware of it all the same, and defiantly crossed her arms.

"Well, Cyrus, guess we'd..." she trailed off, looking him up and down for the fifth time in as many minutes, "...better get your glasses fixed, I guess."

It wasn't said in her usual tone of predatory confidence, but Cyrus smiled in tacit agreement. He removed the cracked frames from his face and turned them over in his hands, peering at them with all the interest of a jeweler.

"I suppose, though, I seem to be able to see adequately without them. I wonder why I have them...?" he happily mused, testing the hinges on the black frames. Elise set her jaw in mild frustration and grabbed Cyrus by yanking on the midriff of his sweater.

"Just shut up before I change my mind. I know a place." she grumbled. Cyrus trotted along behind her stomping, steady pace, and glanced down at the pale, brown hand clutching his clothes.

"I can walk myself, Elise." he said, gently touching her hand to dissuade her grasp. His soft, glowing skin sent a joly through Elise, like touching a hot stove.. She jolted violently away from Cyrus, causing her cape to billow handsomely as she spun around with a sharp hiss. A hiss? Had she really just had a full-blown dracula moment?

The pain was unmistakable though; like getting exposed to the burning sun. She grit her sharpened teeth at Cyrus, who was wearing an expression somewhere between fascination and mortification.

"Can you turn down that gleaming bullshit?" Elise snapped. Cyrus frowned and blinked softly.

"I'm not sure. I will try. It may take some practice-"

"Whatever! Later. Just...don't touch me until you...figure it out." Elise growled. She glanced down at her left hand, which she still clutched tightly. Tiny wisps of acris smoke wafted off of her skin. There was no mistaking it; Cyrus was a walking star.

The pair made their way, now in silence, down the darkening roads of Ladrillo. The town's main stretch consisted of a series of shops and vendors who mostly dealt with traders and caravans. People who lived in town tended to do their shopping down at the bazaars, but this decaying, neon-encrusted lineup of storefronts was what Elise needed. She aggressively approached a store whose porch was littered with debris and scrap, and bore a sign that simply read "Fixer's".

Elise shoved the wooden panel door aside like it owed her money, causing it to slam loudly and the halogen lighting to flicker. The old, gray-haired Skaven man behind the counter jumped straight up and dropped what appeared to be a fairly complicated clockwork gadget. The foul-smelling, mangy rat man turned and glared at Elise as she barged towards him.

"Neh! Shop closing! Come when sun!" he snorted, trying to scrape together the scattered fragments of his work.

"Sign says open, Kit." Elise said flatly, nodding back at the posted board which leaned against the front window. It was indeed turned to say 'Open' to customers on the street. The skaven glanced at the board, then back at Elise. His nose twitched continuously, and his hairless paws worried and tugged at an oily cloth.

"Neh! Closed! Leave! Skitter-leap! Get!" " Kit growled, waving his hands towards the door. Cyrus held up a finger, trying to interject.

"We can come back in the morning, it's not-"

But his soft words were cut off by Elise's sharp retort to the shop-owner.

"Kit Bash, you fucking owe me. You know it." Elise said firmly. She reached out with lightning-fast hand and grabbed the greasy rodent's ear.

"Owowowowowfine!" Kit Bash croaked, slapping her hand away. Cyrus wasn't even surprised when Elise snatched his broken glasses right off of his face.

"Fix 'em." Elise said, placing the spectables on the dusty table. Kit Bash poked his snout at them and sniffed. The Skaven looked at Cyrus and blinked.

"Neh?"

"Fix the glasses." Elise said, her patience constantly wearing to dangerously thin levels. She pointed at them for emphasis. Kit Bash seemed confused.

"That all...?"

"Do it!" Elise shrieked.

"Neh!" Kit Bash snorted. He snatched the frames up and skittered into his back room.

--

Half an hour later, the black-furred ratman shoved Cyrus and Elise back into the night air.

"You things! Never squeak to me again! You go-go!" Kit Bash snarled before slamming the door shut. An abrupt silence fell upon the increasingly cold evening. Cyrus glanced down at his new companion, who did nothing but angrily stare off into the distance.

"Well. Um. Thank you."

"Shush. Are you hungry?" Elise snapped, in an admittedly tired voice.
 

Cyrus

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Neon lights cast angled shapes across cyrus and Elise’s faces as they lurked through the evening streets.

The night was young as far as Elise was concerned, and there was comfort in the nightlife crowd of vagrants and ne’er-do-wells that skulked and glanced their way through Ladrillo’s main stretch. Muffled club beats snarled and purred in a distant cellar, and small, suspicious groups of bodies huddled away from the prying cut of electric lights that splashed across the dirt-packed street. To the outside observer, Cyrus and Elise made a fitting pair as their shapes glimpsed between doorways and barred windows: Cyrus was tall and slender, while Elise was short and plump, and they appeared to be in a uniform of solid black. They looked like they’d been a team for a long time. They looked like they had an agenda.

Cyrus was not consumed with any mission, however. He removed and re-set his glasses several times on their walk in a small, private experiment. He was curious: he remembered what glasses were for, but he didn’t seem to need them. His eyes seemed to adjust to the magnifying lenses when we wore them, and refocused effortlessly when he removed them. To an observer, the man’s eyes never seemed to look the same. Relatively normal, white sclera hugged dark, circular wells of impossibly shifting beauty: at one moment, his irises yielded darkness with a ring of gold, deeply centered and far away, and at other times a moving cloud of kaleidoscopic gas and sparkle furled and arched in the depths of his pupils.

Elise wasn’t thinking about Cyrus’s eyes right now, though. She was storming alongside harshly, nearly two steps to one of Cyrus’s strides, and the little belts on her platform boots clinked and jangled with each stomp in a way that made her feel a little stronger, faced with the agonizing softness that lived in her unbeating heart. The sounds of her boots made her remember a book she liked as a kid, one about cowboys, and she thought fondly that this would be a good scene for a shootout.

She shook her head violently to clear her brain of the hated memory. That soft life was no longer her reality. She was alone, and she had purpose now. Remembering days spent curled up with her parents, dreaming of fantastic futures, was far behind her. Cyrus reminded her of that part of her a little. He reminded her of teachers who looked at her softly, holding secrets in the flat lines of their encouraging smiles. He reminded her that she once had potential. That she use to be a nice girl. A good girl.
Frustration still gripped her when she blindly turned into the narrow doorway of an old building. Dust from the road had scruffed up the bottom half of the slim window that faced the road, but a low warmth emanated from the place. It was mostly a bar, but she knew the place served food, too. Pub food. The place was tight-walled and skinny, but A path stretched back between a few little chairs and tables after the bar. The place was fairly full at this hour, and a few gnarly folks glanced up and back down into their drinks.

From the exterior, the place had no sign or herald of the nature of the establishment, but a great big tubular curl of neon hung on the back wall over the bar, winding a script that said, "The Standard".

They settled into a pair of creaky chairs, and Elise laced her fingers under her chin and turned her smoldering gaze onto Cyrus again.

He met her eyes immediately and smiled.
Ugh.

"So, Cyrus, tell me everything. Where are you from?” She asked, first with a sarcastic little toss of her head, but then her eyebrows furrowed with a thought. "Do you remember?”

“No,” he answered immediately, with sleepy but unflinching eye contact. "I fell out of the sky."

"You—" Elise sat back in her chair, and opened her mouth again, but a shape emerged from the darkness and encroached upon their table. They looked up in time to see a huge chakat: four heavy, furred paws supported a column of a torso that branched upwards from between its front legs. The torso was humanoid with a cat’s head, and the supporting body was like a great panther: covered from toe to ear in dark, sealy grey fur split by a few scars here-And-there. The creature was feminine, wearing only a band across her tightly muscled chest: She was strong, that much was for sure. Her facial structure was entirely feline, and a human expression was hard to pick out around her small blue eyes and bristling whiskers, but if there was emotion in her grizzled muzzle, it was, ‘do not fuck with me,’

The chakat flicked an ear. ‘Drinks?’

Elise knew her. "Hey, Gale. Cyrus, this is Gale," She gestured across the table.

Cyrus tucked his hands between his thighs and leaned forward in a little bow, smiling, of course. "Hello, Gale. I’m Cyrus. It’s Nice-to-Meet-You."

Gale shot a look at Elise and pinned her ears to her skull, then looked at Cyrus again. The sagging corner of her black lip flinched.

"...Drinks?” She repeated, lower. She held a tiny notepad with one heavy hand-paw, and the other pinched a slim pen between its pinkish pads.

"N-nothing for me, thanks. Cyrus." Elise prodded his clothed elbow carefully. The man was utterly swept up in observing Gale, and she didn’t want him to get a face-full of claw.
"Oh! Um.. it’s night time, but I do have a craving. I do want it. I want coffee? May I have coffee please, Gale?” He chatted through his desires, and supplemented a larger smile.

"Sure." She turned away, glad to be far from probably the weirdest guy she’d see tonight, and that was saying something. When she had turned, she glanced over her long flank. "Food?"

"Oh, something sweet, please. A pastry?”

Gale blinked. Of course the freak wanted a pastry in one of the toughest bars in Ladrillo. "I’ll see what I can do," she gruffed, and padded away through the tight establishment. Cyrus found it amusing that the massive creature worked in such a crack in the wall, since it must be quite difficult to maneuver the proximity of body and chair. Elise knew Gale, though: the bartender-meets-bouncer was not claustrophobic, and preferred tight quarters to keep an eye on her business. Elise had seen the chakat use the walls on more than one occasion to race a quick turn down the bar to chase out a fight with a ferocious snarl.

"So," Elise pressed the subject, having not forgotten. "You fell from the sky.”

“I did, yes.” Cyrus turned back in his seat and placed his hands on his knees.

"What did you fall..out of?” Elise tried.

"Nothing, I do not think. I woke up in the sky."
"You woke up in the sky." She repeated. Fine. Okay.

Cyrus moved the conversation, this time. "I remember nothing before opening my eyes, but I know there are memories. I know I have forgotten where I came from, and who I am. I want to know this, Elise. You do magic, and this seems familiar to me. I feel like I knew magic. I wanted..." he held his hands up, slowly, palms up. "I wanted to know more." He gripped his fingers to his palms tightly. Desperately.

"Yeah. I think you did know magic. There’s...definitely something very magical about you." She murmured, chewing on her bottom lip with a fang.

"How about you?” Cyrus asked gently, and Elise frowned.

How about her, indeed.
 

Elise

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"Yeah. Yeah I guess you could say that I've got something magical about me." she murmured. Her mouth was half covered by her hands, due to her compulsive habit of prodding her fangs with her thumbs when she was nervous. Gale was looking good tonight, and she wasn't talking about the chakat's lack of clothing. She really should have had a feed on that extra blood in her lair before leaving. Always rushing into things. Eager. Eyes on the prize, but not on the road to success. Fuck them all...but...what she wouldn't give to just plunge her teeth into Gale's meaty, round flank. It wasn't even about the Thirst at this point; part of keeping a low profile was knowing how her affliction worked. The Curse wanted to be spread. Feeding herself with drained blood kept her up and running, but the itch, the need to get her teeth into warm, living flesh was positively aching. How long had it been since she'd done a proper bite?

She realized she was watching Gale with keen interest as the chakat swaggeted back to their table with a mug of black coffee and what appeared to be a hastily thawed slice of pie. The fuzzy, hulking waitress locked eyes with Elise, and raised her lip in a silent snarl. The vampire was tempted to demure and look away, but in her current mood, she stared back at Gale with a sharp-toothed grin. For a fleeting moment, Elise wished her vampiric powers were more mature, so that she could dominate her prey's will with a glance, but pulled herself back into the present. Elise may have few scruples about magic and its myriad applications, but she would never stoop to the unfettered evil of mind control. Such things were the shame of the wizarding world, and she'd be damned in more ways than one if she allowed her Curse to force her down that path.

Gale half-tossed the coffee and pie onto the table with a loud clank, and Elise responded by sliding a few clumsy Karim Dollar coins across the sticky table at her. A few fell onto the ground, but the chakat was not the sort of person to bend down to scrape change off the floor...at least not in front of customers. Gale trotted away with a furious swish of her tail, and left the to mages to their business.

It occurred to Elise that she hadn't technically answered Cyrus's question, but the lavender man hadn't pressed the matter either. He daintily nursed his coffee and hungrily ate forkfuls of pie, all while keeping his swirling eyes locked on Elise. He was irritatingly patient. She decided to settle for a comfortable half-truth.

"People been saying I've got magic in me as long as I can remember. Lots of pokes and prodding, but no one can put their finger on it. Good enough for a wizard's tuition." Elise said, trying to sound noncommittal. Despite this, Cyrus leaned closer to her, which naturally caused her to lean away.

"Tuition? That means...you are a student? I believe?" he asked with glittering, earnest eyes.

"Not anymore dude, take it easy. Shit." Elise said, bashfully looking off to the side. She idly wondered if her makeup was starting to smudge, and dabbed a finger at the edge of her mouth. Somehow it found its way back to her right fang again. Predatory eyes flicked back to Cyrus, sizing him up. Just the slightest touch had burned her. Did she dare have a taste? She could probably handle it. She was tough.

That wasn't the only thing bothering her though. Elise wasn't some idiot; she had pegged Cyrus as an amnesiac basket case within the first few minutes of talking to him. Despite that, she kept acting surprised when he stumbled across his own inner nature. She knew better; why did she insist on condescension? He was clearly of no active threat, sunshine skin notwithstanding. He just bothered her for reasons she simultaneously knew and refused to think about. Elise sighed sharply. That and the Thirst were becoming to much for her patience.

"Look, Cyrus, I know you just...fell out of the sky and can't remember your name but this wasn't what I had planned for my night. I gotta...go..." she said slowly. When she met his gaze though, she was met with such sincere, if subdued, grief that she instantly changed course.

"...go do some stuff. I can be back here in like, an hour. Okay?" she said in a breathy tone of resignation. Cyrus blinked away his previous, morose expression and gave her a babyish smile. The neon lighting behind the bar, coupled with the false-chrome trimming of The Standard seemed to fill the room with violet radiance, and it kinda made Elise want to fucking puke.

"Okay! I'll be here. With Gale." Cyrus said warmly, gesturing towards the chakat behind the bar. Gale glanced up from polishing a beer glass with slightly horrified, yellow eyes. Despite her hesitance, she offered a tip-worthy, if toothy, smile. Elise did not look at Gale. Not with her brain full of red.

"Great bye." Elise said, clomping out of The Standard with a swish of her cape. The jingled once, and the young woman was gone, leaving Cyrus alone in the long stretch of the bar. He tucked into a few more bites of pie before he felt Gale approaching from behind. The hulkig feline placed a silky, heavy hand on his table and looked hard at him.

"You with her?" Gale said in her baritone, husky growl. Cyrus thought about the question for a moment, glad that the pie gave him time to think.

"Not really, I suppose. I'm fairly sure this pie is very good, by the by." he answered, trying to be honest. The response he got was unanticipated.

"I'd stay away. Some folk came into town today lookin' for her sort. Said there was a she-vamp lurkin' around. She seemed to fit the bill." Gale said in her strong, soft murmuring. Cyrus took a polite sip of coffee.

"I see. Thank you for letting me knowm" he said in a sweet, if not somewhat stiff tone. Gale patted him once on the shoulder, and went back to her post. The purple gentleman rubbed glittering fingers on his chin and pondered...
 
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