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 Post subject: Old Ghosts (( Dvorak! ))
PostPosted: Mon Jul 04, 2011 9:27 am GMT 
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The air shimmered in the light of the sunset, liquid gold and orange spilling and pooling on the horizon as that dark blue ink of the night's sky stole over to leak into the dying sun. Devil's Peak spectated, a black and unforgiving silhouette; a surviving testament to the wildness of the country's beauty behind the pomp that grew within it. Not even the light of a thousand chandeliers could ever truly reveal it. Yet, they still tried.

The guests milled and ebbed in small waves, but the sounds of these were the orchestra of wine glasses and champagne flutes that hummed and laughed. Here and there, small islands would appear... Portly gentlemen laughing into their brandies, slips of girls just emerging into society huddled together for company. The scientists, who merged into one body of guests about the window, and who occasionally ventured out into the world of capitalists around them, hoping to convince them to invest in the cure for cancer or tuberculosis. It was a market, where people tried to sell the lives of others in exact amounts of gold.

Septimus hated it of course. But duty was duty, and grants where never something to refuse out of haughty contempt for this sort of thing. Still. He waited at the door to the ballroom for Jaya, who had promised his swift arrival. Truth be told, he was... Well. He had a degree of anticipation is seeing Jaya-- who still would forever wear Egyptian garb in his mind's eye-- in a dinner jacket. He had taken him to the tailor a few days before, but who knew the results.

Still. Perhaps this evening wouldn't be a total loss. After all, one sometimes meets the most unexpected ghosts from your past.

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 Post subject: Re: Old Ghosts (( Dvorak! ))
PostPosted: Mon Jul 04, 2011 10:09 am GMT 
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. . . . then again, what constituted a "swift arrival" was relative, wasn't it.

At least, that's what Jaya was fervently hoping as he stood in front of the mirror in his room, locked in a desperate battle with his hair. He had been anxious about the intricacies of his outfit. The bow tie, in particular, was not a feature to which he was accustomed. But relentless practice and a good muscle memory had helped him pull through, and although his eye was an admittedly unpracticed one, he judged the knot to be relative even and not overly unsightly.

His hair, on the other hand, was a different matter entirely.

He couldn't remember the last time he had really and truly attempted to slick it back in accordance with the fashions of the day. First he could not for the life of him part it down the center in a straight line. Then his attempts to simply comb it straight back had revealed the existence of a cowlick of which he had not previously been aware. He was on the verge of simply rinsing out the pomade and leaving it, and the relentless tick of the clock was doing nothing to ease his anxiety. Normally he had no qualms about lateness, but he was already aware he'd be facing all kinds of judgment on arrival, and the later he was, the easier it would be to slink in unnoticed. On the other hand, he would hate to see Septimus irritated at him for a tardy arrival, particularly when it seemed there was already so much at stake.

But if good impressions were everything, there was no way he could show up with his hair in disarray.

When he arrived at the door to the ballroom, having ironically lost his way twice in his hurry to arrive, he was breathless and flustered, smoothing down the front and sleeves of his dinner jacket and wishing he had a mirror to ensure that his tie was not askew. His hair, however, was possibly as neat as Septimus had ever seen it, glossy and dark without a single hair out of place. As long as no one happened to touch it, there was no way of knowing that he had given in and doused it with the better part of the bottle.

His eyes sought out Septimus, and he made his way towards the scientist with quick, short steps, an apology already on his lips.

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 Post subject: Re: Old Ghosts (( Dvorak! ))
PostPosted: Mon Jul 04, 2011 10:50 am GMT 
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At the faint sound of running footsteps that echoed down the corridor, Septimus had come to the natural conclusion that Jaya had decided to turn up. Eventually. Snapping his fogwatch shut, he began to turn and muster a critical comment on the hour of his arrival, before managing to silence himself in time. It wasn't Jaya. Some young, criminally attractive fellow had turned the corner looking immaculate and groomed. His hair in particular was impeccable. Biting back a sigh, he began to turn his heel on the polished wood floor... And then noticed that this man was still walking up to him.

Slipping the watch into his breastpocket, he tried to remember exactly what infidelity constituted as if this introduction became a little more-- And then he tried to stop himself doing a double-take as he glimpsed those familiar mismatched eyes, the gentle curve of a mouth. He almost dropped the watch.

Impossible. Utterly-- It can't be. It can't.

For the first time, in the quiet corridor a doorway from the crème of society, Jaya would first see Septimus speechless. It was only after this heart-stopping moment that the scientist realised his jaw was a little slack, and hurriedly cleared his throat, raising a hand to correct his bowtie and try to look somewhat more debonair. But for once he couldn't quite, because a smile-- small and disbelieving and infectious-- kept slipping across his pale lips, and bringing his eyes back to his face, his body.

"Good God, you look..." And lapsed back into a new silence, full of unspoken things simply because this time he had no idea how to say it. He only smiled.

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 Post subject: Re: Old Ghosts (( Dvorak! ))
PostPosted: Mon Jul 04, 2011 11:30 am GMT 
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At the first slight widening of Septimus' eyes, Jaya's face began to contort into something between a half-suppressed grimace, a guilty smile, and a wince. Not only was he terribly late, but apparently his appearance was shabby enough to shock even the most jaded dinner party attendee.

Septimus was, he had judged, a distinctly jaded dinner party attendee.

But then the expression of surprise melted into something gentler, a faint and unrepressed smile, and Jaya exhaled slowly in relief. He was still flustered from his rush here and the added stress of losing his way; his heart rate was up, and his nerves were rather frayed. The simple fact, however, that Septimus was pleased by his appearance was enough to allow him to return to a state of mind vaguely resembling calmness. And of course, the longer his eyes stayed on Septimus' face, the more he began to suspect that he was perhaps more than pleased by Jaya's appearance.

His own mouth curved into a wry, muted smile. He was still bracing himself for the experience to come, but had begun to allow himself the notion that it might not be quite so harrowing as he had initially suspected.

"There is, of course, one matter that remains to be decided. I thought I would wait and ask your opinion." He arched a brow delicately, though the gesture seemed much more emphatic than usual, if only because his hair wasn't currently obscuring the better part of his forehead. "English?" he asked, momentarily affecting the old accent he'd spoken with in Cairo and Siam, somewhat noticeably influenced by Septimus' own, before slipping back into the present accent he had since picked up in St. Louis. ". . . or American?"

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 Post subject: Re: Old Ghosts (( Dvorak! ))
PostPosted: Mon Jul 04, 2011 1:12 pm GMT 
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"... What?" Septimus' tone was somewhat distant, the voice one has after being slowly startled from some other past-time before snapping back to reality. "Oh, the accent. Certainly American; you'll naturally be detested by every Boer otherwise." His expression turned wry. "As an American, you shall only be held in contempt."

He turned towards the door (still a little shell shocked) but paused long enough to glance behind him at Jaya. Despite his naturally frosty personality, the late arrival, and the event in general, that smile... It was lingering. Music fell through the keyholes and spilled onto the warm air. Music, and those bubbling voices and laughs that dipped and fell in a river of noise. It reminded him of home, and Koh Tao, and those awful evenings in Ceylon before India rose up as a black wave. And yet, for once things seemed... Better.

"I'll be at your side." he reminded him casually, in his cutglass voice. "We can dance around our respective nationalities together. It'll be a sport by the end of the evening."

He laid a gloved hand on the doorhandle, threw one last appraising look at Jaya. Then the door opened, and a world of gold, diamonds, business and pleasure enveloped them in a shimmering haze.

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 Post subject: Re: Old Ghosts (( Dvorak! ))
PostPosted: Mon Jul 04, 2011 2:08 pm GMT 
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And as an Egyptian. . . ?

He thought the words, but did not speak them. The thought was fleeting, capricious, even. After all, he was here to act as an accessory to Septimus' cause, to navigate between two foreign extremes. Being an Egyptian who did not look the part left him in an ambiguous void where the sound of his accent defined him just as much as did his features.

In the split second before the door opened, his stomach twisted with a sudden anxiety. As he stepped forward, dutifully trailing Septimus, he had the sudden sensation that he was walking into the room with a target painted on his back. He was not one of these people, nor would he ever be, and no amount of tailored dinner jackets or hair pomade could change that. And of course, the memories of the last dinner party he and Septimus had attended--or rather that Septimus had attended while Jaya lurked in the shadows of the garden--

Well, it did little to set him at ease.

His eyes swept the room nervously, as though expecting a certain burly English capitalist to appear out of nowhere and buffet him upside the head for insolence, for getting above himself. Of course, no such thing would happen, or so he told himself. But nevertheless, he stayed close by Septimus' shoulder, and his posture was tense beneath the fine tailoring of his suit.

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 Post subject: Re: Old Ghosts (( Dvorak! ))
PostPosted: Mon Jul 04, 2011 2:54 pm GMT 
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Just once, as the first bursts of colour hit them did Septimus briefly touch his arm with a hand, as if in careful, cool reassurance. You didn't nee to be ad analytical as Septimus to see that the young man was more tense than a drawn bow; his shoulders were rigid.

Almost instantly they were engulfed. One man, a stocky Scotsman caught sight of them both and gave a small cheer. After arresting two wine glasses and winding his way around other guests, he appeared before them and handed each a glass with a cheery, "Good evening Frommholtz-- It's been an age!"

"Ah, Riddley. It has been a while... Calcutta, wasn't it?"

"Aye, '25."

"Of course." They shook hands; the ruddy Scotsman's entirely enveloping Septimus'. This rather brusque formalities, such as they were, over, he turned to Jaya.

"May I introduce Sir George Riddley, head of Riddley Shipping. Riddley, my associate and friend Mr Jaya Malik."

"A pleasure, sir! How are you enjoying the little festivities?" As he spoke, the man's silver whiskers twitched and animate his entire face. It was a jolly one, save for a certain hardness in the eyes that indicated a businessman's calculating streak. Evidently Mr Riddley, though perhaps born of high birth was still very much a self-made man. He held out a hand for Jaya to shake, passing his brandy to another hand.

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 Post subject: Re: Old Ghosts (( Dvorak! ))
PostPosted: Mon Jul 04, 2011 3:37 pm GMT 
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Jaya returned the handshake with a firm grip. His smooth, easy smile was perhaps a fraction of a centimeter too broad, but there was no way anyone but Septimus would spot the fact that it was anything but natural. After all, masking his true thoughts and emotions had always been something of a talent of his. It was a good thing, too; even as he shook the Scotsman's hand, Jaya was sizing him up, weighing his chances against him in a fight on the off-chance that things got ugly. He had nothing against the man, as far as he knew. But the habit had become ingrained years ago, and he'd never quite managed to shake it. The fact that he was now anything but relaxed did little to help abate this tendency.

"The pleasure is mine, Sir Riddley," he replied, in what he imagined was a particularly robust American accent. "Regrettably, I've only just arrived to the festivities, as you say. Although I must say, I like what I see."

It was strange, almost surreal. Here he was being addressed as something vaguely akin to an equal by the sort of man who would have happily seen him beaten into the ground eight years prior during the uprisings in Cairo. Amazing, he supposed, what a good dinner jacket could do.

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 Post subject: Re: Old Ghosts (( Dvorak! ))
PostPosted: Mon Jul 04, 2011 4:02 pm GMT 
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"Spoken like a true diplomat." Riddley complimented gruffly, taking a sip of the brandy. Septimus' own glass hung in his hand, untouched. After mistakes made on one birthday after drinking too much, he had never taken to the fashion of getting sloshes at parties. Mistakes happen. Reputations back be ruined, and one can be far too conspicuous. "No, but it is the same usual fare here. The same old codgers, the same aunts who hadn't died yet. And the girls-- they all look exactly the same. It's the short hair."

"Your descriptions of society never cease to amaze." Septimus commented dryly.

The man flared in mock-irritation, gesticulating with the brandy. "You can't deny it! All the same. Utterly stagnant-- One has the same conversations as one always does at every party. Absolutely identical."

"Indeed. I remember this one well from '25."

"Go hang." came the cheerful reply. "Tell you what though; there is a rather funny sort of chap over there. A traveller you know, he's travelled positively everywhere. Published a small collection of his voyages I think... You know the ones? Ozcelik? Ring a bell...?"

"I can't say I recall such an author, no."

" "Lost City of Z?" "Everest's Shadow?" "

Septimus gave him a somewhat withering glance. "... No, Riddley."

"Damn shame. Thrilling stuff, you ought to read some." This advice was directed at Jaya this time, as if this were an intimate book club. "His encounters with the Amazonian tribesmen... Spine chilling. He has his assistant with him too. You know, a native. Rather an odd chap, but ah..." The man's eyes sunk to his brandy, swirling it thoughtfully. "... Yes. Odd chap. I can barely decipher their accents, but they do have a couple of rip-roaring tales. I could introduce you. What would you say to that, Malik?"

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 Post subject: Re: Old Ghosts (( Dvorak! ))
PostPosted: Mon Jul 04, 2011 4:31 pm GMT 
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Of course, his smile had turned just a touch more vinagery at the description of this Ozcelik's assistant. A native. What was that supposed to mean? Was it code for "anyone darker than an Italian"? Strangest of all was the fact that apparently Riddley had not meant this vague denomination to include Jaya. He was beginning to suffer from a strange sense of disassociation, wondering if this was what it felt like to be. . . If this was what Septimus had been referring to when they'd tersely discussed race, and money, and university. Because here he was in a dinner jacket, shaking hands with wealthy Scotsmen, and discussing literature as though he, Jaya, could really have the luxury to sit down and read--and that it was assumed he could read--and watching the dark servants slink around the outskirts of the room with laden trays, seeing them from the distance of anonymity as nameless cogs in the mechanism of the smoothly-running social function rather than recognizing each one as a friend, a rival, these downtrodden men and women who under not-so-different circumstances could easily have been his brothers and sisters--

The thoughts were overwhelming, coming one on the heels of another in a jumbled and semi-coherent rush. His stomach was alternately twisting with excitement and turning with quesy apprehension. He busied himself by nodding along in response to Riddley's words in what he imagined to be a pleasant and agreeable fashion. And before he knew it, he was also nodding along to the offer of introduction.

Upon realizing what had transpired, he shot a quick sidelong glance at Septimus, hoping to read some sort of emotion there, or better yet a cue--what to do or say now. But already his mouth was forming the words of a response. "Oh yes, of course. I'd quite like that, if it's not too much of a trouble for you."

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 Post subject: Re: Old Ghosts (( Dvorak! ))
PostPosted: Tue Jul 05, 2011 5:25 am GMT 
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Septimus had simply acknowledged his reply with a faintly arched eyebrow, and a quiet inclination of his head. Well. This was Jaya's party as much as it was his, and frankly these people-- whoever indeed they were-- would probably appeal to him more than the dry old sticks that his companion was about to bleed dry. somehow he couldn't quite imagine Jaya being too enthralled as he listened to excited ramblings featuring fungus.

Also, there was something to be said about going in for the kill a little later. They would be far less sober, and far more charitable. Alcohol poisoning at its best.

"Lead the way, Riddley." he conceded lightly. The scientist was taking a backseat for now, and Jaya had the steering wheel.

He too had wondered-- though his was more a casual, calm sort of musing-- about that word, "native". In his youth he'd used it, off-hand, not meant to insult but simply conforming to the generally accepted view that the blacks, and Asians, and Indians, without education and without having been directly "civilised" were generalised as natives. Naturally less intelligent thanks to the lack of Western culture and tastes, but useful, and perhaps occasionally charming in their quaint, slightly barbaric ways. And then he had arrived in Egypt, and Siam, and India. Then he had met Jaya. And things changed.

So, as Riddley spoke these words, he listened without shock. Without surprise. But, still painfully aware of each implication in his words, and that Jaya was having to smile at them.

Riddley was blithely oblivious.

With a smile, he directed them across the floor, sidestepping beauties and hawk-like women alike till they met a group in the middle of the room. Breaking the ranks of these jewelled walls, he revealed to them two figures; one a tall man in grey-blue uniform, overlaid with twisting black braid. His face was dark and craggy, his eyes a surprisingly light shade of green, but resting deep in his face. He had a small, trim beard. There was a distant element to him, something unruffled and quiet. He was not a man you would like to cross, and yet there was nothing particularly openly dangerous about him.

To his right was a boy, about 17 or 18c despite the fact he had not yet started shaving. He was wearing a simple black suit, that hung off his slight frame. His fingers clutched his thin wrists behind his back, and his shoulders were drawn up in an attitude of barely-restrained resentment. His unusually full lips were tight. His eyes were dark, and constantly flickered through the guests. Sizing them up. Just as Jaya had done Riddley. His hair was cut short, enough to reveal his long, slender neck. He looked like a cat who had been backed into a corner, hackles just about raised. It was only the other man's reassuring hand on his shoulder that seemed to tether him there.

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 Post subject: Re: Old Ghosts (( Dvorak! ))
PostPosted: Sun Jul 10, 2011 2:04 pm GMT 
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He was half-lost in his own thoughts as he followed Riddley across the room, winding his way through the maze of dignitaries and businessman. As usual, he was making things harder for himself than was necessary. It should have been so easy just to let himself relax, to enjoy this moment for what it was without apprehension or guilt. After all, Septimus' presence here should, theoretically, have reassured him that nothing bad would happen to him, in spite of the way the evening's crowd generally treated people like himself. Then again, Septimus had failed him in the past. Better to look out for himself. An excess of blind trust had nearly killed him.

He identified the man in question as soon as they came into sight. Ozcelik, as apparently he was called, cut a striking figure, more than distinct among the other guests. There was something unmistakably commanding in his presence, despite all outward appearances of tranquility, an intensity which Jaya recognized instantly, though he could never have described it in words. And although the man's name was unfamiliar to him, he had on occasion seen faces like Ozcelik's in the crowded marketplaces where goods from all across North Africa were bought and sold. Suddenly he felt a swell of homesickness in his chest, and quickly diverted his attention, fiddling briefly with a cufflink in order to occupy himself. He wondered if it was too inopportune a moment to go look for a drink.

As for the boy at his side, Jaya spared him only the briefest of glances. Next to Ozcelik, he was almost invisible, save for the way he radiated discomfort. It occurred to Jaya that 'native' was not so much a reference to skin color or national origin as a qualifier of how easily one blended into this society of eveningwear and crystal glasses glittering under a warm electric chandelier. Before his attention was diverted back to Ozcelik, his thoughts lingered on the boy just long enough to spare him a moment of pity. Not too long ago, Jaya himself would have been seized with the same urge to make himself invisible or to flee. Even now, the temptation was a serious one.

Glancing up from his cufflink, he looked expectantly up at Riddley, waiting for a few brief words of introduction.

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 Post subject: Re: Old Ghosts (( Dvorak! ))
PostPosted: Sun Jul 10, 2011 2:38 pm GMT 
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"Captain Ozcelik, may I introduce a Doctor Frommholtz -- a fellow explorer of sorts-- and his friend, a Mr Malik. Mr Malik expressed a fervent desire to speak to you; I believe I have an avid reader in waiting!"

Ozcelik turned to Jaya-- Revealing the glitter of a sheath and sabre handle. Catching sight of it, several guests retreated half a step. There had been rumours going around that that sword was far from just ceremonial. "A pleasure, gentlemen." His voice was distant, like Septimus', but lacked his coldness. There was a sort of quiet apathy in his tone, one that was strangely not hostile or indeed hurtful, but rather the voice of a man whose thoughts belonged to quite another world. His accent shaped each word peculiarly; one sound never falling into the same category as the next. It was a voice that kept you listening. He offered his hand-- Laced with scars, the upper side cracked with the sun, and his palm callused. It wasn't the hand of a gentleman. Yet, you had the feeling that this man didn't care about his status, percieved or otherwise.

However-- Just before Jaya's eyes roamed once more to his private host, or at least navigator in this ocean of jeweled finery, his gaze would be sharply met. The boy's own line of sight had flickered into his, and yet, strangely had not moved on. Instead he was fixed by those black eyes, ones which refused to yield to the rules that society laid down concerning glances. This boy stared. Piercing. Unholy in the sheer intensity of this look. His arms tightened behind his back, fingers digging into those skeletal wrists. Take away that black suit -- the one that hung away from him as if repulsed by the body beneath-- and you could have had that boy, the one from years ago, who had lain in Jaya's arms-- arms now dripping in silk and diamonds-- and croaked his last few breaths onto the humid air filled with flies. There was hatred in those eyes.

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 Post subject: Re: Old Ghosts (( Dvorak! ))
PostPosted: Mon Jul 11, 2011 9:30 am GMT 
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He cringed internally at the substance of Riddley's introduction. Had he really been nodding all that fervently? Either way, it was far too late now to correct the Scotsman without seeming tactless or indelicate. Even so, he was far more interested in the identity of the man himself than whatever chronicles of his no doubt thrilling adventures he marketed to wealthy armchair-bound Europeans. After the experiences Jaya had lived, he had no desire to travel vicariously through the perils of exotic lands; it was the perils of his own present and future that concerned him most. At this point, the only journey he truly longed to take was northward, back to Egypt.

He extended his hand, affecting a polite smile, already bracing himself to expend whatever effort necessary to repair his image in the eyes of this Captain Ozcelik.

And then, with a casual flicker of his eyes, his gaze met another's.

For a split-second he felt a sort of hollow, blank confusion, an inexplicable unease. Then the recognition hit him like a shock of cold water, and he sucked in a silent gasp of air that stabbed his lungs with its sudden frost. Chills ran up and down his spine, his skin tingling, and he was physically unable to stop himself from taking a quick step back to put some distance between himself and this spectral face which had haunted his dreams since that night in the dripping jungle. The sounds of polite laughter and chattering guests seemed to fade as though his ears had filled with water, only to be replaced by the drone of insects, the rush of the river, the shrieking calls of unfamiliar birds which shattered the deep darkness of the night.

He tried to swallow, but found his mouth suddenly dry. His stomach was twisting in knots, and he felt queasy, on the verge of being physically ill. Rationally, it was impossible; he'd held the boy until he died, until his body had begun to go cold. He knew death. He recognized it. And yet, that scientific world in which everything could be dissected, torn apart and rationalized and reasoned into numb sensibility was Septimus' world, not his.

The hand which he had extended to shake Ozcelik's was withdrawn, the fingers curling back into his palm. He raised it to press against his forehead, suddenly dizzy as though on the verge of losing consciousness. Already he was backing away.

"I--you'll have to excuse me, I feel--I'm--unwell," he mumbled quickly, almost tripping over his words in his rush to get away. Only Septimus would catch a glimpse of the look in his eyes as he turned, carrying himself with quick steps as he cut through the crowd on his way back towards the door.

In all the time that Septimus had known him, through all the hardships they'd faced together, it would have been the first and only occasion in which he could look into Jaya's eyes and see nothing but pure, overwhelming horror.

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 Post subject: Re: Old Ghosts (( Dvorak! ))
PostPosted: Mon Jul 11, 2011 10:23 am GMT 
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About him, the gilded world spun away at his touch, as if the sheer force of his repulsion and fear had leaked out into the air and swamped the world around him. They flinched away, it might have seemed to him, and watched with eyes wide at this boy who had suddenly brought death into their midst. The violin quartet had turned to a whine of insects, and the voices the drumming hum of a thousand flies, descending on the window panes, invisible against the night.

I would be angry, if I died. That the rest of them were too scared to help. That I didn't get saved.

How the villagers had looked at him, after his recovery. That demon-boy, cast off from his White master. Him, and that child that could never stay still, that twisted and weighed as if her soul had become so twisted with death that it wanted to just escape her body. The way they had pushed those carved, wooden bowls to him. Bowls which their dead children had drunk from, and now this young man who had somehow managed to dance around death. To evade it, as if he had made some otherworldly deal for his soul.

I'd want revenge.

How much is it you barter for your soul, nowadays?

"Jaya--" A snatch of a voice, from beneath the pulsing drone of flies that had always been there, but now swarmed. "Jaya, wait--"

Or was that just another part of that dream, that had suddenly spilled into reality. Behind those doors, would he be lying there again, lifeless on that pallet, the gash across his chest. The silk, gone. The marble replace by rotting wood. The candles no longer scented, by made from coarse fat scraped off tattered animal hide.

How can you kill a sickness? You can't. It kills you.

Eventually. It might take days, or months, or years, but it will.


Out of the corner of his eye, he might be able to see it still, flickering in and out of shadows and winding its way through the lights sewn into the ladies' gowns. A flash of black. A glimpse of a long-dead face. A snarling mouth.

The door, conscientiously opened by the uniformed footman, a touch of a pale hand.

"Jaya, what the Devil's got into you?" Unrelated flashes of a cufflink, the doors closing, a white, starched waistcoat. A pair of blue eyes, arresting his, a voice unsynchronised from the mouth. Taking his hand, his wrist. Startled. Angry. Worried.

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