A Fool's Game

Lora Belle

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The Shambles was well named, a warren of run down and forgotten houses, home to some of the poorest of Rhy'Din City. And among them, some of the most dishonest, too. Emer had circled the area four times before finally entering on her search, only to lose the scent at every manhole and sewer entrance she had come to. She couldn't find the little rat if she didn't have a scent to follow, frustrated enough to have considered just going cat and killing everyone down there until she found the right one. Thankfully, however, Michael had offered his aid, and to her relief, had discovered some method of tracking Thea's cup itself. It was still in the Shambles, and still in the sewers.

Two days of scouting the area had given them all the information they needed; they knew where to enter the long disconnected sewer system, and which direction they needed to go once they were down there. Finding their prey, however, was a different matter entirely.

Emer paused at the open manhole, her nose wrinkling in disgust at the lingering smell that rose from below. "Gods, this smells worse every time I come to it," she muttered, looking at her companion as she gestured to the sewer entrance. "Age before beauty."

Michael smiled at her. "Sure, send the new guy down there first." He chuckled softly. "I am just joking ..." He started the climb down into the sewers. Its stench was strong ... but he had experienced worse over the years.

"Send the impervious to all known ick down first? Absolutely!" Emer grinned as she watched him head down the ladder ahead of her, waiting until he was safely out of the way before following him. The tunnels were wide, twisting and turning, intersecting one another at various points. Voices made an incoherent babble low in the background, highlighting the passages that had been turned into shops for fences, homes for the homeless.

Dropping down beside Michael into about two inches of damp unmentionable, Emer swallowed against her gag reflex, and looked around. "Charming."

"Yeah ... You know, I think Rhy'Din could use a bit of a flood. Maybe wash the filth out of this place." Michael looked down the tunnels, tracking the echo of Thea that was the cup. It had taken some time to refine his senses so he could tell the difference between Thea and the echo. He pointed down the tunnel to the south. "It's down that way." His mind was singularly focused on this venture. He couldn't afford to let the negativity draw his attention.

Turning in the direction he indicated, Emer paused, letting her hearing adjust to the strange echoes and distortion down here in these filthy tunnels. She was aware of a baby crying not so very far away, her brow creasing at the thought of living your life in this awful place, without seeing the sun. It was a horrifying thought. Settling her hackles, she nodded to Michael. "You're the hunter now," she told him. "You take point, I've got your back."

"Then the hunt is on." He turned and started walking down the tunnel. It was hard at first because of all of the suffering down here, but Michael knew that this was - at least in part - their own choice. Occasionally they would pass an alcove in which he could sense figures huddling. Some would glance his way, their eyes widening with shock, before they would start trembling in fear. "We should hurry. I don't think either one of us want to be down here any longer than necessary."

"I think you're right about that." Despite the instinct to stay close to his back, the predator in Emer knew to leave space, alert for any indication from anyone that they were being followed or about to be attacked. They stood out badly down here - word would be traveling ahead of them, to the fences and thieves, the dishonest who made this place so dangerous for the honest, frightened few who lived here only out of necessity. "How far, do you think?" she asked the angel softly. "Any chance there's a bolthole, an alternative exit?"

"It feels like at the next intersection we go to the right..." He closed his eyes for a brief moment as he reached out. He did not want the glow of his eyes to be seen. "And maybe half way down." The glow of his eyes faded before he opened them again. "Thieves always have a an escape plan ... I am open to suggestions as to how we can deal with those."

"Hmm ..." It was a difficult situation. To go at this gutter rat head on would be to leave him an opening. On the other hand, splitting up to find the other exit he had to have from his bolthole left them both exposed. Emer chewed her lip for a moment, keeping her voice down as she offered up a quiet query. "Can you tell what species he is?"

"I ... don't know." Difficult as the situation was, he was trying to come up with options. "We shouldn't split up, but ... Wait I have an thought " He reached out with his mind as they got closer. He could sense the surrounding rock, the empty voids where there were gaps in the stone. "I may be able to seal all the other exits ... but it would shake things up some. We would need to be ready to burst in."

"I can do that," she nodded confidently, reaching up to adjust the string of the small bag she had tied around her neck. It held spare shorts and a tank; clothing so that she wouldn't have to walk naked through the streets to get home, or stay cat. "Do what you need to do. I'll catch him."

Finally they neared the door that Michael sensed was all that remained between them and Thea's cup. His eyes closed. It was time. He turned to the door and when he opened his eyes, glowing that deep brilliant blue. "Now would be a good time to either knock on the door or just knock it down."

The glow started to extend down over the leather he wore, causing the Enochian runes to glow just as brilliantly. As the light covered his body, the earth surrounding the room trembled as the rocks shifted twisting to fill the openings he sensed in the stone. The only thing he left untouched was the door in front of them. As he continued, the glow finished covering his entire body, shining through the wings that were now visible at his back.

It wasn't much of a door, to be honest - just a rough panel of wood that had been set up to hold back the world. Emer nodded at the recommendation, and as Michael seemed to set himself alight with blue flame, she concentrated, her clothes shredding as she shifted from woman to cat in a world that was suddenly shaking all around her.

From within the bolthole, she could hear someone cursing, scrambling to get away, and let out a loud yowl of her own, pouncing toward the ramshackle barrier as it shuddered in place. It fell in easily, and with barely a glance for her surroundings, the panther's muscles bunched to pounce again, this time at the man trying to squeeze himself through an opening now too small to take him. He screamed as her jaws clamped about his calf, not tight enough to break the skin, but tight enough to pull him off his feet, growling as she worried at his pants. His hand scrabbled for a weapon, fingers closing around a sharp knife.
 

Lora Belle

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As the door fell from the force of Emer hitting it, Michael was in motion behind her, watching as she pulled the thief from the bolt. He saw the thief's hand close around the sharp knife. Michael reached back, his fingers closing around the shaft that was always in reach. He extended the spear into the room and placed it against the man's chest. "I suggest you drop the knife."

Fear widened the man's eyes to saucers, showing the whites as he looked between the black panther growling around a mouthful of his leg, and the angel holding a spear to his chest. The knife made a loud clatter as he threw it away - he was a thief, not an idiot. "W-what do you want?" he demanded, pulling on his leg in Emer's maw. "Get that thing off me!"

"Thou shalt not steal - this was one of the laws that was passed down at the beginning of time. You stole something precious. A cup." Michael reached up with his free hand and touched Emer's back. "If you think he won't run, you can let him go."

Golden eyes tipped upward to meet Michael's glance as his hand touched her fur, acknowledging the words in her mind. Her maw opened, releasing the man, but the low growl in the back of her throat warned him that the next time she had to catch hold of him, he would bleed. He seemed to get the message, easing back slowly to sit up as he looked at Michael.

"I never stole nothin'," he insisted belligerently. "'Twas just lyin' around. Place was open, no one there. It ain't stealing if no one's there to claim it."

"That wasn't for you to decide. It wasn't your place. Return the cup, now, and you might live through this."

The gutter rat scowled, glancing from panther to angel with wary indecision. "What d'you want it for? Should pay me for it - how'd I know you ain't gonna flog it yerself?"

"We are going to return it to its owner, is what we are going to do with it." A look of anger crossed Michael's face for a moment as the spear moved a little closer to the gutter rat. "You can give it to us ... or we could just take it. But I don't think you want us to do that, especially since your immortal soul would go to Hell, anyway."

Opportunist that he was, this enterprising gutter rat knew when he was cornered, at the very least. Confronted by a spear, a panther, and an angel who seemed to know the state of his grubby little soul, he appeared to decide that discretion was definitely the better part of valor. Huffing, he scowled. "Fine. Lemme up, then, so's I can get it. And don't let your cat bite me again. I'm delicate, me."

Emer's panther eyes narrowed as she growled at him warningly.

"Make one wrong move and your soul is forfeit." Michael moved the spear back as he stepped away, just enough to give the gutter rat some space. His voice touched Emer's mind once again. "I don't trust him ..." To the thief, he only said, "She's not my cat ... just someone that you pissed off."

"All righ', all righ' ..." Muttering angrily, their prey rose to his feet, digging a jangling set of keys from his filthy coat as he turned toward an old, sturdily built cabinet set against one curved wall of his hideout.

Beside Michael, Emer's head nodded in agreement with his unspoken warning, trusting her own instincts to pad away, checking the tunnel outside. An angel could handle himself with a thief, couldn't he?

The thief in question scowled over his shoulder at Michael. "Prove y' know this person," he challenged through blackened teeth. "There's a name on this cup thing. You can't tell it me, you don't get it."

"The name on the cup ... is Thea Lamont." Michael stood there, watching as the thief worked on opening up the cabinet. He was not concerned about being hurt. In fact, he was still contemplating the thief's soul. He couldn't kill the man ... but there were other options.

For just a moment, the thief looked rebellious, his scowl deepening as he reached into the cabinet. His fingers closed on something that was definitely not a cup, and abruptly a jangling alarm radiated through the tunnels - a call for help, no doubt. Emer snarled from where she had planted herself in the doorway, expecting trouble and soon.

"So ... Still thinking you're getting out of this with the cup ..." Michael moved like the light he was still radiating, closing the distance between him and the thief. "The cup. Now." His hand closed around the neck of the thief and Michael lifted him from the ground. Anger was visible on the normally peaceful face of the angel.

The gutter rat's eyes widened as he was lifted off his feet by the hand that clasped his neck. His gaze swiveled to the makeshift doorway, but there was no escape or rescue there. Those who had come running to his aid had been expecting men with weapons, not an enraged panther, preferring to run now and fight another day. Defeated and struggling for breath, he gasped, kicking the door of the cabinet wide open. There, amid the various trinkets he had yet to fence, was the cup they had come to find - tarnished with the touch of many hands over the past weeks, scratched where this enterprising businessman had tried to remove the name, but still bearing what made it most recognizable - Thea Lamont, engraved in cursive script at its bowl.

Michael saw the cup as he released the shaft of his spear. It returned to the ether from whence it had come, and he reached into the cabinet to grab Thea's cup. Turning back to the thief, he narrowed his eyes. "I warned you... and you did it, anyway..."

Michael's eyes looked into the thief's, as the light of divinity filled them. "You are a thief and have stolen from many." The weight of Michael's gaze weighed heavily on the soul of the thief. "Your actions have caused others pain ... even if you didn't know it." His voice took on a musical, otherworldly quality. "From this moment on, your mind and your soul will experience all the pain that your actions have caused ... until you seek forgiveness from the ones you have wronged. "

The glow of light surrounding Michael subsided as he set the thief back on the ground and turned to Emer. "We should go."

"Here now, you can' ..." But whatever the thief had been planning to declare, it was lost as the weight of Michael's pronouncement fell onto him. So many treasures stolen, so many people harmed because of those losses, and he felt it all, dropping him down onto his knees as he moaned in pain, unwanted tears dripping down his filthy face.

In the doorway, the panther looked back as Michael turned to her, conveying with eyes and body language alone that she agreed. It was time to go, and quickly, before the denizens of this undercity lair decided to return in greater numbers. Her muzzle was flecked with blood, a testament to the injuries she had given out already, her tail lashing with agitation. Definitely time to go.
 

Lora Belle

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Michael read Emer's body language. "Lead the way. You are much more familiar with the ways around here with all the searching that you have done lately." The thief had put him in a foul mood and it wouldn't be beyond him to make any that crossed their path experience the pain that they had caused others.

With a flick of her tail, she padded into the thick filth that lined the tunnels, choosing not to retake the path they had already traced to get here. Instead, she followed the drops of blood that had been shed by the men who had tried to pass her just a few minutes before, her growls echoing through the tunnels ahead of them, growing more distorted with each echo they took.

Michael followed her swiftly, the sound of the thief's crying fading as they passed through the tunnels in search of their exit.

Eyes watched their passage, but even the underclass of this wretched part of the city knew better than to push their luck with people from above who clearly knew how to handle themselves. Reaching one of the many ladders that led to the streets above, Emer paused, her tail lashing, and shifted back, her jaw set stiffly at the knowledge that she was naked. "Up we go."

"That we do." Michael watched the naked woman. "After you." He would watch their backs as they climbed out of the tunnels. Hopefully their exit would be into a dimly lit alley or somewhere safe.

"Eyes front, angel face," she smirked at him, knowing exactly what his view would be like if he happened to look up while she was on the ladder above him. "No ogling unless I get to do the same back." Winking, she scrambled up the ladder, more eager to be out of the sewer than she was to cover her nakedness. Sadly, the manhole above brought them into a busy intersection, packed with the bustle of people back and forth. "Typical."

He smiled at her. "Yes, Madam." He winked back at her. "You can ogle all you want, I don't mind." As they exited the manhole, Michael saw the press of people. "Great."

He caught a group of guys leering at the naked woman by his side. "I suggest you leave the woman alone and go about your business elsewhere." He let the anger from the tunnels show on his face, and let it go as he turned back to Emer. "I am following your lead here ... "

Rolling her eyes, Emer let Michael have his moment of protective antagonism, opening up the bag at her neck to scramble into the shorts and tank she'd brought with her just in case she needed them. Barefoot would just have to do. "Right ..." Looking around, she frowned as she got her bearings, sniffing imperceptibly at the carts and vehicles going by. "Okay, we're pretty close to Dragon's Gate," she nodded, pointing north west. "I figure you know your way around that area pretty well, since it's where most of us seem to live."

He followed the direction she had pointed out. "Then lets go 'home' and we can figure out what to do with the cup now." He looked the cup over, noting the tarnish and the scratches. "I am sure someone can help us with these." His fingers traced over the scratches that marred Thea's name.

Falling into step beside him, Emer frowned as she looked down at the cup. "The tarnishing will come up bright with a good polish," she nodded thoughtfully. "But the scratches ... I don't know what to do about that. I mean, there isn't any way to heal an inanimate object, is there?"

"I... don't know. I have never tried to... " He shook his head for a moment. "I know jewelers could get the tarnish out. Maybe there is a jeweler that works with magic who could help with the scratches and restore the name."

"You're right," she agreed. "I've never really had much cause to go to a jeweler, but ..." She hesitated, but plunged on regardless. "Ravyn might know someone who can make it good as new, and if she doesn't, then she knows someone who does."

Michael grimaced at the mention of Ravyn's name "Maybe... but we are only tolerating each other ..." He smiled at Emer as they walked. "I will talk to a few others first. Maybe someone at the 'DOME would have a suggestion. We could go to Ravyn as a last resort."

"The 'DOME attracts all sorts," Emer mused. "You're right, someone might know of something or someone who could help. I only mentioned Ravyn because she knows jewels, and she ... has access to someone who probably knows far more about metals and gems than anyone else."

"I made the necklace that Thea wears now, but that was from raw materials." He was thoughtful for a moment. "If we don't come up with anything else, we can go to Ravyn. At least we have the cup back, though."

Emer grinned. "I know you did," she chuckled. "She couldn't wait to tell me when she got home. I think that was the first time she'd been so excited about something since she left the Temple." She grinned, glancing up at him as they came to the more familiar streets of Dragon's Gate. "It might be that we can't get it repaired," she warned him carefully. "But even scratched, it's still hers. It still means the same to her as it ever did."

He was glad that Thea had been excited about the necklace. That night had been very emotional for both of them. "Well, even if we can't get the scratches out, it will still be polished up." He smiled at Emer. "And it was all possible because of you."

She snorted with laughter. "Please," she drawled. "Without your uber angel mind powers or whatever it was you did back there, there's no way you'd be holding that cup right now. If I gone on my own, there'd be a panther skin being cured as we speak."

He snickered. "And without you, I wouldn't have gone looking for the cup in the first place." He was thoughtful for a moment. "I don't think there would have been a panther skin. You're more skilled than you let on."

"I'm more violent than I let on," she chuckled, snagging a cloth from a passing vendor with a charming smile. She paused by a communal pump to wet it, proceeding to wipe the blood from around her mouth and down her neck. "My cat doesn't like people messing with anyone she considers family. It's why I didn't join the actual hunt ... Thea doesn't want anyone to die."

Michael thought for a moment as Emer cleaned off the blood. "I know... I don't think I will join the hunt for the same reason. I hope that you don't think I went too easy on the thief, though." He wasn't sure he would have to explain what he had done to the man, but he would if asked.

"Hey, even if he gets himself forgiven by everyone he's ever screwed over, he's still a valuable source of information if we ever need it," she pointed out with a shrug. "And if he doesn't, he's a warning not to mess with Thea. You can bet every thug and deviant down there knew her name - there's no way he hasn't tried to fence the cup."

"That's true ..." Michael hadn't even thought of the ramifications of angels mixing in mortal affairs. "Thea is probably going to be one of the safest women on Rhy'Din for a while. "

"Damn straight, she is. I'm blaming you if she isn't." Emer flashed him a cheeky grin, and laughed. "C'mon, dude, I owe you lunch or somethin'."

He smiled at her. "I ... You don't owe me anything, sweet cheeks."

She paused, turning to eye him in amusement. "Drop the gentleman act," she told him with a chuckle. "I'm buying you lunch, and no complaints. Otherwise I'll find a way to film what Thea does to you when you give her that cup, and I'll broadcast it somewhere."

He chuckled. "Fine, fine ... You get to buy me lunch." Even though he was an angel, he could still be embarrassed. "And there will be no broadcasting of anything."

"Knew you'd see it my way." She snickered triumphantly, looping her arm through his in rough friendship. "I'm very difficult to say no to when I put my mind to something." Her expression flickered briefly before she resumed her smile, dragging him toward the nearest inn. All in all, not a bad morning's work.

((Huge thanks to MortisNox for jumping in feet first with this! Awesome!))
 
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