Title: Conflict of Interest
Kristján - September 1, 2011 07:11 AM (GMT)
One and a half million dollars, he reminded himself. One and a half. Million. Dollars. That is a million dollars, and then another half a million dollars.
It was just a goddamned book. Except that it wasn't. There was a difference between books of magic and books about magic; everyone knew that. No book that was merely about magic could possibly be worth a million and a half dollars to The Ancient. No, this was something good, something real.
Kristján sat on the floor in the middle of his ritual circle. He'd walked upstairs, retrieved a bottle of cognac, and come back down to sit right back where he'd stood to cast. He was going to crease his trousers terribly, but right now he didn't much care.
The money's as good as mine, he thought.
But he still hadn't made the call.
He's going to kill her, he thought next.
That much was obvious, wasn't it? It's what Tettius did. How many artifacts had he stolen from the magicians, sorcerers, hedge witches, and warlocks he'd killed? What was one more? It was clear that Tettius didn't much care when anybody died; he'd outlived so many already that quite probably he wrote them off as deceased the moment he met them. Maybe that was easier. Maybe Tettius was right.
The demon finished his glass and remembered her telling him that she thought his eyes were pretty. Not unnerving or intimidating or appalling. Pretty.
But she knew too much, didn't she? She had spent time and effort to learn about him and whatever she'd found it couldn't have been anything good. Kristján hadn't actually asked what she'd found. He'd been too angry. Did she know about Rhea? How far back had she gone? To Edvin and Johanna?
"I wasn't looking for what I found," you said. I guess that makes two of us.
She was the only person alive who knew what she knew, at least as far as Kristján was aware. Tettius absolutely would kill her if he could. Pragmatically-speaking, it was actually pretty convenient.
He thought of her apology.
Kristján drained the glass of cognac and winced. He didn't even really like cognac. It just seemed like the sort of thing a man of his means ought to own. With a million and a half dollars he'd be beyond anybody's opinions of his liquor selection. All it would take was Gahan's Tome, an hour of his time, and maybe Ema's life. Only that.
With a growl, Kristján flung the glass against the wall. A small explosion of glass rained down sparkling onto the edge of his circle on the hardwood floor. If he could just be Vassago and fulfill his function, it wouldn't be like this. His predecessor had left too much behind of Kristján and Kristján wasn't sure he could do this. It was one thing to hand over information about the location of an artifact or objet d'art and know that it might get stolen and there might be a fight and in a fight someone could always get hurt. It was quite another to possess the information himself and pass it on knowing what it was and knowing what was at stake. That was different.
That would make it his fault. It would be his fault because he had known.
It was not the kind of distinction he expected anybody else to understand. Tettius killed freely enough, and of course Ema would be seeing this from a very different perspective. Ema would see a betrayal, which perhaps was what it was. Was it possible to betray someone who had no reason to trust him in the first place?
It had been fifteen minutes and Tettius would be expecting a report on either the success or failure of the ritual. That was what they'd agreed to; those were the conditions that were fair. Tettius needed to have enough notice to go immediately and retrieve the item if he wished, though that part wasn't Kristján's business. What happened after this transaction wasn’t for him to worry about. He was Vassago. He found things lost and hidden. He fulfilled his function and he moved on. What happened to the things he found or the people who possessed them was not his business so long as he'd ensured one less piece of the universe was out of its place.
He'd agreed to that role. He'd agreed to this contract, and hundreds more like it, and would agree to hundreds more in the future. He'd agreed to it all. Did his word mean anything? If he made an exception now, where did they stop? He had his rules and his professional ethics and damn it all, why should he be expected to bend them for someone who had caused him nothing but trouble? He was a demon, for shit's sake. He was supposed to be self-serving and single-mindedly dedicated to acquisition of personal power. That was his function as much as it was his function to find what was lost and make it found.
It was obviously out of the question to call Tettius and lie to him. Kristján had promised him--he had promised--that he would look for these objects and give Tettius whatever information he had that would help the power-mad old bastard get to what he wanted. He needed to do what he'd agreed to do, and there was no ethically acceptable way to tell Tettius where the book was and then cheat him by warning Ema to move it out of his reach. Kristján did not cheat his clients; he did not.
He just also wasn't quite accustomed to knowing he'd killed someone.
Vassago had told him that he was supposed to be different. Everything he'd been, but more. He was also supposed to be human.
Problem was, the current Prince Vassago had no idea what that was supposed to mean and the only one he could ask was long gone. He was ethically bound to give Tettius the information minus what he knew about Ema thanks to their dinner conversation. Blessedly, that had been an exchange and thus he was free to interpret that loosely as a contract, which gave her client privilege. It was some protection, at least.
The Ancient was going to kill her.
But Prince Vassago, in his official capacity, had made a promise. His hands were tied.
Subject: the book Gahan lent me
I found it if you still want to read it. If you want to pick it up from my house while I'm out, I've attached the location.
Kristján laid his phone down and pulled his palms through his hair. It was a good thing he already knew he was going to Hell.
The Ancient - September 1, 2011 04:05 PM (GMT)
Gahan's Tome had been created sometime in the 5th century but was never written. Gahan lived in what is now Algeria when he put some of his essence into a specially-prepared tome through a magical ritual that lasted a month. He intended to make sixteen more, dying in the process, and those seventeen tomes would be his legacy - books of spells that would travel magically from library to library, teaching those with natural magical talent how to harness them, just as Gahan taught the twenty-two apprentices he was master of over his three-hundred-year life. No one was quite sure what happened to Gahan after the first book left his possession, but his staff began to change hands over the centuries in the way that only the artifacts of mages who were killed for their treasures do.
The contents and style of the book tailored themselves to the reader. When Manius Tettius Opilio had last seen it, it opened with its spine on the short edge and the cover was designed like the jaws of a dragon. It was absurd and garish, but it had changed a mason's son into a summoner of no minor power. Tettius slew the summoner - of course - but found himself ambushed by some of the Fair Folk, who took advantage of Tettius's post-battle weakness to take the book for themselves. It had fallen out of view for five hundred years, but here it was - and in Metro City, no less.
Subject: Re: the book Gahan lent me
excellent. surprised to see it so close.
owe you for this - come visit later
Kristján - September 2, 2011 05:14 AM (GMT)
It didn't take long for the response to come. The Ancient owed him. He laughed. The demon sat cross-legged on his floor with his head in one hand, arm resting on his knee, and he just laughed. Tettius was going to get what he wanted. Of course he was grateful. Wasn't everybody just so appreciative of Prince Vassago's vast reaching power. Wasn't he just a wonder.
Kristján laughed, maybe longer than he should have. He laughed far beyond the point where this was funny. What was he going to do?
Why couldn't Tettius have just been here and taken the information directly? Why did he have to trust his demon ally with the information? He hadn't wanted it. If Tettius had just been here, if he'd just--
If I didn't know...
Thinking like that wasn't going to do any good. Frankly, nothing he did here was going to be any good. This was futile and Kristján knew it. He wasn't going to end up like his predecessor had, static and weary of his own timeless presence. He was going to end up like Tettius, because people weren't supposed to have these problems. Mortal men couldn't deal with it. They either went crazy or they stopped caring altogether. Tettius didn't care. Kristján only had these doubts, only suffered this painful ambivalence, because he was still so young.
There'd come a time when he didn't care at all, and he'd look back at this and wonder how he could have been so fragile.
Vassago hadn't created something greater than himself; he'd created something far worse. Men were not supposed to live as long as Tettius had, as Kristján would. Vassago hadn't changed and that part of him which was Vassago still was and always would be the same entity but Kristján was another matter. He would change.
"Think, you stupid son of a bitch," he scolded himself. "Stop and think. Solve it."
What were the rules. He coached himself to remember his own rules. He couldn't have the item moved to keep it out of his client's reach. That was unacceptable. But The Ancient wasn't looking for Ema.
"He's not looking for her," he said. "He's not... shit."
Kristján picked up his phone. He'd been so stupid. The solution had been right in front of his face. He didn't have to break his agreement. He was a demon. Contracts weren't the boss of him. Contracts were his bitch.
Subject: Re: the book Gahan lent me
Pleasure doing business.
Then he dialed a number he didn't think he'd need again. He only had it because of Ema's ridiculous botched apology after intruding so far into his life. That was all right now. It gave him the information he needed. This situation was still under his control. He made it his business to know what people were looking for, and Kristján thought he might know what Emerald Bleier would want.
He took a deep breath, and held it when he heard the first ring.
Pick up. Pick up your phone, you idiot girl.
Tiny Librarian - September 2, 2011 12:46 PM (GMT)
Ema was curled up in her favorite chair with a new book. It was fascinating. She was reading all about worms, their biology, and how they functioned.
She shifted and sighed, pressing herself more comfortably into her armchair... And then the phone rang.
"Ugh." She didn't want people, she wanted to finish reading about worms! But the phone was still ringing, so she jumped out of the chair, dropping her book on its seat, and dashed off to find her phone.
There was no name on the screen, but. She knew whose number that was. She considered not picking up, but that wasn't really an option, so she pushed the call button and held up her phone.
Kristján - September 2, 2011 02:54 PM (GMT)
This was weird. She thought this was weird. Well, it was weird, so all it meant was that she'd been here for all the preceding stuff and had noticed how little sense this made.
"Um. Yes! Hi. What are you doing?"
Tiny Librarian - September 2, 2011 03:06 PM (GMT)
This was bizarre. Why was he calling her and why would be be so... normal? Kristján was a lot of things, and normal was definitely not one of them.
"...Not much. What's up?"
Kristján - September 2, 2011 03:22 PM (GMT)
"Oh, um. Lot of things."
Work, he thought, dragging a hand down his face. He didn't dare get that specific, though.
"Complicated. So. In the spirit of being pointlessly vague, I was thinking that you should drop absolutely everything you are doing and meet me at the Starbuck's on the same block as that wing place where we had dinner."
Tiny Librarian - September 2, 2011 03:42 PM (GMT)
Ema's brain was working on overdrive. There had to be a catch. He couldn't just want to see her. There was no way. And it was complicated?
Plus, if he was being pointlessly vague (what did that even mean?) then he must have something in mind, some reason he was calling or something... Right?
What the hell.
"Look... That would be nice and all, but..." She did kind of want to see him. Plus, now she had to find out what was going on, or she wouldn't be able to stop thinking about it. She sighed. "How about the one at the corner of Red Orchard and Baines?"
That Starbucks was easily within walking distance, which made it infinitely preferable to Kristján's choice.
Kristján - September 2, 2011 03:50 PM (GMT)
"Great. Oh, and also. Don't bring anything."
See, Kristján knew Ema. With another woman he might have said, Ema I need to see you, or Listen please can we talk.
That shit wouldn't work on Ema. Even if she was attracted to him--which he thought sometimes she might be? Who could tell for certain with women?--she was an independent modern girl and probably didn't get carried away by that.
Kristján did know something that seemed to get her to behave utterly unreasonably one hundred percent of the time.
"If you come without even a purse or anything, if you just drop everything and leave it where it is, I will answer one question truthfully and to your satisfaction for free."
Maybe it would make her more suspicious that he was offering something apparently for nothing in return, but there just had to be something she wanted to know badly enough to get her there, even if it was just why in any possible Hell he'd asked her to meet him in such a bizarre manner.
Tiny Librarian - September 2, 2011 04:12 PM (GMT)
Okay, then. That was the most tempting thing anyone had ever said to her. But what the fuck?
"Kristján." There was no other explanation. There was no good reason why he would say something like that.
"Are you screwing with me? I mean, I know I fucked up, but seriously. What are you doing?"
Kristján - September 2, 2011 04:38 PM (GMT)
This was an easy one. If Kristján put down his entire life and identity down on a flow chart, directly after Has someone asked you an uncomfortable direct question? would be, Can you be a complete dick for no good reason just to frustrate them until they desist? Yes or no.
Right this second, mercifully, the answer was yes.
"Ema, I am always dicking with everybody. But I also told you that I appreciated your apology, and I haven't ever cared enough what you think to lie to you. Why would I start now?"
She was so frustrating! Why was he trying to save her life again?
Tiny Librarian - September 2, 2011 04:47 PM (GMT)
Ema facepalmed and leaned against a wall.
"Kristján. Look, I don't know exactly what you want from me, but what you just said says to me that yes, you are screwing with me, probably because I did something really awful and also because you are a jerk, and therefore my best option would be to just hang up right now and never talk to you again. If you tell me why you want me to meet you, I will actually drop everything and come meet you, but I don't know just how badly you want to screw with me, so if you won't give me something to work with, then I should probably just not go."
She stood with one hand over her face, hoping against hope that he would give her a reason to go. Or maybe she should go just to tell him off for being a jerk. But she wouldn't. She knew that.
Kristján - September 2, 2011 04:57 PM (GMT)
"Ema," he said carefully.
There was a way to do this, and he was sure he knew what it was. He just didn't know what he knew. Kristján had better figure it out quickly, though, because it was important and time was sort of a relevant factor.
"I am not calling you or asking you this because I am pissed at you. If I wanted to get back at you for what you did, I would just yell at you. I am too important on a cosmic scale to waste my time on long campaigns to make one mortal suffer."
Even saying that was kind of an acknowledgment on his part of how right Ema was about the depths to which he really was a complete jerk, but Kristján hoped that it made him the kind of jerk she would trust for just a few minutes until The Ancient broke into her house and she learned what he'd warned her about where demons were concerned.
Just because a demon was honest didn't necessarily make him trustworthy. Even good intentions didn't make him trustworthy, as Emerald was probably about to discover (provided he couldn't somehow prevent her from realizing that his intentions were good, which would honestly be preferable though likely entirely impossible).
Tiny Librarian - September 2, 2011 05:23 PM (GMT)
That was a valid point... Fine. But she was going to give her phone to her neighbor, and tell her where to find her in case anything happened while she was gone.
"Alright. I'll meet you there. I'm bringing my keys, and nothing else."
She held her breath and waited to hear his response.
Kristján - September 2, 2011 05:39 PM (GMT)
Kristján sighed, a soft noise that Ema could nonetheless probably hear from her end. If he'd been anybody else, he might have thanked her, or God, or someone that he had made this work.
It wasn't time to relax yet, though, and he was far beyond thanking God for anything. He still had work to do, and God certainly was not going to do it for him. So all he said was, "Good. I'm leaving now," and hung up.
That was done. It hadn't even been the hard part. Keeping her occupied long enough for Tettius to get in and out withouut running into Ema... that would be the hard part. Kristján pushed himself up off the floor with one hand braced against his knee. He needed to go iron his trousers. He'd said that he was leaving immediately, but that obviously meant immediately upon becoming presentable.
The demon tried to figure out what he was going to say or do to keep her distracted while he stood in his full outfit minus pants at the ironing board. Chocolate brown dress shirt, tan sport coat, and a yellow, cream, and orange paisley tie with a gold tie bar. Oh, and Emporio Armani boxers in a hunter green bold check pattern.
Immediately upon becoming presentable. He needed a moment to think anyway.
Tiny Librarian - September 2, 2011 07:14 PM (GMT)
What was that all about? Did he just sigh? Really? Did demons do that? Apparently Kristján did.
Ema spent about a minute staring blankly at her phone, then went to find her shoes. Luckily, her next door neighbor was home, so she left her phone, with the request that she be called at the Starbucks if anyone called her while she was out. She could try to explain that later.
It took her just under fifteen minutes to get to the Starbucks, where she ordered a tall hot chocolate and found a comfortable seat in the corner where there were two armchairs and a small table.
Then she waited, becoming more and more impatient as she considered the myriad reasons why Kristján might possibly have deigned to ask her to meet him, what the hell he was thinking, and whether he was actually likely to show up.
Kristján - September 2, 2011 07:29 PM (GMT)
Finally put together--trousers ironed, tie straightened, hair neatened--Kristján took the his guitarcase down to the trunk of his car along with the briefcase he'd used earlier.
He wondered what Ema would ask him. Would it be a question with a short answer, or at least one with a short discussion involved? Something like why he'd called her. He doubted there'd be much of a conversation after that. Would it be one of those long story sort of questions?
There'd been certain information he'd told Ema was not for sale when they'd had their little exchange. His implication this time, whether she had caught it or not, was that he would answer any question. Not the most appealing of potential conversation topics but if she were more curious about him as an individual than him as a creature, he didn't dare take that off the table.
Beneath the exasperation and even beneath the well-buried anxiety about whether he could make this work, he might have been as curious about Tiny Librarian's curiosity as she was about him. What did she really want to know, he wondered?
Kristján walked in about ten minutes after Ema did, with freshly-ironed trousers and a guitar case over his shoulder. When he saw her, he raised his brows and gave her a tight-lipped smile in acknowledgment as though this were not an awkward thing at all and nothing was weird and certainly nobody was making their way to her apartment to break in while she was gone because how awfully uncouth would that be.
He laid the guitar case down carefully next to the table and then pointed to the counter. "Be right back."
All he wanted was a cup of chai, though, so it only bought him about a minute before he had to return to the table and actually interact with Ema properly. Damn and double damn.
The demon sat back down across from her. "Hi."
Tiny Librarian - September 2, 2011 07:36 PM (GMT)
She couldn't help it. As soon as she saw him, acting normal, of all things, Ema broke into a smile. She didn't really want to. She wanted to be mad at him, but really, he hadn't done anything wrong. And if he came to the coffee shop with a guitar case and nothing else, then maybe he really was just here? That was hard to believe. But she was still smiling into her cup when he walked back to the table.
Ema looked up, trying to keep herself calm. Calm and rational. She could totally handle this.
"Hi. It's..." She was not going to tell him it was good to see him. Not going to do it. She wasn't entirely sure if that was true, anyway.
Kristján - September 2, 2011 07:41 PM (GMT)
"Yes!" he said. "Mm. Right."
Now he was supposed to convincingly make normal-feeling small talk with this person. Except they didn't have anything to talk about. All their usual fodder seemed to bear more resemblance to an interrogation than an actual back and forth.
"Sorry," he said, pointing to the guitar case. "About that. I don't like to leave it in the trunk. It's sort of expensive, and it'd be sort of a pain in the ass to replace."
Yes. Talk about guitars. Women liked those. Kristján had been a teenager in the seventies. He knew about women and guitars.
Tiny Librarian - September 2, 2011 07:46 PM (GMT)
Ema nodded. Well, okay then. Apparently they weren't getting down to business. Or anything.
"Cool. I never learned to play anything." She paused. This was harder than she thought.
"So. I keep wanting to ask you questions, but if I get one question for free, I think I should save it for something good."
Kristján - September 2, 2011 07:49 PM (GMT)
Persistent girl, wasn't she. Hadn't been distracted by the sudden presence of a musical instrument that he actually could play. Unlike his glasses, the guitar was not just for show. Ema had something else on her mind, though.
Well, that was fine. This would kill more time anyway.
"Yes. That's fair," he replied. "What do I get for the other questions? Same as last time?"
Tiny Librarian - September 2, 2011 07:55 PM (GMT)
Ema shrugged. That was disappointing.
"Whatever you want. I don't know if it's worth a trade, though. When you walked in, I wanted to ask how you were and then I wanted to ask if you can actually play that guitar, and whether you like it, but you know. Not complicated questions. You can decide."
She curled up in her seat and wrapped both hands around her cup. The warmth was comforting.
Kristján - September 2, 2011 08:02 PM (GMT)
Kristján smiled, the for-real kind that started on one side of his mouth and only took over the rest after a second or two.
"Guitar information is free. Yes, I can play."
He didn't really want to tell her how he was. He hated tonight. That was how he was. He didn't like being forced to choose between his ethical responsibilities and his moral opinions, between a valuable client and an acquaintance who... well, at the very least didn't deserve to die as far as he knew. It was all quite vexing.
But the guitar was a comfortable topic.
"I told you we could all play the guitar. I guess too many people told their friends and family that selling your soul would make you the best guitar prodigy around. So now it's true."
Tiny Librarian - September 2, 2011 08:09 PM (GMT)
Ema giggled. He was really cute when he smiled like that. Then she sighed. She was confused and annoyed that she was confused. Also maybe a little bit annoyed that he was cute. But... He was.
"So..." Guitar questions were free, he said. "Do you like to play?"
Kristján - September 2, 2011 08:13 PM (GMT)
"Yeah, I do," he answered. "It's not the kind of work that it used to be, so it's been a while since I really got to be excited about accomplishing something new, but anything done well is a good thing."
This was so much better. Kristján could actually converse like a person if it was about something easy like his guitar. There was nothing terribly revealing, so he didn't have to retreat behind sniping at her, but it was real enough to keep her off track for a minute or two.
Was Tettius there yet?
"I don't really do anything with it, though. Go be a musician or whatever. It'd feel like cheating."
Tiny Librarian - September 2, 2011 08:24 PM (GMT)
Ema uncurled herself while he talked, shifting to the edge of her seat, where her feet could actually reach the ground. Crossing her legs, she leaned forward, resting her elbow on her knee, and her chin on her hand.
"...anything done well is a good thing." She nodded, smiling. Maybe that would explain some of his near-neurotic tidiness. It was probably satisfying, in a weird way.
"I don't really do anything with it, though. Go be a musician or whatever. It'd feel like cheating."
That made her laugh. Interesting guy.
"I like that." She looked down, still smiling, and bit her lip. This was problematic. It would be better not to explain that statement.
Instead, she leaned back and looked around the cafe, trying to think of a graceful way to change the subject.
Kristján - September 2, 2011 08:32 PM (GMT)
"Yeah," he acknowledged, the word half lost to a self-conscious laugh. Look, tea! How grand. Tea was good for punctuating silences and making them less awkward.
Now that Kristján felt like he had a captive audience, he wasn't entirely sure what to do with it. It had been a while since he'd really just sat and tried to be comfortable with anybody but Hilduara. He and Hilde were both so publicly strange that normal moments like tea had to be kept secret in between bouts of ritual posturing and commercial bloodletting.
Of course, he couldn't really relax here either. Even if he wanted to. Did he?
Well, that didn't matter. He couldn't. No sense bothering about hypotheticals.
Tiny Librarian - September 2, 2011 08:37 PM (GMT)
Ema looked up. That was an interesting laugh. And now he was drinking his tea and looking like he didn't know what to say next. She smiled to herself, looked down into her cup, and back up, waiting for him to swallow so she could ask another question.
"Do you mind talking about yourself?" She sat very still, half-smiling, waiting for him to tell her off or say that she had used up her free question. That was what happened, right? With this guy, that was what always happened. It was just a matter of time.
Kristján - September 2, 2011 08:41 PM (GMT)
Prince Vassago, infernal feudal lord and CAPE office fashion plate, just snorted. Whether it was a laugh at Ema's expense or his own didn't matter enough for him to unravel.
"I talk about myself constantly."
Easy answer. Honest, forthright, a little snide, but unhelpfully pithy. He smirked up at her, willing to let it be clear that he knew he'd dodged the question and didn't necessarily expect to get away with it. Really, though... what else could he say?
Tiny Librarian - September 2, 2011 08:45 PM (GMT)
What to do with that. There wasn't much she could do.
"I guess I should take that as a no. But if you ever feel like giving me an answer, I'd still like to know."
She took a sip of hot chocolate, using it as a very convenient excuse to look away.
Kristján - September 2, 2011 08:53 PM (GMT)
"Well, does it matter, really? The terms were that I would answer questions. I accepted the terms. That's how a contract works."
Maybe if he could turn all of their halfway-civil interactions into contractual exchanges like this, he wouldn't have to decide what to say if Tettius asked him any questions about her. He didn't know the old warlock well enough to guess whether he'd decide that the woman who owned that apartment was his sworn rival or nemesis or whatever it was villains had. Maybe The Ancient wouldn't care.
In case he did, though, it would make a comfortable shortcut to invoke client privilege where she was concerned. Then it wouldn't be because of what he wanted or didn't want; it would just be a natural response to the professional rules he had to abide by.
"There are certain conversations that I don't think you'll enjoy any more than I will, but a contract is a contract. If they're what you want to know, depending on what I'm getting in return, I'll tell you."
Tiny Librarian - September 2, 2011 09:04 PM (GMT)
She didn't look at him, just sighed and curled up in her chair again. Just when she started to actually have a conversation with him, he had to turn it into something else.
"Forget it." He was such a jerk! If he didn't want to answer a question he could just say so, or tell her he didn't like her guessing. She should really just go home, but, if she did, she probably wouldn't get another chance to talk to him, and she couldn't even give him a piece of her mind. Not really. Not if she wanted him to stay not mad at her and keep talking. But she couldn't keep talking anyway, could she?
At this point, it didn't really matter. She was fed up, and the hot chocolate, while delicious and warm, was no longer doing its job.
"Look, why did you want me to come here and do whatever it is you wanted me to do? What did you want to get out of it? You're apparently not going to actually talk to me anyway, so just answer me that and I'll leave you alone."
Kristján - September 2, 2011 09:15 PM (GMT)
Why did he have to be stuck trying to do something decent that he couldn't even let her realize was happening? Weren't people supposed to be permitted to be complicit in their own assistance?
The fact that this was how it always worked with him was surely irrelevant. There was nothing at all unreasonable in the manner he used to arrange and control his life and the people in it; all of these little inconveniences were just coincidental obstacles with no causal relationship to anything ridiculous he might or might not be doing.
She had leapt right to the question that he'd been hoping to forestall, but it wasn't clear whether that answer was what she wanted. The alternative was... what? Sit here and chit-chat? About what? How?
Why couldn't chicks just say what they wanted? More to the point, why couldn't they stop wanting contradictory things?
"I don't understand whether you want me to stop the question and answer format, or answer the question you asked."
Tiny Librarian - September 2, 2011 09:20 PM (GMT)
She looked up when he said her name.
"I don't understand whether you want me to stop the question and answer format, or answer the question you asked."
Well, that was easy.
"Both." She gave a quiet, wry laugh that was very different from her usual giggle. "I said it before. You didn't like it then, but you don't have to buy and sell everything. There doesn't always have to be a contract. But there already is, and that's my question, so I'd like an answer."
Kristján - September 2, 2011 09:25 PM (GMT)
It was clear from his face that Ema might as well have been talking nonsense. Didn't have to buy and sell everything? First off, nothing was free. Everything had a cost, even if it was just an opportunity cost, and there was absolutely nothing in the world which was exempt from that.
Of course she wouldn't get it, though. She was what she was.
"All right," he said, resigned. "But before I do."
There had to be some kind of plan. Maybe... maybe he could make her understand his position, so that when she realized what was going on she would... what?
Feel less betrayed?
Her feelings were her own damn problem. If she wanted to feel betrayed by someone who had told her up front he was entirely untrustworthy, then she deserved what she got because that was just stupid. He'd been as fair as he could, hadn't he? Made it her own fault if she lined herself to get kicked even though he'd made it clear she shouldn't.
Even if he was the cause, Ema was the one who had let him. Why wasn't she more careful?
"I would like to explain something, if I may."
The Ancient - September 2, 2011 11:15 PM (GMT)
Meanwhile, not far away, the Ancient was making a beeline to the location of Gahan's Tome. He knew where to look by address and shelf, but didn't know the name of the wizard he was about to slay.
As he had told Kristjan, getting away from his engagements was incredibly easy for one such as him. This was easiest when there were no engagements, and he was instead sitting around his apartment eating a cold pheasant sandwich and listening to Vivaldi.
It did not take long for Tettius to finish his sandwich, change into his robes and mask, take the Ono'apho'on from his shielded room, and set out across Metro City's downtown to find the book. He left the CD of Vivaldi playing.
The Ancient flew by encasing himself in a bubble of phantasmal green energy, standing upright and surveying the world he would rule rather than flying undignified on his stomach. Take no notice of the overhead map of the city he pulled from his robe from time to time to compare to what he could see below him.
He cast a brief spell and landed, and his first action was to fling two blasts of energy against the wall of the building. Loud enough to be heard and maybe shake the building a little, but not enough to break through and make him have to sort through collapsed walls to find the book.
"Apprentice of the tome!" he boomed. The spell he had cast made sure his voice would be heard throughout the building. "Come out and face your doom!"
This being a supervillain thing...it appealed to him.
Tiny Librarian - September 3, 2011 12:10 AM (GMT)
The apprentice of the tome clutched her hot chocolate and stared at Kristján.
"I would like to explain something, if I may."
This could only end badly. Ema had a terrible sinking feeling, like she was about to be told... Well. She had no idea what, but something bad.
She shifted again, sliding her feet to the floor and leaning forward in her chair.
"Okay. Go for it."
Kristján - September 3, 2011 12:23 AM (GMT)
"We talked a couple months ago--" Had it really been months? "--about the two different kinds of celestial creature, at least as I understand them. Angels being all about faith and obedience, remember?"
This wasn't so bad. This was an academic sort of portion of the talk, about angels and demons in general terms and not yet specific ones. Maybe it would help. Maybe she'd stop treating him like a person if she realized the ways in which he wasn't one.
"We're not like them. It's all... cynicism and... disdain." He took a long drink of his tea, slurping it through the lid to cool it enough. "Not a lot is sacred. Obedience matters if someone can scare you into it, but only as long as they can. Loyalty isn't... really..." His eyes roved the room as he searched for the right term. The female barista had tied a perfect four in hand. Her male coworker had done a sloppy Windsor. "...a thing."
The demon set down his cup and stared at Ema levelly. He didn't want her to miss the significance of this, because remembering it later would help her understand.
"What we have are contracts. If you want loyalty, you contract. If you want privacy, you contract. If you want safety, you contract."
He left it unspoken that if you wanted friendship... well, you didn't get what you wanted. Nobody could promise something like that, and if you couldn't get someone to promise it to you... it didn't happen.
"It's formalized because it has to be, because otherwise you can't ever know where you stand."
He leaned back and used another drink of tea as a pretense to break eye contact and let Ema go from that moment.
"See what I'm saying?"
Tiny Librarian - September 3, 2011 12:33 AM (GMT)
Ema waited a moment, hoping he would look at her again. Because this was important. This was what was wrong him.
"No." He needed to understand this, because he was being an idiot. Not even a jerk, just an idiot. "Just no.
"Because," She paused, frowning, trying to think of how to word it, "For one thing, if you have to differentiate between loyalty and contracted loyalty, then I think you're missing a point. Which is that they're the same, really. I mean, you can look at it in any context as a series of unspoken contracts, or whatever, but what it comes down to is that loyalty is built on a sense of owing something to someone else, or just wanting to give them something because it is worth it to you for whatever reason. Just because it's not a formal contract doesn't mean that it doesn't exist."
Wait. Why was this relevant?
"...Sorry. Were you going to keep going? Because I can debate this with you some other time. I really do want to hear what you actually have to say."
Kristján - September 3, 2011 12:51 AM (GMT)
As the demon listened, he raised his eyebrows in the mild amusement and pity that said he wasn't really taking her seriously. She didn't understand. What a nice place Ema's life must be, where she could make assumptions about the loyalty or intentions of others and be correct.
What do you assume about me, I wonder? Will I prove you right?
"No, we're still on topic. See... loyalty can happen outside of a contract. It can. I mean, it does. But if the terms aren't explicitly stated, you can have a lot of nasty surprises when you assume one thing and it turns out to be different."
He pulled his cup across the table, closer to him, but didn't drink from it. He shifted back in his seat.
"Demons can break our word; there's nothing literally stopping us. It's just taboo in a way that basically nothing else is. At the very least we're supposed to keep to the letter of our agreements."
His expression darkened briefly. He took a quick breath and grimaced as though he were about to curse, but then it was gone. Kristján had no idea how to tell her that turning everything into a contract was his way of protecting her from the consequences of associating with him. It was the best he could do for most people.
"So you probably think it's weird and obnoxious that I make everything all about give and take and keep it all even, but that's partly just my nature. It's also partly the only custom we have that..." He sucked his teeth indecisively. "...conveys anything decent."