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Generated: Jun 27, 2022 1:36 PM
Post last updated: Jun 16, 2022 2:47 PM
back down to painted wooden spinning earth
someone should just STAB chris parker
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Jing Yi has received an Assignment from his contact in the police. Specifically, the assignment is that a rumor says that Oscar Latz is selling some manner of illegal French pornography, and it is Jing Yi's job to investigate this and see if they can use it as an excuse to shut down the bookshop which is selling anarchist propaganda that is "not" "technically" "illegal."

He is also interested in getting Evie some book recommendations.

Assuming Oscar will let him in, of course. He ends up standing awkwardly on the doormat. "I'm very aware that you don't want me to darken your doorstep, but someone else has a problem that you'd be in a better position to help solve."

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"Such as?"

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"I'm assuming you have books you'd recommend to people who spent most of their lives tragically deprived of books?"

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William Jing is getting into literature?

"That's a tricky one. I have a list of our most popular titles if you'd like?" He gestures towards a thing of pamphlets on the counter. They are noticeably yellowed.

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He thumbs through the pamphlet. (It's really unlikely the pornography is listed in the pamphlet, but you never know--). "There's nothing you'd say 'everybody should read this once in their lives, otherwise they'd be very deprived?'"

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"Sure but that's different from what I'd recommend a customer who hasn't been exposed to much literature... No offense, but is this really what you're here to talk about it?"

Thus far banning William Jing from the Progressive has been a strict formality.

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"I am literally here to buy a gift for a friend!" Also to snoop on your pornography if I run into it.

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"Okay. Well, let me know if you need help finding any of those titles." Oscar pointedly turns back to his book.

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He will look around the shelves for those titles, and also anything illicit, then. (Oscar, if you are selling banned books, don't turn your back on your customers, at the very least. Really.)

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Hannah has in fact stashed the illicit French pornography art up on a high shelf so that Charlie won't get it.

When it is supposed to be in the backroom and only available upon request.

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Oscaaaar, why have you put this out in the open? Do you have a store-death wish? It makes his job easier, but whyyyyyyyy?

He picks up the three of the most popular books in the pamphlet that seem like Evie would like (serious, intelligent books, that aren't 'gee I bet this is what a Girl would like.) ...he should probably get some more than that, seeing as the Progressive may not be long for this world. He picks up A Christmas Carol (Dickens is good, right?) and Dracula (...maybe Evie likes horror? Or at least he'll get points for introducing her to it.) He sets them on the counter. "Thank you for your help."

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Dickens and Stoker, huh? Yeah, pretty much. "Sure. Hope your friend enjoys the books," Oscar says and calculates the total. On principle, he resists the urge to add a William Jing tax.

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"...I know you have no reason to trust me, but you do know I went to boarding school, right? And have thus read English Literature?"

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Oscar should create a tax for public school students. "I hope you enjoyed Tennyson," he says.

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"I plan to leave the epic poetry to the poets, thank you."

He pays. It's high enough to sting, but definitely worth it for Evie. (Drat, maybe he should grab some Tennyson for her? ...but from a different bookshop.)

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Oh well, at least William Jing is a paying customer.

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It was such a good idea to let him in!

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A few hours later--

"Hello?"

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"I have something for you." He holds out a pile of books. He's aiming for suave, but is probably coming across as hilariously nervous. "You may have read some of them already, but I thought you might like them."

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"Thank you! Would you like to come inside?"

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"If you'll let me in."

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"Of course. My house is going to be your house soon, isn't it?"

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"I won't have to deal with eccentric academics, it'll be lovely."

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"I'm sure Terrence is wonderful." She makes him a cup of tea.

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"He honestly is! He just can be a bit Interesting To Live With, at times. Research notes covering everything, dust covering the research notes, that sort of thing."

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"You'd think he'd have to read them more often. So what did you bring me?"

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He shows her the books.

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She flips through it. "Oooh, Keats."

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"Only the finest selection of literature. ...and Dracula."

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"What's wrong with Dracula?"

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"There's nothing wrong with it, it was more 'I can't give Evie only Wholesome Literature, I have to get something fun as well' and then panicking in a bookshop."

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"Carmilla is more my favorite vampire."

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"I'll have to read it sometime, then."

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"She's a lesbian."

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"It's a very admirable trait in a vampire."

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"I myself have often wanted to be a depraved lesbian vampire."

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"Who hasn't? Depravity has a lot going for it."

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"It really does. Thank you for the gift. It's so thoughtful. What made you think of it?"

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"You mentioned you didn't get to read much when you were younger. I had to guess what you hadn't read yet, but-- I thought you might have wanted more books."

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"Thank you." She beams up at him. 'This is exactly what I wanted. I'm so glad to be with someone who wants me for my mind."

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Something niggles at the back of Jing Yi's mind: they definitely haven't talked much since they got together, certainly not about intellectual topics.

...Which means he should do that some more, seeing as she has mentioned liking it! "It's a very charming mind! It should be appreciated more."

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"Thank you! I've tried to cultivate it. I love the things you notice about me."

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"Cultivated in adverse circumstances, which makes it even more remarkable."

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She puts her hand on his thigh. "You're so devoted to me."

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"I'm glad I'm living up to expectations."

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Teasing: "I feel like you'd give me anything I want."

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"And I'd be happy to demonstrate that."

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"With gifts."

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"--I really do need to get you a ring."

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"It's all right, proposing with books works just as well." She kisses his cheek. "You didn't ruin my chastity, I don't need a diamond to make up for my loss if you don't make an honest woman of me."

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"I still should do it properly." He gets off the couch and onto one knee. It's kind of awkward doing it without anything to hand over, but it probably would be awkward in any case. "I know we've already agreed, but will you marry me?"

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"Of course," she says.

She purses her lips and frowns.

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"... Is there something wrong?"

oh no, he made Evie upset

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She starts to cry.

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Oh no, he's really fucked up now. Hugs? Will a hug help?

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She cries into his shoulder. "Jing Yi, we can't."

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"--we can work something out. Even if it's not official."

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"I wish I could, but-- I'm so sorry I didn't tell you."

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This is not the problem he expected. "What happened?"

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"I just," she sniffles, "I just wanted to feel loved-- That I could marry--" She cries again.

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He rubs her back soothingly. "I promise, if this is a problem I can solve, I will do my utmost."

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"My father-- gambles more than he should and he wound up in debt to some-- very bad people. Gambles and goes to-- to brothels-- and takes opium-- And he has nothing to give anyone, except that I'm-- very beautiful, and my mother always taught me to be pleasing to men, and that's how my parents see me. And he talked to a man he knew. Chris Parker. And Chris Parker made it clear that he would make it all go away and give my father as much money as he needed-- if--"

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"You're already engaged to him."

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"Yes." She sobs again into his shoulder. "I'm so sorry--"

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--Jing Yi has seen sobbing like that before. That practiced, that careful.

Specifically, he has seen it when the Triads figured out his weakness for a girl with a pretty face and a tragic story. It left him with a broken ankle, a phobia of concealed weapons, and-- just barely-- his life.

Look, he likes Evie, even if he hasn't known her that long. And he's aware that he could be being wildly paranoid, seeing patterns that aren't there. But... he didn't become paranoid for no reason.

He isn't going to feel used yet, but he's definitely prepared to find out he's been a useful patsy this whole time.

There's no reason for Evie to know that. Maybe she is honest and just... cries weird. (His instincts are Unconvinced by that explanation.) "Would me having a word with Parker help?"

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"If you could--" She cries again. "He's a cruel man. I'm scared. And--"

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"Look, I've got some experience with the type." (Including experience being beaten half to death and having a pen knife to his throat, natch.) "I can see what I can do."

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She looks up at him with huge, teary, beautiful eyes. "My time of the month didn't come this month. It must have been the first time we were together--"

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--OhshitfuckGODDAMN. He's trying not to look at her through the lens of what acting choices she's made. Because that's just an entirely plausible claim. It's probably true, and why did he not think this was a possibility? How the fuck did he forget where babies come from? "Well, that's all the more reason to get this sorted out sooner rather than later. Make sure the little one isn't any more of a bastard than they grow up to be." It's a lame joke, but it's all he has.

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"He wants to marry me quickly-- I'd pass it off as his except-- he's white--"

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"I was thinking along the same lines. That's... not going to work." Unless that kid somehow throws heritability for a loop and looks like a copy of their mother. But that is not a plan you can rely on. "I'll talk to Parker."

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"I'm scared for you."

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"I've handled people like that before." He does not promise it will be fine. That seems like that would jinx it.

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"He's in his apartment most of the time," she says, "and when he's not he's guarded by Michael Coombs-- he's a dangerous man with a lot of enemies--"

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"...I don't plan to stab him. Just talk."

Stabbing him does, in fact, seem like a good solution to the problem. His mouth forms the sentence "but I could stab him if you wanted me to" without his brain really having much input into the subject.

He adds, "If you think it's the best course of action."

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"I don't know--" She sobs. "He thinks I'm his, and he doesn't like giving up any of his possessions. Not his books, not his collections, not the people he owns. I'm just another beautiful thing to him, like a table, or a painting. And if he thinks that you're going to steal me-- he kills to keep his things safe--"

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He may not entirely trust Evie right now-- but in any case she deserves to be treated as more than a precious bauble. "I'll keep that in mind."

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"And now I'm a thing that's his and is broken. Because I-- I'm with child, and it's someone else's-- and so I'm not his all the way through-- I'm scared he's going to kill me."

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"I will do my best to make sure that doesn't happen. If you need a place to stay, where he doesn't know where you are--"

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Sniff sniff. "I would like that. He almost never leaves his house, but he goes for a walk on the full moon, all night long-- he likes it, says it helps him think--"

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(Probably a bit too exposed for a successful murder, though.) "I can find you a hotel, or if you don't mind living cheek by jowl with an eccentric academic..."

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She laughs. "I like academics. I can make sure Coombs isn't there, on the 27th-- so you can talk to him alone or, or--"

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"...how are you planning on doing that?"

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She smiles without humor. "Well, I can't exactly get pregnant twice."

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"If it works, it works."

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She kisses his cheek. "You're so sweet. Not-- possessive, like some other men. I'm not a thing that belongs to you."

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"--You're a person and that's important."

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"I hope it all works out so that I can marry you."

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"I'll do my best."

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She puts her head on his shoulder. "Depravity has a lot going for it, hm? In theory or in practice?"

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"Surely you know the answer to that one."

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"Well, I know you practiced it with me, but not how experienced you were before."

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"I was... reasonably experienced, I'd say."

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"You seemed a bit inexperienced with the vagina, although certainly a quick learner."

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"My experience mostly lay in other forms of depravity."

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"Opium?"

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"...That, but also men." If she wants to be a lesbian vampire, presumably she is fine with that? Also pretending he has never interacted with a penis that was not his own for the rest of his married life would probably not be a sustainable plan.

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She laughs. "I liked women. What is the saying? 'My father warned me about men and booze but he never said anything about women and cocaine'?"

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"I got more warned off, but that only made me more interested."

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"There's a certain pleasure in doing things you're not supposed to. Let's not get in the way of each other, in our marriage."

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"I'd be happy to do that, if you honestly wouldn't mind." He doesn't want to be possessive, but if Evie would feel more comfortable with him being only hers... he can work with that.

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"Not at all. I was always a good kid who liked sharing my toys. And it's always been interesting to me to think about two men at once."

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"...if you wanted to see that in person... I can't promise I could arrange that but. Someday I might find someone willing."

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Somewhere in the distance Ruby feels a great disturbance in the force.

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"Thank you. For all of this. It means so much to me."

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"I'm happy to help."

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And now she is going to thank him properly.

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He's still a bit... distracted, by that first damsel who turned out not to be in distress, but-- he's not going to think about her. Or the way Evie is acting like her. Because there's a good chance he's just being a weird paranoiac and he should stop thinking about it and let her be nice to him.

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Meanwhile--

"How have you been?" Hannah asks when he returns home from the store.

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Unfortunately there is no way of explaining the events of the past few days to Hannah without scaring her. "I'm fine," he says. "I made a decent sale today."

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"Oh?"

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"Yeah, that edition of Dracula I told you about? And a Dickens. A Christmas Carol-- you know how people love that one." Somehow he forgot to Jing Yi that these weren't the cheapest versions available.

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"I suppose it's that time of year." She looks tired. "I wish we earned less money from it. A Christmas Carol is capitalist claptrap."

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"It's garbage and I don't mind overcharging people for it."

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"They might end up believing it!"

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"That'd be the least of his problems... I didn't tell you, it was Jing Yi."

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"I thought he was banned from the shop?"

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"I felt a bit bad turning him away since we're supposed to be on the same side of the Roby case."

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"And because he was going to buy books for twice as much as they'd cost in an ordinary store."

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"You know me and my shrewd business sense."

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"Is that why the shop is constantly in debt."

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"It's a joke, Hannah."

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"I know, I wasn't trying to-- whatever. Dickens."

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"I have the new IWW paper if you want to read it. The chapter election is coming up soon?"

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"I still haven't finished last week's, although I suppose at some point the news is going to be out of date. That's how news works."

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"Okay. I was hoping to talk to you about the candidates at some point... I know I'm not voting for Whitehouse, though. Bastard."

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"Absolute bastard," she agrees.

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"And to tell you the truth I think Hickey's a Stalinist."

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"Christ."

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"I don't know what the Wobblies are coming to."

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"And of course the other guys are all idiots." She sighs. "I almost wonder if we'd do better with an honest Stalinist-- the idiots can wind up in the Stalinists' pockets, and make incompetent decisions besides."

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"Hang on, an honest Stalinist?"

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"I know, I'm getting too cynical."

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Sometimes it sure feels that way. "What are the kids up to?"

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She laughs. "Charlie has decided that he only wants to play the cops when he plays cops and robbers because the cops fight bad guys."

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"He mentioned that the other day. Sometimes I worry about the movies he sees. They're starting young with the propaganda."

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"If only our propagandists were as good. But we don't have the budget that Hollywood does."

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"We don't." He's not quite comfortable with the idea of making propaganda. "The sooner he learns to read the better."

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"I've been teaching him." She sighs. "I hate compulsory schooling."

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"Yeah, it's pretty grim."

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"It's only going to get worse-- I suppose the children are soon going to get to an age where we can take them to meetings."

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"I imagine so." When was the last time Oscar went to a meeting? So long that he's kind of ashamed to turn up again.

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"...I'm tired. I want to go to bed."

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"Good idea. I can watch the kids if you need?" It's been pretty nice having a conversation that wasn't about the Roby case but he is also quite tired and wants to go stare at a wall.

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"That sounds lovely." She kisses him with genuine sweetness.

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It's been a while.

That night, Oscar dreams.

It's cold outside and the bedroom window stands wide open. The curtains sigh into the room. He watches himself sleeping, wrapping the sheets more tightly around his shoulders, and he sees they’re ripped, shredded into long streamers. He rises from bed and stumbles out of the room. Along unfamiliar corridors and across large chambers, he notices marble, carpet, pass glass, velvet hangings, brick and porcelain, oil, and gold wood. One of him is muttering: “It’s all a distraction. All a distraction.” There’s a mask on the wall and he takes it up, puts it on. He sees a sword and picks it up. The robe of tattered cotton plays out behind him, lending him a dignity commensurate with his task. And then he sees someone in a side corridor watching him. His doppelganger, eager and worried. Suddenly furious he hurries over, gripping the sword tightly: “You think you can stand in judgment over me? You think this has nothing to do with you?!” He wonders just what he's capable of. “It is my crown! Mine!"

Another dream to report to Sal.

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In the morning, when he arrives at the shop, there's a sign that says CLOSED BY ORDER OF SCOTLAND YARD and a police officer standing out front.

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Oscar's stomach sinks.

Doesn't he recognize that cop? He's pretty sure he does. he bribed him once to look the other way about a shipment of some anarchist pamphlets.

"Thomas?" Oscar says. "Can you tell me what's going on here?"

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"Mr. Latz," the cop says disdainfully.

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"I'm just wondering why the shop's closed."

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"Illicit distribution of obscene material."

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Jesus. "Am I free to leave?" he says.

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"For now."

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Great!

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"Until we've concluded our investigation into your-- filth."

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"Okay." He starts walking away quickly. "Thanks for the information." And blatant editorializing but he should get away from the cop as soon as possible. When he gets to the end of the block he ducks into an alley behind a bar and leans against the wall.

He's going to have to start contacting people as soon as possible. But for now he's just going to stare into the bricks of the alley.

It's there that he remembers that yesterday, Jing Yi was the best-paying customer at his shop.

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Meanwhile--

Terrence wants to interrogate Sal and Inaaya.

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Sal's interrogated him enough times, turnabout is probably fair play.

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Inaaya has barely even interrogated him at all but she was admittedly super weird last time they talked. Fair enough.

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Sal glances over to look at the content of Terrence's open notebook! Specifically, the yellow signs doodled in the margins.

Sal is being haunted. Maybe they should stop meeting at Terrence's place so often.

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The notebook is definitely in plain view, Terrence has not cleaned up - anyhow, well, he did start doing some dishes he found when he got distracted while looking for his stash of blank notebooks, and - well, you know it goes.

Anyhow, Terrence takes no notice of it and puts on some tea. "Sal! Inaaya! Welcome in. How goes the search?"

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"Not very straightforwardly, as per usual."

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It'd be going better if William weren't determined to keep the name of his whistle-having friend a secret. "It's going alright! Apparently Roby visited another small town which had some weird murders, name of Clare Melford, in Suffolk. What did you want to ask us about?"

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"Wait, Clare Melford? You're sure?"

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"...yes. Why, what's in Clare Melford?"

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"Splendid synchronicity," he mumbles. Then, in a normal tone:"Oh, I was just reading a book written by our elusive Ben Best. He mentioned Clare Melford as the historical site of worship of some ancient deity of Brittany. I'm told he had some fascinations with possible modern worship of ancient deities as well, though I'm not sure this one has any modern following - in any case I only just heard the name of the place today."

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"Huh. Which deity?" She's not just stalling to try and avoid the interrogation to follow but she's definitely nonzero doing that.

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"Shub-Niggurath. ... Not sure if I'm pronouncing that right."

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....the one Valentine Donovan apparently talked about. Good to know but also she kind of hates it. "I wouldn't know."

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"The same one Donovan mentioned - I don't know if there's anything there or if she just happened to know the name, but if Roby visited and there were other - unusual events - there ... Well, it might be worth looking into." He shrugs and pours some tea. "Anyhow. Listen, what I wanted to ask about - Inaaya, you have a... a keen interest in the architecture of the fantastical."

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Which of Inaaya's many things is that supposed to be??

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The Dreamlands, mostly. "Yes," she agrees.

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"You don't... strike me... as the kind of person who's a student of architecture Not to say you couldn't be, but from what I know of you, I just don't see how you'd have the time."

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There are several different things he could be subtexting about and Inaaya has no idea which thing it is.

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"Isn't it possible we've been discussing it in our free time?" asks the arguable student of architecture, uncertain if Inaaya wants some cover here. "There is some overlap with mathematics."

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"You're right, I'm not in school, I wouldn't have time and even if I did that's not how I'd spend it," she agrees. "And I spend most of my time on maths and astronomy, but I'll read about almost anything."

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Terrence nods. He speaks slowly and looks a little confused as he puts the words together, not sure exactly what he's trying to ask, but he's determined to be a pest about it. "Certainly, certainly - well. When you asked about Carcosa, or the city - the city of my dreams - you were asking about it as, as one might ask about a real place one may have seen. Can... you explain that to me?"

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.....does he not know.

She glances at Sal, who is probably not going to have answers about this since Inaaya's the local subject matter expert, and then back to Terrence.

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Terrence is earnest and curious and kinda baffled.

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"If I said the phrase, 'the Dreamlands,' would that mean anything to you?"

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The word sounds vaguely familiar-- like it itself is a dream.

His face twists through confusion and faint recognition and then back to confusion. "......I'm not sure. 'Dreamlands.' Maybe I've seen it before?" But as he says it aloud he's not really convinced that he's, just like, read it in a history book somewhere and forgotten it.

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"Maybe." She's been chewing on her lip, she should probably stop doing that. "But-- hm. Do you think Carcosa is a place one might visit?"

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He's caught off-guard. "...........It's not a place like, like Paris, or Beijing. I, um. I think it. I think it represents... something... real."

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"But do you think it's a place like-- I don't know, like the moon?"

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"....No, I wouldn't say so," he says, but he's even less sure of himself.

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"Something stranger, perhaps."

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"...Something stranger, yes. I - have theories. I could theorize to you. But that's all it would be. I'm just a man who's read a lot. But the two of you - seem surer about what you think is happening, and I don't think you would be that way without reason."

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"How much did Sal tell you, last time you two talked?"

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"Just the very basics, as I recall it."

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"...We raised the notion of psychic phenomena." Maybe if Terrence says it out loud in sort of a casual investigative tone of voice, it'll sound less ridiculous. It doesn't. Dammit!

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"Right, but how much did he tell you about them?" If it's ridiculous, she doesn't appear to notice.

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"Um - a friend of yours" nodding to Sal "who got impressions from books, without reading them. I understood that it was perhaps not just limited to getting impressions from books. But our conversation was brief."

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"I felt strange making too many claims with only my word to back them up."

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"An admirable practice."

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"Indeed. --Well, I'll make a few more. I'm the friend, and it is indeed not just limited to books."

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"Oh - alright. Alright. Alright. Excellent." O_o "... Could I request a brief demonstration, for my own, uh, you know..." Stance on reality? "approach going forward?"

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"Of course. If there's a cat around I can talk to them, or you can hand me an object you know the history of and I don't. --Nothing related to the King in Yellow, please."

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Terrence nods and stands up to go to his shelf, then processes the entire sentence and freezes. "Wait, the cat thing is real?"

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"I don't know how Nessa Clapper knew it either, and I suspect if I asked she would not tell me."

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"Terrence, can you talk to cats when you dream?"

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"I never tried! Was everything else she said to you true??" Terrence is having just a little worldview crisis. Just a little one. He glances at his bookshelf. "Can you do it with a text in a language you don't read?"

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"...theoretically yes, that's how I learned English, but the first time I did it it almost killed me."

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"Der Wanderer was partially in German, wasn't it? But only partially."

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She shrugs. "I was also illiterate the first time, I was also specifically trying to get the newspaper to tell me what the writing on it meant, it could be any number of things, I-- would say I'm disinclined to experiment but that's not actually true, I am extremely inclined to experiment but Joan would kill me. And most of the things Nessa Clapper said to me I can't evaluate? I have no idea whether there's an alternate universe version of me who pilots giant robots made out of love, I can't predict the stock market, and I don't know what significance Aldebaran might or might not have. But she didn't say anything verifiably false to me."

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"What? ... Okay. Before we go any further - I'm assuming your Phoenician history is rusty." He pulls a book from his undergrad days off the shelf, and throws it onto the table. "Can you tell me what the author thinks about the history of the Phoenician alphabet? ... Or, I mean, anything else from it, I don't know how this works."

The book is about Phoenician history, and one chapter covers writing and the 1700s decipherment of the Phoenician alphabet. The author of this book lays out their case that the alphabet was derived Egyptian hieroglyphs. The author happens to be wrong but doesn't know this.

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Inaaya puts her hand on the book and her face goes blank, eyes glassy and unblinking, breathing shallow and barely-there.

Inaaya gets the content Terrence mentioned about the Phoenician alphabet. She also gets that it was under Terrence's back when he was drunkenly kissing John Marsh.

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Sal is watching with concern, in case Inaaya gets wrecked by a book in his presence for the third time this week.

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After a little less than half a minute she comes back to life, makes a face at the light and blinks rapidly but doesn't break down. "They think it was derived from Egyptian hieroglyphs. Also, you were lying on top of it when you were drunk and kissing someone."

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Terrence isn't a kissless virgin??? This is almost as shocking as his entire worldview getting upended. Please, let's digress for a little bit.

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Terrence's eyes widen til they're huge. He does some mental math while a furious blush rises on his face. "... That's very impressive, Miss Sinope."

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"...I find myself wondering who this was," Sal says, with the cautious air of someone who knows they're overstepping.

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"I think that's Terrence's to say, but it's not someone we know."

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Terrence gets up on nervous autopilot to put the book back, in a completely different location on the shelf from where he got it. "Certainly wasn't!"

He pauses, doing some more mental math. Inaaya must know something about who it was - he glances back at her. Maybe she doesn't! She seems chill! Okay okay okay!

He sits back down. "HUH."

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She's not outing him, she has half an ounce of discretion. (She.... does feel a little more comfortable, knowing he's also queer.)

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How are you not dying to know if Inaaya knows this information. If it's private you have all these notebooks. "Is that some amount of evidence, then?"

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"Yes. Yes it is. ...Alright. I'm listening. ...What are the Dreamlands?"

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"The Dreamlands are a place-- not like Paris or Beijing is a place, and not quite like how the moon is a place, but something stranger-- where some people go when they sleep. People who go there tend to have dreams that are consistent, from one night to the next, featuring incredibly beautiful architecture, and a general sense of vastness, like the world is much much bigger than human scale-- do you see where I'm going with this--"

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"....oh," he says in a small voice, blinking. "That's - is that not common, to have dreams like that? To be able to... go there?"

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"Not for adults, I think it's more typical in children. A few days ago I learned that most people-- grow up, grow out of it-- I met someone who was willing to die to see it one more time-- but no, most people don't. And most of the ones who do don't know it's real."

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".......I see. Um. Huh. Um."

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"And. I think you've probably stopped, maybe for good. I'm sorry."

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'Right. Uhhh. Why, um - what makes you say 'maybe for good'?"

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"What I'd really like to know is whether the timing on this change to a different set of dreams was coincidence," Sal mutters.

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"I don't know that it is for good. But-- the King in Yellow tried to eat me, metaphorically, and I really don't think it's a coincidence that that's when you stopped, and the only other person I know who stopped... never got it back."

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Terrence sounds fairly calm but less so than usual, and has started shaking one of his hands around without realizing that he's doing it. "That's - well, I'm not sure what that was, and that's only a small number of cases to base a conclusion on - but. That is. That is very interesting. I'll, um, I'll take that under consideration. ...Do you think Carcosa is a place there?"

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"I thought that at first but I don't anymore, everything I heard about it just seemed less and less like it fit. And especially if you've been dreaming about Carcosa, and not going to the Dreamlands, that wouldn't make any sense. ...are you okay?"

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"If someone in the past has built a replica in the Dreamlands, of course, then that might mean..." Hmm. Perhaps this isn't the time for idle speculation.

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"I - hm. I do dream about Carcosa but not, uh... It doesn't - feel like solely a dream-place. The dreams feel less accurate to it than what I could derive about it while waking, if that makes sense. It's not the same as The City but it still has a, a concrete feeling about it. Mm, this is just a lot to take in. To assess."

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"Yeah, it-- kind of has to be."

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"Do you... go there? You must, to know all this."

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"Yes. Every night for as long as I can remember. It's-- why I'm here in London, because my dream-self managed to tell my waking-self that it was real, and that every time I'd dreamed about dropping everything to go climb a mountain it really had happened, and I could just leave Bombay if I wanted to. I got very lucky."

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"...Goodness. To realize that kind of ambition in yourself - incredible." Something occurs to him. "It's - you're saying it's the same Dreamlands for everyone. One could, say, meet a person there, and then meet them in real life. ... However unlikely that may be."

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"One could."

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Terrence nods, slowly. "I never dreamt of people much. Maybe moreso when I was younger. ...But. ...There were things around The City that were... not people. Nor cats. Were they... real." He says this kind of afraid of what he suspects is the answer.

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"It's all real. I don't know how many of them you could find on Earth."

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"...........................I see."

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"But there are some things that only exist there and not here, surely? The cities themselves, in the degenerate case." What terror of the night are they talking around here. Should Sal be afraid.

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"I have no idea because whenever I try to research magic it turns out to be a scam, for the obvious reasons."

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"You think most supposed magic is in fact fraudulent?" Terrence asks thoughtfully. "Even though your kind is real."

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"I mean, I have actual psychic powers and I still make a living by cold-reading people and pretending I got it from tarot cards. Probably it depends on which supposed magic you're looking at, but everything I've found in the London occult scene has turned out to be just-- defrauding people who want a mystery to believe in and will pay for it."

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"Humans get to the Dreamlands by dreaming, but you said cats can physically go there," says Sal, still hung up on the idea of nightmare beings. "Is there anything that just lives there? That isn't visiting from Earth?"

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"I don't know! I assume there are at least some? But I don't know."

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"I've certainly never seen anything like some of the creatures there on earth - but I'm coming to understand that there are more things in heaven and earth then I should presume to be aware of. ...I'm, uh, I admit I'm reeling a little, I feel like I've gone to ask a question of a history teacher and been provided not with a book, but with an introduction to a living Aztec king who happened to be in town."

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"I'm still not entirely certain this isn't some tremendously good hoax," Sal admits. "Just certain enough to go around asking people weird questions about the occult and getting books checked over before I read them."

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"Fair," Inaaya says, no apparent offence taken.

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"And Sal, this - the Dreamlands - this is hearsay, this doesn't sound... familiar for you?"

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"I had dreams about strange architecture when I was a child. I don't really remember them. I help design buildings now. It's consistent with all this being real but I really think I would have been dreaming about that sort of thing either way."

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"Right. Understandable."

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"The cats are what did it for me. The books helped but I think that told me more about the books than about Inaaya, we did that after the cats."

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"I... don't know many cats, but I'll, uh, keep my eye out. For. One to.... um... Oh, no. It has to be weird that we own them, right??? That's no good at all."

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"For what it's worth they mostly don't perceive themselves as owned."

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"I guess that's... better than the alternative...?" He was going to ask about the murder investigation but honestly this seems a lot more important.

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"It's better than being feral, isn't it? ...Can wild cats do this? Are there lions or panthers or such running about that can talk to their domestic kin?"

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"Good question, and I suppose if I ever meet a lion we'll find out."

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"I mean. There's a zoo in town." He tugs at his hair nervously.

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"Oh, poor lion at the zoo. If it can talk it's certainly not having a better time than it would on the savannah."

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...yeah she should. Probably check on that. It is not great that she hasn't.

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"Are we going to go on more outings together? Down to the zoo to talk to the lions? Up to Clare Melford for pagan rites?"

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"I think we sort of have to check out Clare Melford, since that's actually, you know, relevant. What with the strange deaths."

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Terrence thinks nervously for a few moments, then bursts out laughing. "I don't, uh, I came in this expecting a murder investigation and here I am considering the logistics of harboring a fugitive lion. We can add the zoo to the list, I suppose. Going to Clare Melford seems sensible too, though. ...Inaaya, I don't suppose you could, say, touch Roby, and see if he did commit the murders or not? That would make things easier if you could."

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"A fugitive? What laws has the lion broken!" She's laughing a little too, but quickly sobers up. "Do you think they'd let her touch Roby? Or Valentine?"

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"I don't think they'd let me but I'm not sure they could stop me. --I don't know if I'd be able to tell if he committed the murders even if I did manage. I don't tend to get useful information from people's hands, I've caught a few cases of cancer early but that's kind of it..."

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"Damn. ... What about their heads? I'm just exploring ideas, mind you."

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"Even less likely unless they somehow committed murder with their hair."

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That doesn't totally make sense, but - well, hey, Terrence just learned about touch-telepathy today, he has no idea how it works, fair enough. "I suppose we could plan an excursion to Clare Melford, then."

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"--I hope nobody dies there when we go."

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"I should... get your reads on the situation first, I suppose. I'm rather revisiting a lot of things. Inaaya, Sal, do you believe this - meteorite whistle is connected to some distinctly inhuman force which is performing the, the strange murders?"

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"It sounds bizarre and not like anything else that's happened and I can't see how it would enter into things but multiple people have mentioned it. I think there might be something going on involving the whistle."

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"I think that the meteorite whistle is connected to the strange murders, and I suspect the murders are being committed in some way not conventionally held to be possible. I'm more sure of the first than the second but I'm not entirely sure of either."

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"Okay. Alright. Just wanted to make sure I'm on the right track here." He's wide-eyed and blinking fast but mostly doing okay on getting a handle on it. For now. "So, um. What now, ought we just to - take a trip to a possible ritual site? Because I'm up for it."

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"Let's pick a day."

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"If we want to do this before the weekend I can get the day off work," says Sal.

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"Friday?" Terrence shrugs. "That way we could stay overnight if it turns out that, I don't know, we need gaze upon the altar in the dead of moonlight or what have you."

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"I usually work on weekends but being a consulting bohemian is more money than my usual job and w-- I've got some leeway, Friday works."

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"Do we want to revisit anything before Friday? Is there anything you've looked into that ought to be examined from a new angle, Terrence?" He's thinking about Ben Best but that doesn't have to be the project Terrence re-examines.

(His favorite book. His favorite book should be re-examined from the angle that it's super cursed.)

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Terrence thinks about it. He knows what the question is, and he probably can find an answer, but he remembers something and gulps, and - "I think someone's trying to stop me from investigating this and willing to kill me if need be," is what comes out.

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... "Do you have any idea who?"

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"What happened?"

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"Yes. I got invited out of the blue to the office of this this wealthy Japanese art dealer I've never met before in my life. He pours me some incredibly fancy tea and then tells me that if I don't stop trying to allow The King in Yellow to be performed, he'll kill me. Three days later, I was asking around the Royal Society about Ben Best - for the, the investigation, I wasn't even mentioning the King in Yellow - and some scoundrel comes up to me in the pub and tells me to stop what I'm doing and then broke my nose. I had to go to the hospital."

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"...Wealthy Japanese art dealer."

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Wealthy Japanese art dealer who wants to stop the King in Yellow. "Do-- you know what the scoundrel looked like, or--"

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"His name was Ichiro Sano. I have his calling card around here somewhere." He gestures vaguely to the apartment at large. "... The dealer, not the scoundrel. The scoundrel was some gangly fellow. Had a chin that could cut glass, I recall. He ran right after the, the assault, when I would have been motivated to get a better look at him, unfortunately. "

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"A tall man with a sharp face, you might say."

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"....You might. You might say that." This is kind of occurring to Terrence also. "... I mean, a lot of people are tall and have sharp faces, to be fair."

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"Still, it's something to keep in mind." She's just. Not going to mention her relationship, such as it is, with Ichiro Sano.

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"Right. So, um, I mean, they only mentioned me and didn't seem to think I was working with anyone else, but, um. ... Stay away from either if you happen to be near the Royal Society or buying Japanese art, I suppose. ...I suppose that might mean there's a connection there, but it was quite awful, I'm, uh - reluctant to investigate myself." He shudders.

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"For obvious reasons."

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"Rather."

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(Sal can't talk to Inaaya about what's going on with Sano with Terrence right there, but he can make meaningful eye contact about it.)

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She makes eye contact right back. But also: Not now. "Well. Thank you for telling us, that's-- good to know."

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Terrence makes his pleasant goodbyes. He has a lot to think about. 

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In the hallway: "Should somebody mention to Sano that Terrence is under control and we are trying to stop all this culty murder business? In the event that he is actually tying to kill him?"

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"I don't know. Maybe? ...It probably won't hurt anything to try again to actually have a conversation about it in plain language."

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"He's fond of you. The rest of us he doesn't know and doesn't have a reason to protect but if he thinks you're getting involved in something bad he'll be gentle about it. I'll come along with you so you aren't in there alone. ...Not right now. If he's actually dangerous we shouldn't rush in. We should think about how to present things first."

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"He's fond of me but I'm not sure that's... enough. How to present things-- honestly I think I should try making an appointment and just telling him, without trying to do subtext, that we're trying to stop the murders from continuing and I'm grateful he's trying to stop the King in Yellow. I don't think we're going to manage to present it better than just saying that."

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"If he is sending people after Terrence I would like to present him in the best light. He's our friend, he's not working with anyone, he's helping us investigate the murders, he's recently discovered the truth of this stuff and is starting to realize some of what The King in Yellow has cost him, we are trying to convince him it's cursed. If you are threatening to kill him please stop doing that as it isn't helping the investigation." He sighs. "I'm not incredibly convinced of all of that myself."

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"So part of what I'm worried about is that-- one, I don't know that we're going to get anywhere with convincing him the book is cursed, and two, I'm not sure Sano is the one threatening to kill him. There's no law saying only one person at a time can object to you poking into things."

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"Yes. But if it is Sano we have the opportunity and arguably the obligation to sell him on this and if it's someone else we don't have any options I can see."

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"Yeah, I'm not seeing any better options, just."

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"I suppose we don't need possible conversation branches all planned out just to arrange things with his secretary, in any case."

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"This is true." Tiny laugh. "...do you in fact want to go to the zoo and find out if the lion can talk."

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"Miss Sinope, I would be delighted to take a trip to the zoo with you." He's half-laughing as he says it.

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She bumps Sal's shoulder affectionately and keeps walking.

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At the zoo-

"You know, I've never actually liked going here before," Sal says as they enter. "It's so loud and full of people and all the animals are bigger than me."

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"I've never been at all." She's staring openly at one of the snakes.

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"We can take a pass through once we've been to the cats. Do you like birds? You seem like the kind of person who likes birds."

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"I like birds fine. Joan knows more about them than I do but I think she's more for the kind you'd find in your garden."

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"I've never wondered where they get the animals from. I don't know if they only select from the deepest jungles or if there are creatures you'd find in any garden in India here too, mixed in with the rest."

If they follow the signs they may discover some big cats.

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Here is a lion pacing back and forth inside of its cage, which is only about twice as big as it is.

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Oh no that's so little room.

"Hi?"

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"You can talk," the lion says.

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"...yes. I can. That must be cramped."

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"Yes," the lion says.

It lies down, putting its head on its front paws.

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"Are... you okay? I guess that's a dumb question and I can't do much about it either way."

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"No. Never okay again."

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Oh dear. That sounds like conversation. That lion might be a person.

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"....I'm sorry."

She cannot, in fact, steal a lion. That is a terrible idea. She doesn't have anything for it to eat or anywhere for it to stay. And they'd probably just go to Africa and capture another one as a replacement and it wouldn't even help.

It'd help this one. Maybe. Possibly. If it didn't starve. Which it would.

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"No family anymore. No friends. Nowhere to go. Just a cage."

Its syntax is stilted, like it's been so long since it's spoken that it doesn't remember how.

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They'd stop her if she even tried to touch it.

("Do you want... I don't know. For me to carry a message out from you, information I can find out and come back and tell you, a hug?" "I doubt he'll let me touch you and the only person I care to talk to is dead.")

"I," she says, and she is not going to start crying she is not. But there are so many people in cages and she can't see how she can possibly help.

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"I don't know what that means," the lion says, as it if might be his fault.

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"...The lion really isn't okay, is he," Sal says softly.

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"I'm sorry. I started to talk and then stopped, it isn't your fault." She reaches out blindly for Sal's hand and squeezes.

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He squeezes back.

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"The savannah?" the lion says hopefully.

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"I don't have a way to get you back to it. I-- could try to get you out of the cage but I don't think it would work and even if it did I couldn't feed you. I'm sorry."

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"No. Tell about?"

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"--oh. Yes. You can tell me about it."

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"Tell me. Memories... faded."

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She's never been. She's never lived anywhere but a city, she doesn't, she can't-- "It's-- big. So, so big, as big as the sky. And quiet. No people, no crowds, no motors. There's--" what do savannahs have, fuck, "space to run."

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The lion looks at her and makes a happy sigh and listens.

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Meanwhile--

Oscar asks around, but it turns out that having a bunch of contacts who are Wobblies and anarchists does remarkably little to help with your shop being closed by the government. But he does have at least one conspicuously rich contact. It's humiliating but he's going to see if Sano is at his office. He still has the black liao on him and absurd thoughts of surreptitiously returning it.

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Sano's secretary asks him politely to wait and says that Sano will be right with him. She does not provide him with a book to read.

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I mean, he figured.

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About twenty minutes later, the secretary invites Oscar in.

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Sano is walking with a noticeable limp.

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That's not good. At least he doesn't appear to know Oscar stole from him-- thank God.

"Hello, Mister Sano," Oscar says. "I hate to drop in unexpectedly but I have bad news."

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"Oh?" Sano says politely. 

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"My shop's been shut down. For 'obscene material'."

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"What a tremendous loss to literature."

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"I don't even know what to feel. I don't know how to say this but the Forward never made a lot of money. And-- I'm going to need some way of supporting my family. Paying legal fees."

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Sano nods. "And you're asking me for help."

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"Yes. I've asked my other contacts but they're-- well, they're not on your level financially. I think at this point we're just sending around the same 10 pounds." He smiles weakly.

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"It does concern me that a bookshop of such a high caliber was closed for what I must assume are nakedly political reasons."

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"You assume correctly." He's always avoided political talk with Sano but it's hard to step into the Forward without noticing what type of newsletter they stock. "...You probably know what happened before."

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"Refamiliarize me?"

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"A few years ago they came after me for being excessively German," Oscar says. "Also, an anarchist. The official charge was selling stolen books. You can decide if that's worth two years in prison.'

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"Did you sell stolen books?"

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"I was new to bookselling at the time and misjudged one of my distributors... I've been more cautious since then." Is Sano missing the part where Oscar spent two years in prison.

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"I must admit, Mr. Latz, I myself am deeply opposed to the anarchist philosophy. I serve my emperor; I live and die at his pleasure."

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Oh. Um.

He'd always judged Sano as artistically conservative, maybe socially conservative, but not a fervent supporter of the Japanese emperor. The imaginary Hannah in Oscar's mind is furious.

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"And yet law must be tempered with mercy. The British approach to obscenity is absurd; the Japanese do no such regulation banning entire areas of human life from artistic investigation. And if you wish to arrest people for anarchism simply criminalize anarchism. Do not arrest anarchists for things you turn a blind eye towards in the politically orthodox."

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What do you even say to that. He really liked Sano, too. "...I've definitely heard Japanese culture's better about allowing certain types of artistic freedom," he says after a terrible pause. (And seen on occasion. If we're being honest here.) "The things I sell are well within the window of accepted subject matter in Japanese art."

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"I am willing, I think, to do a trade, Mr. Latz."

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"Thank you... Uh, I guess I have to ask about the offer."

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"Do you know the play The King in Yellow?"

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"...Yes."

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"For... personal reasons... I would prefer that this play never again be read or performed. My request is that, should you come across any copies of The King in Yellow or the artwork the Yellow Sign, or the book Der Wanderer by Mr. Roby, or any other media which references the King in Yellow, you give it to me immediately. And that you inform me promptly if any people seem to be preparing for a performance. I will of course cover all expenses and a reasonable fee per book or performance."

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"Can I ask why you don't want anyone to see this play?"

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"You can ask but I will not answer."

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"...How do you plan on getting people not to perform it?"

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"The powers of persuasion. Bribery. Support of alternate plays in the same venue."

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To Sano's credit, those forms of influence involve neither violence nor the state. But he's still asking Oscar to become a kind of censor. "...Do you promise that's all the tactics you'll use."

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"I can hardly tie my hands like that, Mr. Latz. Different scenarios require different approaches."

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"...I don't feel good about the King in Yellow or especially Der Wanderer, but I've been punished for 'socially corrosive' art my entire career."

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Sano visibly hesitates. "I can explain my reasoning but you must agree never to tell anyone."

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"Go ahead." There's something about the way Sano reacted when Oscar said "Der Wanderer" that makes his stomach sink.

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"Walk outside with me."

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"Alright."

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"My deepest apologies, Mr. Latz," Sano says. "I will have to behave in a way which is quite strange."

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"Not a big problem."

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"You see that at the present moment it's quite dry?"

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"Yeah." (Wait, no, where is he going with this?) "I'm sorry, I don't quite get the connection with the King in Yellow."

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"The very moment that I stop singing," Sano says, "it will begin to snow."

He sings quietly. The words are in no language Latz recognizes; they are odd, sort of... aqueous? Like a language spoken by frogs or fishes instead of by humans.

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Oscar remembers, for a moment, the voice of a stream he liked to visit as a child.

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And, the moment that Sano's song concludes, it snows.

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"How on Earth did you predict that," asks Oscar. In the back of his mind, he has a bad feeling about what the answer's going to be.

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"Magic."

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"Magic," says Oscar lamely. He watches the snow fall for a moment. It doesn't go away, even when he takes his eyes off it a second, then looks back. "...You probably don't want to say how you learned the trick?"

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"I do not. If you would like additional verification--" Sano says ten sharp, harsh syllables. Cuts open up on his arms; blood soaks through his shirt. "Try to tell me you think magic is real."

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"You're bleeding," Oscar says like an idiot.

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"Yes."

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Sano should be more concerned. That is a lot of blood. "Did you read Der Wanderer too?"

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"No. We have disposable people for that."

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"Maybe I should talk to them sometime." 

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"If you wish."

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"I'm not disposable because I read Der Wanderer," Oscar says. "Or is that how you see your workers in general?" He has a vague sense that he should not start in on this with a magic user. On the other hand: Sano is a reactionary, he doesn't care if all anarchists go to jail, he certainly doesn't care about Oscar. And in that moment it's all just viscerally disgusting and infuriating.

He can't believe he ever admired Sano, much less considered him a friend.

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"Some people are called upon to sacrifice their lives for the Emperor. My people do not run risks smaller than the ones I run myself."

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"That makes literally no sense to anyone not indoctrinated into your ideology. I don't demand that everyone I deal with entertains socialist ideals but you're cavalier about human lives. And when someone asks about it you just mention 'sacrifice for the Emperor' as if it justifies it whatsoever."

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"Some things are more important than one's survival."

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"Like what, Sano?" Your own profit, he's tempted to add.

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"'The honor of oneself and one's nation' is not a cause I intend to convince you of, but 'the survival of the world' is. Magic is extraordinarily dangerous."

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"I know it's dangerous." I mean, he doesn't know the specifics but everything he's seen in the last few months has been terrible. Magic literally being real has apparently only made the world full of more exploitation and violence. "...I guess you persuaded them to make them agree to read these texts, 'for the survival of the world'. Poor people will agree to a lot if it means keeping a roof over their head."

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"They did their duty, as do I. They were glad to die to serve Japan."

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"I'm sure you explained it to them very politely too. ...I was really stupid to admire you or consider you my friend."

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"I am sorry."

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"No, you're not." He's disgusted by Sano's composure, his impassive face. It's so remote. Like nothing Oscar says can ever touch him, ever stop him from tricking people into reading Der Wanderer, ever stop justifying it by reference to "duty" and "the Emperor" and whatever other nationalist trash. Oscar can't stand it.

Without thinking, Oscar takes a swing at Sano.

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Sano easily steps away from Oscar's telegraphed blow.

"Mr. Latz, I fear you're not thinking clearly," Sano says calmly. "Would you like some tea?"

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"'Would you like some tea'," Oscar sneers. "We can pretend it's not grown on some plantation." (He's actually shamefully uncertain about the specific labor situation on tea farms but.) "I am thinking clearly, I just found out you routinely kill people." Sano keeps staring at him impassively; what's it going to take to get him to react. "...Guess you're not different from Chris Parker, huh," he says.

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"You might say that," Sano says with continued infuriating calm. "Mr. Latz, would you prefer to have a sitdown in my office while you calm down, or would you prefer to resolve matters yourself and speak with me later when you're more settled?"

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"I'm as calm as I'll ever be about this situation. I don't forgive people for things like this... I'm probably going to die too since I read Der Wanderer, huh."

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"No. If you cast spells unwisely, it harms your sanity. Nothing more. If you are careful with the magic you use and do not use it excessively, and take care of yourself in body and mind, then it will not harm you."

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"Good that you don't have to dirty your hands with that, then."

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"I am a sorcerer myself, Mr. Latz."

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"I bet you still outsource some of your magic... No, I think I'm done talking to you, you're a brick wall. Can I go or have I rendered myself disposable for the greater good?"

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"You can go. I hope you will consider my offer."

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"...You should feel lucky I didn't attack you again," Oscar says. He gets up to leave, noticeably shaking with anger.

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Sano lets him go.

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...And on the way to make an appointment with Sano, Sal and Inaaya see Oscar storming away from an obviously bloody Sano. 

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"What the fuck," Sal whispers.

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"Excellent question."

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"Um-- Mr. Latz-- what, um--"

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(He's shivering a little, dressed for a cold November day but not the sudden light snow they've been walking in for half a mile.)

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Oscar notices Sal and Inaaya. "I need to talk to you," he says firmly.

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"I-- okay?"

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"Before you go in there with him."

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is the entire world playing a game of 'how many different kinds of terrible can happen in one day," is that what's happening

"Okay. What happened?"

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"He-- he's like Chris Parker," Oscar says.

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...Sano is going to stay here actually and make sure Inaaya is okay.

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"...He doesn't look like Chris Parker! He looks like you just beat him bloody!"

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Calm and patient calm and patient if there is exactly one calm person here and it's her then it'll have to be her. "Okay," she says, "but that doesn't tell me what happened."

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"I didn't beat him bloody," Oscar says. Though not in a particularly reassuring tone.

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"That's good!"

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Says you.

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Look she's just broadly a fan of people not beating each other bloody.

"So what did happen, then."

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"...You can ask him about the blood, I don't care if you believe me." Oscar's tone makes it clear he does in fact very much care. "...Sano makes people read Der Wanderer. And the King in Yellow. 'Disposable' people."

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That... seems extremely unlikely given everything she knows of Sano, he really doesn't seem like he wants anyone to read the King in Yellow at all.... "O...kay," she says instead of that. "But what happened."

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"He said they were happy to die for Japan."

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That is not telling her what happened!!!!

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"Sal knows what I'm talking about." He looks intently, almost accusatorily, at Sal.

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"I know exactly as much as Inaaya does about Ichiro Sano."

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"I--" Deep breath. It is not Oscar's fault that she came into this already emotionally wrung out from failing to save a lion. "I'm sorry. Whether Sal knows what you mean or not, I don't. Can you explain it to me?"

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"I mean about-- about what Der Wanderer does."

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"I know that the book isn't good for you," she says. "But I still don't see what this has to do with you and Sano. Or anyone dying, for Japan or otherwise, or anyone getting hurt."

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Oscar looks exasperated. "Lots of people are getting hurt. I'm just trying to warn you but you don't have to listen to me."

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"I understand that you're trying to warn me but I can't tell what you're trying to warn me of."

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"...Maybe he can explain it to you. I'm leaving."

Sano is probably going to tell them that Oscar tried to hit him and then explain politely why it's good to be a Japanese nationalist. But he needs to get the hell out of here, so he leaves.

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Okay. Awesome. Great. That went so well.

She's so, so tired of having feelings.

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"...Oscar got me to agree that he wasn't crazy earlier," Sal says out loud, as Oscar heads out of sight. "He's very worried about the impact of rumors on his career."

He does not sound like he's sure he should have agreed.

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That sounds like something Inaaya is not qualified to deal with. "...I still don't even know what happened," she says, in Sano's general direction.

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"I should probably ask my secretary to give me medical care," Sano says.

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Why did Sano stand here watching this whole conversation. If he's so dangerous why did Oscar leave them here with him. "We were about to go ask her to schedule an appointment with you."

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"I suppose the appointment can happen now, if you don't mind seeing me in an undignified fashion."

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"That seems fine." She's so tired. Might as well get it all done at once.

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Sano's shirt is bloody and sticks to his skin.

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"Inside? Unless you don't mind bleeding out in the cold while we talk, I suppose."

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"Indeed." He takes the stairs to his office; he occasionally has to pause, breathless.

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Inaaya follows, quietly at Sano's shoulder in case it occurs to him to ask for help.

Once they're inside: "....what was Mr. Latz talking about?"

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Sano says, "clean my wounds, please" to his secretary. She raises her eyebrows at Inaaya and Sal, then takes off Sano's shirt.

Sano's body is covered with layers and layers of scars.

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(It's hot. This is not appropriate to say on any level.) "In more order than he gave, please."

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"His shop was shut down by the police for selling obscene material. He asked me for help and I refused and he grew quite angry."

His secretary begins to clean Sano's wounds. They look like they were made by a knife, but his shirt isn't ripped.

He doesn't flinch.

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Can we please just stop mutually pretending the other doesn't know anything. "Okay. What does that have to do with cursed books and you making people read them."

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He lifts his eyebrows. "What do you know about cursed books, Miss Sinope?"

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"The King in Yellow ate my friend and tried to eat me. Metaphorically. Der Wanderer didn't try to eat me but it hurt to touch."

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Okay even Sal is getting tired of the doublespeak here. "We're here to talk to you about those books, Mr. Sano. It would be more convenient for you and us if you'd be forthcoming about your own involvement."

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"...ah. Perhaps we should both lay our cards on the table?" His face is impassive as his secretary bandages him up.

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"Sure. I'll go first. I have psychic powers that let me pick up impressions from objects I touch, which is how I know those books are cursed without having personally read them, and I visit the Dreamlands every night and can talk to cats-- cats have language and are people, incidentally. Recently I was hired to look into the Alexander Roby case to try and get him out of the asylum he's in but what I'm mostly doing is trying to figure out what keeps killing people so that maybe it can be stopped from doing that. There's details on that but I haven't gotten very far."

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"Normally," Sano says, "I would-- enforce silence about such things magically, as I did with Mr. Latz, but as you can perhaps tell from these cuts I do not have any more ability to cast spells for today. So I would like to ask for your discretion."

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"Sure."

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"You have it."

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"I'm not simply an antiques dealer. I work for the Japanese government securing occult artifacts and books. And-- beings which commit mysterious murders."

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"I -- can't say I came prepared for this, but if we were to go through a list of people and objects involved in our own mysterious murders, would you be willing and able to provide information about them?" What the fuck. Is this actually going to be really easy.

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"As much as I can. Unfortunately, I'm returning to Japan soon, so I cannot assist much."

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"How soon?"

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"Three days."

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Oh that is soon.

"Okay. Um-- should I just go down the list--"

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"Please."

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"Shub-Niggurath, Chris Parker, Ben Best, DeVille, whistles carved from meteorites, some sort of creature that looks basically like," she has Jing Yi's drawing, "this, the town of Clare Melford, Carcosa, Lake Hali, the star Aldebaran, the play The King in Yellow, the book Der Wanderer, things that look like knife wounds but in circumstances where they can't have been-- Sal am I missing anything--"

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"Alexander Roby, Valentine Donovan, going farther afield Nessa Clapper, Randolph Carter, William Way... the devil creature, if that's different from what Jing Yi's dreaming about... The sharp-faced man that killed William Way and threatened our friend Terrence. There might be two of them."

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"Several of these I doubt I can help with, due to the absence of proper nouns. Chris Parker is interested in the occult but on the-- other end. Not preserving the world but seeking power for himself."

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"We. Kind of figured given the murder."

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"He is a dangerous man and I would recommend not crossing him."

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".....is there anything you can tell us that's more specific than that?"

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"We keep hearing that. Would more description help with the things we don't have names for or do you need unique identifiers to know what we we're talking about."

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"He trades in a variety of-- cursed books. We have often competed for the same books. And he is very old, I think over a century. He knows a spell called Steal Life."

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"Does it happen to mummify its targets? ...How old are you, Mr Sano?"

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He laughs. "Thirty-two. It does mummify them, as a consequence of-- draining the life from them? And using it to make Chris Parker young again."

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Right. Okay. That's-- got a lot of implications, if that's something magic can do-- what would she expect given that world-- that can happen later focus now. "Okay. Thank you, that's much more helpful than what I knew previously."

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"Ben Best and DeVille I haven't heard of. Shub-Niggurath sounds like the name of a deity, and-- some deities are unfortunately quite real. Whistles carved from meteorites I know nothing about, and I also know nothing about that monster or Clare Melford. Carcosa, Hali, and Aldebaran are all mentioned in the King in Yellow, which is evil."

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"The knife wounds in your case are apparently a spell. I suppose we can't expect you to know if the same spell could have left them on the murder victims surrounding Roby and Donovan."

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"It happens when you push your spells too far. The mind has a certain capacity to-- channel magic, and if you try to push yourself cuts like knives open up." He has been thoroughly bandaged. "Some tea, please," he says to his secretary.

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"Do you know any of the names I mentioned?"

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"Roby wrote Der Wanderer but I don't know anything else about him. --Randolph Carter has horrid melodramatic stories and my brother rather likes William Way's music. I have no idea of the supernatural connections either of them has."

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"Carter also used to go to the Dreamlands. If Way has ever been connected to anything-- uh, other than the foreseeing his own death-- I don't know about it."

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"I don't know about the Dreamlands but that seems like a less urgent discussion."

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"The place black liao takes you, it's real and some people dream about it. You're right that it's not particularly urgent."

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He raises his eyebrows.

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The secretary brings the tea-- chai for Inaaya, black for Sal, and green Japanese-style for Sano himself.

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"Way was friends with Roby, his murderer might be poking around our case. If he is and you don't know about it more's the pity, Terrence thought it might be one of your guys and I was hoping it could be resolved by clearing up which side we're on."

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"I have not sent anyone to threaten Terrence. I threatened him personally to keep him from putting on another performance of the King in Yellow. But he stopped, so I have no need to threaten him more."

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Let's just hope it stays that way.

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"The King in Yellow I only became aware of a few weeks ago," Sano says. "I attended a performance in a-- private capacity-- and quickly recognized it as not merely a play but a powerful magical ritual. I interrupted the performance before the ritual could complete, and tried to find and destroy as many copies as I could. That is what Mr. Latz took offense at."

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"I was there! I still don't see what anyone saw in the performance but the play does keep driving people insane so I trust you had a good reason."

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...no, it isn't. Inaaya knows it isn't because Oscar wasn't angry when they found sixteen copies of the thing in Sano's back room, and also because Oscar was yelling about disposable people being happy to die for Japan, not about destroying books.

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"Or, rather-- So I do not have Miss Sinope's convenient way of understanding whether books are cursed. What I do have is access to a research institute in Japan, with volunteers who are aware of the riskiness of their job. I flew a copy of the King in Yellow to Japan as soon as I got one and a volunteer read it. They-- still live, but in a very real sense the person they were is dead.""

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"That," Sal says, "is much more in line with what Oscar Latz takes offense at. ...I'm curious about the specific impact on their personality. We are relying on anecdotal evidence and second-hand accounts here. As well as metaphysical sortings."

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"They no longer care about anything they used to care about before-- their family, their friends, Japan, their honor... only the King in Yellow. Only studying and reading the play, and getting other people to read it, and writing their own works based on it, and seeing it performed."

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On a timescale of a few weeks, though. And Terrence still cares about his friends. "If you could keep us updated about the longer-term effects I would be very grateful."

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"I shall, Miss Sinope. Der Wanderer incorporates many of the same themes as the King in Yellow, and I believe Roby read the play. Again, I didn't read it myself, a volunteer read it. They preserved their sanity, but they learned-- a spell."

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Sal stiles a laugh at the mention of Roby. Gosh, really, did that man read The King in Yellow. Sal hadn't noticed. "I've got a guess what kind of spell it was, but tell us anyways."

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"The caster receives a vision of the future, and will not die until the vision of the future occurs. We tested it with captive-- devils, I suppose-- they shy away from the caster, almost as if they can tell."

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"What do you mean by devil, Mr Sano? You said you couldn't tell us about the things we've seen without names, but you do seem to know of the general category."

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"Humans are not alone on the earth. More details are need to know, and you don't."

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Inaaya feels that as people who live on the earth they kind of do need to know this, actually, it's not exactly without implications.

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"The murders we're looking at may have involved them. You won't even confirm or deny things? And why is this where you choose to draw the line?"

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"The others are more directly relevant to your investigations."

"Knowledge of the occult.... is dangerous. Miss Sinope, I presume you already know this."

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"Knowledge of the occult is also lifesaving. What you don't know can and very much will hurt you, I've found."

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"The more you know about the occult, the less-- stable you are. You are more prone to neuroses, emotional breakdowns-- the knowledge in and of itself is traumatizing."

"Miss Sinope, have you not had to-- handle it? Given your abilities."

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"...mostly not? The books hurt, but not usually, no."

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"Remarkable," Sano says quietly. "It's been quite common in our research. If you go far enough it no longer bothers you but if it goes far enough you are no longer-- quite human."

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"Huh."

Even searching her memory for this exact thing she can't think of anything. Cramming English into her skull nearly killed her but it wasn't traumatizing, the Dreamlands meant both refuge and freedom all in one, she'd curled up on Sal and cried after Der Wanderer but she's going to curl up on Joan and cry when she gets home and she doesn't think the lion made her any less human...

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"I've never shied away from anguish," Sal mutters, but he doesn't press the issue.

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"Do you have any other questions?" Sano asks.

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"I always have more questions but I've asked everything that's both relevant and something I'd expect you to have an answer to."

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"Then I would like you to tell me about the Dreamlands."

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She can tell him about the Dreamlands and the things she's learned from them until either she has run out of things to say or they have run out of time.

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Sano thinks they sound very beautiful.

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They are. The whole time she speaks she's lit up with love.

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Meanwhile--

 

This is potentially going to be one of the weirder conversations he's ever had-- 'Hey, I heard second hand that you saw someone get dehydrated to death, want to testify?' -- but while just stabbing Chris Parker is tempting, getting him arrested is probably the better plan.

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Randolph Carter is in Jing Yi's formerly favorite little coffeeshop, writing a story in longhand.

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Ah, and the rotten fruit smell is there, lovely. "Mr Carter? Do you mind if I bother you for a bit?"

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"Not at all, I'm blocked on this stupid story."

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"Maybe I can help," he says, pretty sure the conversation he's about to have will not help in the slightest. "There's something I heard you said to my friends, and I wanted to check the story hadn't changed in the telling."

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"Oh?"

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The nice thing about cafés is that the noise of other conversations can cover your own. "I heard that you saw Chris Parker murder someone."

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"Yes. I-- don't know if it was murder. It was impossible."

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"But you saw it. ...I know someone who is engaged to Chris Parker, who very much would like to not be--but it's Parker. If there is any way to get him out of the way--"

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"What do you mean?"

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"It's very hard to get married if you're in jail for murder, or so I hear."

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"I... doubt I'm going to convince anyone about an impossible murder."

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"We need to convince people that someone went missing, Parker is the cause, and that that person is dead. We can smooth over the dehydration."

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"It was years ago."

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"Someone has been missing for years, and we have a witness who saw them die but didn't come forward because they were afraid of repercussions? It's not open and shut, but it's pretty good."

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"...I don't know who died. It was some random tramp."

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"I could find out who it was for you."

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"...and you think the police are going to care about the death of some random tramp years ago? You have more faith in them than I do."

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Yeah, actually he does.

"The thing is, people are fundamentally lazy. It's hard finding missing people if you don't have any idea where they've got to, or their family doesn't push. But witnesses make things so much easier. Some of them might not care about a random tramp, no. A lot of them care about being able to say they caught a murderer."

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"So you're planning to take advantage of the police's selfishness in order to maybe prosecute Parker for murder and maybe frame him, so that your friend gets out of her bad marriage."

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"I'd like to point out that we'd be getting him arrested for a murder he actually did. But I will admit, that's the gist of it."

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"How do you know that?"

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"You seem like a trustworthy witness. Also everything I've heard about Parker-- I'm pretty sure he can't dehydrate people, but murdering tramps for no good reason does sound rather like him."

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"We know I saw some things that must have been wrong because you can't dehydrate people. You're just assuming that anything that's convenient for your case is right."

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"I don't know about the dehydration. There's been some weird definitely-murders, but they've been... less like that. But you saw someone die. That matters."

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"Unless I hallucinated the whole thing, which does seem more likely.

Stop pretending you're motivated by justice. There's no reason to value this one nameless tramp over any other, and there are far more killed by poverty than by Parker even if everything I saw was true, you just want to free your friend from her engagement. Probably because you want to step in yourself."

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"I would like my friend not to be married to someone who keeps getting away with murder. Do you really trust your own eyes so little?"

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"Yes! All kinds of things can deceive them. Try eating the wrong kind of mushroom sometime. Or opium."

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Suppressed eye twitch.

"Had you been partaking in anything when you saw someone get fatally dried out?"

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"No. But does that mean anything? Perhaps it was all a dream."

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"...do you regularly hallucinate or have waking dreams?"

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"Do you have some other explanation for why I saw the man get dehydrated? I obviously hallucinated something. We're just arguing about what."

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Unfortunately he does not, and it's incredibly frustrating. "I wouldn't put it past Parker to work out how."

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"To dehydrate people by whistling at them."

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"...this is not the first case of a weirdly murder related whistle."

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"Okay. Cool. Investigate the other one."

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"...actually your case might be chronologically the first. But anyway-- in a shock twist the other person with a murder whistle is already arrested."

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"Fun. Ask him how you dehydrate people with a whistle."

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Asking Roby is probably a bad plan, actually, but is an improvement on just trying to stab Parker.

"If I found the name of the person who died, and some evidence that they died on the night you thought they did, could I convince you to come forward?"

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"What will you give me if I do?"

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Ugh, bribery.

"What would you want?"

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"What do people want? Money, sex, status, something to numb their feelings so they don't have to suffer anymore."

He sounds full of contempt.

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"... Do you actually want that, or would you actually rather have a book deal."

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"A book deal."

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"I can see about pulling some strings."

"Before I go talk to publishers: where and when did this happen?"

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He gives an address and a date, and says "I remember, because it was the full moon."

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'Full moon' might also jog the memory of the some of the people he's going to ask.

"Thank you for that, I'll be in touch."

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"All right. This didn't help with my writer's block, incidentally."

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"Well, you never know when inspiration will strike."

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He returns to his work.

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He spends a little time asking questions of a local group of queans, who turn out to not know anything at all relevant, before he has to go and inform Terrence of his Evie-related plans.

His plan here is to come in with Evie. Present it as a fait accompli, make it clear he is actually worried about her safety, and she can also look appropriately doe-eyed. "Terrence, meet Evie, Evie meet Terrence."

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"Pleasure to meet you, Evie."

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"It's lovely to meet you as well."

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Terrence smiles politely. Who is this random pretty lady you've brought to our home, Jing Yi?

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"I am Mr. Jing's fiancée."

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"And unfortunately I'm here to double-- en-third-le?-- the number of people in this house who are on the run, as such."

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Terrence visibly blue-screens for a minute upon hearing 'fiancée', a surprised smile frozen on his face.

He glances at Jing Yi. "I - uh - alright. On the run?"

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...that is the problem with roommates, they Know you and have Assumptions. "There is someone who is, hmm, not best pleased with the idea she might make her own decisions."

(He is not immediately opening with 'she is engaged to dries-out-tramps guy'.)

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"...I see. Well, welcome into to our humble abode, Miss Evie."

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"It's beautiful."

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"You're far too kind." He waves a hand in the direction of the couch. "Make yourself at home."

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"You are very generous," he chuckles.

He has questions for Jing Yi but he's genuinely fine with her staying there, and he's not gonna ask those questions in front of her.

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"I know this isn't ideal," he says to Terrence, looking sheepish. "But he knows where she lives, so."

To explain it's Parker, or not to do that, that is the question.

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"It looks like you two have some things to talk about," Evie says cheerfully. "I might go out for a coffee for a bit and let you two settle it."

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"That is fair enough." He would rather not talk about her behind her back, but... it is a necessity in this case.

(He trusts her, he reminds himself. He's just paranoid. And even if he doesn't trust her... he should do right by her and their child.)

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"Oh - no trouble at all. I'm sorry circumstances have forced you here but it's a pleasure to have you, I hope I can help in whatever way."

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"It's very nice to meet you, Mr. Markham," Evie says and departs.

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"Is there something we need to settle?"

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"Not settle, persay - listen, my dear, I am more than happy to help out a young woman in a tight spot. The world is a cruel place. I understand. It's good of you to do. Of course.

Just - you're engaged?"

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He laughs. "It's a bit of a surprise to me, too. We're not legally engaged, yet, but that's because she got all but sold off to the person she's running from."

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"Certainly, certainly." He takes a deep breath. "As your friend, I find it my duty to ask - do you love her, or do you want to get her out of trouble?"

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"I love her," because that's the answer he wants to be true.

"I only found out about all of this when I tried to get down on one knee for her."

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Terrence blinks, then a grin breaks over his face and he claps a hand on Jing Yi's shoulder. "Well, congratulations, my dear Jing Yi. We will keep her as safe as these walls allow." He knocks on a wall. "If there is anything I can do, to help, you need only ask."

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"Thank you. It's been a bit of a whirlwind, but it's worth it.

...if you know anything about Parker, people he has killed, or book deals, that would be very useful."

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"Well, I know he's a bit of an ass.

 

...Wait, what does this have to do with Parker?"

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"He's the fiancé she's running from."

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"Oh dear."

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"You can see why I would be motivated to find proof that could get him arrested. --The book deal is because Randolph Carter is only willing to talk to the police if I get him one, and in hindsight... well, I could ask Oscar, but that's not a good plan."

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"Hm. Yes. I - don't really have ties to the fiction world. Oscar is, I think, more sympathetic than he lets on, but... well, it depends if he thinks Carter is worth reading or not, I suppose. I love his work but Oscar and I rather disagree on some art, so..."

Terrence frowns. "I'll keep an ear out, at the least. Goodness, what a ghastly situation."

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"It's a whole situation. It looks like they're might be some ties to the Roby stuff, so I give it points for efficiency, I guess."

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Terrence snorts in laughter, surprised. "That's almost a benefit."

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...he should maybe say something about Evie's whistle that involves saying her name in connection to it.

"Roby used a whistle on the night of the murders. Parker has a whistle, and appeared to murder someone with it. ...and Evie has a whistle too. I don't know what this means yet, but... you can understand why I'd be concerned. --Not that I think she's a murderer, just. I know she's already tied up in some stuff she shouldn't be."

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Terrence's mouth opens and closes. He is CONCERNED about this whistle.

"...Why does she have a whistle?"

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"I'd love to know too! She was uncomfortable when I asked, so I didn't press. For all I know, Parker gave it to her as an engagement present or something."

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"I believe you, mind. It's just. If it's a spooky star whistle, then - ... ah. Hm." He frowns.

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"You can see why I want to help her get out of this. Even if I didn't have other very good reasons."

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"Absolutely. That man is dangerous. Let us keep you together and the two of them as far apart as possible.

And... Parker doesn't know where you live, yes?"

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"He has no reason to and I sure hope he does not?"

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"Fantastic. Just checking."

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"I haven't sent him a letter of 'Please meet me at such and such address for fisticuffs, yours sincerely, William Jing.'"

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"Very prudent of you. I'd suggest continuing to hold off on that one.

...Oscar and I talked to him once, but he shouldn't have any reason to know we're connected, and he wouldn't have my address anyhow, so - so I think we're good there."

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"I'm glad you're willing to help."

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Cool. Sure, Terrence will incorporate that into his belief system. In the meantime he works on trying to get his essay published, heads to Oscar's shop. 

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When he arrives, Oscar's shop's windows are dark.

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Huh. Weird, he thought it was open today. Does it look normally closed or does it have signs of being permanently closed?

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It looks like it's permanently closed.

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Uh-oh.

...Well, he's going to talk to Oscar as soon as he has a chance.

 

... But since he's out and about today, he supposes he'll take the chance to look for other little progressive bookshops who might have literary magazines he can browse to find a suitable candidate for his essay.

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He finds a few likely candidates.

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Cool! In that case, he'll buy an issue of each and bring them home, and then write to each proposing his literary essay for their next issues. ... Under a pseudonym.

And then he thinks, 'wait, I'm an idiot', and goes out to buy a PO box to use as the address on the letter, because he doesn't want anyone associated with the magazine - or threatened there or whatever - leaking his address to someone who might, hypothetically, want to kill him. And then he sends the letter from there. Boom. Terrence is such an expert at this 'being a political radical' thing.

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That afternoon, Jing Yi goes out to see if he can find any information on that missing tramp.

This is, of course, potentially a wild goose chase. Drunk tramps rarely get reported as missing. But drunk tramps do, at least, more commonly get arrested, which will give him some on paper proof that he actually existed.

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How Do Files Work, We Just Don't Know.

This is not Jing Yi's strong suit. He finds his eyes glazing over around filing cabinet #8 and realizes that he's been reading the same sentence five times without processing it.

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He is good at his job-- being undercover and watching people-- and much less good at paperwork that isn't even in his mother tongue. This was maybe a predictable flaw with his plan.

...he could probably find someone who deals with local drunks. Which might be the local drunks themselves, of course. If he can get multiple witnesses who all think Leary went missing at the same time... it's not a lot, but it does Point in a Direction

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After a little while of working the bars, Jing Yi discovers two bartenders who are willing to testify that Leary went missing at approximately the expected time, and none that think he showed up anywhere afterward.

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Did they perchance see a brown haired man, yay high, around at any time?

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Nope!

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...It was a long shot, anyway. He thanks them for their time, and then heads back to the apartment to update Evie.

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Evie is sewing at Terrence and Jing Yi's apartment.

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Hopefully they can get her back to working in her shop soon. "I thought I should let you know what I've been working on about Parker."

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She sets aside her sewing. "Oh?"

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"Have you heard of Randolph Carter? The melancholic author."

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"Yes."

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"He saw Parker--" Being euphemistic is not going to work here, is it? "--kill someone. What he saw made no sense, but if I can convince him to tell a story that makes sense-- we might be able to get Parker to swing."

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Evie looks up at him with wide eyes. "Thank you so much for rescuing me."

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He should not be looking at those eyes, trying to work out if the expression is genuine or theatrical. "I can't promise it will work-- Carter wants me to get him a publishing deal, somehow? And prove that it happened several years after the fact. But I'm working on it."

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She shakes her head. "I don't think it will work. Mr. Parker is a powerful man. He has friends in high places.

Men like that-- don't hang."

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"He can't exactly marry you in jail. Or at least it won't help your father if he does."

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"They don't go to jail, either. Not for murdering a tramp in a way that didn't make any sense, with information found by an out-of-work actor."

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"I do have contacts myself. Alas, not the kind that will keep me out of jail if I murder someone."

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"I still think you should just stab him!"

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"I want to, I really do! I just can't get rid of the body like he can. And even if I do-- if I marry you, I immediately have an obvious motive his contacts can use against me."

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"I'm just-- worried."

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 "I know-- and that's why I'm trying to fix it." He smiles lamely. "I do really have contacts."

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"You do?"

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"I need you to promise to keep this secret."

(It feels strange saying this to the woman he loves, who is bearing his child, who would be his wife but for one obstacle-- but, well, they all know he's an awful paranoiac.)

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"Of course," she says.

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"While acting is my main trade-- working for the police is what pays the bills."

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She gasps.

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... he maybe should have expected that reaction.

"It's not as bad as you're picturing," he says, not actually sure what she's picturing.

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"Oh?"

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And now he has to guess.

"My superiors so far do not care much about ...indecency that does not involve witnesses. It's much more riots at theatres, making sure no one is plotting to blow up parliament to bring about Communism. That sort of thing."

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"That makes sense. Still! It's a terrible secret."

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"There are far worse ones. This one at least is a paying job that does"

...arguably

"help people."

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"You must feel so lonely with no one you can tell about that."

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...he does, actually. "I do get to tell the police, at least," he says with a smile.

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"Still, it's not the same. If you have a moral dilemma, or something that your bosses might not really want to know--"

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"Well, now I have a lovely fiancée, if she doesn't mind talking about it."

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She kisses his cheek. "I'm glad I can do that for you."

...She visibly hesitates.

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"...is something the matter?"

(Not that he needs to ask, but-- he does need to know what it is.)

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"I feel like I've only ever kept secrets from you.

You're so kind, and you trust me, and I--"

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"I understand that you had to.

And I hate to ask, but does Parker know about--" he taps his chest, where a whistle would lay if he had one.

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"The whistle? He gave it to me."

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"That... makes sense."

(He should not be reading into her keeping secrets, reading into whether she's genuinely upset or putting it on for his benefit.)

"It's just that's what was used for the nonsense murder."

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"I think I should-- show you something."

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"--If it wouldn't trouble you."

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"Do you... know where I can find an animal?"

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"...how big and uh, how private are we talking?"

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"Any animal will work."

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"This is a shitty building, so in theory there should be some rats around here... I could go and try and grab a pigeon?"

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"A pigeon is good.

Or-- I can grab it. Since that's the point."

She heads outside.

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He follows.

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She whistles, and a pigeon lands on her hand.

"I have magic powers. Tell me anything you'd like this pigeon to do and I can make it do it."

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He remembers the pigeon at the park, that was so so tame and let him pet it--

"Can you tell it to hop up into the air and then land back on your hand?"

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"Yes."

The pigeon does so.

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"...You can control animals. With magic."

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"Yes."

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"Just animals, or--?"

As much as he would like to say he was so much higher than a base pigeon... there's a limit to how much he can be confident of that.

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"Just animals. Not-- people or anything."

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"That's good. Much better than drying people out to death."

Magic is real, and Parker's is making his life frustrating.

(He's not... entirely thinking that thought, flinching away from drawing the logical conclusions from all he knows.)

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"Yes. And you see," she says, "my family is a-- magic family. And so is Parker's. I wasn't lying, really. I was just...

I thought you might not believe me."

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"I believe you. There's been a lot that just... makes more sense if magic is real. Even if you hadn't shown me."

Like creatures in your dreams being real. Like people being ripped apart with no knives. Like the symbols that dance in the corner of his eyes, sometimes. Like--

"Your father is trying to make a dynasty?"

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"Yes. He wants to marry me off to a powerful sorcerer so I can have powerfully sorcerous children.

But I want to make my own life. Where there's something I can be other than beautiful."

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"Where you can be smart and make things and... catch pigeons and not kill people."

Magic is real and he is having to deal with it!

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"Yes. And be with someone I love, who doesn't see me as a thing. And-- and that's why I want you to kill him."

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"Not just another source of power."

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"If you catch him unprepared, you have a chance of getting him. But he's magic, there's no prison in the world that can keep him."

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"If I killed him, and stole the whistle and... used it, would that get rid of the body?"

Magic is real.

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"Yes, it would."

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"Well, I guess that's one way to solve that problem."

There was that nightmare, of the winged shape-- and the whistles came after it. That had to be magic, that... seeing things before the happened. He stares at the pigeon. It could just be a pigeon because they are everywhere. But it could be a sign. A bird of peace. Or maybe the feather patterns mean something, the oil slick iridescence on its neck a portent of something. And he's never going to know until it happens and he sees it.

"Do you know when he'd be unprepared?"

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"The full moon. That's when he-- hunts."

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The movement of the Moon and the planets meaning something makes sense. Is... comfortingly predictable, compared to looking at the patterns of clouds and seeing if there are any monsters he will see later hinting at their shapes.

"Hunting makes him weaker?"

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"He'll be alone-- I can seduce away his guard. And he'll be outside his house and away from his magical protections."

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"I just need to kill him with no witnesses and... use the whistle." (The whistle could be in a chain: from the nightmare, to Evie's whistle, to him using it. That can't be how it works but... it very much could be. Each step in the chain makes just as much sense as the last.)

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"The whistle increases the strength of any spell you cast, but I don't think you know any spells. And I don't think you know the spell he knows-- to drain life from another and keep yourself forever young--"

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Well, that's charming.

"To my knowledge I don't, but life keeps throwing surprises at me. --I don't suppose he hunts near the Thames." He shouldn't be even considering murdering him-- but if he is, he is not dragging the body very far.

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"Yes, he does. --If I return to him I can suggest it to him, maybe-- if I pretend to him that I've seen the error of my ways--"

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"I don't want you to put yourself in harm's way." Maybe the way that pigeon is caught on her hand is the sign. "But if you think it's safe enough, I trust you."

Maybe he saw something, in that expression of hers, a few days ago. ...Or maybe he's still a paranoid cad.

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"Two days from now. I want to spend a day with you, before I do. So I can remember what it's like, to be with you-- when I--"

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"You don't have to. I can work something else out."

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She shakes her head. "No. I want to do my part. I don't want you to go to jail."

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"I appreciate it."

He is seriously considering murdering a man. Not that he's never done that before, and this time he has justification. But he's seen so many perfect crimes that do not survive first contact near the enemy.

"Get him near the Thames. I'll work out the rest."

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She kisses him.

"I'll give you some time to work through... it all being real?"

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He laugh hollowly. (Maybe the particular echo off the balcony wall means something.) "Is it that obvious."

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"It's quite a shock."

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"There's a lot of things that... mean something different now.

--I'm never going to be able to explain this to my superiors."

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She laughs. "You're really not."

And she leaves.

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He stays standing out on the balcony. His eyes flick between the sky and the street below. The clouds might mean something, and he has to know, he has to know what might happen, but-- looking directly at the unknown you cannot yet understand, having it hover between just out of reach and not actually there-- it's awful. (The people on the street might mean something to. Maybe something more mundane, someone he might meet in the future. Maybe not.)

Magic is real. It's real. It's fact of the world and he has to-- live with it and know it. It's not that he didn't believe Parker had killed someone by drying them out to death. But he believed it as a tool. As a crime Parker did that he could be charged with. Not as-- you can steal someone's life force to live longer, that you can use a whistle to make a spell more powerful, that spells are real and he could learn one.

The dreams are real. ...maybe both kinds. The palaces and the carefully being disassembled in pagan rituals.

...it would be nicer if it wasn't the disassembling dream he was most confident on. If that creature carrying him away hadn't been the shape of the whistles he hadn't yet seen.

He's going to have to keep a dream journal. And-- not believe, but know magic. And now he can never explain it to anyone but Evie.

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Meanwhile-- 

 

After stalking away from Ichiro Sano, Oscar wanders, until he finds himself at a park he sometimes goes to, staring at a lake.

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As he stares, he blinks, and for a moment he can see twin suns sinking behind the lake, and he knows that it is Hali.

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...Generally that lake gives him at least a distraction from his troubles. It's like the familiar sights of the world have given way to the reality that magic is real and that the version of the world containing magic is, if anything, more intractably horrifying.

At least there aren't a lot of people here.

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"Oscar? - Oscar, is that you?" Terrence is a little out of breath as he spots and makes a beeline for a familiar figure.

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Oscar startles visibly.

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That's fair.

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"Terrence," he says-- with a rather flat affect.

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"Sorry if I spooked you - I was just in the area - um, I happened to be by your shop, and it looked, um, well. What happened? Are you alright, my dear fellow?"

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"It's closed," Oscar says miserably. "Public morals people shut it down." He doesn't engage at all with the question about his condition, though Terrence seems pretty sincere, and he has no idea what to do with it. ("We have disposable people for that", he thinks involuntarily.)

Terrence is probably going to ask a terrible follow-up question like "What are you going to do about that", huh.

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"Oh good lord. ...I'm sorry."

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"Yeah," Oscar says lamely.

And my main source of funding was an evil reactionary sorcerer, and I just tried to punch him, and I am pretty sure that he's going to win Sal and Inaaya over by sheer genteel Reasonableness. (None of which he can say to Terrence.)

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"Do you need.... help? Money?"

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Terrence wants to help?

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Terrence wonders if he's overstepped.

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"I," he says. "I'm not sure yet. We're going to need... a lot of money, for legal fees, and my family... That was my one source of income."

If it were just him, at this point he's not even sure he'd try to ask.

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"Ah." Terrence nods a little. "I'll, I'll look at my checkbook once I'm home. See what I can do."

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"Thank you," Oscar says. He's not sure how to feel about this but there are no obvious terrible strings attached.

"Terrence," he says after a pause. He really doesn't want to get into this now but this may be his only chance.