Following the First Week of Class
Riley pushed herself up from where she had been sitting, legs crossed, on the floor. Rolling her shoulders as she stood the young woman cast her eyes about the office that was hers - but in a near nominal manner with how little time she spent at her 'headquarters'. She had always been on the move and the short magician had enough experience to like her life that way.
Looking at the files she had splayed across the couch she had been sitting in front of Riley frowned and reached towards the desk behind her - where she should have been working if not for the large stuffed bear that occupied the seat behind it and had since her first day on the job - and grabbed at a t-shirt she had tossed across the corner.
Wrinkling her nose at the smell of the shirt - nothing too bad, but still heavy with earth and the damp of melted frost from her job in Alaska - Riley eyed the one lamp she had lit to light the room. Hefting the limp cloth in her hands the woman threw the shirt and smiled when it caught itself well enough on the lamp shade that the room took on a muffled shade of red as light strained to shine through the fabric draped around it.
Turning her attention back towards the files on her couch the stage magician puffed out a tired breath and sat right back down but with her back resting towards the base of the couch. With her head set towards taking a break Riley stretched her legs out as far as they could reached one hand out to rub circles around her right knee.
Relaxed and with her eyes closed the brown haired woman set herself to let some tension out from her muscles - until the wood of her desk brayed out a discordant buzzing as her phone began to vibrate both itself and the material beneath it.
Opening one eye and glaring towards the distance between her and her electronic intruder Riley sullenly drew her cloak closer around her and pressed herslef harder against the base of the couch.
On the desk a small cat popped into existence. The creature was a vibrant and cartoon blue with stripes of midnight with the exception of the stark white socks of its front paws. Straightening the goggles on its forehead the cat stared at the phone.
It buzzed once.
The cat crossed its arms and looked defiantly away from the device with its nose in the air - eyes closed now as much as the mage that had created it.
A second buzz.
With an annoyed swish of its tail the cat reached out and laboured the phone up into the air. With a jump off the desk - that included a flip with two full rotations - the construct hit the ground and silently rushed over to Riley.
Opening her eyes and watching as her construct turned on speaker phone the stage magician gave her helper a single decisive nod and the call was connected. She hadn't recognized the number.
"Riley Erin Alstad. Speaking."
The response on the line followed with a voice that sounded familiar, albeit through the filter of a phoneline, "Speaking? You've only just said your name. That sounds more like introducing."
"Shit." Fuck. "Hold just a second."
Riley was on her feet again in a flash. Her mantle slipped off as she stood and twisted as her Phantom lifted itself behind her - almost near literal shadow walking in step with her. The cloak to being had her phone in its hand as it followed her pacing and on her first term she looked towards her copy and slashed a hand quickly across her throat.
The Phantom thumbed the mute button silently.
"Shit. Shit-" Riley jerked in her pacing and shook her head. "-shit." Biting at her lip the young woman pressed both her hands to her eyes and exhaled heavily.
The stage magician cleared her throat and ran her voice through a couple 'heys' and 'hi's'. Her voice tumbled and stuttered and she hated it. Looking towards her phantom Riley worked a smiled on her face - it was big, it was happy - and nodded for it to switch the mute back off.
"Percy!" There was a swallow following the young woman's exlamation and she closed her eyes as it stretched into a pause. "H-how are you feeling?"
"Weary!" answered the phone, wearing Percival's voice on its speaker. Indeed, either the handset made him sound years older, or he had aged quite a bit in his absence. "I'm no better than I was, but I'm still fighting the good fight, you know... Yeah."
A short pause followed, almost awkwardly punctuated, "And you...? Ah... Well, is, ah... Is this a bad time? You sounded a touch busy."
Riley laughed and on the otherside of the line her shoulders slumped somewhat in on themselves. "No, no - if anything I'm getting afraid I don't have enough work. Somehow I'm in my office right now and-"
Riley cut off short. Pacing a few more small circles as energy bled in excess across her body, The young woman turned and turned.
As she came to a stop the Phantom was simply standing there, passive, and with the phone in its hand inviting. It wanted her to speak.
Sighing, Riley wasn't sure how.
"And?" picked up the device in the phantom's hand. There was no face or familiar name on the touch screen, just a number that looked like it was based from Japan. "And... and and and..."
The time counter on the phone continued to tick, each changing second almost audible in the pressure.
"Riley," the handset seemed careful in picking its words, "I... I understand if you're angry with me. Ruarc was. Miyuki was. That's... er... it's one of the reasons I called. I was hoping I could have us speak."
Technology was terribly, and woefully unequipped to carry across much other than noise, but it was capable of summoning the voice's trepidation on the other side. "In person, I mean."
Riley laughed again. This time the sound was tired and it came out in a quick, short bark. The stage magician opened her mouth and closed it and her body hunched more in on itself with every motion.
Squeezing her eyes shut, the habit driven by desperation and not reflex this time Riley started her voice up again.
"Can we talk honest?"
"Of course," insisted the touch-screen, "I'm not exactly in a position to demand anything."
"You're dying and I don't know if I know how to not run away from that." As Riley spoke her voice carefully and possessively carried all the heartbreak and contempt for self with which each word left her mouth. "Percy other than on the phone like-" There was a bitter, choking throat clear. "-like this I haven't actually seen my father since I left home when I was eleven!"
There was a pause and Riley was pacing again. Her thoughts and their stress hot against her face as she struggled against herself.
"Him and you - even though I didn't... didn't want all of-" Riley rubbed her fingers roughly against her temples. "Even with all this - you two are family! But all I do is run and run and run!"
With her last exclamation almost all of the breath had run out of the small stage magician. With a heavy gulp she bite down on her lip and shook her head and finally worked out a mumbled, weak, "...why?"
"The same reason I ran away, were I hazard a guess," the speaker buzzed, the minutes continuing to roll upward, tick by tick. The black screen, and the silhouette of a person continued to act in place of the voice's true owner. "We're afraid of losing the ones we love, of facing that pain. I thought by running and hiding, I could fix everything myself. When it became apparent that wasn't the case, I began to hide."
The sound of a car driving by took over for a moment, "Riley. I-... I don't blame you for not wanting to face this. It's not something I should put on you, but... I want to see my sister. You think that would be okay?"
There was a hiccup. At some point in there conversation Riley had slumped and was sitting on the ground - back to back with the phantom who still held onto the phone. "Side by side and ready for it all - I said that to my brother once." Riley moved her head down from where it had been craned up against the back of her shadow and cupped her chin against her hands. "I still don't wear skirts, y'know?" Riley's voice was barely above a murmur. "What happened to everything else?"
A horn honked over the phone, a short excuse me was heard.
"Getting older? The passage of time? I've been wearing that dusty old beret for years," mused the phone, the background noise beginning to quiet down, "I've finally stopped wearing it. People change, Riley, they grow up and their perspective deepens with experience. Sometimes it's traveling the world, sometimes it's sitting in a cave meditating on one's short life, sometimes it's reliving the regret of a lost loved one, and sometimes it's trying to find that lost loved one."
Ding! rang a bell, not from the phone, but the other side, "We were children. Young and silly, with big heads and dreams. There was so much we thought we knew, being the people we were, and yet it seems we only got one thing right."
"That's a lot of stories. A lot of plays. People go on and on about capturing all of that and me - me being who I am shouldn't I be comfortable with any of that?" Riley chewed on her cheek and shook her head. "Any of it - all of it - I'm not."
"Aren't I supposed to be the dour one?" asserted the phone, "Hold that thought, I'm not going to let you get down on yourself alone."
There was a heavy sniff. And then Riley's voice was recriminating, but in a manner more to her normal playfulness. "No. You get to be the dummy and I get call on all the other emotions - didn't I tell you that?"
"You know, I'm twenty-five. I'm essentially an adult. I don't think I have to take guff from my little sister any more," said the petulant phone, before the call disconnected. There was a blinking time-stamp, a few minutes and some seconds indicating their short conversation.
Then, came a knock at the door.
The Phantom passed the phone into Riley's hands and the stage magician stared at the screen until it dimmed. As the lights went out and the device shifted dull and black the stage magician finally found tears streaming silently down her face. Her shoulders shaking the young woman sobbed a single, audible sob before folding down around the object in her grasp.
At the knock, the Phantom - the inky silhouette partner - stood and strode to the door. Without a grasp at the knob it simply paused for a moment and then walked through the door and to whoever was on the other side. It nearly bumped into the man standing stiffly in front of the frame. His features severe, his eyes green, his hair neatly combed, and his frame square and solid, shaped by a long weather coat with a sleeve tied off.
The visitor stared down his nose at the shorter creature. He tilted his head aside, his brow furrowed, a grim look in his eyes. The weathered fellow spoke the obvious with the contempt of a judge
"You are not Riley."
The Phantom shrugged and then turned the dismissive motion into a sweeping, courtly bow with one arm offered forward and the other held close - disappearing - into the lineless shadow of its chest. The motions of the not-Riley were executed in a manner exacting to the person they originally came from.
Once unbowed, the figure placed both its arms up and behind its head and then looked from the door to Percy. While there was nothing of a feature to the Phantom's face the famililiarity of the motion did much to suggest the raising of a single eyebrow.
"Can you get the door for me?" asked Percival, his eyes affixed on the door now. The sleeved arm was tucked into his coat, as if he were cold. He looked back down at the curious shade for its response.
The Phantom's head nodded - the inky mess of chin length hair moving as it were real alongside the motion - and then it stepped back. A single leg going back through the door as if it weren't there.
The figure reached an arm out and held its hand in offering for Percy to grab. A singular hand, the only one available, withdrew from the man's coat pocket, and his fingers carefully wrapped around the shadow's.
Despite their lack of distinction the grip which folded around Percy''s own was strong and with a few steps back the man found himself pulled forward and then through the door. The room on the otherside was dim - barely lit by a single lamp that was being muffled by an old shirt - and had all the signs of being a meticulous organized area that had just hours before had a mess clipped on top of it.
Besides a well dressed bear sitting at the chair of the desk the room seemed to be empty of anyone besides the Phantom and Percy.
The Phantom's hand passed through Percy's as all of his body was pulled through the door and it placed it arms back behind its head casually. From the positioning of the figure it was very clear it was staring at the man opposite of it.
It offered no further direction.
"Thank you," said Percy in a somewhat gentlemanly manner. He looked at the spirit, "I suppose you know me, well enough, but I should introduce myself. Percival "Watson" Caxton. I believe I was a bit rude, earlier."
Percival nodded his head, his grim face smiling at the dark ghost.
A burst of laughter sounded from behind the desk even as the Phantom's arms move down to clutch its stomach as it bent forward in silent amusement. Adding sudden motion to the still room Riley stood up from behind the desk.
The woman across from Percy was the full coloured and featured version to the figure that had pulled him through the door - if one stood perfectly in front of the other either one could disappear.
Riley's face was streaked red and it was that she had just rubbed a flow of tears from her face and around her eyes, but an odd, small smile was on her face.
"Why are you introducing yourself when we should be speaking? Seems strange to storm all the way over here just for a handshake, no?"
"Ah yes, then let me correct myself," Percival hooked his hand on his coat, and unshouldered it. With a strangely graceful motion, it was folded over his arm, "Percival Caxton. Speaking."
A real, glowing smile crossed onto Riley's face. The woman moved - going around the desk instead of through it and was lacking her customary cloak, but cleared the space between her and Percy in almost the same time. The smaller woman's arms went around her brother and in a show of both joy and strength pulled the taller man closer to her in a hug.
"No jokes Percy - I've missed you."
He was almost knocked completely off balance, being the stringier of the two. His head nestled next to her. That face was real, if not a bit more gaunt, and rough. The coat was discarded, thrown aside to join the rest of the room in the dark. Now free, that arm wrapped around the little sister, and he held her tight.
"I've missed you too, Riley," came a hushed answer. "Please, forgive your silly, older brother."
"Forgive you?" Riley pulled back from the hug put still held her grip - somewhat awkwardly - on Percy's shoulders. Riley's smile was back on her face, and despite the stains from her tears, there was cheek to her grin. "You're the good one and I'm the bad one when all the sticks always come down - I think the hard part for us is going to find out how we can forgive ourselves not each other."
The young woman nodded to herself, a small spring moving through her self cut hair with the motion.
"I thought it was because I didn't know enough - couldn't do enough that you left without me." Green eyes met green and Riley's grin turned wry as one corner of her mouth pulled higher than the other. "I think we can both imagine how crazy we can drive ourselves - a bad day is a bad time to be alone."
"You're telling me, I had three years to think about it," buffed Percy, smiling weakly at the girl's wisdom. He licked the edge of his thumb, and began to gently wipe away the tear lines on her face. "The more I would have left behind, the more chances you all would have followed me, I couldn't have that. At least, that's what I thought."
Riley only grunted in response and pulled Percy into another hug, the man yelped in the suddeness of it. Then let go once more, this time pulling further back and leaning back against her desk with her arms folded in front of her.
"I guess you know I'm a working stiff now then?" Riley grinned as one arm worked loose and gestured around at her office - stuffed bear, mess, and all - without a hint of embarassment.
"Is that what this is? I thought you had broken into someone's flat," mused Percival, scratching his chin as he looked around, "I was honestly thought I was investigating a crime in progress."
Riley laughed. "In any other town you'd be right - but here- here is as close to home as I get." Riley shrugged and then her arms moved up to lace her hands behind her neck. "When I'm in the field it is abandoned and on vacation for my pick of places to crash."
"So you're legitimately a criminal?" Percy gave his little sister a very curious, very elder-brother stare. "How is career burglar a working stiff?"
"I've never stolen a thing and I know you know that! I just... borrow space. Anything I use while there is stuff of my own." Riley frowned but only for a second. "I'm rude at best but it isn't like I even touch a lock or anything - as for being a stiff I'm with the Occultus now," Riley's index finger scratched at her cheek a bit nervously and her eyes cut over to her couch where her Phantom had plopped down and was reading the files she had abandoned there earlier.
"I technically guess I've got a kid out of the job now too?"
"W-Who!?" the white in the man's face went to red, as he seemed to inspect Riley up and down. His hand went on her head, inspecting each ear, as if that would tell him anything. "You never told me you were seeing anyone, much less having a child!"
The Alchemist started to stumble back, putting his hand to his forehead, "... How long have I been gone?"
Riley grabbed at Percy's shirt and pulled him forward out of his stumble while shaking her head. "I am not seeing anyone like that!" Letting go of her brother after she brushed his shirt back down the woman couldn't help but chuckle. "And kid is a very... operational word. I'm pretty sure when it comes to my ward they're older than both me and you combined - and that's just counting how long they've been here."
Riley shrugged and gesture over to her couch. "I've been catching up on a whole cache of files about it all - the German branch signed everything over to me when I passed through their HQ from a job they needed out of me."
The Phantom caught a leery glance from Percival, "Is that what that is?"
"Huh?" Riley blinked and followed Percy's gaze. "That's what the files are all for - yeah."
There was a short silence, where Percy traded glances between Riley and the phantom creature. His eyes played on curiosity, but somehow strummed a careful tune of wariness. With a sigh, and a hand to his pocket, he gave her a serious look, "So then, where is this ward?"
"At Ruarc's." Riley stated. "The Occultus keeps hoping exposure can curb some of its oddities." The woman scoffed at the idea and then shrugged. "But, I think it will be a good help to all his students."
"You just dumped it on Rook?" smirked Percy.
"I actually dropped in, fed it all his jerky and then put on a magnificent dragonslaying for his apprentice after pretending to be a war-scarred partially bionic version of him from the wasteland future when I first popped up out of the ground."
"Oh yes, of course," nodded the man, as if that string of words was something normal people said. He gripped his chin for a minute, seeming to let all of this process, before walking over to the couch. "I suppose it's not easy, working for the Occultus directly. Especially when so many folks are wary of their presence out this way. Even Safeholme is independent."
Riley leaned back and contorted so she could watch Percy while still leaning against her desk. "I get a lot of lee-way on all sides. I get around quicker than almost anyone else the Occultus fields and people like me so-" Riley shrugged and then blinked and looked from Percy to the Phantom and back.
"Oh." Riley blinked again and then coughed. "That's ah-" Riley looked at the Phantom and it looked squarely back at her. "That's my cloak by the way."
Those curious fingers of Percy's had almost reached down to one of the slips of paper that spoke of this strange ward Riley spoke of. Instead, he seemed to resist the urge, withdrawing his hand.
"I had an inkling that is what it was," Percival instead turned his dissecting gaze over to the Phantom, "It is certainly more complex than when I last saw it... certainly more..."
He spoke with a bit of finality in his voice, "... similar."
Riley moved back forward and nodded. "Turned out it has had a familiar contract with me since my da passed it on. I just had to figure out my side of it all and now that I have-" Riley looked at the Phantom with a grin. "-memories, emotions - motions - everything of mine is its now."
Somewhat more nervously Riley scratched at her cheek again. "It'll get my face when I die."
The mention of death brought a certain intensity to the man's face. He stared at the creature quietly, in light of this grim fact. The topics from earlier seemed to arise again. Though, there didn't seem to be a tearful remorse spoken between them, there was more of a scornful contempt.
"What kind of contract is this? Symbiotic? Parasitic?" asked Pericval in an academic manner.
"The best one I could ever have gotten even if I had to have looked for my own - you've seen how often the mantle has saved my life and it has done that so many more times that you haven't." Riley cocked her head and looked towards the Phantom with a smile. "Stage magic in part teaches me how to be everyone or anyone - I'm certainly not going to begrudge something if it wants to become me."
"Besides." Riley looke down and away. "Having a copy of my emotions as I actually am is never a bad thing considering some of the things I work with."
"And I used to have six voices in my head telling me how to live my life, it didn't mean it was a good thing." Percival put his hand on Riley's shoulder, "I'm not fit to be a summoner anymore, but I can help you study this, understand it. I have the space and the time, if you would be willing to entertain curiosity."
Riley swallowed and did not look up. "There's - there is some distrust there." Riley snapped her head up and was still smiling as she gave Percy a nod. "From both me and it there are emotions from you leaving that just aren't ready yet."
There a twitch of sorrow in the woman's smile and she looked down again and then back up with a different face - one with jokes and laughs ready.
"I think you'd find us working together on my ward much more interesting anyway!" Riley wiggled an eyebrow at Percy. "You ever studied something that can essentially teleport from one position to the next by eating away the time it took to move from place to place?"
"Most things that can do that don't or shouldn't live in our realm," said Percival, withdrawing his hand, his interest appearing to shift. The Alchemist was certainly baited by the curiosity, but there was something else in his face that was easy to read by someone of Riley's stature. Percy was also stowing something away, instead of bringing it forth like he used to. "I'm sure you've informed Ruarc of this to avoid any potential trouble?"
Riley's face froze and she stared at Percy as if he had just aked her who she had stabbed the morning before. Before she could move her eyes to look about the room - at anything but Percy - a folder soared through the air and smack agains the side of the magician's head.
Desprately grabbing at the slipping packet of papers the Phantom had just thrown at her before they could make a mess Riley was actually somewhat pleased to have something in her hands she could direct her eyes to.
"I may have. Not. It might have been that I had not even read the files when I went by the academy?"
Percival's smile was not the usual genuine, but something more serpentine, though cheery looking. He held out a hand, "You're in luck. I happen to retaking my position as the Alchemist 101 Instructor at the school. I could take a copy of what you have-"
Riley coughed and slid her eyes away and towards the wall that didn't contain either Percy or her Phantom. "-copy some of what I have. I need to... ah... redact somethings?"
Now the smile was more genuinely interested, "Redact? Riley, you didn't leave highly-sensitive documents lying around on the couch for anyone to see, did you?"
"My door can't be opened when I'm here. I do a lot of work alone when it comes to this... kinda stuff." Riley was still not looking at anyone. "It isn't actually possible to get in unless you get lead in - that's why I have to answer my phone no matter who is calling."
"I see," Percival nodded, carefully eying the woman avoiding his gaze, or anyone's for that matter. He flattened his smile, and put his hand behind his back, "Well, then I'll take what you can give. I'm sure the Germans are doing their best, but I do have particular experience in other-worldly entities and mass-mana infusion cells."
Riley nodded and finally looked towards Percy. "Just be very careful when you go trying to find a home for your curiosity. They're pretty sure what ever got contained to make the kid isn't just old - but the oldest for its entire plane." Riley leaned back again and looked at the ceiling. "Also... I like 'em? They seem to try hard to be nice - so I don't want to have to try and make up some kinda reason for why their uncle can't be kind to them-" Riley looked back down to Percy and moved her head to one side. "-yeah?"
"Who do you take me for? Maelgwyn? Alexei? I didn't turn into a bad guy in that cave, Riley," said Percival with a face that wasn't convincing.
Riley froze. "Are you-" She bit at the inside of her cheek. "-one of the student's you'll be teaching is a Maelgwyn." Riley nodded slowly to herself without taking her eyes off Percy. "If you need work somewhere else you know I could find it?"
Percy was quiet, as if the words had played pass-phrase to a lock.
"You really don't trust me?"
"Never." Riley walked forward and grabbed Percy in another hug. "Never, never, never would I stop trusting you." Burying her head against her brother Riley barely wanted to speak. "I told you I'd been running and I tell Ruarc about when I set magical shows off for kids when I shouldn't, but I do a lot - and the people that I've done some of it with..."
Riley's voice trailed off and she sighed heavily.
"You said it earlier - people are wary of the Occultus." Riley moved her head so she could look up towards Percy. "They're right to be. We're not alright to almost the last one of us that work here. Some of the people - people I like and laugh with - there are just certain things they can't do anymore."
Riley's nose buried itself down and she hid her face again. "Everyone tries hard not to have anything happen to them, but it is always, always there and not one of us could keep going if it was something to get blamed for."
The woman against Percy suddenly pulled back and she was suddenly back to pacing. As she passed by the man a second time she stopped and looked at him before nodding. "Let's sit." The stage magician stated. "Let's sit and talk magic."
The alchemist's sister plopped down right there with her legs crossed and looked up at her brother expectantly.
The air had swirled left and right so quickly that Percy's head almost turned. He had opened his mouth to say something, but Riley had spun right around on him and took the initiative and controlled the room again. When she plopped down onto the floor, that seemed to be the end of it, the look in her eye was enough to cue him along. There didn't seem to be anything hidden in the man's eyes, instead, he pulled out something hidden in his in his vest.
A small vail.
It was rectangular in shape, and had a stunning orange liquid in it. The vial looked rather remarkable to behold, until Percy tossed it onto the floor. The crash that followed was somewhat muted, for as soon as the bottle broke, the orange liquid reached out to snatch up the loose pieces of glasses. Transparent silicate was pulled apart, expanded, and inscreased in size, until the broken shards formed a brilliant, glass stool.
The Alchemist reached over to grab his coat, and sat it over the stool for a cushion, and sat down. With a leg crossed, he stared down at her with that same waiting gaze, "Alright, little sister, let us talk magic."
For a moment Riley's face soften and she frowned somewhat wanly at Percy. "I asked earlier if we could be honest and you agreed and... since then I've avoided far too much to be honest." Riley's hands met each other and her fingers spidered against each other. "I don't want you looking elsewhere and getting reminded that when you asked I wouldn't speak."
Riley breathed out.
"My stagecraft. You've seen me do a lot of its basics but what have you figured out about how it is done?"
A classical thinking pose was struck by the Alchemist, one that could almost be called dramatic, had he not already been sitting that way. With a hand to his chin, he carefully spoke.
"I have always had my theories. What I do know is that it requires a piece of you, by deduction alone. I can't say I have any evidence, but I think seeing your Phantom makes it clear to me," explained Percy, a finger snaking up to one of his cheekbones, "That's not the whole of it, though. There's more to it. I could guess at a few things, but nothing solid enough I would write down."
Riley hummed to herself as she put her hands behind her, against the floor, and leaned back. "The illusionary component of stagecraft is at its base the least important - but it is also an example of a guiding principle of the entire endeavor." The young magician borught one hand back and scratched along her nose. "One of the original impulses to its creation was to be able to rival the power of summoning without the weaknesses of being reliant on a contracted or bound other to shape that power."
Shrugging and then bringing her hands cupped together in front of her Riley barely needed to concentrate to have one of her blank masks - the featureless curved representation of a face startlingly bright and a shade of white near the colour of bone - appear nestled agianst her palms.
"The first break through on how to achieve this was in the material to drive it and in necromancy - which was required to reach that material." Riley offered the mask towards Percy. "Each of these is manifested piece of a stage magician's soul. The reason that they can draw mana out from a target when unaugmented is because the fact that they are here-" Riley flexed her grip and wiggled the maske in the air some. "-means that there is a hole here-" Riley's free hand pointed to herself. "-and it leeches whatever it can in an attempt to close that."
Riley's head tilted to the side and she raised an eyebrow - inviting commentary. The audience took that opportunity to take up the mask as it was offered. Much like an Inquisitor of the Occultus, he examined the material and the make-up of the item. He waved it a bit, with it having little effect in his hands, rather he seemed to be testing the solidness of it. There was almost a moment where he seemed to come to some manner of conclusion, an 'ah-ha' moment, a looki of pride, all followed by a grim look of realization.
Percy's brow furrowed, wiping his forehead with the back of his hand. "Fascinating."
"But on its own not especially powerful." Riley grinned somewhat sardonically. "It was supposed to be a way to create things that could rival summoning - that could strike a fist to the blade of some planar power and come out on top." Riley snapped her fingers and the mask in Percy's hand dispersed into a myriad of shimmering petals of light. "Shape. Intent. And-" Riley's grin was big as she spoke. "-mockery is what came next."
Riley chuckled lightly. "Shape and intent are simple-" The mask that formed in Riley's hand now had the looks of a wolfhound - agile, strong, and teethed for a fight - when she threw it in the air where it grew a tail of blue mana that spread out into a body with paws clawed in a familiar off-white material. The hound dropped to the ground and ground its head happily into the side of Percy's knee. "-a puppet from the mind that follows the commands and impulses given upon its creature."
Riley reached out and dragged her hand through the shimmering, immaterial spine of the creature and it thumped a barely present leg against the ground - claws the only part of its body sounding any impact. "For this guy it was nothing more than a word to be cute and friendly."
Leaving the hound to be for now Riley concentrated once more and this time the construct that appeared in her hands was not a mask or face at all - but a sword. When the young woman put her hand to the hilt the blade was quickly wreathed in a nimbus of blue fire. "Mockery - you expend energy and convince the part of you that you pull out that it is not in fact you, but something else entirely. They cannot exist long and they need to drain constant mana or they... snap and shatter back into their natural state."
The magician gave the blade one good swipe - leaving a burning after trail hanging in the air - before allowing the weapon to crumble into brillaint shards and fade from the world. With a long hum Riley turned her hands back towards her hounds back which she now scratched vigourously with both hands.
"This is two steps from Blood Magic," commented Percival, sitting atop his glass throne, not quite sharing the same enthusiasm. His eyes had narrowed as he stared at the dog, and his heel began bounce with a reptitious anxiety. There lied a quiet simmer in the man's face. "Riley this isn't even among the possibilities I chose to consider for this, it's the one I tossed out because I thought you would never do something so dangerous. You can explain the concepts and the practice, but you don't seem to understand the full extent of the damage, or rather, what damage could be wrought in the future if you're not careful."
"I do." Riley whispered as she puffed up her cheeks and let out a long sigh. She waved her hands through her hound and it essence broke apart and gleefully curled about her arm as it swirled back into her body. "I do because you'll - you'll never want to hear this... so do I say it, Percy?" Riley looked at her brother, her eyes filled with determination even as the frown on her face wavered as she asked the question.
"Well!" Percy threw his arm up, in the same way someone with two arms would have tossed their hands up.
"Well?" Riley questioned right back, her voice expectant and an eyebrow raised.
"Well." He answered, almost exasperated, before putting his face back down in his hand. "I can't say I'm not curious, but I doubt it will mollify what I'm feeling right now. Say it, then."
"There's three more steps." Riley stated blandly. Holding up her hand she cut it quickly in front of her with another snap and five coloured balls formed in the air: red, blue, green, yellow, and grey. As each one fromed she caught and tossed them back into the air and then juggled her way through to the following one. "There needed to be an element to the material to give it real purpose and power, but it wasn't going to be anything summoned - anything that had place that couldn't be reached from solely inside the self."
The looping balls began their circuit anew. "So." Riley's smile was lopsided and the look in her eyes showed clear that she knew what Percy would feel as she spoke next. "Emotions." The red ball was caught and passed on. "Wrath." Blue. "Sorrow." Green. "Envy." Yellow. "Joy." Grey. "Logic."
As she finished Riley let the balls loop another circuit and then carefully let each ball settle down into her lap. "The next two steps aren't anything I would show as an example, but they both stim from achieving this one." Riley picked up the red ball and rotated it in her hand. "Instead of a piece you take everything of you that is of this-" Riley brought the ball to front of Percy's attention. "For something like it you would form hounds or a warrior from every bit of this you possess. When you do that it doesn't need instruction or impulse or concentration - it is you and while it is out you are less but can do more just by the arithmetic of it. The fancy term for it if there were any other stage magicians still out there is an avatar."
Riley placed the ball back in her lap and looked down. Her fingers once more pushing off and around each other. "The next step was something only me and dad ever did back when he still taught people." Riley bit her lip as she looked up and nodded her head slightly towards her Phantom. "It requires the mantle. Just like a 'ghost' through things you make yourself immaterial but then you enter your avatar construct. What was a whole part, but still simply a part, becomes nothing but the whole. It's... it's strong and easily one of the most dangerous things you can do to yourself."
Riley shut her eyes and put her elbows against her thighs as her thumbs worked circles across her cheeks.
"If you lose like that - really lose - the immaterial part of you gets ejected but what went into the avatar doesn't come back. It shatters."
"Riley, what you seem to be telling me is that thing over there," Percival pointed at the shadow, "is an investment of your immortal soul that you will not be getting back if things go awry. Hell. Ever. What you're--..."
"No, no! Percy - the blame. My phantom, the mantle... it doesn't take it and it isn't losing it - the Phantom is the only safety net for it all. When you enter an avatar and create an embodiement everything just becomes... it becomes too big for a simple part. If you win and can reverse it on your own everything is fine, but when you lose the connection gets cut too quick and it collapses on itself. But, when you've connected with the phantom like I have - given it each memory and each emotion of mine... even if the original breaks the Phantom persists without that crack." Riley scratched a hand through her hair and than against the back of her head. "If something like that did happen - theoretically - time with the Phantom would leech what was me back into me."
Riley closed her eyes and looked down her voice before had been quick, and strong with an urgency, but was now shaking as it left her mouth. "I - when you asked to study it-" Riley jerked her head towards her Phantom who was now watching the pair with an intesnity that had not gripped the shade earlier. "I... we weren't afraid for something you would find about it - but about me."
The tallest fellow in the room quietly steamed on that bit of information, his eyes closed as he thought on what he had been told. Percival seemed to calm down the more and more Riley could answer is questions and his indignation. For someone who may have dabbled in his absence, she was getting the hot end of the poker for explaining it to him. At that he stood, and he began to pace. Much like the Stage Magician had, the Alchemist began to step back and forth in the room. His green eyes occasionally flitting to the Phantom construct and then his little sister.
"I should apologize," said Percival, speaking finally with his back the to woman, "I've been treating you quite like a child, when you've been studying this all of your life. My concern was you were dabbling in depths you don't understand. If what you say is true, then I have little to be worried or concerned of."
Then, that gaze turned on Riley, the same eyes Elizabeth gave her in the most intense of moments, "Unless, you believe I should be concerned about something further. Riley?"
"Concern?" Riley's voice almost squeaked out and she seemed to stress each part of the word Percy had said as if she didn't know what it was. "I-i... I'm an idiot." The young woman rocked backwards from where she was sitting cross legged until her back hit the floor and she was suddenly in a sprawl. The magician began to giggle and then laugh and she wasn't sure if the slight tears at the edges of her eyes were from mirth or relief. "Concern!?" Riley's voice roared as laughter cut into the end of the word this time. Pulling in gasps of air the young woman tried to reign herself back under control. "Perce... I thought that you - I thought -" Sitting up and looking towards her brother towering over her the magician's mouth opened and grasped towards words but never made a sound until she was just shaking her head in disbelief.
The haunted, afraid look that had still put purchase on her eyes as she had stared speechless at Percy spoke her message clear enough: I thought you'd hate me.
"Thought I'd berate you for performing such magicks?" reeled Percy back away from what he could seem to see. He began to sway back and forth, walking in a bit of an exaggerated fashion, that odd smile on his face. It seemed he hadn't been hiding much, he was just somewhat bad at communicating. "Perhaps you thought I'd disapprove and tell Mother. Maybe think I'd turn my nose up like some Occultus judge and sentence you straight out? No... No no no."
With a short spin, he walked back over to the woman, passing by his glass stool to plop down next to her. It was awkward, and difficult, as his nice slacks were fitted and made it difficult to sit comfortably, so he leaned back, resting on one hand, and shouldering next to Riley.
"You're my little sister. Ever since we picked you up out of the garbage ten years ago, you've been solid family," chuckled Percival, hissing through his teeth, "That means I worry, I want to look out for you, and make sure you understand the work you're doing. Stagecraft... Perhaps it is two-steps from Blood Magic, but even arts like it and Necromancy find purpose and practice in the civilized world. Every mystic art-form deserves a chance. Hell, if anything, Riley..."
He bumped his shoulder against hers, "I'm proud of you."
Riley let her head fall towards the floor so she was able to look towards Percy. "I'm really, really good at what I do Percy, but if I could just have a handful of the confidence you have towards family..." Riley shook her head slightly, smothering a cheek against her floor. "You call me sister so easily and I know it and you know it for the truth, but - do I... do I ever call you brother?" The magician sighed heavily. "I can't remember - but you know I mean it, don't you?"
Percy's hand went over Riley's face, smothering her for a moment, "I'm going to draw our limit to two deep, catastrophic discussions a night."
Riley's face grinned wickedly underneath Percy's hand. "Oh. So being a sibling with me is catastrophic?" Riley laughed and shoved her face against Percy's palm roughly. "Is that what you want all your gifts to say from now on: to Watson, from Catastrophe?"
The weary Alchemist had little fight in him, but he played along, toppling over the woman, using what weight he had to keep her down. "Yes, from here on we are Watson and Catastrophe, more fitting if it were Entropy and Catastrophe. I seem to be the one cleaning up after everyone when things fallout!"
"No, no!" Rilely laughed out. "It has to be Catastrophe and Watson - because that's what you'd get without Holmes keeping everything interesting! Watson would just... just solve problems - we'd never sell a single sheet of script for that!"
"Not every screenplay needs explosions! People can appreciate the process for it's intellectual value! They'll find it clever writing for the content, not for the buzzwords!"
"Buzzwords!" Riley cried out in mock horror and pushed Percy so he had to roll to the side. "Traitorous slur - I would never!' Riley grinned. "A dragon though - I could put a dragon in everything. I had a cat slay a dragon once - he cried a final tear and grasped his sword and steel and muscateer both turned into a bolt of lightning."
Percival wasn't hard to move, in fact, he seemed quite spent after those few moments. He seemed a bit short of breath, and sweating just a bit much for the meager play. The man furrowed his brow, and weakly pressed a finger to his temple. "This is why... You're working out of a small flat in Kyoto. Your scenes need more consistency..." He took a breath, "... and flow."
"Consistency... I'm barely ever here and it is my small flat." Riley scratched at her cheek. "I really only have it so there is a place to send me letters that doesn't make me look completely rootless."
Riley yawned and stetched her arms into the air. "I don't even know how many countries I've been in in the last week. I couldn't imagine the hassle if I actually had to use customs." The woman shook herself at the statement as a small shiver broke across her skin.
"I'm related to a world-class criminal, apparently," mused Percival, "She has a place to stow anything ill-gotten and to get the post, and then goes around thieving in kitchens and beds across the globe."
"What's my thief name - the Garlic Bone Ghost?" Riley joked off-handedly.
"The Hobo Hamburger Haunter," shot back Percy, apparently having caught his breath.
Riley snorted. "You want my couch tonight?" The magician asked then squinted as she looked around them. "I swear there is supposed to be a futon folded up around here somewhere."
"Yes, please, I'm sure the last train has already run this evening," gratefully nodded the Caxton man, gesturing towards the couch, "Have you ever tried pulling it out? Maybe that's what they mean by futon. Non-mags like to think their clever by hiding things in plain sight."
"I never even thought of that." Riley murmered quietly before quickly looking over towards her Phantom. The shade looked down at the couch it was sitting on with sudden curiosity before sinking its head down into the cushions below it. The silhouette lifted one hand and gave the pair across from it a thumbs up, but kept the top of its body submerged in whatever mechanism was shunted beneath the cushions of an otherwise innocent looking piece of furniture.
Percival put his face in his hand, "I need to buy you a bed."
The young woman looked about the room they were in. "Then I'd have to sell either the couch or the desk. And they frame the whole place kinda nicely don't they?" Riley waved her hand dismissively.
"Besides, the desk would be a hard negotiation - the bear has tenure."
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