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Summary: Seteth proposes a partnership. Quintessa weighs her options. Together, the street rat and the powerful heiress begin to learn that they share more in common than either could have guessed.

House Dragana

Quintessa Dragana had much work to do and she felt like she was running out of time. The hex blade poured over maps of Vailkrin and Trist'oth in her library, pinpointing where her enemies were located and what would be the best approach when she wanted to destroy them. House D'Artes and House Nasar would soon suffer for crossing her but she needed to play her cards close to her body. There were things Quintessa was planning that could easily destroy her if word ever got out about them. She needed to act with as much caution as possible, question was, how much restraint did the changeling actually have? With her idle plotting hitting a wall, it was time to prepare for her evening katas, an act that would offer much more satisfaction than stewing over foes she couldn't currently defeat. Wearing her black necromancer's robes and spike-heeled boots, Quintessa donned her invisibility cloak before strapping her katana to her side. She loathed not having her sword the night of the Snowflake Soiree, but with rumors that many items had been stolen during the event she was glad to have left it at home. House Dragana was notoriously warded against intruders, only a fool would try to break in, so Quintessa was confident that her personal affects would be kept safe while inside these walls. Outside was a different story, however, as the Dark Forest was exceedingly dangerous to outsides. From giant spiders to legions of skeletons, a lone traveler would have to tread carefully without the blessing of the baroness, Quintessa Dragana. From her training square on her lawn, the warden of the Dark Forest preformed her daily exercises in plain view of anyone who happened to venture out onto her demesne. The hex blade's demure left hand gripped her sheath tightly as she drew her blade to swiftly slice through the chilly night air, practicing the ancient sylvan elf sword style of 'Iaijutsu'. Quintessa returned her katana to sheath after every slash, her blade song ringing through the trees when it is drawn out into an attack once more. This was the nightly ritual she had and have had since she joined the Mage's Guild months ago. A ritual that had turned a mouthy street urchin into a dangerous killing machine that quickly outshined the other apprentices in those few short months. Now, Quintessa was an Arcane Seward, a Baroness, and an ambitious player in the game of Vailkrin politics, but did the changeling have what it took to lead them? Only time would tell.

Seteth || It hadn't been Seteth's week.

Seteth || The foreign lad had started things off with a promising Sunday haul. He successfully conned a pair of shifty dwarven merchants out of their cargo by leading them on all the way to the pit of a horned beast with an appetite for bipeds in Vailkrin's seedy fighting pits. On Monday morning, Seteth set out with the dwarven cargo strapped to his small back (because their pack mule had died of unknown causes overnight and he couldn't rent a horse from the local stables since he owed the stablemaster a sizable sum he did not intend to repay). Things went from rough to tumbling when the young thief tripped on a sharp rock whilst trying in vain to balance his heavy haul and rolled down a ravine. He was lucky that the descent was fairly gentle in that area. But even if it hadn't killed him, it hurt just the same. Most of the cargo could not be recovered because it had been pilfered by goblin scavengers before Seteth could get his bearings again and frighten them off with his knives. The only piece of inventory still within range worth more than a handful of coppers was a full copper helmet with steel slits which one of the goblins had decided to equip posthaste. Seteth kicked the goblin in the shins and hoisted the helmet from its head. It was a small victory, but there was nowhere near enough stuff left to justify what the lad had been through.

Seteth || Tuesday was not much better. Raphaline, the bard, had given Seteth a lead on a human male with a raspy voice and a rat-like countenance who was illegally in the possession of a large quantity of red dust -- a narcotic that had been briefly popular in Frostmaw a few years back from what Seteth had heard (it hardly mattered and he barely knew what or where Frostmaw was anyway). The tip was authentic; the bard did not cross him. But the raspy and rat-like human male had proven far hardier and deadlier than Seteth had anticipated and he had even laid a wire trap for would-be thieves. Seteth had the misfortune of falling victim to the trap and he was only able to escape with his life when he pried himself free from his dangling state immediately after momentarily convincing the drug dealer that his beloved mother was ill with a common cold.

Seteth || Wednesday was an improvement but not without its own red tape. At the Snowflake Soiree, Seteth had espied a pretty young woman somewhere in the ballpark of his own age with even prettier gemstones in great abundance on her person. It should have been a simple steal. But she revealed herself to be Lady Quintessa of House Dragana, which immediately dispelled any thievery from Seteth’s mind and filled him instead with dread. At least, if Seteth were very, very careful, he might pick up where he and Larewen Dragana had left off. If he could somehow compel House Dragana to work with him, his quest for the crystals needed to save his own life might just bear fruit. The trick, of course, was that there was a higher chance he’d end up dead in a ditch somewhere. Or dead in this dark forest, appropriately named ‘Dark Forest’, where spiders of a most inappropriate size prowled the abyss and skeletons reanimated for freshly vile purpose walked shamelessly down the trails. It had taken Seteth every bit of his wit to evade these monstrosities. It was terrifying work and he loathed every second of it. He felt half beaten by the time he reached the manor. Perhaps that was House Dragana’s way? The surviving would-be visitors already stinging with a lowered bargaining hand -- smart. That was when he saw her. Lady Quintessa. She was doing… things. Things with a sword. Things which were impressive enough that perhaps she would not so much as blush at the inappropriate spiders and skeletons. He couldn’t decide if that was the scariest thing he’d ever considered or the hottest. Either way, the leather-cloaked lad took a few intentionally loud steps forward and cleared his throat. “Nice place.” His voice was more hollow than he’d hoped.

Quintessa was focused. The imagine of Gevurah being cut down flashed in her mind when she took her next stroke, her katana humming only slightly as she brought the blade up into a defensive position. Her stance shifted slightly, spiked-heels digging into the ground as she transitioned into her next stage of practice. However, the hex blade would pause here, the intentionally heavy footsteps catching her attention. Quintessa's mismatched eyes flickered over to the lad, her expression still harboring the hate she felt for the Drow Matron without her realizing it. To her surprise, it was the man that had been so bold to approach her at the ball not too long ago. "Ah," she began, her posture straightening as she relaxed. With her spiked-heels on she was a bit taller than 5'10, putting her eye-to-eye with Seteth, "The man from the Snowflake Soiree." The light from the moon glinted off of Quintessa's katana as she rested it against her shoulder, her lithe form pivoting to face him. "So, you've found your way to my manor. I honestly didn't think you'd make it this far," A cruel grin spread across her face, flashing the row of sharp teeth hidden within her mouth. "But now that you have, what is it that you seek? I know you're after something... A man doesn't have that look in his eyes unless he is." The changeling's pale hand shifted from her sheath to rest on her hip as she looked him up and down. At the dance she was too focused on the crowd to get a good look, so she wanted to take this opportunity to see what she was dealing with. If he was another assassin from Nasar she'd be ready for him.

Seteth had once been told that if he survived adolescence he would grow up to become a good thief but never a great one. It wasn’t his former master, Vizio, who had said it, but it was an associate of Vizio’s and the man did not so much as shake his head when it was said. The pain he had felt in that moment had seared the statement into Seteth’s brain, as well as the reason given for it: Vizio’s associate had told Seteth that he had “honest eyes.” Every stealthy step, every record sprawl, every sneaky black bit of garb -- all of it would be useful, but none of it would ever save Seteth from the so-called doorways to his soul. His green eyes were vivid enough against the backdrop of his pale white skin that most folk would notice them at once. And they were far too expressive to ever paint the lad in perfect shadow. Right now, it was entirely possible that Lady Quintessa of House Dragana was noticing that. If Seteth -were- an assassin sent by House Nasar, then House Nasar must have been dreadfully low on their recruitment quota, because no matter how much he might claim otherwise, such work could never suit the former street rat of the faraway city of Sagittae. Seteth’s eyes lit up at Quintessa’s initial hateful countenance, and they lit up anew at her teeth, and they were just as sincere in their shift toward relative calmness when the woman had made her inquiries. He was an open book on Quintessa Dragana’s shelf, at least for now. “Truth be told,” Seteth began with a smooth voice which hardly matched those eyes, “I found this particular forest stroll to be more than a bit lively. I would not recommend it to tourists whose survival mattered to me in the least.” He smirked. “You’re not wrong, of course. I do want something. In fact, there are several things that I want. First of all, I wish to speak with you as a man might speak to a woman, or a woman to a man. I do find you intriguing.” The eyes did not lie. “Dangerously intriguing, however. I am merely a young thief in search of certain treasures. House Dragana is a powerful entity filled to the brim with powerful entities. Yourself among them, no doubt, if I’m any rough judge of swordplay. My curiosity extends beyond you and into the realm of further questions. Namely, I do wonder whether we might have mutually beneficial use for one-another in a world as… dark as ours.”

Quintessa listened to Seteth speak, silently judging him and the reasons he claimed to be here. Her cruel grin shrunk into a smirk to match the young thief's as she began to turn in the direction of her manor. If he was not scared of the changeling's inhuman appearance then perhaps he had protentional after all. "I don't have much use for humans," she admitted as she began to walk away, casually turning her back on him, "But I invite you inside my home, for the time being, thief or not." As Quintessa lead Seteth closer to House Dragana she returned her sword to its scabbard before waving a slender hand to open the door, an invisible force swinging the doors open for them. As she stepped inside, the purple glow from the arcane lighting activated, responding to her presence to illuminate the foyer. One look inside will reveal that the manse's interior is as darkly styled as its exterior, the pervious Lady of the House having as impeccable tastes as the current Lady. If Seteth's eyes were as keen as they were honest, he'd most likely spot the occasional vassal or servant that lurked in the shadows, retreating out of sight when the pair drew near. "This way," Quintessa shot back at the lad as they neared a pair of settees. The changeling took a seat on one, crossing one long leg over the other as she pulls a silver cigarette tin from her robes. "Sit," she commanded, tapping a single clove cigarette against her fingers as mismatched eyes took him in again. He certainly didn't seem like an assassin. "A young thief in search of treasures..." she repeated, her tongue wetting her lips before she placed he cigarette between them. "I think something can be worked out... but you must understand that I'm not in the position to trust you just yet. After all, lettings you in like this? It's a very big risk I've taken already." The hex blade lit her cig with a snap of her fingers, the simple cantrip producing a small flame for just a second before fizzling away. "However, I see something familiar in you... And House Dragana can always use more allies. It's no mystery that my mother, Larewen, is missing and the House in fragile position. I am the only thing that stands between this House's secrets and the rogues who would seek to rob them from me." The odd girl takes a long drag from her cigarette before exhaling the smoke above them.

Seteth was in no great haste to enter Quintessa’s mansion; not even with all manners of unsavory lurking about the forest. Here, at least, was an easier path of escape in case the woman brought her blade to bear upon him. It seemed unlikely, but Seteth hadn’t survived for 19 years by listening to his every cursory judgment. The invitation into the changeling’s abode brought as much promise as it did threats, of course. And so he followed. Through the door, into the purple-lit foyer, past the only somewhat-inconspicuous hired or sired help, and over to the luxurious settees where he was promptly ordered to sit. Seteth knew he was letting his guard down to entertain such thoughts, but he could not get them out of his mind -- he was uncertain whether he found Quintessa’s strikingly different eyes alarming or seductive, and the same query applied tenfold to her tone of voice. Perhaps the answer to both… was both. Everything Quintessa was doing, every movement, every word she spoke, all of it had the flavor of power barely restrained and not at all concealed. She was as lavish as her decor. ‘Stop it,’ Seteth snapped at himself in silence. Very briefly, his eyes betrayed his inner strife. ‘Stay focused. You’re not here for a lay. And if you dawdle overlong on such flights of fancy, she’ll flay you alive out of sheer boredom.’ Seteth cleared his throat and gave purpose to his visage. He squinted slightly, contemplating his next reply. “It’s also no mystery, Lady Quintessa, that it would take a fair number of rogues to pry your House’s secrets from you, and I would venture a guess that the prying would only occur in the unlikely event that your dead body lay before them. You are strong, and I am not attempting to appear insightful for saying so. It’s self-evident.” She said she saw something familiar in him. What could she have meant? Seteth, for his part, was not so wise. Despite the truth of their somewhat similar backgrounds, he had no idea of hers, and all he saw when he looked at her beautifully mismatched eyes was a fire of two superheated shades. “I understand you don’t trust me, lass. I wouldn’t trust me either. Not when I’ve come waltzing in,” he slipped a reference to their shared good time, “telling you that I’m a thief plain as day. But I don’t put business before common courtesy. Might be my undoing someday, but it’s true.” His eyes were clear; he meant it. “If someone is a good partner to me, I won’t stab that goodness in the back. Let me prove to you my loyalty comes at a modest price. If too many rogues want their way with your inheritance, kindly allow me to have my way with their slit-throated coinpurses.”

Quintessa leaned closer, blue and hazel eyes trying to pry into his mind, to discern why he looked so conflicted as pale digits move to flick her ashes into the tray that sat alone on the end-table next to them. Perhaps he was having second thoughts about this. Perhaps he was scared, or worse, actually here to rob her. She currently had no desire to slay him, he was far too entertaining, so she would be disappointed to have to kill him. He'd make a handsome servant, at least... "My dead body is exactly what they want." Quintessa told him as she replaced the cigarette in her mouth, the scent of clove drifting between them. "Just the other night House Nasar sent a small troop of thugs to subdue me. They even caught my hair aflame." The changeling's free hand moves up to gently run her fingers through her shortened hair. "If you want to gain my trust you'll target them in your thieving shenanigans... However, if you want to gain my affections," Her demeanor shifted to something a little more sultry as she spoke about what Seteth would need to do for her attention, her cigarette removed from her mouth again as a fang began to dig at her bottom lip, "You help me get revenge on House D'Artes and the rest of the Drow that follow them."

Seteth || The cloves reminded Seteth of home. On the streets of Sagittae, cigarettes like these were treated like tinctures. They were prized for their ability to heal; it was said in jape, of course, but the dulled looks of the smokers was enough to suggest that for a sweet little time, they had forgotten half their worries. And for many a Sagittaean street rat, worries were all they had. For the first time, Seteth felt something familiar in Quintessa, and it shocked him. That he would find a trace of himself here of all places was almost irreconcilable. Still, it gave the lad a greater sense of serenity somehow, as if all the grim decor and extravagant display of power were suddenly a bit brighter, a touch softer. Even Quintessa’s visible fang was a notch less threatening than before. He considered that such thoughts might be his ultimate undoing, but chose to shove aside such worries for now and carry on with business. And pleasure. “Consider the rogues dealt with, my lady.” There was spice in those last two words; peppery though playful heat. “Any information you feel comfortable providing me with will serve to shorten their leashes and, should they not heed reason, perhaps their lifespans as well.” Seteth was no assassin, but nothing in his honest eyes seemed to suggest he was unequal to the task of handling those among his own profession decisively. But she wanted more. This woman was good. “Oh, you’re very, very good,” Seteth continued, echoing his own thoughts with emphasis. “You’ve played this game before, I gather? Where a fellow sees your beauty and dives head-first into the flames for it? You want me, a simple thief, to take on a bunch of drow? Just for your beauty?” He laughed. But it was a quick laugh, and it was cut off with haste. His face lit up brightly and his smirk returned. “No, I’ll do it for the promise that you’ll help me locate a certain set of mythical crystals said to be spread across this land of yours. I’m here for them. I don’t care about their power, but mayhap you will; it is said to be nigh-limitless, after all. I just want my life.” And then, perhaps against his better judgment and certainly for the very first time since coming to Lithrydel, he slowly lifted his shirt sleeves up to reveal two pulsating magical cuffs, separate but deadly, each one shackled around his wrist like a collar to a slave. “I am owned,” he explained, albeit vaguely. “I want to be free. I cannot live without my freedom. And if your beauty is worth fighting for, Lady Quintessa, I shall hope that you understand that sentiment well.”

Quintessa grinned with dark glee when Seteth agreed to go after House Nasar. It made sense that he'd agree to this over going after the top Drow house in Trist'oth. Even in their weakened state they were still a dangerous target. His refusal to go after them simply because he was attracted to the changeling was proof that he didn't only think with the lower of his two heads. Quintessa chuckled, leaning over the arm of her seat to smash the butt of her cigarette into the ceramic ashtray. "At least you aren't stupid," the baroness said to him, her mismatched eyes shining with newfound curiosity at the mention of these crystals. The hex blade was always trying to increase her power and these mythic conduits sounded intriguing to her. "I see," she began again, mismatched eyes taking in the sight of Seteth's shackles as a single slender hand reached out to touch one of them. She could -feel- the magic that flowed from within. "I understand this sentiment indeed. I will help you," The game of playing the all superior baroness faded away as her true desire for magical discovery and ultimate freedom overwrote all that. "But I will need to study you more closely... Perhaps there is more to tell me about the crystals, as well?" Quintessa released his wrist and leaned back in her seat, a single finger touching her bottom lip thoughtfully. "Yes, yes... Do you have a place to stay, Seteth? If you agree to be my research subject I will allow you to stay in one of my guest rooms."

Seteth || Her research subject. Under any other set of circumstances he could possibly imagine, Seteth would have treated such a term as a brutishly blatant form of pure frakkery. In other words, an empress trumpeting herself and seeing in Seteth only a bauble to be batted at until it no longer interested her. But that trace of familiarity, that scent of cloves, subdued him. Not out of his wits, thankfully -- and it was truly something to be grateful for, because Quintessa herself had just deduced Seteth was not a fool, and ergo his goals remained within reach -- but subdued nonetheless. Another sense of the familiar pervaded the glance the hex blade gave the thief… and his shackles. When most men gazed upon a heterochromic changeling, they saw an alien, pretty or otherwise; and if that woman called House Dragana her home, she would be an alien to be fled from. But the fear that had trickled down Seteth’s spine when he first learned her identity at the Snowflake Soiree was gone, and it had been replaced with something his thoughts couldn’t label. When at last he spoke again, the lad was surprised by the strength and solidarity of his own words and tone. “I accept House Dragana’s gracious proposition.”