[P] underneath what's detectable with eyes
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<p>Salem frowned. She leaned back from the small bowl filled with soft clay beads at her feet and wondered if she would regret the effort. She wanted a series of beaded strings to fall over the dark curtain at the entrance to the Divination Room; she’d seen such a thing before in a tavern or two growing up and loved the sound it made when someone passed through. The concept had an adequately mystical quality to it, but more importantly, Salem could not be surprised by a visitor when alone in her room. No one could enter silently. She could consider herself safe, even on the busiest of evenings at La Roja.</p>

<p>But she had never made beads before, nor had she any paints. Weaving the strings would be easy enough, as would creating dyes for color, but paint? Baking beads? Salem knew there was a process to each, and knew the products would be ruined if she did not abide by that process properly. But she had to start somewhere, and working on the little beads busied her mind away from the hole Indis left behind.</p>

<p>The last of the evening birds at dusk sang among themselves within the trees above her, and the day’s last light slowly faded blue to black higher still. She thought to put aside the project for the night, to meditate, to take a walk to clear her mind before anxiety set in again. But when she moved to stand up, Salem saw him approaching and tensed all at once.</p>

<p><b>"Marlowe,"</b> she said, no smiles or graces. She greeted him as she would greet a client, a stranger&mdash;someone she preferred only to know her guise, not her warmth. <b>"Do you need something?"</b></p>
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It had been two days since Jethro left again. This time was less permanent – he was going specifically because Marlowe had asked him to do so.

Not having a horse was crippling. Sure, he was able to walk and get around, but if he went too far or for too long his leg would ache. Dealing with pain was not new to Marlowe, but he preferred to live without it.

The little building was slowly coming together. Rooms were cleaned out and wood replaced or repaired. By and large, Marlowe did little to help – his talents were not in building or organizing, after all. He handled things for Jethro while he was away and reset the traps when they caught something. It was like clockwork, though he sensed that things were beginning to advance in the wake of Indis' departure.

Of the many people within this little group, Salem remained an oddity.

This was largely due to her nature, which came off to him as aloof. Mystics were familiar to him, being as they were not all that different from con-artists.

Lingering in the doorway, he watched her until she noticed him. Even if Salem did not smile, Marlowe did.

“Naw, nothing in particular,” he answered. “This room is looking nice. What else are you going to do in here?” Marlowe asked, inviting himself in so as to look about.
The whole question here is: am I a monster, or a victim myself?
Character WikiLa Estrella Roja | Player Wiki
avatar by san
Something about his presence put the young woman on edge -- something about the combination of observations she had made that she did could not explain away with any level of confidence. Not only was he always moving (to the point it made her lowkey anxious just to witness), but there was something in the way he walked that Salem couldn't put her finger on. It wasn't a swagger, it wasn't unwarranted confidence. She wondered if it was the story behind that little limp of his.

Standing up straight, she placed the bowl of soft beads on the table at the Divination Room's center and gave Marlowe her full attention. Not that she had much choice; would he let have let himself in like that if she had been with a client?

Salem folded her fingers together over her belly. "Mainly readings for fortune and wisdom with my deck. I've considered providing medium services as well, but there are more complications involved there." Stiff, her eyes browsed the ceiling and walls. "Given the size of this room, I fear it's almost a waste of good space."

She looked at him squarely, calm. "Just the same, do ask before you come in next time, Marlowe," she said, relenting to a subtle temper and then again to her own cowardice for speaking up. Perhaps too quickly she followed up, "That does remind me, though. I've been forgetting to ask: When La Roja opens, what will they have you be doing?"
Up until she chided him, the thought of Salem not wanting vistors in this space had not occurred to Marlowe.

The effect of her words was twofold – his own expression tightened as he examined the decorated wall, though his false-face returned just as quickly.

Salem had, at that very moment, made herself memorable.

She hadn't been before then, not particularly. Calrian had a habit of finding pretty women and bringing them back, claiming that it was for the Troupe's growth, but Marlowe knew better. The silver serpent blood in those boys could not be forgotten – even if no one else really knew what sort of plague they carried.

Marlowe understood, of course. He had a very keen understanding of all these things that other folks seemed keen to forget.

“Oh, is this space off-limits?” Marlowe asked. “I thought this was all for one and all that. Maybe I got confused,” he flashed her a brief, humorless smile.

“As for my role, while I ain't got any gimmicks like this to offer,” he looked pointedly at her table, which he approached. “, there's always gonna need to be someone to help keep an eye on things. People that come lookin' for entertainment and games won't always have enough to cover themselves, so I'll keep track of that for them. That way no one forgets what they owe,” he concluded, and sat where one of her future clients would.
The whole question here is: am I a monster, or a victim myself?
Character WikiLa Estrella Roja | Player Wiki
avatar by san
She scoffed. It was remarkably emptier than she expected, purely sarcastic. Not the sounds she normally made, intentional or otherwise. "Well, yes, yes," she said, waving a hand, "all for one and all that, of course. We are a team. But the last thing I want is for someone to barge in during a session with a client on a quiet night, so I'd rather said team gets used to knocking. That's all I ask."

In truth, Salem hadn't been certain how sarcastic his response had been. She wasn't convinced she knew or understood Marlowe well enough to guess at any of his intentions. Best to play things safe and sincere, she decided, despite all intuition insisting on concern for a private conversation with him. She folded her hands at her waist as he explained himself, and it was with genuine surprise she raised, then furrowed, her brows.

"You're minding the books?" Baffled, Salem looked anywhere but at him. In all the taverns her mother had worked, Salem recalled many a numbers-man behind the scenes. Kindly, bookish types, most of them. Never to be confused with the bouncers, as Marlowe might have been. Thinking aloud she said, "So if I have any problems with people who won't pay, I should go to you, then. I suppose I never considered what I might do if someone refused."

She eyed him on the other side of the table and searched for something to say. "What do you think?" Salem gestured at the table and walls. "That's where my clients will sit. I'll light some candles there and there, just enough to see the cards on the table between us. Should I adjust anything?"
“I keep it real professional,” he reassured her. “Don't you worry.”

They didn't know him well enough to know what business he did, or how much effort he put into perfecting his craft. A long time ago, when he had been a soldier, people had underestimated him too. When they turned on him, that had been to their own disadvantage.

Still, he laughed at her question.

“Sure, somethin' like that. Cal's gonna be handling all the front end stuff, I'm just takin' care of the riffraff. Nothin' you need to worry about, unless someone stiff's you.” Privately, he thought she could use something stiff to loosen up. With her covered head and frigid personality she was almost like a nun – like Adina, even. Not like the whores who smiled and laughed and didn't mind lingering eyes, even if they refused to mix business within the Troupe.

Marlowe leaned back to better look around, following the motion of her hands as she spoke. It would fool anyone who came around, he thought. Every witch-house he had encountered before had airs like this. In the dark, well, that would be something new entirely.

“Why don't you do it for me?” He asked. “Show me the whole thing. Let's see that card trick in action.”
The whole question here is: am I a monster, or a victim myself?
Character WikiLa Estrella Roja | Player Wiki
avatar by san
She studied him a long moment, smiling skeptically, waiting for him to scoff and move on. But no, Marlowe was serious, sitting at the table requesting a fortune. Of course he was.

His wasn't exactly the first fortune she wanted to draw in her new space, but what did it matter? Every fortune she gave -- and would ever give -- was a total fabrication. There was no blessing or luck in the first card draw made in the nearly finished Divination Room.

Her skepticism faded back to stoicism. "It's not a card trick," said Salem with the last of her criticism, "but all right." She closed the door (as much as she could, as the old hinges still needed some finagling) and returned to the table to light the candles there using a small stick lit from a candle lit earlier.

She shuffled her deck in her hands, spread them in an arc face down across the table, and sat herself down in the cushions opposite. "Clear your mind. Envision your life's journey -- where you've been, where you want to go -- and select three cards. Don't flip them over."
He would have found great delight in knowing that he was taking away this first from her.

It wasn't as if he intentionally wanted to ruin things – but there was something about that untouched, virginal moment that appealed to an old and wicked part of him.

Scintilla was the first, he thought.

War-forged and baptized by a man who spoke like a prophet, the desert had been that first deciding moment. When his father had abandoned them and his mother faced with her own weakness, she chose for them. They should have gone east. They should have gone back to Inferni, where they might have been able to live a normal life. Instead it was to the south, to her homeland, that she took her children.

Agrippa would have endured. She would have passed the way that he passed.

Kali would have been killed – either by the enemy or by their own command the way that they had tried to kill him.

Things got worse after that.

By the time they finally escaped that awful place he had been changed by it, the way that Inferni had been changed in their absence. Now stranger-relatives lead, and they were forced to live in an ever-changing world that did not agree with the brutal, necessary way the trio had lived.

Once his sisters fell away, so too did his anchors – or so he told himself. Campion was the catalyst.

He could have pointed to all the other goings-on in the Clan at the time. The people who were too faithful and too strict while overlooking more and more of their own hypocrisies. Even Vicira had not been enough to move him, though he sometimes thought of her and her pretty daughter and wondered at what could have been, eventually.

No, it was Campion and all those awful decisions he had made and gotten Marlowe mixed up in. The first kidnapping had led to war. The second, and the stupidest of all, had nearly cost him his life. His leg ached.

After the starfall, there had been Gustavo and the dogs of the mountain and the vast, primordial jungle.

In the dark, his eyes roamed over the cards and began to look for the tells in their edges. It was harder with cards he was unfamiliar with.

How far had he really gone? An immeasurable distance. Perhaps he had died and each of these new adventures was just another step downward in the rings of hell.

Marlowe drew second card after a moment's hesitation.

He barely looked at the third, which he chose with his ring finger and slid free from the spread in the same motion.

Face down, they looked innocuous.
The whole question here is: am I a monster, or a victim myself?
Character WikiLa Estrella Roja | Player Wiki
avatar by san
He was silent, unreadable, as she selected and separated his cards. When it was her turn to move, to flip the cards he selected, Salem gasped small and subtle and tense. How long had she been holding her breath?

Her fingers fell upon the three and paused. She imagined herself drawing power from them, and mimicked this charade to Marlowe, with every hope that this intention could become reality. Something felt... off. Wrong. It made her hands want to shake, and she hadn't even flipped the cards yet. The sooner Salem forged her way through his fraudulent reading, the sooner she could collect herself and move on from it.

She flipped the first card and took to quick, albeit nervous, thinking. "Railroad tracks, reversed. It implies something or someone close by."

La Estrella Roja, Salem thought. She dismissed the thought; she reminded herself she was making it all up.

The diviner flipped the second card, and breath caught in her throat. She collected her hands together and desperately forced her eyes and lips neutral, untouched. "The knife," she said, its silver blade drawn with an artistic shine on the table between them. "A conflict. Not always violent. When the card is reversed, that implies the fortune-seeker might be a target, but... you drew the card upright."

She stared at him, and let him draw his own conclusions. The suppressed, deep-seated superstitious side of her didn't dare say anything more of it.

The diviner flipped the last card, exposing its face of dim flame and heavy soot. "Ash... reversed. It... it implies a rebirth."

Avoiding his eyes, Salem all-too-quickly began to gather back the cards into her deck. Her voice shook. "Will that be all, Marlowe?"

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