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Kemuri is a very heady drink.
To drink any amount of it in the ordinary manner is dangerous and right out, and it would have been scrapped as a confectionary error if not for how easily it forms bubbles. It is served, thus, in a decanter with a decorated puffer attached, making the contraption look like an overgrown perfume bottle. When pumped, the simple machine dispenses small to medium orbs into the air. This is how shots of kemuri are taken—not in shot glasses. Not unless one is really, really curious about what chalk octopi look like and doesn't mind hiccuping sprays of bubbles into the faces of those across from them.
Some don’t. In any case, what happens if one drinks a pint
of it is a subject of chain letters and eerie transmissions.
How the hell one catches and consumes one of these bubbles is up to them, but circa 2041, it was stylish to try and catch them on one's tongue in a suggestive manner or to try and copy the personal techniques of the famous. The son of the Seligrine emperor could reportedly inhale one through his cigarette; no had figured out how.
However consumed, the results were the same: a quick, subtle ghost of a hallucination before the eyes along with the degree of inebriation associated with a pint of beer. In Norf, this little vision is known as le petit spectre
. According to superstition, this effect gives a glimpse into one's future, and though science would disagree, it is said to have predicted the deaths of kings.
The drink comes in several flavors, all indeterminate, but different colors: transparent, pink, blue, deep red, white, inky black. Glow-in-the-dark is highly expensive and coveted but slightly radioactive. Use sparingly.
Unsurprisingly, it was illegal in the Snofflands around 2041 on the grounds that a superstitious drinker who, well intoxicated, saw too eerie a spectre
too easily became a berserker. Banned after that incident in the Iosethep museum with the fireworks.
The west Snofflands were the world’s capital of its use, with Iosethep the capital of that, as it teemed with the base of its consumers: those below the law and those above it.
On the three hundred sixtieth day of the year, above and below shared a decanter of kemuri in a dark bar.
Lux Langley II, Archduke of the country, was a man who could go out in disguise as himself. The public knew the archduke as pinprick mirror shades set close to his eyes—in fact, round shapes dominated him, for a body with its fat so rigidly hidden. On the outside of his tunic, he wore his new girdle for the first time, one size larger than the last. They never looked good on him. Waist forced into the perfectly round frame, he appeared almost too
three dimensional with the rest of his clothes on, which similarly pulled his surfaces unnaturally tight, like a doll's rigid skin. Where its constriction failed to extend past his hips, he looked confusingly female; his rough voice had confused Aubrey London at the door, who had also seen the aristocrat’s blackened lips. Were it not for the shades, Aubrey would have perceived something sweet light up in Lux’s eyes for that second of confusion. Lux lived for those seconds in which he was neither a man nor a woman.
He would only have had to take everything off to become unrecognizable—a small-featured dirty blonde head on a slightly overfed and distinctly male body. It got a lot of looks, but received coldly, bare lips pursed.
Here, though, all teeth.
Aubrey dwarfed him across the table, the sharply dressed face of Iosethep’s bohemian underground. The two were on equal footing alone, but Aubrey met Lux as a conduit tonight, speaking for something more powerful than royalty.
Lux traced a finger back and forth on the glassy table, which matched the one-way mirrors that glazed the outer walls of the bar. “You’ve got it upstairs, then—hell of an expenditure, even for me.” Especially to hide. If word of this venture met the public, he had been promised a fate unspeakable. He glowered over his shades. “I don’t like immersives.”
“The interface is downstairs,” Aubrey corrected, sounding like one talking in his sleep. He blinked a speck of white powder out of his eye. The pale man took great pains to hide the shadows of his insomnia, which was three years old, named Demetrius, could already name all of his father’s girlfriends—the Numerian, the dancer, the witch, the man—and found new ways to get downstairs faster than Aubrey could add more locks.
Gods help the poor bastard to offer Aubrey a cure.
It happened. It had happened just the night before, knocking the meeting with Lux forward a day when the child's powdery hair had appeared just below the edge of their table and matter-of-factly observed that the guy over there waving the pointy thing did not like him. Lux had spent most of the timeslot under a chair to avoid becoming collateral damage. He had fit—Aubrey had made him.
Aubrey ended sharply, in too reprimanding a tone. “And the Fates wish to speak to you in person. As I’ve told you before.”
“Shut up!” Lux snapped a medium sized bubble that had been floating above the decanter between his teeth. He did not hold himself back, having never learned politeness. Taught, but never learned. His chest swelled once, then he licked his lips—the bubble had sprayed them. “I am not here for…for…” The spectre
staggered his voice, emerging out of a hole in the air.
Aubrey clasped his hands on top of the table, looking at the airspace before Lux’s startled face and waiting patiently, fingers clasped beneath his nose; it was blank to him, but his imagination was more than capable of filling it in.
The hallucinated smoke rounded into the shape of a crying baby’s head, mouth growing wider, wider…until it eclipsed the head backwards, bursting the vision. Blast; as always.
Lux scowled. He did not want children.
Aubrey’s head remained where the baby’s had been, staring at a shape he had fashioned there with his own mind. His bleach-white hair, parted between his eyes, fell where the baby had had none, and his whitish lips curled smugly. Aubrey, Lux had heard, did not see symbols on the drink; he saw worlds. He had pulled the design of this very bar out of a vision from a single orb.
As the artist had intended, Lux did not feel he had escaped the subconscious when he shifted his eyes around the room. Metal bent as metal shouldn’t, and the cogs of another age circled in the shadows. The metal enclosed him in his very chair, making a twisting design beneath him that he could feel even through his excessive clothing. The rate of his breath increased, not temporarily.
“I am not here,” Lux finally spat, “for you.”
“Which is why the consequences for your conduct I’ll leave to the Fates if you keep it up,” said Aubrey, his basso voice rolling through his pasty face, which looked to have risen off of his skull like bread dough, or perhaps squeezed out of the rigid tube of his neck brace. A tiny, suspiciously tinted bottle that hung around it on a string fell out of his collar as he leaned closer to Lux and lowered his voice. “Are your people really going to be here to clean up your mess?” On the last word, his eyes jerked in the direction of the far corner, where a figure in a crinkling, filmy cloak bent over his table as if in sleep. As if. That wasn’t a red wine spill seeping through his hair. “That is a dead man
, not even taken lightly here. Your blood gives you no privilege to do that.”
“’E cut me in the line.”
“Far from an acceptable reason to kill—“
“’E cut me in the line,
” Lux protested, raising his voice in confusion only.
Ah, the Langleys, who had never had a concept of the unacceptable…Aubrey, with no delicacy in his hand, caught a bubble on the tip of his paper napkin, which it soaked into upon bursting. He sucked the napkin loudly and lay it back down on the table wetter with saliva—he had used this one several times now. For a moment, his eyes wandered through something Lux could never wander through in his dreams, and when his eyes met the noble’s again, he had figured him out. “From here, I could hear your aide protesting through your wires…last night was difficult enough.” He wrinkled his nose at the memory.
“Tomita’s loud,” Lux said, “but he’ll come." Lux was careful to stretch the truth about his subordinate's punctuality. Mister Tomita was the worst, bound to Lux only by his own honor, his family's reputation for turning out only the best of warrior servants. Without his last name, he would have fled long ago, like all the rest. Please show up. Please oh please oh please. People like you are so boring when you die...
...ha, you think that bitch last night would've been less dead if your staff hadn't been there to pry you off him?"
Aubrey straightened up and tucked the bottle away again. “The immersive will be administered with one intravenous needle.”
Lux flinched, which Aubrey paused and savored. No Langley had ever taken a needle peacefully. The man liked seeing him intimidated, and to confirm it, he fanned a decanted bubble Lux’s way with two fingers, flirtatiously. I didn’t ask. I didn’t ask you to
—gulp. Air and all; it hurt going down.
Lux was not ready for the spectre
, which, influenced by Aubrey’s instructions coming through his ears, made a crude map of the interface.
Aubrey rumbled, “It goes in the arm, like a doctor’s.”
A smoky needle dove for Lux’s flesh, and he could not stop himself from jerking his arm away.
“If you know enough of immersives to be afraid of them, you know the user must be as suggestible as possible. The drug takes twenty-four hours to expel; have one of your aides drive you home. Well-tolerated, too, or else there wouldn’t be those who keep it flowing through them constantly before their interfaces…heh. It interests me, too, Mr. Langley, what would compel a person to render themselves so perfectly helpless.”
There was a warning in Aubrey’s voice. Jovial, even titillated, but a warning about the Fates. Damn
; Lux had too much fear to keep in as it was. Had none of the urban legends about the “witches in the wires” exaggerated the power of the Fates? The spectre
formed something looming and vague, just beyond Lux’s comprehension. He could form no better words than “It’s ‘Your Grace’.”
It was a good thing kemuri wasn’t a drink that could go up one’s nose with laughter. Hidden behind the spectre
, Aubrey repressed a guffaw. Lux was the least graceful thing in the world. The night before, he had tried to jump into the fight for fun, swinging in on a ceiling lamp without the slightest idea of why it was going on. Aubrey had tossed him back out with one hand. Tonight, Lux had killed that poor sap with a stranger’s half-full bottle and dropped it on the floor to shatter once bloodied.
Lux demanded, tense, “I am Archduke. You will call me ‘Your Grace’!”
“Yes, Your Grace, but you must let the Fates call you whatever they want. As for the rest of the interface, the funds you provided me allowed me to upgrade to a sort with electrodes in place of needles for the head, arranged in a line, as tape.”
A rectangle dotted with the electrodes, dripping with wires, opened up before Lux. He hiccupped, rocking a little bit.
“The two attachments that resemble a ball cut in two—“
Hung on wires, they unfolded from the far side of the tape.
“—place over your eyes.”
They placed themselves over his eyes, enclosing them in the opaque smoke of the hallucination. His shades did not hinder it; they were of another world. Lux heard someone yelp; it might have been himself.
“By then, you will not be capable of starting the machine yourself. We will take these actions in the order I described to give me power over the switches.”
Smoky threads crossed in his eyes as nonexistent switches were thrown, warping, bending themselves into a dimension that the bar merely mocked, the true dreams of Aubrey.
“I will guide you to the dwelling of the Fates.”
Looping themselves overhead, they would have sprawled thousands of the archduke’s skyscraper, and what they did to a man…Aubrey was smiling somewhere, watching Lux’s eyes like a show. Aubrey was violating his mind.
“I am ready!” The shades cleared, and Lux found himself standing, heaving with anger.
Aubrey’s smile sank back into the face from whence it had come. “The Fates would not take kindly to that tone. Sit back down.”
Lux was already facing powerlessness before the Fates. He would not be helpless at the hands of this common mortal. “You told me what to do. Show me to where you keep the immersive.”
“You’ll stand?” Aubrey nodded. “If you must.”
Instead of standing himself, Aubrey wrenched the right arm of his chair upward, slightly off of the piece of furniture. The arm was a switch, and Lux was knocked back into his own chair by the jolt of starting machinery; both chairs began to descend through the floor.
edited 1st Dec '11 8:49:39 PM by AFGNCAAP