Set post-A Study in Misery. Adapted from text-roleplay.
Tabitha, resplendent in her nicest - and skimpiest - silk negligee, reclines as elegantly as she can against her bunk. Having long since accustomed herself to the motion of the waves (not initially conducive to elegance), she judges this particular pose a success.
It has been roughly two days since Hugh suggested that she murder her fifth cousin once removed. If one is to sulk, one must sulk in style - and ideally seduce a few sailors whilst one is at it.
Nonetheless, the knock at the door leaves her rattled, and it is with perhaps less than her usual measure of equanimity that she replies: “Oh - do come in!”
It is recognisably Hugh Marsh that walks into the room. Recognisable from the ability to walk in a straight line, from the right hand held firmly behind his back as opposed to the left, from the fact that the smell of rum did not follow him into the room, but most recognisably from the fact that he had bothered to knock at all.
“Terrec, we need to talk,” he says, crisply and simply.
Tabitha sits up abruptly - then, disgruntled, wraps a scarf about her shoulders. Hugh - in either form - doesn’t deserve the compliment of attempted seduction right at present.
“Oh, so you do recall I have a family name?” she inquires, with impeccable politeness. “And a family to go with it, no less?”
“That particular member of your family was responsible for torturing Branch,” he says matter-of-factly, “And though the Corsair does generally deserve everything that comes to him, even I have to admit that at the time, Branch didn't deserve that. Bringing his hatred, well, our hatred, my hatred, whatever, like that though was… untactful to say the least, but it's never been either of our strong suits. My strong suit.”
Tabitha - softens, honestly, despite herself. She loosens her hold a little on the scarf.
“Rarely have I approved of Vincta’s actions,” she says - firmly, but with considerably less ice in her tone. “Or political stance. Or - morality. Asking me, by logical extension, to disapprove of his existence, however, requires a tad more cold-bloodedness than I can muster at present. Terribly sorry.” (There is bite to the last phrase.)
Nonetheless, she allows herself to relent a little. “Will you sit down? I - I didn’t know what he did to Branch.”
“Few people do,” he says, walking over to perch on the end of the bunk, “The vision of what they did to the Monster Prince is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to atrocities that Guild has committed, but I admit straight-up murder is not the way forward to progress.”
He brings his right hand from behind his back and holds it out to thin air beside him, “Drink? Not rum, I promise.”
“Oh, I’m well aware of at least some of the Guild’s more unsavoury endeavours,” she says. “Don’t forget, I was about to launch a lawsuit against them, at Xavier’s behest! I suppose I just always thought of the Captain - you, that is - and him - as being quite a bit impervious to… well, most things.”
She smiles, and nods. “I don’t dislike rum, actually.” Quite the contrary - she has chosen to develop a taste for most things piratical, since, well - becoming a pirate.
Hugh reaches briefly outside reality and withdraws a bottle of whiskey, “I can’t stand the stuff, it’s more Branch’s taste,” he explains, taking a sip before passing the bottle, “and yes, Branch, and I, do rather like to pretend we’re impervious, but when you’ve lived inside his head long enough you start to see things… differently.”
Tabitha scans the label, shrugs in brief approval, and takes a measured gulp.
“What a unique and unhappy opportunity!” She flashes him another smile - this time, every bit as potent in both charm and intensity as is standard, civil conversation having done a great deal to repair her spirits.
She passes back the bottle of spirits.
“There’s a point. Pardon me if I am being impertinent, but do you and he differ entirely when it comes to personal taste? And, if so, does he now find rum somewhat bittersweet - and you whiskey? Or does it leave a bad taste in both your mouths?”
Hugh sighs, taking a sip, “Generally it gives us both a headache, leaving neither of us particularly satisfied with what used to bring us pleasures. But it also pisses off the other, so there’s some small amount of gratification from that at least.” He gives a slightly tired look to Tabitha, one rarely seen. “I advise not Flux Resurrecting if you can help it.”
Tabitha softens considerably at this, giving him a sincerely sympathetic look - though, beyond that, she is honestly at a loss for how to amend things.
“Well, you absolutely must try to find some common ground!” she announces, triumphantly. “Not to sound insufferable, but I do possess a significant amount of experience in arbitration. I think it imperative that the two of you come to an understanding - and there’s no shame in seeking outside help when it comes to that.”
Hugh laughs, and the laugh of Branch slips through into it, but it’s Marsh’s voice that carries on, “Oh, we’ve got an understanding, we’ve proven that, but since we’re rather diametrically opposed on some things there’s something to be gained from tormenting our captive enemy. Though I appreciate the offer, there are probably more important things to be putting your arbitration experience toward.”
As there is little else to do, Tabitha grins back. “Oh, but would they be half as much of a challenge? Tormenting one another is all very well, but unless one develops a taste for torment oneself - and, I assure you, I do not judge! - then there is something to be said for finding a more permanent solution. Which I imagine would, logically speaking, entail finding new likes - new experiences in which you might both find something to recommend them, without the tyranny of your old tempers dictating it…”
She pauses. “Oh, but you were making a hint, weren’t you! Are you telling me you intend to launch a legal assault on some unfortunate victim?”
The eagerness in her voice is dizzying.
A smile flashes across Hugh Branch’s face at the increasing bloodlust in the young lawyer, making a mental note to harness that for the future, but Marsh maintains control to reply, “Certainly someone who’s been unfortunately victimised, but we’ll not be doing the victimisation, for once. A young Wayfinder who wants out of his contract to join the East Empire Company. They reckon there’s a loophole, and I want to find out if there is and if so how big and whether we can exploit it even further.”
Tabitha, if possible, brightens even further at this. She sits up sharply, all thoughts of lounging - and indeed, elegance - forgotten.
“Oh, Captain Marsh - that’s perfect! It’s precisely the leverage against the Guild that Alex and I were looking for! How on earth did you manage to - I mean, why did - didn’t you -?” She arrests herself. Clears her throat. “Of course, I’d only be able to act in an advisory capacity, considering my current, ah. Legal status. And I’d require greater resources than I currently possess to work the case properly - space to work - peace, quiet, and an end to the continual snowstorms your counterpart is so fond of treating us to…”
Branch takes over, “Yer gonna either have t’ live with the snowstorms, lass, or we’ll have to be stayin’ in Acryn bay which’ll spell a lot mor’ trouble for yer ‘peace ‘n’ quiet’, when Darrishes and Terrecs come after us, if ye know what I’m sayin’ there,” before Marsh continues, “but we did want to ask about this library of yours…”
The stern look on Tabitha’s face contains no traces of a suppressed smile. Absolutely none.
“Believe me, Captain, if it is in the interests of security, I am quite reconciled to the prospect of braving the elements.” Still not a hint of amusement here. Probably. “It is when said snowstorms are conjured solely for the purpose of rendering my wardrobe -” she gestures to the skimpy negligee “- unsuitable, that I begin to baulk.”
She glances in a rather longsuffering manner at the whiskey. Then, back again. “And if you’re looking to borrow another book, then I will thank you to return the ones you have already - disappeared -!”
Hugh passes over the whiskey, as well as reaching into thin air and withdrawing a copy of An Introduction to Acryn Tort Law, 2nd Ed and tossing it toward Tabitha. “It’s not disappeared, technically, it’s just inside a dragon,” the mannerisms of Branch begin seeping into his speech again, “possibly Triskelion, possibly more likely to be Carlaeon - that’s something we should discuss later - but anyway, I’ve come to the conclusion that you’re missing a number of volumes. Advanced Acryn Tort, The Value of Case Law Post-Upheaval, The City of Acryn v Blackthorn, Flux Property Law - the list goes on.”
Tabitha scrambles to catch Tort Law, smoothing over the cover protectively once it has been duly repossessed.
“I don’t suppose you care overmuch about the irony of dishonest appropriation,” she grumbles, setting it down close to her. Then, she smiles. Sweetly. “Well, Hugh, it’s not as if it’s in any way a complete collection; I wasn’t precisely anticipating my attempted arrest, and there are only so many Acryn bookshops specialising in law that tolerate the presence of known criminals.”
“That’s a lesser problem, Tabitha,” Hugh Branch growls, a glint in his eye briefly, before he reaches into thin air one more time and drops a heavy catalogue onto the bunk, “That be a compendium I borrowed from the People’s College, should list every book under the sun, and then every one under the moon fer that matter. Ye name it, I’ll acquire it, but I’ve got a… condition.”
Tabitha’s eyes widen in open shock. “You’d - I mean, really?” Shock is soon replaced by resolve. She places her hands daintily on her knees. “Name your terms, Captain. Ah. Term, that is.”
Hugh opens the catalogue to a page he’s clearly marked out, with numerous arcane tomes circled, “These are among certain volumes I want ye to become familiar with. If my understandin’s correct, ye should be able to get a grasp on magic from these, and be able to perform rituals of some rite. If I… acquire this library, I want ye to be ready and willin’ to perform them for me.”
Tabitha opens her mouth to speak. Closes it again. Tilts her head thoughtfully to one side.
Then: “Are you trying to turn me into a weapon, Hugh?”
“More like a very powerful utility.”
“Oh.” Cheerfully: “Well, that sounds markedly less demeaning!”
“So do we have a deal?”
“That was artful insincerity, Captain. It’s still demeaning.” She pauses for a moment. Taps her fingers pensively against the cover of Tort Law. “But, less so if assumed voluntarily. I suppose. Probably.” A beat. “Also, I really, really want that catalogue.” She holds out her hand. “Done. It’s a deal.”
The Captain frowns as if confused for a moment, but then a smile reappears on his face and he shakes her hand, passing her the catalogue, “Go wild, Terrec.”
Tabitha doesn’t need to be told twice. It is the work of a moment to grab the catalogue and begin voraciously thumbing through.
A moment passes. She briefly resurfaces. “Um. Thank you, Hugh.”
Hugh smiles, entirely momentarily, before standing up and swinging the bottle of whiskey back into nowhere. “Thank me by getting reading. And also,” he says, raising an eyebrow, “by not actively distracting the crew when they’re supposed to be preparing for a storm…”
“You think they’ll be actively distracted?” Tabitha gives a laugh of sheer delight. “Why yes, I think they might be. Oh, how marvellous!” A pause. “And a storm might be interesting too.”
Hugh sighs, “Just don’t fool about when you’re meant to be working, and hang a sign on the door or something,” he says, wearily, turning and heading for the door.
Tabitha laughs outright at the second suggestion. “Enjoy the extreme weather conditions, Hugh.”
Hugh laughs, leaving the door onto the deck, letting it shut behind him. There’s a beat and then the sound of an angry shouting, “GET BACK TO WORK YE NO-GOOD LAYABOUTS, AND IF THAT DECK’S CLEAN WHEN I NEXT GET DOWN I MIGHT JUST FORGET YE WERE LISTENIN’ OUTSIDE TERREC’S DOOR!”