[Aq] Week 242: HILA IHLA Pt II

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Valero

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Haud Ignota Loquor
Is He Lying (Again?)
Pt II

[2,686]

Deni wiped the sweat from his brow with one forearm. Despite the Hiemis weather turning for the worst, the air becoming crisper, wind sharper, frost lurking just beyond the horizon, the heat in his makeshift workshop was quite intense. He held a piece of hot metal with a pair of tongs in one hand, hammering it against the anvil to shape it with the other. Again and again he struck, squinting at it every now and then to ensure it was the right angle. Eventually, he grunted to himself and placed it to one side, then grasped another piece of metal with the tongs and threw it into the flames of the forge.

While he waited for it to heat up, the shirtless velen removed his thick gloves and wiped his clammy hands on his thick leather apron. He picked a bottle of water off the floor and leaned against the wall, taking a long gulp before he placed it on the ground again. Then he grinned and produced a small flask from beneath his apron. A generous swig and the amber liquid burned his throat, leaving a slightly salty aftertaste.

Truth be told, Deni was enjoying the time he spent crafting guns for anyone that would pay him for it. Since the Black Portal campaign, he had not had much time to play about in his workshop, and smithing took a great deal of time when he got started. Yet with each intricate part he crafted, he could see the exa flowing toward him. Everyone wanted protection in case another daemonic invasion occurred. The desire for safety was what had earned him a small fortune over the years. That and taking on odd jobs from around Terminus. In fact, it had earned him more than most of his dangerous and illicit contracts, though it didn’t compare to the exhilaration he got from breaking into the Arx. Despite the fact that he had been duped on that job, it had been the rush of a lifetime. If he ever met Mor again, however, he’d have to let her know the price of deceiving him.

A sudden feeling of being watched overcame the gunslinger. He leaned away from the wall, glancing around the smelter and found a hooded and robed figure, a middle-aged laicar man that somehow seemed familiar.

Deni opened his mouth to ask how he had managed to get there, but instead the mysterious man spoke first.

“I present you with an opportunity,” he said clearly, melodically. “If you answer all of my questions truthfully, then I will answer one question that you have of anything in Araevis.”

Every word rang familiar as if Deni had been told all of this before. Deni narrowed his eyes suspiciously for a moment, then rolled them and shrugged.

“Doesn’t sound like anything negative could possibly come out of this,” he said dryly. “Ask away, mystery man.”

“Can you describe a situation where you were the calmest you have ever been?” the man said with a smile that barely touched his lips.

Deni’s eyebrows tried to climb off his head.

“And I have to be honest?”

The hooded man nodded.

“Ugh,” the velen groaned. A slightly pink tint coloured his cheeks and it had nothing to do with the heat. “I guess the calmest I ever recall being is…uhh… there was this one time with Ignis at the shooting range. The morning after was just… yeah, then.”

“And can you describe any other scenarios where you may feel comfortable and relaxed?”

“Oh, sure,” Deni said. There was still heat in his cheeks, but he looked less like he wanted to flee. “Just lighting up a smoke or having a drink with Iggy or Aeria. Just talking about random shit like how the colours in the sky differ around different parts of the world, or discussing cultural differences. There’s no judgement there, that’s why I feel relaxed around them.”

The laicar nodded to himself.

“On the flipside, describe a situation in which you feel uncomfortable.”

Deni actually chuckled.

“When you’ve had a drunken romp and wake up not knowing who you had sex with. And they don’t either.”

“What was your favourite toy as a child?”

The grin on the pelagian’s face soon slid away.

“Closest thing I had to a toy was an abacus,” he said simply, though he could not hide the bitterness in his voice.

“What did you dream of being when you were a child? Did the dream come true?”

“No, it didn’t,” Deni laughed sharply. “I wanted to be a kinner. Loved sports more than my studies, but my parents wouldn’t have any of it.”

Deni put the smithing gloves back on and glanced into the smelter as the questioner continued.

“How do you behave around children?”

“Well, they seem to find me hilarious,” he smirked as he waited for the metal to reach the right temperature. “Perhaps if I had a different lifestyle I would have made a good pater. Guess I’ll never know.”

“How do you normally deal with confrontation?”

“Oh, that one is easy. I’ve had enough practise,” Deni replied, almost informatively. He fixed his glance on the familiar stranger. “You have to turn everything up to max. Become the funniest, friendliest guy. If that doesn’t work, out-confront them until they back down. Staring down the barrel of a gun usually works well enough.”

“How quickly do you resort to violence in a confrontation?”

“I’m fairly quick to draw my pistol if someone needs a little harsh persuasion, but I’m not normally the first to throw a punch or fire a bullet. The intimidation usually works. Enough of the time.”

The robed man nodded absently, as if that was the answer he expected. Deni gazed into the smelter again and then grunted as he heaved a lever next to it. A small gate opened and molten metal ran down a narrow trench and into a forging template.

“What do you find repulsive or disgusting?”

The velen pushed the lever back into place to cease the flow before he replied.

“Not a lot, anymore,” he said, a hint of regret tainting his voice. “I’ve been covered in vomit, blood, all manner of bodily fluids. The stench of the dead still makes my nose twitch a little, but that’s about it.”

Once there was no more metal in the trench, Deni carefully pushed the wheeled platform that held the hot metal to the other side of the room and lined it up beneath a heavy press.

“In the face of criticism, are you defensive, self-deprecating, or willing to improve?”

After a deep sigh, Deni wiped the sweat off his brow once again. At least he could pass it off as the heat of the room and not reveal how much answering the questions honestly bothered him.

“I’ve been criticised all my life,” he answered. “I’m neither stupid nor stubborn enough to reject anything that may improve the way I do things, but I take all advice with careful consideration. If I don’t like someone’s idea, I won’t apply it. That logic has done me well enough so far.”

“Are you more likely to keep trying a method that didn't work the first time, or immediately move on to a different solution?”

The pelagian let loose a low laugh.

“Pretty certain I just mentioned that I’m not stupid. Whatever it is, if it doesn’t work after a few attempts, it’s time to rethink. ‘There’s no use in lingering at the reef when the eel has gone to sleep.’”

That was something avus had told him. It was a miracle he had managed to remember so many of those useless sayings.

“How do you behave around people you like? And those you dislike?”

Deni strained himself to heave another lever and the forging press crashed down against the cooling metal. The sound left a ringing in the velen’s ears. He would likely continue to forgo wearing the ear protection until the machinery made him deaf.

“Both questions have the same answer,” he panted. The machine was so rigid that the first time he used it, he thought his arm would break before the lever shifted. “Loud, hilarious and aggravating to varying degrees, depending on the level of tension. Although I remain more cautious around people that I think might have a problem with me.”

The press lifted as the lever forced itself back to its original position.

“Are you more concerned with defending your honour or protecting your status?”

Deni barked a hoarse laugh. The heat of the room was beginning to dry his throat.

“Honour? What honour? I’d grovel beneath my enemies if it meant keeping my money and business. Honour is nothing but an obstacle in my line of work.”

Deni glanced at the metal in the forging templates and sighed. It would be a little while now before it had cooled enough for him to do anything with them.

“Are you more likely to remove a problem of threat, or remove yourself from the problem or threat?”

If the laicar’s throat was getting dry, he showed no sign of it. His voice didn’t change.

“The answer to that one is easy,” Deni shrugged. “I’d much rather remove the problem myself. It’s easier than moving on and starting over. Then again, it depends on the size of the problem.”

The man narrowed his eyes and smirked at the velen’s answer.

“I’m more likely to remove the problem myself, if that will satisfy you,” Deni clarified with agitated grunt.

“Have you ever been bitten by an animal? How were you affected or unaffected?”

Deni’s eyebrows tried to climb off the top of his head. He took a moment trying to remember, but couldn’t recall anything animal related. It seemed he went from one extreme to the other.

“I was absolutely wankered once and there was this hefty laicar woman… does that count?”

When the shadowy figure’s lips barely curved, the rogue rolled his blue eyes.

“Never been bitten by an animal. A daemon got me pretty good once, though. Everything was happening so fast and it was terrifying. There was so much adrenaline I barely felt it and carried on fighting. Stung for a good few days afterwards though.”

Deni was suddenly surprised with himself. He was always hesitant in answering truths about himself to anyone, never mind a stranger. Nobody who lived knew why he had left Pelagia and set up in Terminus in the first place. He hadn’t even confided in Ignis or Aeria, the two he was closest with. There was something familiar about the man that he couldn’t place, something that made Deni speak.

The questions continued.

“How do you treat people in service jobs?”

The pelagian stared at the middle-aged face beneath that hood.

“I thought my life was bad, fighting daemons and trying to outlast my pursuers. What I got is nothing compared to those folks. They have my utmost respect.”

Though he sounded sarcastic, Deni did mean what he said. Most days he counted himself lucky to be alive, all the while Terminus’ most entitled complained to someone not paid enough to care about the most mundane issues. It made him glad to be as far away from that life as he could.

“Do you feel you deserve what you want, material or abstract? Or do you feel you must earn it first?”

“I have earned it,” the velen snapped, almost biting off the end of the mysterious man’s sentence. He didn’t know why that question had made his hackles rise. Maybe he was getting sick of this nobody trying to pluck all the information out of him. After a deep breath, he tried to maintain a semblance of calm.

“What I mean is, I believe everybody should have to work and fight for what they want. If you don’t want to put in the effort to earn it, you don’t deserve it. Nobody is born great.”

The laicar paused after Deni’s outburst. He patted down his dark robes as if to work out some creases, then continued.

“Have you ever had a parental figure not related to you? Or a dependent one?”

Deni wiped sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand, then shook his head lightly.

“Dependent, no. I have tried to avoid responsibility all my life. I would be terrible at caring for someone. If I still have a shred of me left that cares enough.”

He chuckled bitterly at that last.

“I did have a parental figure though. When I was in Pelagia, a man named Claudius took me in off the streets, taught me how to make guns and how to shoot. It’s from him that I learnt to defend myself.”

“How difficult is it for you to say ‘I love you’? Can you say it without meaning it?”

The pelagian burst into laughter.

“Oh, I can say it without meaning it. I’ve done that many times. Wouldn’t have gotten half the women if I hadn’t.”

Deni’s laughter faded into a fond smile as he stared at nothing.

“It’s strange though. When I do mean it, it’s so much harder to say.”

The silence that followed Deni’s apparent daydream amplified the sound of the final question.

“What do you believe will happen when you die?” the man said softly, almost a whisper. “Are you afraid.”

The velen’s smile didn’t fade, but a watery light in his eyes somehow made it seem melancholic.

“I’m scared shitless,” he croaked. “I don’t think anything is going to happen. The Vis aren’t going to be waiting for me to arrive in their dominion, I’m not going to burn in the fires of Infernalis. It will just be black and cold, forever. And no matter how many times I walk that line, it terrifies me.”

The enigmatic man readjusted his hood and closed his eyes. After a few silent moments, he reopened them and uttered three words.

“Ask your question.”

Deni’s eyes shot wide. He was surprised he had managed to get through it all without lying. He hadn’t expected to and so he was without a question to ask. Before he could think, however, his mouth opened.

“The Salarctus family in Pelagia,” he began, hesitating a moment to wet his lips. “Are they all well? I want to know anything that ails them.”

The man remained perfectly still, eyes fixed on Deni, considering. The velen was on the verge of asking again when that melodic baritone carried across the room.

“Your request is acceptable,” the cloaked figure responded, barely a touch of emotion in his voice. He didn’t even hesitate before he began voicing the list.

“Nereus Salarctus suffers from high blood pressure and refuses medication.”

Deni rolled his eyes as if he had expected nothing less.

“Lysandra Salarctus is healthy. Clarissa Salarctus is also healthy.”

A great, relieved smile lifted the velen’s face at those two.

“Daritanis Anakalypse has had an operation on his liver but it continues to deteriorate due to his alcohol consumption.”

That one earned a shake of the head, though Deni was surprised that the all-knowing enigma included Daritanis. He was Nereus’ brother-in-law, but not Salarctus in name.

“Senixis Anakalypse has been diagnosed with an incurable mental affliction. It will kill him eventually.”

Deni’s blue eyes stared at the middle-aged laicar. He bared teeth his teeth at him, about to shout or call him a liar or… something. Instead, his shoulders slumped and he let out an agitated sigh.

“I see.” The velen sounded defeated. “Well, this has been fun-”

“There is one more thing,” the man mentioned as he approached the door to leave. “You asked about the Salarctus family in Pelagia, but they are not in Pelagia. They are here in Terminus.”

The words hit Deni like a stream of bullets. His expression was astonished. At some point while in Deni’s periphery, the man had vanished into thin air. The pelagian blinked.

“Here?” he breathed. “In Terminus?”

The rogue’s back slid down the wall until he hit the floor.

“If what he said is true… Serpent’s saggy tits…”

 

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