((Woops, somehow our RP shifted to Skype! So let's get things caught up in here...))
"Demonic armor can be crafted from Fel energies," Dhein said, as he turned the staff over and set the blade against it once more, working at the corners of one of the many runes he had carved. "Covering one's body in the Fel energies and letting it slide against one's skin, hardening, throbbing, filling the air with static repulsion. It isn't pleasant, but it's an essential spell for even a clumsy Warlock, and as simple as summoning an imp. Another very important aspect of the spell is that it involves very little actual exposure to Fel magic." He lifted the knife, turning to Antimony and gesturing with a shrug. "I mean, besides aforementioned bathing in Fel magic. But it's relatively slight."
"Relatively," Antimony muttered dubiously. She rotated the staff in her hands until it was horizontal and moved her grip until one hand closed over the stone while the other wrapped the wood a good foot and a half down the staff. "That seems a reasonable starting point, then." Setting her jaw, she steeled herself against incoming pain and summoned another burst of Holy Light down her arms and into the staff. The crystal flared bright from between her fingers and then trailed golden lines in intricate patterns along the staff once more. They lingered longer this time, though Antimony cut off her channeling of the energy almost immediately. "We should begin with control tests, of course. And then we may attempt manipulating the specimen's energies."
"Of course." Dhein placed the knife back on the table and left the Fel staff there, stepping away from the table and walking back towards the door where he'd left the third staff, unblemished and straight. The focus he took up with it was a red crystal, typical of the focuses used by Sin'Dorei students. "We can cast a few 'practice' barriers to make sure that magic and the focuses works correctly. Compare the different magics to one another first, right?"
Antimony rested her staff against the floor. It gave a dull click when the wood hit the clay-stone, and she felt it resonate up the wood. Satisfied for the moment, she leaned her slight weight upon it and turned to watch Dhein work his new focus. "Yes." She exhaled uselessly and thought that she really very much missed her sniffer. Keeping to herself how the thought of casting further Light spells made her undead muscles shudder, Antimony narrowed her eyes in thought. "Are you nearly done?"
Holding the staff in one hand and the stone in the other, Dhein smiled. "Well, I'm sure you would be if you were me. But I am merely Dhein." He lifted the staff and spun it hand, watching its movement for deviation. He had checked a hundred times to ensure its straightness on his way over, but would continue doing so. An arcane focus required a complete lack of deviation. Any bend had to be completely deliberate. If the wood warped at all, he would have to discard it.
"A magister's staff is all about mathematics." Dhein walked it over to the table he'd been working on before, moving the Fel staff aside. "This will require measurements, precise work, and..." he looked around. "Scratch paper. Maybe you can help?"
"Scratch paper." Antimony blinked, the glow of her eyes flickering. Then one corner of her mouth quirked. Of course, there was a reason she'd always found the arcane form of magic fascinating, despite her own decision to practice another school. "I doubt you will need such. Tell me what calculations you require."
Dhein lay the staff lengthwise and took up the knife. "I have to create six... uhm... six point..." He squinte, and tried to remember. "Six point twenty-eight rings of nine point forty-two notches along the length of the staff, and each notch needs to be as long as the radius of the width at that point on the staff, and the depth of each notch must be one millimeter and one-third millimeter thick. But I adjust the length of the notches to the ratio required in order to come out with exactly the six point twenty-eight and nine point forty-two. Approximately." He blinked, and shook his head, and chuckled. "Did any of that make sense?"
Her expression softened briefly into a faint smile. "Plenty." Then she cocked one brow and stepped forward closer to Dhein, reaching one hand out. "It's unfortunate I do not have my tools; they would make this trivial. But I've a good mind for numbers and ratios if you've the skills to follow instructions."
"I promise I'll listen to every word you say very closely, unless you look especially brilliant. Then I will be distracted by your face." He stepped back and gestured her to the staff. "Please let me watch your magic."
The process took longer than it maybe should have, but Antimony for once didn't allow that to bother her. Her thoughts cycled through calculations while her voice handed out instructions for Dhein to follow. She watched his actions with a hawk-like intensity, occasionally quickly correcting before any mistake could be made. Seeing his fingers, their flesh tinged with the warm colors of living blood and skin, work around the wood became almost meditative to her, completely absorbing to the part of her that was not dedicated to making sure their actions were absolutely precise and correct.
When the last mark had been cut into the staff, Antimony fell into silence for a moment, in part chasing her thoughts around back into something more conducive to actual conversation, and in part because she wasn't sure she'd been ready for that to end. Ultimately, she straightened and glanced sideways towards Dhein, speaking in a quiet but almost teasing voice, "If it does not work, I can guarantee it was not a result of any mistake on my part."
Dhein laughed at that, finding it an odd thing to say, but effective at switching the tone of the encounter into something more casual. "I'm sure any mistake in this pursuit will be my own. At least until Aztal turns up." Which he was starting to worry about, but he wasn't going to mention it now. They were working, after all. He took up the Arcane focus and turned on her. "Do we want to try it out? Do you want to? I'm sure you'd be a natural at the arcane!"
The yellow glow of her eyes flickered. "I have never practiced the summoning of arcane energies." She paused, gaze shifting to the staff and then back to Dhein. "Though I am very familiar with the formulae that describe it."
"I can show you!" Dhein spun the staff in his hand and almost looked like he was about to drop it, but honestly had full control of it at all times. Still, he held it much more carefully after that. "What shall we cast the protection spell on? I can cast it on you. I think it needs to be a person."
"Very well." Her body had no ingrained fear of the presence of arcane and so she lifted her chin curiously, waiting and watching the blood elf. "I will observe while you demonstrate. Don't you dare turn me into a sheep, however."
The insinuation that he might engage in some sort of misbehavior drew a smirk upon his features. "I am too much of a gentleman to conspire so, especially against one I respect as greatly as you." But the suggestion now had him thinking if this was a chance for any kind of useful hijinks. For instance, he could banish her clothing.
No, and shame on him for even thinking it! Those were very nice clothes, after all.
"Now, let's see. In theory I'm an expert at this, but I want to use a very modest amount of power so that we can imitate it safely with Fel magics without trouble." He paced towards the front of the room, staff in hand, and then turned towards Antimony. "Ah, I just had a thought. What if the plant reacts to magic in its vicinity? You should watch it very closely while I cast this spell."
"Then how am I to learn from you?" Antimony's eyes narrowed, not entirely ruling out potential hijinks on Dhein's part. Still, he had a point, and she reluctantly turned enough for the plant - in all of its twisted, shadowed glory - to fill most of her vision. She blinked at it, struck by the intensity of the sight, and then forcibly returned her attention to the matter at hand. She caught Dhein's movements out of the corner of her vision.
"Well, we do have to do a few trials, remember. Now, let's see." He looked at the staff, thought back to the calculations Antimony had done, and recalled the words of conjuring in his mind. Holding the focus in front of him, he let himself look over Antimony's form for a moment, just getting that out of the way up front. Then he imagined a few patterns and runes in his head and allowed it to shape the paths which the arcane would follow through the staff to shape the spell he desired.
When the red focus on the staff's head lit up, he barely noticed, focusing on the subtle movements to urge the spell into that which he desired. It was a fast spell, lighting as suddenly as a spark, but that spark needed to fly just so. Outwardly, the movement of the staff looked innocuous enough, almost idle, but it was deliberate.
The light in the stone flicked out and a shell of rigid mana struck around Antimony like lightning that froze in its first instant of being. Unlike Fel would, it did not touch her, just hanging in the air like static upon her clothes, and before the conjuring was even complete the spell was no longer attached to the focus. Again, unlike Fel, where the caster remained connected to the spell.
It felt like such an impersonal school of magic, now that he thought about it.
"Well, there it is," he reported, trying not to sound disappoint by... It wasn't that Fel didn't have one or two positive attributes even though it was completely terrible. He shouldn't feel bad about missing those things.
Antimony didn't notice the spell's presence around her immediately, so much did the plant draw her focus. She thought she saw something shift in its shadows and blinked, straightening slightly, only to realize Dhein had completed the spell and a faint, blue-purple shell glowed hard around her. She brushed off the anomaly in the plant as an artifact of the slight distortion the spell lent everything that lay beyond it.
She watched the plant a moment longer, its dark green color softened somewhat by the fuzz of blue encasing her form, and then turned back around to face Dhein. "I did not observe anything out of the ordinary. Ah... such as we can define ordinary with this thing, of course." Lifting one hand to just shy of the inner edge of the shell, Antimony watched its surface shiver, then lifted her gaze past her fingers to the elf. "I'm glad our efforts were successful." Our efforts. The awareness of not working alone still made her chest tighten impossibly.
"Glad is the perfect word for it. Though," Dhein stepped back towards the wall and put the staff against the floor, leaning it. "I must say that the glow of the magic is nothing compared to your natural radiance, even with such an unworthy garment obscuring your perfection."
Clearing her throat, Antimony found she had to look away from Dhein and so lifted her gaze first up towards the ceiling, then at the shell that arced above her. A few moments later it flickered and, finally, winked out. There was no noticeable dispersion of energy; the shield simply ceased to exist, as rapidly and with as much rigid motion as it had possessed when initially cast. It was an intriguing nature in arcane, so different from the Light, which often seemed to have a mind of its own.
She let these thoughts on the nature of arcane distract her from a heated embarrassment. "I would not say... well. Mm. If you think that is going to earn you further repeat of earlier activities, you... will need to try harder." She muttered the last phrase and wondered if it really was impossible for undead to blush.
"You always get my best efforts, Antimony." He paced towards her smoothly. "And I will never cease my earnest efforts to earn your slightest glance and breath, knowing it is only by your grace that I ever receive any speck of attention."
"Indeed," she murmured noncommittally, turning her head enough that she could look back towards the plant. Without the fuzz of the shield to obscure it, the shadows were once more as bottomlessly deep as before. The leaves looked a little sickly but not noticeably different. "Shall we repeat the test, then? I would like to observe its casting."
"Hm? Oh, yes!" He spun and took the staff back up eagerly. "You're not going to see very much. It's a great deal of diagrams and visualization, but pay attention to the slight movement of the staff as I cast my spell on you." He smiled when he said that, as if it were something sly.
"Of course." Once more she settled her gaze on Dhein, the light in her sockets reflecting just slightly on her cheekbones. She blinked at his smile and then shrugged internally. "You will need to describe such visualizations if I am to learn, of course. Perhaps draw a map... ah, but first things first. Mm." She lifted her chin towards him and folded her arms across one another. "I am ready."
"Very well! I hesitate to ask you to observe me closely for fear that you notice how tragically beneath you I am, so pray, consider the spell for its own worth." Saying this, he conjured the spell. It came easily and quickly this time as it was fresh on his mind and the paths that the mana was to follow were already drawn in the air around them. A flash and a bolt of power, and the magic spread about Antimony once more.
"Hm." The spell came too fast for Antimony to follow it out of the focus, but she thought she'd caught onto the patterns he'd made in his gestures. Shifting her attention, she thought on the sensations of the spell in the air around her, the static nature of it, like charged lightning, and then looked to the plant. It seemed unmoved, as before, so she let out a huff and nodded. "Consistent, at least to my observations."
Stepping forward until she was directly in front of Dhein, the field of mana moving with her, Antimony looked up at him and gestured to the staff. "Now, regarding those diagrams...?"
Dhein moved the staff out from in front of him and leaned his face towards Antimony's smiling. "I believe you took my pen."
"Did I? I don't recall you ever actually producing a pen." She lifted one brow and tried to resist leaning back away from his face. She could almost feel his breath, which made her self-conscious of the way her own lungs did not take in air. She forced her chest to rise and fall in an imitation of breath a few times and then just felt silly. "I do, however, have one of my own. You... may borrow it."
He lifted one hand towards her chin. "Anything you've touched is holy to me."
It was probably good she didn't have to breathe after all, for Dhein's voice was doing unspeakable things to her chest. One foot stepped backwards, shifting the dress she wore, but she didn't actually move anywhere. She felt like a young girl being courted, which was simply shameful given her age, appearance, and... everything else. "Including the pen, I suppose." She managed not to wince at the faint quiver in her voice. "Well, I give you permission to use it."
He smiled, "Thank you," and leaned forward to kiss her. Perhaps he read a bit too much into that pen talk.
Eyes widening, Antimony decided she should have seen that coming even though she really had been talking about her pen. She stood frozen for a moment, hands hovering at her side, and then it occurred to her that the first time had not been a fluke. "You--" she began only to find her lips moving against his warm ones in reminder that yes, he was kissing her. For a second time. She felt annoyance first - really, they were in the middle of work, it was hardly appropriate - but after a few moments that annoyance bent under the weight of...
Leaning up on her toes, Antimony set one hand on the arm that touched her chin and kissed back.
The elf wrapped his arms around her. Unlike the last time they'd kissed, this time he was well-groomed and ready. He had set up the moment. He would make good on it. Dhein pulled her to him and continued kissing her, running his fingertips back along her jaw to work his fingers into her hair.
... Something. She'd put words to it before, but now she didn't want to. The palpable presence of the plant prodded at her back, but she found it strangely easy to ignore with Dhein so inappropriately close. Or maybe it was pushing her into him. Yes, excuses. Her free hand opened and closed at her side, the occasional patch of exposed bone shifting bright white. His own fingers against the back of her neck, the base of her skull, playing in her hair, made her want to simultaneously pull away in shame and push further. She forcefully chose the latter - yes, it must be that plant, she would just blame it for all of this craziness - and moved the hand on his arm up to cling to his shoulder. "This is hardly conducive to work," she muttered half-heartedly, unable or unwilling to look at his face so close.
"We can work in a moment," Dhein answered, letting his lips roam Antimony's face while his hand moved on her back. "A closer relationship may actually help our work." He did not hesitate to kiss any part of her face. The feeling of her bones beneath her dress did not deter his hand.
"It is not appropriate," she tried when he broke away from her mouth and restrained an uncomfortable shudder when his lips found parts around her features where the skin had worn away. She should have invested in alchemists to patch those spots. Then at least she would look the part.
Feeling his hand run down her spine, she tried to arch her back away from his hand, actively not wanting him to notice those parts that were even more decayed, but just ended up pushing herself closer. She shut her eyes then, blocking out the yellow glow in her empty sockets, and just let her face rest against his.
He kissed her brow, letting his hand slide onto her hip. "What's inappropriate about it? Trust me: I may seem youthful, but I am quite old enough to have full agency. I do have a grown daughter, you know."
Her thin brow furrowed at that, eyes opening just slightly so that the light behind them was a mere sliver. "One who..." She trailed off, finding it unfair to bring such things against him now. He'd been punished enough. She sighed without breath, the action hitching at the sensation of his fingers resting against the bony protrusion of her hip. Her free hand moved behind her as though to swat him away, but then it froze, hanging near the small of her back indecisively.
"Antimony." He rested his hand on the bone of her hip deliberately. "I know exactly what I am doing. I have been thinking about this with nothing but hope for a long time."
"Have you." She knew her throat could not possibly be any drier, but she still felt as though someone had stuffed cotton fibers into it. Her fingers flexed anxiously behind her back, finding the loose cloth of her dress and then twisting there. "And what... is this, precisely?"
Taking his hand from Antimony's neck and running it over her face once more, moving her hair so that he could see her, he opened his eyes. With his lips very close to hers, their faces were illuminated in yellow and green glows. "I love you, Antimony. I want to be close to you in every way. I deserve none of you, I know, but desire everything about you."
Continued protests fell back down her throat to settle in her gut as a knot of nervous energy. She didn't really doubt those words. She could still remember with agonizing clarity when she had spoken those words herself. It didn't change how much she wanted to hide from him, though, and perhaps it was why she wanted to hide from him. Her features tightened, eyes widening. "I think perhaps... it should be the opposite."
Dhein smiled at that and shook his head minutely, staring into the glow of her eyes as though he could see some deeper part of her beneath. He let his hand slide from her face down her neck, over her collar, to her chest. "I don't think so. I've never respected anyone or desired anything more than you."
"You haven't--" Seen, she wanted to say. He hadn't seen what she'd become, what little there was left. She had always prided herself on her upkeep relative to other Forsaken, but it didn't change what she was. She dropped her eyes to his hand on her chest, watching how still it was. Any sign of life she gave it would be completely fake. "I cannot give such things anymore." Her hand behind her back moved to grip his wrist against her hip, and her fingers curled around his bones there with a desperation that surprised her.
"Don't think about that for now. Assume neither of us care." Dhein slid his hand further down Antimony's chest, letting it press between them on its journey to her stomach. "How do you feel?"
Leaning back slightly, Antimony found the knot in her gut performing a number of nervous contortions. She would prefer to go back to studying the arcane, she thought. And yet... "Concerned." It was an understatement, perhaps award-worthy, and yet there was a sureness in his presence, a security. His hand on her shrunken-in stomach seemed an intensely intimate thing. She shifted her thumb to press it against his wrist, feeling the steady beat of his pulse there.
"You do not need to be concerned about me, Antimony." He kissed her face again. "I cannot possibly feel worry when I am so busy feeling affection."
Antimony found the strength in her spine waning, and despite herself she leaned her face into his kiss. Her features remained tight with anxiety, however. She couldn't come up with a reasoned argument against his words, as emotionally driven as they were. "You haven't seen me," she muttered. "It is easy, when you are alive. But I am..." not.
"If you really know me, and think about me, and everything I've ever said and done towards you. Antimony, do you think that I would be turned away from you? That I would even care?"
Her eyes closed, and she dropped her head. She was still for a long moment, just feeling Dhein's pulse through his wrist. Then, nearly inaudible, she murmured a low, half-convinced, "I suppose not."
Dhein sighed, sliding the hand on her stomach to the side and dropping it to rest on her other hip. "Supposing is an intellectual concession. I'd prefer an emotional one, if I've liscense to be picky."
Biting the inside of her lip, Antimony focused on Dhein's hands at her hips, his palms curving over the bone that jutted out at sharp angles. Beneath the dress, on one side she knew the flesh had almost completely peeled away, exposing hip and some of the rotten, dry muscle of her thigh. It made her sick to think about. That was emotional.
"I suppose..." she began again, but stopped herself. She could feel her hand shaking against his wrist. Then in a rush, she lifted her head, pushed up on her toes, and pressed her lips against his in as emotional a kiss as she could muster.
Dhein returned the kiss with just as much emotion. When she lifted herself up, he let his hands fall, taking her by the backs of her legs and lifting her all the more against him, pushing their bodies flush against one another.
Shuddering with self-directed revulsion, Antimony dropped her hand from Dhein's wrist and moved it up to grip this side of his arm. Her other arm curled around his shoulder, clutching at the fabric against his back. She let out a faint, unconscious whimper as she broke from the kiss for a moment to watch his face. Her hand found his hair and tangled her fingers in it as she searched his expression.
The elf smiled as she broke off the kiss, but held her still. He looked into her eyes, watching for any emotion. He felt completely satisfied, and yet still felt limitless need. He waited for her, not wanting to take more than she would give, content to let her take her time. Somehow, though he had felt so out of control with desire before, he was now in complete control. "This is what I've wanted all along." He said, explaining his inner confusion out loud. "Ever since before I met you, I wanted this."
"That doesn't..." make sense, she finished silently but found herself unable to voice it. That was emotion; of course it didn't make sense. The desiccated muscles along her throat tightened. She hadn't felt like this since long before. Before everything. "Alright," she sighed out, features softening to an expression of longing before intensifying into an urgent need. The light in her eyes glowed bright as she pulled herself closer to him again, pushed herself into an open-mouthed kiss.
"Song dogs barking at the break of dawn, lightning pushes the edges of a thunder storm. And these streets, quiet as a sleeping army, send their battered dreams to heaven."