Roleplay session between Julien and Iskanda in the Spires. All other characters present are asleep.
The party is resting and it’s early morning. The spire is silent, as even a hell hole sleeps at some hour. Julien sits in a corner at the end of the “interrogation” room, reducing sweat and blood in a small pan.
A muffled cough signals Iskanda’s waking. Holding it in was nearly impossible at this point, so she does her best to quiet it behind her arm. She stretches and rubs the sleep out of her eyes, and rises to investigate the odd smell. Unpleasant, but at least it was something other than the odor of…four? five? more? days spent trudging around these godforsaken Spires in the summer heat.
She hobbles to Julien’s corner, joints stiff, dark circles under her eyes, stomach whining from days of meager, rat-sized portions. Maybe Julian was cooking up something appetizing? But…no. Definitely not.
She wrinkles her nose. “What is that?”
“Hmm?” Julien looks up from his work. “Oh! This is, well, a distillation of strength. I take blood, sweat, and some…other ingredients. Normally I have an alembic, which would prevent the smell somewhat. I’ve had to make do with what we have. Most of it is a imbuement of my own essence, as it were. I don’t understand why it doesn’t seem to work with anyone. Well, normally, I haven’t really tested it many times. Would you like to?”
“Test…? On myself?” Iskanda grimaces in disgust, but speaks quietly, as to not wake the others. “It’s one thing for you to put that shit in your veins. I won’t be taking part in it.”
She looks back into the dark room, pauses, then sits on the floor across from Julian, repulsed still, but also curious. “How did you learn of it? How does it work? And why inject it?”
Julien studies her face for a moment, trying to judge if she really cares or if it’s some larger buildup to some insult. Unable to find any signs, Julien’s pause lingers and becomes awkward.
“Well, in short, it works by magic. If that isn’t a satisfying answer, well, good. It shouldn’t be. I learned of it by seeing the reactions of spells on people. There plenty out there that make us stronger, faster, larger; in a sense, “more”. Why does it have this affect on us? Cast a spell that increases strength on a plant and you’ll be merely wasting your time. So studying the outlining results of magic, I realized the things it fundamentally changes or reacts with. But it’s not just that, it’s also something inside us which it works with. We have magic inside us or connected to us, I’m not really sure. I take this force and have it react inside these vials. In a sense, these vials are confused magic that are unreactive without a body. I think that’s why they don’t lose potency overtime or why they may only react with me.
“Maybe the body metabolizes magic in some way. Much of it is guess work. So few seem to care of the why of things. Take for instance your light spell. What if you cast it on a ball of iron and then placed that ball inside a lantern with glass lenses like that of a lighthouse? Would it behave like natural light or would it be only to cast the same amount without the lenses? As for the injection, well, it could be taken orally but the reaction would be slower and then…there’s the taste. If you dislike the smell, I assure you the taste is no better.”
Julien ends his speech with a small smile while pouring a black viscous liquid into one of his injector vials. Without raising his tone, Julien keeps talking in a matter of fact way. “It was only an offer, but given your current state I’d say a poor one with the adverse affects I’ve seen. I’d say test it on our friend as it would prove insightful or at the very least make him more complacent. You seem chummy with him. Why? For that matter, why the Anvilmen?"
Iskanda leans forward and listens intently to his explanation, surprised at the length at which he speaks, but she snorts at his last questions. "No, we won’t test it on Marlow. And he’s not my friend, but he seems trustworthy enough. He grew up here, led a normal life, got desperate for work, and it wasn’t what he expected, not by a long shot. The others might be different.
“The Anvilmen are good, hardworking people. They understand the value of life and freedom…” Her expression sours. “Unlike some. And a few of them welcomed me with open arms when I first came to Bastige. That’s more than you can say for the rest of this city.”
“Oh, he’s a native?! Well, that is surprising. Granted, the government story was bullshit-”
Noticing Iskanda’s expression, even the socially inept realize they have made a mistake. “Heh, listen, I’m not saying all foreigners are bad. You two seem fine, considering.” As Iskanda’s face seems twist to say something, Julien cuts her off. “Now listen, Bastige is a great city. Perhaps the greatest this world will ever see. This isn’t some outlandish claim, it was the capital of the largest empire ever seen. There’s something to be respected and awed by there. You do not know the city as a native and judge it from the outside. You say the Anvilmen greeted you with open arms, I say one hand was picking your pocket. The world has very few innocent and good people, Iskanda. You know this. I merely wish to explore our options. If that man’s claim is true, then let’s not repeat his mistake and venture into something blindly.”
Iskanda glowers, too incensed by his previous comments to address his last remark. Her words come out biting, but quiet still. “Have you ever even stepped outside of this city? Even once? You say Bastige is great, but you have no scale to base that off of. You’ve never seen the grand temples of Ordahl or the jungles of Thesh. You have no idea what it’s like out there, and you’re too absorbed with this place that you’ll never leave. This city’s going to wither away eventually unless people like you realize that you’re only choking it to death with your attitude. And oh, I know plenty about the good and the innocent.” She looks angry, but there’s a sadness behind her eyes. “It’s too bad that you didn’t end up in that group.”
She puts her hands beside her on the floor, as if to push herself up off of the ground.
Julien’s smile fades and he looks worried.
“That was a personal attack, Iskanda, and an opinion. One I did not know you had.” He lowers his gaze and stares at the floor for some time. “Here I thought we were discussing things. I have no reason to leave the city. Maybe one day I will, but this is my home. I don’t know what made you come here and stay in a place you seem to so venomously disdain. Let alone try to improve. Yet I’m glad you have. My life is better for it. I do not know what I would have become.
“Things must adapt or die. People as well as their ideals.”
“I’m sor-” Iskanda closes her eyes and presses a hand to her temple. “I’m glad to hear you say that. You have to understand, you talk about immigrants like we’re dirt, worse than dirt, even. Yet you’re so young, and have seen so little of the world. And you were such a bright child, so I hoped that…” She drifts off and looks away. “Thought you hated me. You’re so different now, so cold. You seem to care so little for others. And I didn’t want…” Her eyes shift back to Julien, no longer incensed, more tired, defeated. “When I came to Bastige, I hadn’t heard how it really was for foreigners. I’ve been here for ten years and I’m still an outsider to many people.”
She shifts on the floor, crossing her legs in front of her. “The Spires have been wearing on me. It’s difficult to survive here, let alone not snap. I’m sorry for what I said.”
“You’ll always been an outsider here. Or it seems that way. I’ll try to hold myself back more, I had no idea how intolerant I came off as. I suspect that’s how many of us talk. I may be cold and detached, but that can be handy. That Girl – we could have killed her. We may have to. She seems kind and a victim of circumstance. While I hope it to be avoidable, as I enjoyed speaking with her, maybe she deserves rest, maybe she needs to be stopped. It would be grim work but I’d do it. Yet I’d just as soon let her be and learn what would happen.
“I keep forgetting I’m the only one who’s eaten. Perhaps we should focus our next efforts on food. Raiding a camp of one of these horrid groups. I hope the harpies prove more sane the the last two.”
Smiling, Julien attempts to lighten the mood. “I mean, you’re all for charitable work, and ridding these towers of a few of..of anyone here seems like a ‘good’ act.”
Iskanda nods, and smiles faintly. “Yes, this place could use some charity. I doubt we’d find much in the way of food, though. I’d prefer something other than rats but they’re…holding me over, at least. But I’ll be happier when we’ve got solid ground under our feet and something – anything – other than rat on our plates.”
She takes on a more serious expression. “As for the groups, even if we’re not strong enough to take one on now, we should at least come back later to purge one of them. More if possible. Wounds like this only get worse if they’re allowed to fester unchecked.”