The Lady Arcane


aman_icon.gif merlyn_icon.gif

Scene Title The Lady Arcane
Synopsis Aman turns to a reputable friend to help him with some sourcing woes.
Date March 15, 2021

"Are you bullshitting me? These aren't fell off a truck prices, this is goddamned highway robbery in action. Not even during the war were people pushing this stuff for those kinds of prices."

Aman pauses, waiting— listening to a response on the other end of the line. Finally he lets out a bark of a laugh. "No. You know— no, you know what? Fuck your pricing. This isn't a postwar economy anymore. I can find other vendors to fill my order. No hard feelings, but fuck that pricing."

A pause, and another disillusioned chuckle. "Where am I gonna go looking?" Aman repeats back rhetorically.

"I know a magician."

New Chinatown

Staten Island

March 7, 2021

The smell of the open-air market overwhelmingly boasts the scent of fresh food, a lure which originally drew Amanvir here some years ago, when the entirety of the Rookery was seedier than it is even now. "New Chinatown" might have its new labeling slapped on, but it'll be some time before this part of the Island looks anything like, say, the new and improved Roosevelt Island. For now, it still boasts the seedy and the working in equal parts, and those who come from afar straddling that fence in some way themselves.

Aman finds himself feeling at home here, more comfortable in the vestiges of the Safe Zone's less-sterling start— back when it was nourished by street food made mostly of local finds and its people sustained by streetwise deals done in barter.

He spies the head of blonde he's looking for seated at a noodle stand, and he begins to smile for having spied her. "Hey hey, it's Lady Arcane," Aman teases her when he gets close enough to be easily heard, but still far enough away he's out of arm's reach.

Looking over her shoulder, the blonde in question's attention is drawn from the half-finished bowl in front of her and over towards the sound of the greeting. "In the flesh," Merlyn sets her chopsticks down and the smile offered in her direction is returned as she catches sight of Amanvir. "You know, I'm pretty sure people think I can really make some kind of magic with the way my name's spoken."

The blonde pauses for only half-a-second before the smile turns into a grin. "They're not wrong, but I think the name evokes more sparkle than I think I put out. I'll have to work on that."

Aman is smirking as he draws up to a seat beside her, arms folded against the wooden slab of a bartop. "No, I'm pretty sure you like being a reliable, household name people turn to in their time of need," he remarks to her just the thick side of wry, even for all the metaphorical elbowing he's giving in the process.

"Am I right?" he asks as he looks to the stall's owner and lifts his hand toward the dumplings also sold here to indicate he'd like an order of those rather than noodles.

"Like is probably an understatement," comes Merlyn's reply, leaning against an elbow as her grin doesn't lessen for a minute. "It's a nice ego boost when you're the one people come to. A lady could get a big head from that kind of thing, but we're all lucky that I'm incredibly modest and humble." She nods towards the stall owner, then tips her head in Aman's direction. Seems she's covering the food today.

"Being turned to even in those un-needy times, though, that's the spot I'm aiming for. That's the sort of priceless thing money can't get you."

"Well aren't you lucky," Aman sighs in nearly a singsong despite the long-suffering look he wears for her already holding the upper hand here. "That you have a friend who wants to turn to you for advice." He regards her knowingly then out of the corner of his eyes. "Maybe a little more."

"There's an acquaintance of mine," read: client with subtext of possibly more than just business, if he's talking about them using that term "who's looking to get their hands on a good number of solar panels…" He pauses to mentally savor the sight of cooked dumplings hitting the pan again to rewarm them just a tad more. "And I find myself appalled by the price quotes I've been getting around town. I think I'm being hung out to dry."

"Which tells me I haven't spent enough time lately out on this side of town," Aman laments with the grace to acknowledge it for what it is. "But I'm not so far gone as to not tell when I'm being overcharged."

"It kind of sounds like you're the lucky one here." Merlyn takes a moment to pick up her chopsticks again, selecting a single noodle in the bowl to pick up, eyeing it appraisingly before she eats it. She sets the chipsticks down atop the bowl again before she then nods in Aman's direction. "I don't take too kindly to people on this side of town pushing an angle on any friend of mine. Especially for something like solar panels. It's a bit of a different kettle of fish when it's something like that rather than, say, any sort of illicit substance."

She drums her fingertips lightly against the edge of her bowl, looking thoughtful. "I'm sure I can work my magic, though I have to say I'd be lying if I said I wasn't curious as to your acquaintance's interest in any number of solar panels, much less a 'good number' of them. Not my place to pry, though."

Aman lets out a quiet hm as he's served his order following Merlyn's desperately long play at silence and picking at her own food. He sighs, knowing she is right in that he is lucky to know someone like her…

And that he's lucky she's decided to make his problem her problem, too.

"Sometimes friends have to keep their business to themselves," he admits carefully, picking up a dumpling with poor but effective chopstick posture. He quiets his voice so it barely carries to her. "But I can tell you if you help me, you'll start putting things together before long. The logistical details tell their own story."

The dumpling is tucked away in a huff of breath to guard his mouth against how warm it is. After a few heaves of ineffective blowing he accepts his fate, returning to the conversation only when his craw is polite-company levels of free-to-speak again. "You know I don't pick shitty horses, though," Aman reminds her a little more loudly.

"I know," Merlyn says, something more of a smile than a grin tugging at the edge of her mouth. It almost seems wistful. "That's why I like you. One of the reasons, at least. I love a good story and you always seem to find the best ones. I'm sure I'll see it play out… I just like getting a rise out of you."

This time, the blonde picks up her bowl in order to actually eat, and she takes a moment to use the chopsticks to seize another mouthful with the intensity of someone trying to win at a crane game. After she's gotten a bite and finished it, she looks back over to Aman, that wistful smile still threatening to come out. "You always manage to see something I don't. I envy that."

Aman lets out a long-suffering breath as he's reminded he usually has stories. Oh, the stories he has to tell from the time these two partners in crime have been apart. But the corner of his mouth curls up in a smile, because for all the gravity of them… there have been moments. The kinds of ones that called him back here again to begin with, and the kind that keep him staying.

"I don't think you envy me the trouble," he chuckles, wagging his utensils at her. "Just the stories, Mer. There's a difference." He catches the older man at the stall giving him a strongly-sentimented look over the way he's misusing his chopsticks and lowers them back to his plate with an upward cave of his shoulders and a murmur of apology.

"I'm more than happy to drag you along on this one, though," Amanvir reminds her. "Let's finish up here and I'll tell you all about it."

There's a wry smile, both at the admonishing look from the older man and the way that Aman reacts to it, and Merlyn offers him a nod. "Trouble can be fun, it just depends on the kind and who you're in it with." With a quick motion, the blonde's chopsticks dart out to try and steal one of the dumplings. "I could use an adventure, though, especially if it's a worthwhile one. I do like to be in the stories sometimes, Aman. I'm not a bore."

He spends a moment slightly slack-jawed at her audacity, stealing right off his plate (that she was paying for), and taps the end of his chopsticks together in thought to bring himself back together. The last of his order is snagged up in a single snatch and bite, and Aman looks rightly smug over his petty win. "C'mon, then," he encourages around his victory, and waits for her to settle up payment before walking off together with her, hands shoved in his pockets.

It takes until they've left the busy airs of the main drag for him to speak on it, though, and a look over his shoulder besides. "So, the first thing," he says quietly despite their apparent aloneness, "I really would rather none of this get anywhere near anyone from d'Sarthe. I don't even know if this is something they fuck with, but it needs said. One of theirs has a bone to pick with me and I'd rather not take my chances."

"And secondly," Aman goes on, glancing down at her out of the corner of his eye. "When I'm saying a good number, I mean like… I don't know, twelve tops? Enough to cover a good-sized area. Put out a non-negligible amount of power."

“I can keep things on the downlow… but pissing off someone from d’Sarthe sounds like a dangerous situation. I’m sure I can find something around that number, I know some people, ones who happen to owe me a favor.”

Merlyn’s eyes focus on him for a long moment. “You okay? No one’s got a price on your head or wants to beat the shit out of you in a dark alley, do they? I’m sure it won’t come up but I like to know what my friends are up to.”

Aman only shakes his head. "Jesus, I hope there's not anything on my head." He looks perturbed for a moment before rationalizing, "Guy doesn't seem the type— specifically, he seemed more the type to take things on with his own two hands rather than let anyone else know what happened." He sighs and looks off for a moment as he weighs his options in levels of honesty, and looks back to her. "What happened though was… I took a job last year where the money was too good."

"We all got various levels of shanghai'd after we got there. The d'Sarthe guy— Redd— got shafted hard. Lady who called up the job straight-up left him behind hoping he'd get caught." His eyes wander off again. "So, he didn't know me, but he knows my face, and might not give a shit that I was taken for a ride as much as he was." He lets out a quiet laugh. "To make matters worse, guy has this sick ability like invisibility, but be can extend it to other people, and like… cut off sounds, too."

With a grimace he tries to grin through, he shrugs one shoulder. "So uh, getting shot or shivved felt like a real enough concern it's why I've been scarce." His hand turns over, palm up. "But it's been over a year now, so…"

Now it's Merlyn's turn to swear.

"Jesus, that ability is terrifying. Remind me not to get on his bad side. I can work magic but I can't perform miracles. That's something I wish I could help with but is definitely beyond my ability." Merlyn's gaze remains on him, shrewd but concerned. "A year is a long time to hold a grudge but if it were me, I'd probably have been holing up somewhere myself."

This time, she offers a much more reassuring smile. "Glad you're poking your nose out, though. World deserves to see more people like you." She shrugs a shoulder, glancing in front of her for a moment. "I'll definitely keep it away from d'Sarthe's ears. That shouldn't be a problem and any extra steps needed to keep things safe are always worth it."

When she turns away, Aman has to quickly swallow back a smile of his own. Merlyn isn't the type to wear her heart on her sleeve, so her deciding he's got that worth needs acknowledged, treasured.

"And who knows," he interjects idly. "Prove yourself an ally to these people, and maybe if things ever go pear-shaped for you here," said with all the knowing scoff of like that'll ever happen, "you'd have a place you could land." Aman's head wobbles as he ventures, "So this kind of is a thing you're not just helping me with out of the kindness of your heart."

"We don't have to worry about these things being fresh out of the box, either. Just as long as they work well." Then he sighs as he glances back to her again. "Recommendations on where we should start?"

"Oooh, I like it when the deal gets sweeter, especially when it goes in my direction. I've got a bit of a sweet tooth," Merlyn remarks. "Besides, no one said I ever do things out of the kindness of my heart. A girl's gotta eat too. Always looking for more business connections to keep the food on the table."

Amusing, given she was the one who paid for the food.

"If you're good with slightly used or repurposed ones, I know a couple of people who do some salvaging and recovery work. Technically above board because they aren't just stolen off the back of a truck or from some technology company. A faster and safer bet, if you'd like to go that route. Granted, they certainly won't have their sticker price on them but they'll work and hold up."

There's some relief there for that. He knew Merlyn would really have some good leads. "Amazing. All right, then let's plan on…"

One Week Later

Little Neck Bay

Ruins of Queens

It took a disgusting amount of coordination, sleuthing, and manual labor to finally get the procured goods to the right side of the Safe Zone once found, and then beyond the fence at its eastern edge. From there it was a matter of staying safe, staying quiet, seeming unobtrusive as possible– which was nearly impossible given that they were transporting goods at all. There are trucks that come and go nowadays with more frequency down these ill-kept roads, places like Allende Salvage partnering with the Safe Zone Initiative leadership to keep expanding those borders… but still.


It's nearing dusk when Aman and Merlyn approach the waterfront, bringing with them the last of the solar panels they had transported out here and hidden over the course of the last week. Now, it's just a matter of waiting for their buyer– their acquaintance to approach by water to claim their ask.

"Can't believe we fucking pulled it off," Aman breathes out as he rubs at his arms, the chill of the air as it nears dark something he didn't prepare well-enough for, it'd seem. He has better coats, he just didn't think it'd get this cool out.

“Oh ye of little faith,” Merlyn quips, the tiniest smirk at the corner of her mouth. “When I set my mind to something, it happens. It also helps when I have quality assistants to get the job done.” Unlike Aman, she’s prepared for the chill of dusk at the waterfront: a comfortable jacket probably a couple years out of fashion even before the war, and a well-worn green scarf.

It’s the latter that she pulls off, untangling the scarf from around her neck and balling it up before throwing it in his direction. “I like it when a job comes together. It’s never without a hitch or two but… that’s the challenge. And the fun.”

With a wrinkled nose and a scrunched expression, Aman catches the unfurling scarf only to ball it again and throw it right back at her. He pulls up the collar of his coat in offense at needing to be mothered, a look given at her out of the top of his eyes. He's got a quip in return preparing to be fired when he turns his head to glance over the shoreline and sees a boat on approach, the mood of his reply shifting.

"The payout helps too," he replies much more quietly, so that it might not carry on the air as far. He shifts the angle of his lean against the crate he'd been leaning against to stand upright. It and its pair that they've procured together are sizeable, and he expresses his confidence in their navigation of the challenge of collecting them by bopping the corner of one crate with the side of his fist. All cards were on the table, now, so to speak. Just a matter of seeing if things passed muster here or not– if it was too much, too little. Aman purses his lips together, a more serious demeanor overtaking him as he looks back up at Merlyn again and offers her a tight nod.

"Follow my lead," he suggests to her quietly, and then heads for the dock.

Hanging the scarf back around her neck, Merlyn watches as he moves towards the water. The tenor of the mood being different, she adapts as well, her tone sobering in a slow change from playful to more serious. With it comes a familiar air of confidence, calm, and collectedness that Aman's seen a few times before–it's her game face.

She hangs back for a few steps before she follows, keeping pace but her position behind and slightly to his right. "Lead away," she murmurs, attention darting curiously towards the boat on approach.

The boat sidles up to the old dock and someone thin jumps off to the creaking wood with anchor tie in hand and begins fastening it down. A moment later, a taller and burlier figure steps off, adjusting the seat of a windbreaker against his person as he heads for the two waiting for them. He's nearly as dark as Aman, but almost a head shorter. He eventually juts his chin up in hello.

Like a switch has been flipped, Aman lifts his arms and begins the approach to meet him jovially. "Heyyy, how's it going, man?" he asks with comraderic warmth. "It's been a while."

"It's been a while," the man agrees, voice accented someplace south of here and with the leanings that Spanish is more likely his first language. He manages a small, bearded smile of politeness before shifting his eyes to Merlyn with more suspicion than warmth.

"This is my friend I was telling you about," Aman quickly segues without missing a beat. "She's good. Helped me get all this together after my first contact tried to fuck me over on the prices." He gestures a hand back toward Merlyn and looks to her, and the man lifts his chin in both inquiry and acknowledgement both.

Merlyn’s smile is warm and friendly even when met with a suspicious glance, her confidence unwavering. “Any friend of his is a friend of mine,” she offers towards the gentleman. She adds no more in terms of speech—mostly because she’s reading the situation like a card counter might in a high-stakes round of poker.

She’s paying attention, ready to adapt at the slightest hint of a full house.

The man seems slightly amused at the thought he and Aman are friends, a thought conveyed with a glance to the other, which leads Aman to shrug amicably. "Friends, with a few extra steps," the self-proclaimed negator jokes.

"Something like that," the other man jokes in return on a huff too short to be a chuckle. His mood, overall, has eased. It just seems he's not as small-talkative as Aman is. "At the very least, an ally."

Aman takes the initiative to gesture back at their haul. "So, only a small number of these fell off a truck. Some came used, and might not be full power, so to speak…"

To which the man shakes his head. "That's fine. You test any of them?"

"Quick turnaround, so no," Aman laments. "But you let me know if any are duds, and we'll arrange another pick-up with replacements."

The other man turns and gestures for his associate by the boat, murmuring, "Pon luz a estos, yeah?" The figure with short-cropped hair and a slender frame approaches at their own pace…

And lifts a hand, which begins to glow from their palm with all the intensity of a flashlight, highlighting their piercings and glint of gauges in their ears as much as shining a light on the goods the man wishes to look over.

There’s a wry smile from Merlyn. In her experience, everyone was a ‘friend’ until proven otherwise, for good or ill, and usually (yet again in her experience) it was ill. Her smile remains, even when there’s the slightest hint of an arched eyebrow at the glimpse of light. She takes it in stride, the light-in-hand not seeming to shake her and she simply nods in the direction of the panels.

Her gaze shifts slightly to regard Aman, a silent check in for her own benefit to keep an eye out for anything he doesn’t seem comfortable with.

Aman remains cool and calm as the boards of panels are flipped through with all the casual air of someone perusing a record selection. He doesn't blink at the light, and neither does he look– though whether it's because it's just not wise to look directly at a light like that or because he's nonplussed is seemingly up for debate.

The man eventually asks to confirm what the cost ran them, and when Aman reports it, there's no balking. He hands over a stack to make Aman even– and then adds a thin stack of bills extra for the procurement trouble. "Pleasure doing business with you," Aman tells him, and after folding the bills away into his pocket, pauses to go, "Hey– you mind if I bum off you a minute? I didn't bring anything warm, like an idiot."

When Aman offers his hand out, the man looks down at it for a moment and then lets out a more genuine laugh. "You're fucking débil, man," he admonishes Aman, but clasps his hand in a friendly way before he and his associate go about moving the crates onto the boat.

Stepping aside and not leaving just yet, Aman nonetheless rolls his shoulders and lets out a cloudy sigh of relief, rubbing his hands together, cupped slightly like something's held between them.

With the successful handover, Merlyn’s confidence turns into a mix of something more relaxed as she watches the crates being moved. She doesn’t immediately speak, instead simply observing the movement of the crates, but when she does she levels her gaze at Aman with a hint of a smile.

“It’s interesting seeing you do business. No double crossing or haggling and nothing’s exploded. I don’t know what exactly I expected, honestly.”

She doesn’t ask anything, but her eyes are briefly fixed on Aman’s hands before looking back to his face.

He breathes out fire, a flicker of flame rather than a gout.

"Oh my god, that feels so good," he whisper-sighs in luxurious relief. "I can feel my fucking fingers now." His hands unfold and reveal nothing in them, and yet nonetheless seem to be radiating warmth as he holds out the cupped curvature of his palms toward Merlyn with the fiendish hint of a grin, momentarily seeming a world apart from the careful shifting of goods nearby.

“The fuck?” Merlyn utters with a low tone, just audible enough for Aman to hear.

While she manages to keep her composure, her gaze flicks between Aman’s hands, then back up to his face before returning to the palmed nothing. She hesitates for a moment, then reaches a hand tentatively towards his with the cautiousness of someone feeding a snapping turtle and the slightest narrowing of her eyes.

Aman seems– if not pleased, then relieved. Merlyn's lack of recoil was a last step… a last test.

"I've been working with these folks for… a while now," he explains in a murmur as he shifts his hands around hers and radiate a gentle heat toward them. His eyes flit up to hers, then back down again. "It's kind of nice working with Slice. For Slice." Despite the casual nature of the wording, the weight of it implies something deeper than just the simple transaction happening here. "Doing fulfilling work rather than… well."

Aman chuckles. "Rather than needing to haggle or plan to pull a fast one."

Merlyn glances down at both of their hands, no longer looking like she’s about to mistrust the action. She tilts her head to the side a bit as she regards him, then chuckles lightly. “I can’t say I’m used to seeing or experiencing work where there’s no sort of hustle going on. Call it my nature, but I tend to think the worst of people.”

Well, maybe not inwardly she doesn’t, as the hope always seems to remain there.

“You’ve always struck me as a bleeding heart, Aman.”

"You tell anyone, I'll have to go out of my way to disprove it," he warns without teeth. "And neither of us would like that."

He sighs when the shorter man makes his way back over after loading the crates aboard the ship, lowering his hands from hers so he can stick one out for a shake. The man accepts it with a nod, and Aman claps him on the shoulder. "What's it you always tell me, Javi? cuídate?"

Javi grins and gestures his head toward Merlyn ever so slightly. "Con esa, especialmente," he agrees, and a flamelike flicker crosses his irises before settling and he takes a step back. "'Til next time, Aman."

With that, Aman shuffles a step back in Merlyn's direction, one hand raised in a wave as their contacts head off to take advantage of the last shreds of light. He shivers again, this time almost certainly from cold rather than warmth, and rubs his hands together before shifting a coy look toward Merlyn that hides a subtle and shit-eating grin. "Want to hit up some food in the Divide before heading back into town? My treat."

Merlyn’s green-eyed gaze settles on Javi as he leaves, a polite nodding of her head in his direction with only the slightest hint of a smile. She nudges at Aman with an elbow before she shifts to wrap her scarf more comfortably around her neck.

“You know I can never refuse a free meal,” she replies with a wide grin. “If I ever do, you’ll know I’ve been replaced by some cheap knock-off brand Merlyn that’ll fall apart at the drop of a hat. Don’t settle for anything but the real thing.”

"Don't worry, Princess," Aman teases her, playfully checking her with his hip in answer to the elbow to his arm. "I'll be sure to offer a free meal, put a pea under the sea of mattresses, and set to her a challenge I'd know only the real you could pull off."

Ambling ahead and away from the water, he lets out a groan at the chill of the air and begins to pull out his phone to let its flashlight guide their way back.

For all the magic they've done, teleporting back to more populated environs was currently beyond them both.

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