The Search For Meaning And Purpose (Western Atlantic Only)

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The Search For Meaning And Purpose (Western Atlantic Only)

Postby Excalbia » Sun Jul 04, 2021 9:24 am

An Apartment on The Left Bank
Citadel Excalbia
The Night of Emperor David IV’s Funeral; the Eve of Crown Prince Joseph’s Ascension

Prince James, the younger brother of the soon-to-be-Emperor Joseph, sat on the edge of the bed tying his tennis shoes.

The young woman lying on the bed looked up and frowned. “Are you sure you have to go?”

“I have to get up early tomorrow. It wouldn’t do for me to be just coming… back when everyone else is getting up for breakfast,” he said.

The woman sat up, drawing her legs up to her chest. “You said you had missed me and wanted to spend time with me…”

“I did,” James said. “And I do.”

“Then, why couldn’t we go out? Have dinner somewhere?”

“We’re supposed to be in mourning,” he said, standing. “It wouldn’t look good in the press…”

“But we never go out. Not since your first few visits,” the woman said, her face flushing red. “You… You’re embarrassed to be seen with me… a commoner. Aren’t you?”

James pulled on his shirt and turned around. “I don’t give a damn about whether or not you’re a commoner, Ligita…”

“Then why?”

“It’s complicated.”


“There are…”

“What? Expectations? You need to marry some princess? Is that it?” She paused and drew in a breath. “Or are there others? I... I’ve read the gossip sites… the parties in Landing…” The woman’s eyes narrowed and her eyes reddened. “I bet you have another woman stashed away in Parnu, too. Some country girl… You don’t want them to find out about me, is that it?”

“Ligita,” James said flatly. “Let’s not do this.”

Pointing towards the door, the woman said, “Get out, James. Your Highness! Just get out. And, please, don’t call me ever again.”
Last edited by Excalbia on Sun Jul 04, 2021 9:25 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Providencia y San Andres
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Postby Providencia y San Andres » Sun Jul 04, 2021 9:26 am

Lord Tariq’s Penthouse Apartment
Landing, Excalbia
A Few Days After Emperor Joseph’s Ascension

Countess Rosalia of Santa Tecla lounged on the deck not far from the pool. She was close enough to her friend and charge, the Infanta Letizia, to serve as a chaperone, as required by Providencian custom, yet far enough away to afford her and their host some privacy.

At the far end of the pool, Infanta Letizia was emerging from the water in a bikini that would be shocking in some parts of the world. She stood and admired the view of the city below.

“It is lovely up here, Tariq,” she said.

Lord Tariq of Mezciems, who had been standing towards the middle of the pool, just on the edge of the deck, jumped in and swam briskly towards Letizia. Emerging from the pool, he looked over the city. “It is,” he said. “But you are lovelier.”

Letizia laughed. “So predictable.”

He joined the laugh and then sat at the edge of the pool, dangling his legs in the water. Letizia joined him.

“I’m actually thinking of selling this place to James.”


“I’m tired of it.”

“Tired of the view? The spacious rooms? Or the parties and the pool filled with cavorting nymphs… oh,” she smiled, “and thank you for dismissing them for the day.”

Tariq laughed. “Tired of it all. Besides, James seems more than eager to take over my title as most eligible bachelor and most renowned playboy.”

“You almost sound like you plan to marry,” Letizia said.

“No. I’m in no hurry to marry, unlike so many of our peers… unless you insist.”

“That almost sounds like a proposal, my Lord.”

“It is. But not a proposal of marriage.” Tariq leaned towards Letizia. “Unless you insist.”

“Then what?” Letizia smiled. “Friends? Pen pals? Partners?”

Tariq slid into the pool and stood in front of Letizia taking her hands. “Letty, I like you. A lot. I might even be in love with you. But this is no way for us to figure that out.” He turned and released one of Letizia’s hands to wave at Rosalia, who waved back before blushing and looking away. “Surrounded by minders, no matter how nice. Exchanging coy words at an official event.” He shrugged. “Maybe that works for some, but not for us. We’re different. So, let’s be different.”

Letizia leaned toward Tariq. “What exactly are you proposing?”

“Let’s go away for a while. Maybe Knootoss… they don’t care about titles and royalty,” he said. “We both have enough money to live well. And we can be together. Alone. Without Rosalia. Without the IHA. I can manage my business affairs from anywhere. And you’ve said you want to do good. Together, with our money we can figure out a way to do a lot of good.”

“Are you suggesting… a business merger or that we should live together?”


Letizia looked away. “It would be… such a scandal to go away together. Alone. I… I don’t know if my family would forgive me…”

“Would it be any less of a scandal if you married a Muslim atheist?” Tariq smiled. “And if they love you, they will forgive you. Sooner or later, they will forgive you.” Tariq’s smile faded into a serious expression. “You know my mother, my adopted mother, is a lesbian. Married to another woman. There was a time when my uncle, the late Emperor would… not have accepted that. But, he changed his mind. Why? Because he changed his interpretation of the Church dogma? Because the law changed? No, because he loved his sister. So, he found a way to change his mind. It took time, but it happened. And your family will come to accept the decisions you make as an adult, Letty.”

Letizia bit her lip. “It is a big decision, Tariq.” He nodded. “Can I think about it? The going away with you alone part? But… but can we still… be together, even under… observation. For now? And, maybe later, talk about how we can use our money to make a difference?”

“Sure,” Tariq said, leaning close to Letizia.

She leaned towards him and kissed him.

“But maybe we can find a way to be under a little… less observation,” Tariq said softly.

“Well, I do think Rosalia would like to see more of the city,” Letizia whispered in his ear. “Perhaps you have a handsome friend to show her the city this evening?”

“Oh, yes,” Tariq said, “I can think of one or two.”

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Postby Excalbia » Sun Jul 04, 2021 9:27 am

Lord Tariq’s Penthouse Apartment
Landing, Excalbia
A Few Days Later

“Good morning, Tariq,” Dace Gailitis said as she entered Tariq’s office. In her mid-twenties with a trim, athletic figure, she would clearly have been the kind of woman who would have attracted Tariq’s interest if she weren’t his most senior and trusted employee.

“Good morning, Dace,” Tariq said somewhat more quietly than usual. He walked over from the floor to ceiling windows where he had been looking over the city to take a seat on side of a small, modern glass and steel table.

Dace joined him at the table, taking the chair opposite him. She placed her tablet on the table and crossed her legs. “I take it you have company…”

Tariq smiled and nodded.

“The Infanta?”


Dace shook her head. “I know you like to combine business and pleasure, but…”

“This… may be different,” Tariq said.

“Oh?” Dace leaned to one side and raised an eyebrow.

Taria’s smile widened. “Letizia is… really something special,” he said. “I’ll leave it at that for now.”

“OK,” Dace said. She leaned over and picked up her tablet. “The team has worked up a budget for her and some investment strategies. They’re confident that they can earn her… significant returns that would allow her to both fund her charity and live… independently, if she chose to do so.” She passed the tablet to Tariq, who took it and examined it.

“Hmmm,” he said as he dragged his fingers across the screen. “I changed a few of the allocations, but overall it looks solid.” Tariq looked up. “Do you agree, Dace?”

The young woman shrugged. “I’m an administrator, not a finance person, you know that. It sounded reasonable to me. And if you like it, I’m sure it’s golden,” she said.

“I’ll show it to Letty after breakfast,” Tariq said, casually tossing the tablet on to the table.

“I’ve picked out several potentially suitable properties in Hartstadt for you to look at… though why you’d want to live in Knootoss…”


Dace shook her head. “You won’t be anonymous anywhere, Tariq.”

“Moreso there than here. Or any of the other monarchies.”

“OK,” Dace said, still sounding unconvinced. “And we’ve drawn up the paperwork to transfer this place to Prince James, if he wants it…”

“Oh,” Tariq said, “he’ll want it.”

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Postby Excalbia » Wed Jul 07, 2021 3:35 pm

Lord Tariq’s Penthouse Apartment
Landing, Excalbia
A Few Weeks Later

“So,” Tariq said, as he climbed out of the pool, “Zsófia is meeting you at Zilais Kalns?”

“Yeah,” James said, tossing his towel on a chair and walking towards the pool.

“She seems like a nice girl,” Tariq said. He grabbed his own towel and began drying himself off.

“She is.”

“Then, treat her nice, Jay.”

“What’s that supposed to mean, TQ?” James asked, stopping short of the pool and turning to face his friend.

“Just what I said, brother,” Tariq answered.

“But you’re implying…”

“I’m not implying anything,” Tariq’s perpetual smile faded. “I’m saying it. You’ve been pursuing women and, then, tossing them away like yesterday’s leftovers. Ever since Sunie…”

James’ face flushed. “You’re the one who told me to put her behind me! Pursue other women!”

“Pursue. Not use and discard.”

“You’re one to talk.” James balled his fists. “I could sleep with another woman every night from now on and never catch you.”

“You need to calm down, brother…”

“Calm down? You son of **…”

Tariq moved towards James, raising his own fists. “Stop there before you say something you’ll regret. Don’t speak of my mother…”

James stepped back. “I… I didn’t mean it like that…”

Tariq glared at James. After drawing in a breath, he dropped his arms. “I told you not to hide in my guest room, but to get out and live again. What you’re doing isn’t living…”

“You’re being a hypocrite, you know,” James said turning his back.

“No, not at all,” Tariq said, still glaring. “I’ve never pursued a woman that I didn’t want a relationship with. So, maybe none have led to anything permanent, but almost every single one is still a friend. Can you say that? What would that cute barista at that little coffee shop on the Right Bank say about you, Jay?”

James spun around. “Shut the **** up, TQ!”

Tariq gritted his teeth. “Get the **** out of my house.”

James’ mouth gapped.

Tariq’s shoulders slumped and tears welled up in his eyes. “You heard me. Get out. Now. And grow the **** up, Jay.”


James stood in his bedroom tossing clothes into a suitcase. He was not used to packing for himself, but Tariq did not have the platoons of Imperial stewards who usually took care of such things.

The prince’s cousin, Lady Jennifer of Latgale, cautiously opened the door. Though she had once barely been on speaking terms with James and Tariq she had become something of their third musketeer. So, whenever business brought her to Landing Tariq would insist that she stay with him.

“James? What’s going on?” Jennifer asked, taking a half step into the room.

“Ask Tariq,” James said without looking up.

“I did,” she said, as she walked over to the bed and started folding the clothes James was casually tossing into the suitcase. “He’s sitting on the deck, dripping wet and looking like he doesn’t know whether to scream or cry. He told me to ask you.”

“He kicked me out.” James dropped the clothes he was holding and bowed his head.

Jennifer sighed and touched James on the shoulder. “You two never fight…”

James’ shoulders trembled. “I’ve screwed up, Jen,” he said. “Badly.”

The young woman pulled her cousin towards her and he leaned his head on hers.

“Rebecca wouldn’t even talk to me after father’s funeral,” James said, sighing. “The last thing she said to me was to ‘grow the **** up’. Tariq just said the same thing after tossing me out.”

“Oh, James…,” Jennifer said softly.

“You might as well tell me, too. You’d be right…”

“You know I won’t,” she said. “But why don’t you tell me how you think you screwed up?”

James turned and sat on the bed. Jennifer sat beside him. “I… I’ve blamed everyone for Sunie… except,” his voice faltered, “except for me. And Sunie.” Jennifer placed her arm around his shoulder. “I let it keep me away…” He started to cry. “God," he said, tears flowing, "I hadn’t even talked to my dad for months… I can’t… can’t even look mom in the eye…”

“I’m sorry,” Jennifer said.

“And… and… I… I’ve behaved badly.” He turned and gave Jennifer a cautious look.

Jennifer sighed. “I know. Not the details…” She looked away from her cousin. “I don’t need to know them.”

“You must hate me…”

“No. I don’t hate you. After all we’ve been through, how could I hate you?” Jennifer wiped away a tear. “I know you’re hurting. You’ve been looking for a substitute for Sunie… not… someone to care about in their own right. So, it’s no wonder none of them measure up. They’re only substitutes to you. And inferior ones at that. At least compared to your memories of Sunie.”

James nodded. “How… how do come back from this?”

“Let her go, James. Let her go. Stop looking for another Sunie. Just look for someone who’ll make you happy and who you can make happy. And let us, let your family be there for you.”

“You make it sound so easy…”

“It’s not. I know that. But you can do it. There’s no hole so deep you can’t get out of it. Especially with us here to help you.”


“Rebecca and Tariq may be mad at you, but they still love you. And they’ll be there for you. Just like I am. You know your mother loves you. Your father loved you. Greatly.” She smiled. “Even Joseph loves you, after his own fashion… I promise you’re not alone.”

The Imperial Estate of Zilais Kalns
Borodea Mountains, Excalbia
A Few Days Later

James arrived early at Zilais Kalns, in part because he had nowhere else to go. After the stewards unpacked his bags and arranged his suite, the young prince sat in a chair in the seating area, staring out the window.

After sitting for several minutes, James pulled out his phone. He scrolled through his contacts until he came to Sunie. He opened their message history, and then their photos. He sighed and deleted the photos. He then deleted the message history and changed the entry from “Sweet Sunie” to “Sunie Hoogaboom”. He began to text her:

Sunie, hi.
I don’t even know if this is still your number, but I hope it is.
I always loved you and part of me always will. But the time has come for me to move on.
I hope you’ll be happy in the life you’ve chosen.
If you ever need a friend, I’ll always be here.
Be happy. - James

He sent it, then scrolled back to his contacts. He began deleting the numbers of several women. He paused at the contact for Ligita and opened their message history. He sent a short message:

I’m sorry. You deserved better. I hope you’ll forgive me someday and that you find the happiness you deserve.

He hit send, then deleted her number. He was ready for a fresh start.

But there was one more message he needed to send. He pulled up Tariq’s info and wrote:

You were right. Brothers forever?

He closed his phone and tossed it on a table. He checked to see how much time he had left, then went down to go for a ride.
Last edited by Excalbia on Wed Jul 07, 2021 8:16 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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Postby Excalbia » Thu Jul 08, 2021 8:05 am

The Imperial Palace
Citadel Excalbia
Sometime Later

“It’s good to see you, Tariq,” Janet said as she opened her arms and hugged the young man. Though she still struggled to think of the Emperor and Empress as relatives, she had long since overcome that barrier with Tariq. She supposed that technically he was her stepson, but they never really talked about that.

“It’s good to see you, too,” Tariq said, returning her hug. “How’s she doing?”

Stepping back slightly Janet have a slight shrug. “Better. She still misses the… David… terribly, but getting back to routine is helping. Still it’ll be hard for her when you move…”

Tariq frowned.

“Not that I’m trying to make you feel guilty,” Janet said, her face reddening slightly.

“I know,” Tariq said, nodding his head.

“She’s also aware that there’s still… a little distance between her and the Emperor and Empress…”

Tariq nodded. “Anna has a long memory…”

“She’s always proper…”

“But always proper. Never warm. At least not towards mother.”

Janet sighed and looked around. The sitting room was large with high ceilings and ornate 19th century furnishings. Large windows admitted the afternoon sun creating an almost glowing effect. Yet, there was a coldness to it. “I think it’d be good for her to move out of the Palace…”

“I agree,” Tariq said, smiling. “And I have an idea.”


“James is no longer… interested in my place in Landing. And Jen turned it down; she felt it was too big and ostentatious for her. But it could be perfect for you and mother…”

“What would be perfect for me?” Princess Christiana said, as she swept into the sitting room and wrapped her son in her arms.

“Tariq was offering us his place in Landing,” Janet said with a hopeful smile.

“Really?” Christiana leaned back to look at Tariq while still holding him in her arms.

“Yes,” Tariq said, “James and Jen both passed, and I’d hate to sell it.”

“James didn’t want it?” Christiana asked, turning her head to one side.

“No, he’s trying… to go down a different path.”

“But you’ve patched things up?”

Tariq nodded. “We have.”

“Good.” Christiana finally released her hug.

“I don’t know why you need to go Hartstad anyway…,” she said walking towards a chair.

Tariq followed her, as did Janet. “We’ve discussed this, Mum,” he said as he took a seat beside his mother. Janet took the seat on the other side of Christiana.

“I know,” Christiana said, “it’s just… it’s so far away.”

“It’s not so far. And I’ll come for regular visits.” Tariq smiled. “And you’d be that much closer in Landing.”

“I’ll think about it,” Christiana said.

“I’m sure we’ll end up taking the apartment,” Janet said smiling at Christiana.

Christiana laughed. Then, she said,” You’ll stay for dinner, of course..”

“Of course,” Tariq said.
Last edited by Excalbia on Thu Jul 08, 2021 8:12 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby Knootoss » Sat Jul 10, 2021 11:56 am

((Joint Post with Excalbia))

Roek 1, Hartstad

Lord Tariq of Mezciems smiled as he entered the penthouse, following his Knootian realtor. “I can see the possibilities,” he said softly with a nod.

“I’m not so sure, Tariq,” Dace Gailitis twisted her lips to one side as she looked around. She smoothed her knee-length skirt and adjusted her short, brownish-blonde hair. “This is awfully different from Excalbia…”

“Ah, but different is what I’m looking for, Dace,” Tariq replied, giving his executive assistant a wink.

Dace shook her head. “There’s different, and then there’s Knootoss,” she said, speaking low enough that she hoped the realtor wouldn’t hear her.

Tariq chuckled. “You sound like my mother. Or my late uncle,” he said.

“Well, I’ll take being compared to the Emperor as a compliment…,” she muttered to herself.

The realtor, if she had overheard the clients’ assistant, had politely pretended not to overhear their conversation. She came to a standstill in front of the east-facing windows that illuminated one of the open spaces.

“This would work wonderfully well as a living room, or a dance floor perhaps?” she suggested with a whim of a smile. With a bespoke suit and a blonde ponytail tied into a knot, she had tried to look the part for her VIP guest. “As I wrote to your assistant - we can adjust everything in accordance with your wishes, though I would advise to keep P4 more public-facing and keep P3 as a more private retreat, with four master bedrooms facing the cardinal directions, and en-suite bathrooms.” She smiled. “I also think you may enjoy the wellness area with the sauna and bathing, my Lord.”

Tariq nodded and tugged at the sleeve of his tightly-fitted sports coat as he admired the view. “Please, please, just call me Tariq, Linda,” he said. “I agree. This would be perfect for a public space.” He turned towards Linda. “Is there a separate access to the P3 private bedrooms from the penthouse lobby or via elevator?”

Linda flushed slightly, though not at the suggestion that her name be used. Rather it was the notion of separate access, and the implications, that gave her pause: “Ah--” she began. “There is the possibility of providing a connecting door between the master bedrooms via the en-suite bathroom. As for separate access to the bedrooms…” She thought for a moment, finding her composure to provide a confiding smile, even lowering her voice somewhat:

“Security doesn’t like it when we tell our clients, but it is possible to unseal the fire exit next to the dual express elevators to provide discreet access to one of the P3 bedrooms. Depending on where you station your security team, it needs to be seen by no-one. Or perhaps only a trusted bodyguard on watch duty? Far be it for me to suggest your security arrangements. A checkpoint can be built in-house rather than next to those stairs.”

It was a security risk, she knew, but she wasn’t about to lecture a client on that sort of thing. Let the assistant protest. Her job was about describing possibilities.

Tariq nodded. “That could work,” he said.

“That could rather complicate security,” Dace muttered, frowning.

“Not to be crass, but how much, Linda?” Tariq asked.

“One hundred seventy-one million Atlantic Ducats’, she replied matter-of-factly. Trying not to think about how many times her salary she’d need to live here. “Of course, that does include some of the amenities, like reservations for exclusive use of the infinity pool, VIP parking downstairs, and so on. On top of that there is a monthly service fee.”

“Does that include dedicated internet access?” Dace asked. “Tariq will need that for his business activities.”

“Of course. Let me show you the office”, Linda said with a beaming smile. They moved to one of the other spaces, where a wide screen covered most of a wall that sat perpendicular to the entrance. A table that could seat eight comfortably, with plush leather chairs, was pushed up against it. A private office desk was positioned at the far end.

“This is of course … example furniture”, the realtor explained. “It can be adjusted to your specifications, and a matching room can be installed at another end. Your Excalbian offices, perhaps? That way you get the experience of being in the same room.”

She picked up a remote control that had lain, seemingly abandoned, on the table and pressed a button. A green screen descended from the ceiling.

“And if you wish to show a different background, it can be made to look natural. We are talking film-studio quality for the acoustics of the wall. You could make a statement for national television here, and make it look like you were doing it from home.”

Dace gave a half-hearted nod. “I think this will do,” she said, looking around. “What do you think, Tariq?”

“I think that you’ll be using more than I when you’re here, Dace,” he said, smiling, “so if you’re happy, I’m thrilled.”

“Well,” Dace said, again twisting her mouth, “I wouldn’t say I’m that enthusiastic, but I do agree that it’ll work.”

“And you said it includes exclusive reservations for the pool?” He asked.

“Penthouse owners get priority reservations. But the other residents are not around too much. It’ll be quiet. P1-2 is an investment property. And the owner of the penthouse above yours owns multiple properties as well.”

Dace rolled her eyes. “I imagine you’ll have it reserved most of the time,” she said to Tariq, who just smiled. “He isn’t at home without his cavorting nymphs,” Dace said acidly to the realtor.

The realtor offered a professional smile. No judgement. “Of course, Ma’am”, she told Dace. “Now, shall we go down and see the sauna and bathing facilities? It includes a bath that can seat sixteen - though I wondered if it wouldn’t be a bit tight with that many people pressing together.”

“Sounds wonderful, Linda,” Tariq said. “Please, lead on! And pay Dace no mind. She makes me sound worse than I am. I just like to make sure my guests have fun. You’ll need to come to my housewarming party, Linda.”

“Assuming you buy this place,” Dace said flatly.

“Yes, assuming I do,” Tariq agreed.
Last edited by Knootoss on Sat Jul 10, 2021 12:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby Pantocratoria » Fri Jul 16, 2021 4:28 am

The Mill (Vologdovstraat 7), Hartstad

Marie-Angelique, Duchess of Votosoros in Pantocratoria, had a penthouse apartment in a building known as The Mill, which served as her home away from home when she was staying in Knootoss. An impressive building, The Mill straddled the line between skyscraper and megatower. Its hexagon funnel shape was topped by a curved roof that hung over it like a mushroom head, giving the impression of an exceptionally tall windmill. Evocative of a windmill on the outside, on the inside the décor evoked 17th century Knootoss, with glazed blue and white bathroom tiles and faux wood panelling. It was at once enormous and impressive on the outside, intimate in the interior, and gloriously kitsch, in Marie-Angelique’s judgement. She loved it - it was a residence which was entirely hers, not inherited, not purchased by her estate’s former Board of Trustees during her legally prolonged minority, and it was in Hartstad, Marie-Angelique’s favourite city in the world. Hartstad had earned that status principally for being the city in which Marie-Angelique had gone to university and, by virtue of her solid C efforts studying Art History, earned her freedom from the coterie of old men who had kept Pantocratoria’s richest heiress from her inheritance for as long as they possibly could.

It was, therefore, perfectly natural that when Marie-Angelique de Votosoros wanted to escape the stuffy scrutiny of her homeland, she fled to Hartstad. And this time, she had taken her friend, Callisto with her. Callisto, or Céleste de Montmanuel as she was legally known on her adoption papers, was Epheronian Ambaran by birth. Adopted as a teen along with her younger brothers by the Duke of Montmanuel, she had suddenly been thrust into the same social circles as the highest born Pantocratorian aristocracy. Both orphans of that social class, Marie-Angelique and Callisto had also been tutored together, along with the youngest daughter of the Emperor, Princess Zoë, at the Imperial Court of Christ Pantocrator, although Callisto was a little older than Marie-Angelique. They were both now women grown, Marie-Angelique having recently turned 29, and Callisto 31.

Marie-Angelique’s penthouse, which she described as “cosy”, and it was by the standards of aristocratic homes in Pantocratoria even though it was the largest apartment in The Mill, had plenty of space for the two of them. Each woman had a bedroom with an ensuite bathroom and walk-in closet to herself. There was a dining room with an adjoining open plan kitchen (in which Marie-Angelique even occasionally pottered personally although more often she ordered up from The Mill’s restaurant), and a positively luxurious living room. There was no live-in maid, but there was a cleaning and laundry service which operated much the same way. The apartment was decorated with paintings and several sculptures by a combination of “Golden Age” and modern artists, all Knootian, all selected by Marie-Angelique personally - most of the modern pieces in particular were not particularly valuable, but Marie-Angelique liked them.

Marie-Angelique and Callisto had been staying in the apartment for several days when Marie-Angelique’s social network informed her that Lord Tariq of Mezciems, the adopted son of Princess Christiana of Knootoss, had purchased a penthouse in the Roek 1 megabuilding downtown. She had only met Lord Tariq once - at one of his infamous parties in Excalbia, but he had struck her as somebody who liked to have fun, and Marie-Angelique liked to have fun too, especially in Knootoss. And so she had spoken to Callisto about inviting Lord Tariq over for some drinks - to be neighbourly.

“He’s an orphan too, you know.” Marie-Angelique had told Callisto. “We probably have more in common with him than you think. And he’s quite good looking, you know…”

And so, at the appointed hour, with a selection of hors d'oeuvres (some of which Marie-Angelique had actually prepared herself), and a much larger selection of drinks, the doorbell rang, and Marie-Angelique de Votosoros, dressed in a rose chiffon cocktail dress which complimented her dark curls and summer tan, opened her penthouse door herself to greet her guest.

Tariq, Lord of Mezciems and first cousin - by adoption - Emperor Joseph of Excalbia, smiled as Marie-Angelique opened the door. He was dressed in a tailored deep violet suit designed to fit snugly over his well-maintained physique and finished off with a pale cream-colored turtleneck. He bowed as his hostess opened the door, then, rising, took her hand and kissed the air above it.

“Thank you for the invitation,” Tariq said, producing a small, but expensive bouquet from behind his back. “I was thrilled to find out that I actually know someone in Hartstad already.”

“Oh, thank you, you shouldn’t have.” Marie-Angelique beamed as she accepted the flowers. “And I was thrilled to find out that I now know another person in Hartstad. Please, come in. Let me show you through to the living room.”

Marie-Angelique beckoned Tariq in, and led him through the hall between the bedrooms before emerging into the living room, where Callisto was waiting in her own short-sleeve green jacquard dress.

“Lovely apartment,” Tariq said as he followed. “I especially like your choice of art.”

“Oh, thank you. I studied art here in Hartstad.” Marie-Angelique answered, then she performed the introductions. “My lord, may I present Callisto de Montmanuel, the daughter of the Duke of Montmanuel, and my very good friend? Callisto, may I present Lord Tariq of Mezciems?”

“Please,” Tariq said, “call me Tariq.” He smiled and approached Callisto.

“It’s nice to meet you, Tariq,” Callisto said as she offered her hand.

Tariq took Callisto’s hand and bent over to kiss the air above it. “The pleasure is mine, Madam,” he said.

“I’ll just go pop these in some water, please excuse me.” Marie-Angelique smiled, giving Callisto a meaningful glance, and then retreated to the kitchen to put the flowers in a vase.

“Of course,” Tariq said to Marie-Angelique before turning back to Callisto.

“How do you like Hartstad?” Callisto asked.

“It’s quite a change from Excalbia,” he said, “even from Landing. But, I suppose, it’s change I’ve come looking for. How about you? Have you lived here long? I take it that you’re from Pantocratoria as well…”

“Well, I was born in Marlund, actually,” Callisto said. “As, well…” She just trailed off. “Anyway, my brothers and I were adopted by the Duc de Montmanuel and I’ve spent most of my life in Pantocratoria. I’m really the only one who remembers anything else, I think. I’m only in Hartstad for this summer.”

Tariq nodded. “I, too, was adopted… under… difficult circumstances,” he said slowly. Then, smiling again, he added, “But it has all made me who I am today, no? And a shame that you won’t be here longer. We shall have to make the most of it, eh?”

‘We certainly shall,” Callisto agreed.

Marie-Angelique returned from the kitchen, having put the flowers in a vase.

“Such pretty flowers.” she said. “Tariq, can I get you a drink? Or some hors d'oeuvres? A cocktail, perhaps?”

“A glass of wine would be lovely,” he said. “A dry white, if you have one.”

“Absolutely. Callisto, do you need a refresher?” Marie-Angelique checked, preparing to head back to the kitchen.

“Yes, please,” Callisto said.

“So, Callisto,” Tariq said, “what brings you to Hartstad for just the summer?”

“I’m visiting Marie-Angelique,” she said. “We’ve been friends for…” She paused a second and turned to look at Marie-Angelique. Then she smiled. “Well over a decade now. We were tutored together in Pantocratoria. I was a few years behind.”

“I’ll be right back!” Marie-Angelique smiled in response and headed back to the kitchen to fetch the drinks.

Tariq titled his head. “Tutored... that sounds… interesting,” he said. “I never actually had the chance to attend… any school in Pantocratoria before I was adopted. So all of my education was in Excalbia.” He paused. “It’s good to hold on to good friends.”

“I guess we both had the experience of catching up,” Callisto said, “though I had a Caldan teacher for a year or so between the fall of the old regime and my adoption. Reconstruction Agency School.”

Tariq’s seemingly perpetual smile faded. “I’ve read about… what happened in Marlund. I can’t… begin to imagine.” Then, his smile slowly returned, if dimmed. “But we have both triumphed over our adversity, haven’t we?”

“So we have,” Callisto said, though she seemed distracted for a moment. She shook her head and smiled. “So we have, and here we are in beautiful Hartstad.”

“I’ve heard Hartstad described in many ways - my mother called it a ‘profiteer’s pit’ I believe, but rarely as beautiful,” Tariq said with a laugh. “But there is certainly beauty here.” After a pause, he continued. “So, what do you do when you’re not summering in beautiful Hartstad?”

“I actually do a lot of work with adult literacy in the non-profit sector,” Callisto said. “I don’t know. I just wanted to actually do something with my degree other than be a better educated wife and I do remember what it’s like trying to catch up.”

Marie-Angelique returned with the drinks, and a plate of hors d’oeuvres, which she set between Tariq and Callisto, and then seated herself on the couch not too far from Callisto.

“Beautiful Hartstad…” Marie-Angelique grinned, having only just come in for that phrase in the conversation. “Well, I’m not sure it gets called that a lot, but it’s still a lot of fun!”

“Thank you,” Tariq said as he took his glass. “I was just saying the same to Callisto.”

“Thank you,” Callisto said warmly as she took her drink. “I actually do think it’s beautiful. Just...very modern. It’s all, you know, shiny!”

“It is certainly that,” Tariq said. He lifted his glass. “To shiny Hartstad!” Then, turning back to Callisto, he said, “Your volunteer work sounds quite admirable, Callisto. I’m actually looking to get more involved in charity work myself.”

“To shiny Hartstad!” Callisto said, lifting her glass to the other two. “What sort of charity work were you thinking of doing, Tariq?”

“That’s the question really,” he said. “I’m trying to find out where I can make the biggest impact. I’ve come to realize that, as my uncle might have said, I have been blessed… with more money than anyone could reasonably spend. So, I guess I’m feeling the… obligation to give back to the world. And I’m searching for how I can do the most good.”

“Is there any cause in particular which you had in mind?” Marie-Angelique asked, somewhat surprised. This didn’t seem like the Lord Tariq she had met a year ago in Excalbia - not that it was a bad change.

“At the risk of sounding shallow, not really. Not yet anyway.” Tariq smiled sheepishly and shrugged. “I’ve lent my name to many charities in Excalbia and written checks to many causes - primary education support for children in impoverished countries, animal welfare… though I’m not Christian I’ve supported several faith-based charities that provide medical care, drill wells, all that sort of thing. Many have been affiliated with the Excalbian church, which is, of course, affiliated with my family.” He shrugged again. “I guess I’m now looking for something I can develop a passion for.” He gave a playful wink. “Up to now my passions have been much more tied to business… and pleasures.”

“There’s nothing wrong with that.” Marie-Angelique protested playfully.

“Well, I certainly don’t intend to become a monk,” Tariq replied, raising his glass. “I hope to prove that business, pleasure and conscience need not be mutually exclusive!”

“I think that’s a good way of looking at it,” Callisto said. “It’s something you can actually do. So what are you interested in?”

Tariq looked momentarily uncomfortable. He paused. Set his glass down. Folded his hands together. “I suppose,” he said slowly, “that if I have… personal interest it would be… those orphaned in poverty. Especially those orphaned by violence.”

“What happens when someone is orphaned in Excalbia?” Callisto asked.

“Well,” Tariq picked up his glass, leaned back and crossed his legs, “as I understand it, our child welfare system is quite… advanced. There aren’t really orphanages, for instance. Children tend to be placed in foster homes as quickly as is reasonable. Group homes, when necessary, for older children. Most group homes are run by private charities. The Church. Etc. But they’re closely regulated. The goal is to achieve a permanent adoption as quickly as possible, considering all the vetting that has to be done. From what I hear there’s actually a waiting list to adopt. Which is why many Excalbians go to places like Ajuba and Zamimbia to adopt.”

“So really, it’s probably places like that where one would try to do something, right?” Marie-Angelique asked. She too had been orphaned by violence, but ironically, because of her extraordinary wealth, was never really adopted. She took a deep sip of her wine.

“Actually,” Tariq said after sipping his wine,”I was wondering what happens to orphans in Pantocratoria. Apart from those of us fortunate enough to be adopted by Excalbian princesses.”.

“That depends on how much they stand to inherit, in my experience.” Marie-Angelique said drily, with a weak smile. “I think it’s a little different from Excalbia though, as there aren’t as many… well options I suppose. For erm, people who don’t want to have children. But even still, most of the old orphanages are closed, and became schools or hospitals decades ago, so I suppose they don’t have too many problems finding parents to adopt children. Do you know, Callisto?”

“I think usually there’s a family member willing to adopt,” Callisto said, “sometimes even designated by the parents before death. Otherwise I just think the system is a little less centralised than it was. Kids are more likely to stay with a foster family or a group home than in a traditional orphanage with a lot of other children. I think…There are more orphanages like that in New Jerusalem. There are more children in need and they try to find indigenous families for them but they have a lot fewer resources so it’s not as easy for them to adopt.”

“Oh right, Indi..Aboriginal orphans, I have read something about the problems for them in New Jerusalem.” Marie-Angelique said. She could not remember any details really but there were always problems. She sipped her wine. “Uh, maybe I should try to find out more about that.”

“I’m not sure how to solve the problem,” Callisto said, taking a sip of wine. “I’m not sure who I trust to solve it. This government…” She cut herself off.

“Governments of all persuasions have been making a mess of Aboriginal policy for years.” Marie-Angelique answered. It was true despite her not being able to cite specific policy failures. “I suppose New Constantinople probably had problems with adoption too, erm, I mean with placing children of… uh… foreigners, before the Despotate was opened up, I mean, and the new residency rules.”

Tariq seemed to stare into space for several moments. He blinked several times, then turned to Marie-Angelique. “Ummm… yes, the rules on residency in the Despotate were… rather… unique. I, myself, was born there but was not considered a… resident. I suppose that worked out well for me… ironically. It made it very easy for my mother to adopt me… basically by just telling the Despot she wanted to.” He shook his head and smiled.

“So, I do think I’d like to do something for orphans,” Tariq said. “And I think that, while I’d like to help in many places, I would certainly like to do something to help the Aboriginal orphans in Pantocratoria.” His smile broadened. “Give back to the country of my birth.” He sipped his wine. “Maybe you could help me with some introductions. I… haven’t done any business in Pantocratoria… and really haven’t even visited since I left.”

“I am sure we could help with some introductions.” Marie-Angelique smiled. “Callisto went to uni in New Jerusalem, right cherie?”

“I still have some friends there,” Callisto agreed. “Some of them are involved in things locally. I could introduce you, if you’d like?”

“That sounds wonderful, Callisto. Thank you,” Tariq said. He leaned back and sipped his wine. “So, meanwhile, what do you two lovely ladies do for fun in Hartstad?”

“We’ve just been unwinding so far…” Marie-Angelique began. “But I have to admit, I am sometimes extremely naughty in Hartstad.”

Tariq smiled. “Ah,” he said, “extremely naughty sounds extremely interesting.”

Marie-Angelique returned Tariq’s smile with a distinctly unangelic one of her own, and then asked. “More wine?”

“Yes, please,” he said with a grin.

Marie-Angelique got up off the couch and walked towards the kitchen. As she did so, she turned to Callisto and gave her a meaningful expression and a wink - while her face was out of Tariq’s direct view of course. Then without another word she left the two momentarily alone as she went to fetch the wine bottle.

Callisto smiled a little shyly, looking to Marie-Angelique and then back to Tariq. “We can be a little….” She trailed off. “I mean, maybe we could go to a club? There are some nice ones in the city.”

“That would be lovely,” Tariq said, smiling broadly at Callisto. “Do you have a place in mind?”

“Weren’t you telling me about Club Doxxx?” Callisto asked Marie-Angelique. “But it needs some kind of chip or something?”

"The… SIN chip?" Tariq smiled. "I had to get a card with one to open my own doors." He chuckled. "I considered getting the chip implanted, but Dace insisted it could be a security threat." He shrugged. "But since I pay her for her advice, I decided I had to follow it."

“It also has a dress code.” Marie-Angelique answered as she emerged from the kitchen with the wine bottle. As she topped up Tariq and Callisto she explained. “We’d have to change. Erm… last time I went I wore a leather dress.” she gave Tariq a suggestive glance and added. “I still have it.”

Tariq smiled approvingly. "Sounds lovely." He looked at his own outfit. "I guess it'd be faster if I went shopping rather than going back to my place." He looked from Marie-Angelique to Callisto. "What would you suggest for me?"

“Thank you,” Callisto said as her friend topped her off. She walked over to her bag to look at her debit card. “I guess I do already have a SIN card. The way the Knootians get them implanted, I don’t know, reminds me of things the Lutheran preacher I heard as a kid would say.” She looked to Tariq speculatively, pondering what he might wear. “Something tight. Something leather…”

"I put myself at your mercy, then" he said with a grin. "I'll defer to your experience with the local fashions and your obvious taste."

“I have a SIN chip implanted.” Marie-Angelique told Callisto, and waved her left arm about. “Mostly so people don’t notice I’m a foreigner straight away. What about you, cherie, do you need something new for tonight as well? Or have you brought something suitably scandalous?”

“Well, it’s hardly the only thing he was wrong about,” Callisto allowed, “but those old stories just come back to me at the worst times. They haunt me.” She sighed. “I don’t know. I think I want to be really shocking now. Something red.” She shook her head and grinned.

“Shocking and red sounds good to me,” Tariq said. “Very good.”

“So, let’s go shopping, then!” Marie-Angelique concluded, finishing her drink swiftly.

User avatar
Providencia y San Andres
Posts: 67
Founded: Jun 10, 2018
Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

A Flashback

Postby Providencia y San Andres » Sun Jul 18, 2021 6:15 pm

Tariq’s Apartment in Hartstad
That Morning

The Infanta Letizia laid on her back, wrapped in a silken sheet as her fingers combed through Lord Tariq’s thick mane of dark brown hair.

“I love being with you, Tariq,” she said softly.

Tariq turned to face her and smiled.

Letizia leaned over and kissed him.

“Do you remember Marie-Angelique?” He asked.

“From your party in Landing? The Pantocratorian?”

“Yes,” Tariq said. “She lives here and Hartstad, and she invited me over to hang out with her and her friend.”

“That sounds lovely,” Letizia said.

“I won’t go, if you don’t want me to go,” he said.

“Why would I want you not to go?” Letizia leaned on Tariq. “Did you not come here to expand your… connections?”

“Yes, but…”

“But what?”

“I don’t want…”

“Don’t want me to be… jealous?” She asked.

Tariq nodded.

“We have no claims on each other,” Letizia said.

“No claims?” Tariq sat up.

Letizia frowned and sat up. She stroked his cheek. “I am not ready, Tariq.”

“Ready for what?” Tariq turned to face Letizia.

“For this,” she said, “for… what you want, mi amor. You say you're not ready for marriage, and that may be true, but you are… ready for adult commitments. For… permanence…”

Tariq sighed. “Letty…”

“It is ok, Tariq,” she said. “You are the… first real man I have been with. You… are a special person. I love you. And always will… But…”

“But you’re finally free…”

“Yes,” she grabbed Tariq’s arms, “thanks to you, I am finally free, and I want to enjoy that for a while before…”

“You give it up again?” Tariq asked with a frown.

“No, mi amor,” she said, “before I… settle down. Become a wife. And then a mother. I…”

“It's ok, Letty,” Tariq said, gently touching her face. “I understand. I… was at the same point not so long ago.”

The young woman gave a slightly sad smile, and buried her head in Tariq’s chest.

“Friends? Business partners?” He asked, rubbing her back.

“ Yes,” she said. “Always friends. And,” she kissed him, “maybe more than… friend?. When I come to Hartstad. At least until you find that person who is ready for what you are ready for…”

“And you won't be jealous if I find such a person?”

“How could I be? I am the one telling you to find her, no?”

“I… just don't want to lose… you… your friendship.”

“Never.” She kissed him again and Tariq wrapped his arms around her.
Last edited by Providencia y San Andres on Sun Jul 18, 2021 6:15 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Posts: 4140
Founded: Antiquity
Left-Leaning College State

Postby Knootoss » Wed Jul 28, 2021 11:08 am

((Joint Post by Knootoss, Pantocratoria, Excalbia, The Resurgent Dream, Kartlis))

Club Doxxx
Vuilendam, Hartstad

When the party of expatriates rocked up at the club, it was already well after dark. The club was out of the way, in the middle of the riverside industrialised district. It was a giant, looming concrete box illuminated in neon colours from its narrow window-slits, the exposed concrete backlit menacing by upward-facing cold, white lights.

Acid-tinged rain drizzled down from black clouds that hung low over the city, water vapour mixing with smog and industrial contaminants. The wind blew from a southern direction, though, so the more dangerous particles from the quarantine zone did not blow in. That would have ruined everyones’ day with a cell broadcast alarm system mandating face masks and other measures. Even so, there were a lot of umbrella’s poking out from the line in front of the club’s main entrance, to preserve the costumes from being soaked or damaged.

Callisto was starting to worry she’d overdone it a bit. The conversation earlier had left her eager to prove her days of listening to the parochial Marlund preachers of her childhood were long over, even to actively mock their superstitions and millennial obsessions. She had picked out a pair of thigh-high red boots with near ten centimetre spike heels, an outfit best described as a red leather bikini, a red leather duster worn open, and a pair of red tinted shades. She held an umbrella above her head and a designer bag in one hand, both in the same red. She had felt very daring and rebellious and sexy in the store but, standing in line, she was getting self-conscious. She kept looking carefully at the other club goers.

Whatever concerns Callisto had were clearly not shared by Tariq who looked approvingly at Callisto in her outfit. While she had opted for red, he had gone for a combination of electric blue - for his tight leather pants and a shirt that covered little more than his neck and shoulders, bluff - for the long leather coat he wore open, which held in place by gold chains, and black - for his calf-high boots. He had also found a pair of glasses that were clear on his side, but mirrored blue on the outside.

Marie-Angelique had originally intended to wear the same black leather dress she had worn the last time she had visited the club - which was better described as a short leather tube really - but going shopping with Callisto and Tariq had inevitably led to her shopping for herself as well. When she had seen the red number Callisto had picked out, Marie-Angelique had become suddenly concerned that her tube was not daring enough, and had picked up another outfit in black leather. She was now wearing a black leather halter top which finished above her waist, and a matching black leather pleated skirt, which finished an inch above where her fishnet stockings started. The skirt was held up by a black belt decorated with lots of little steel spikes, and her outfit was completed with a pair of black 6-inch stiletto heels and a little black leather clutch roughly big enough for her phone, lipstick, compact, and the obligatory face mask. She had neglected anything resembling a jacket and was now deeply regretting it - she had only barely remembered to grab an umbrella on her way out the door.

“I’m freezing.” the Duchess of Votosoros complained. “Why is it taking so long?”

In front of the group, a gaggle of teenagers dressed in blacks of silk and leather, and heavily adorned with silver ear- and nose rings, were enthusing about the upcoming performance of Blood Raven’s Hollow and Forgotten Tears on Stage 4. Some of them were a variety of metahuman, judging by their size (one was well over eight feet tall), strange eye-colours, and the sharpness of their ears. Then again, that might have been part of the costume. It was fashionable to use platform boots and brightly coloured contact lenses to complete an #aesthetic. Marie-Angelique made sure Tariq stood between her and the giant metahuman, while she continued to grumble about the line.

The line moved quickly, at least, and a group of bald twenty-somethings in garishly bright trainers (pink, yellow, red, white) fell in behind the expatriates. They were passing around cans of beer furtively, still ‘drinking in’ before going out, to save themselves some hard-earned ducats on what would otherwise be eye-wateringly expensive booze. One of them tried to make eye contact with Callisto and offer her a swig, grinning widely.

“Kom je dansen op podium 3?” he asked, in Dutch.

“,” Callisto answered in very tortured Dutch. “English? Français? Deutsche?”

“You’d rather have the middle pint, huh?” the young man with the shaven head replied in accented English. He held out the half-empty beer can again. “C’mon. You’re not going into the Doxxx sober, are you?”

Another young man butted in: “Maybe she’s holding out for the pills” he suggested.

“I was trying to say I don’t want to be the centre of attention,” Callisto clarified. “Was it that bad?”

“Nah you’re good”, the bald guy with the beer can replied. “I can teach you a few more words if you like.” He grinned. “You coming to see DJ Damp on 3? Get lost in the crowd. Best House this side of the Rede.”

Tariq warily watched the bald man, but maintained an outwardly calm posture.

‘We probably were,” Callisto said, taking a step closer to Tariq. And he stepped closer to her and took her hand, all the while maintaining a pleasant but neutral expression. The Knootian, noticing her body language, shrugged performatively:

“Guess I’ll be seeing you and your boyfriend around, then”, he said, before turning back to talk to his mates.

“Why would we want to see a damp DJ, it’s damp enough out here.” Marie-Angelique joked to Tariq and Callisto, while asking herself why the bald guy had presumed Tariq was Callisto’s boyfriend and not hers. She looked down at her black leather outfit and pale skin and decided maybe she looked like a goth whereas the two of them were more colourful. Then she realised that Tariq was holding Callisto’s hand and stopped wondering. Despite being cold and bored of the line, she smiled quietly.

When they finally reached the end of the line, it was a matter of quickly scanning their wrist-ID or passes. The bouncers did look each potential customer over, to see if they met the dress code. About one in ten of the guys, and one in thirty of the girls, were rejected that night. That didn’t stop the place from filling up nicely - the dull throb of loud music and heaving masses already greeting the group from the lobby, where people might stash their valuables (and phones, if they intended to go up to the Seventh Heaven) in lockboxes.

“Let’s check our phones in too and go upstairs, away from DJ Damp and his pre-loaded audience.” Marie-Angelique suggested to Tariq and Callisto as the three were handing over their umbrellas in the lobby. She opened up her black leather clutch and pulled her phone out to hand it over.

“Sure,” Callisto agreed as she handed over her own phone. Tariq nodded and handed over his phone as well.

“Should we head up in the elevator,” he asked, looking down the ladies’ footwear.

“Please!” Marie-Angelique replied, grateful for the consideration.

After passing through one of the elevators, reaching the guarded entry to Seventh Heaven required one to weave through the velvety red-and-black dance lounge on the sixth floor, where smooth music being played by the live performers encouraged visitors to relax, chill, and perhaps dance close together. Many of the visitors played on the ‘demonic’ or ‘seductive’ theme, wearing revealing garments and taking advantage of the shaded and secluded areas on this ‘devilish’ floor to have a private moment.

Inevitably, the entrance to Seventh Heaven had another line, albeit a far shorter and more elegant one. Swift compliance with rejection - which came frequently - was supported by the presence of a pair of impeccably dressed heavies. When the party did arrive, there was a quiet murmur between these two as they took in the expatriate party.

“Entrez s'il vous plaît”, one of them said after a moment, just as the other opened the door.

“Merci.” Marie-Angelique replied. She wondered whom of them had been recognised as she strode through the door.

"Merci," Tariq said with a smile, gesturing for Callisto to go ahead of him.

Callisto stepped in ahead of Tariq with a small smile. “Merci.”

The interior of Seventh Heaven remained true to its theme by adopting a stark silver-white colour scheme and a consistently soft aesthetic. Lounges were shaped like comfortable, puffy clouds. Sequins shimmered as they dangled from the ceiling. All edges were rounded. All the staff were dressed in matching white and silver, and there seemed to be near as many of those as there were VIP visitors. They were approached by one of them, a golden-haired youth of whom it was difficult to tell if they were a man or a woman, or indeed any gender at all.

“Welcome to the Seventh Heaven. Would you like to be seated?”

“I think so.” Marie-Angelique answered. Sitting down for a while after waiting so long in lines would be welcome, even if she didn’t intend to stay seated for very long. She looked to Callisto and Tariq. “Shall we sit for a moment and order a drink?”

"Sounds good," Tariq said, waiting for Marie-Angelique and Callisto to be seated before joining them.

Marie-Angelique seated herself and immediately set to task attracting a waiter’s attention to order something to drink. Standing in line was thirsty work.

Callisto took a seat, crossing her legs and looking out over the floor. “I’m not sure I exactly dressed for heaven,” she joked.

“For my idea of heaven,” Tariq said with a smile as he took his seat.

“Flattered,” Callisto chided.

“Why, Tino, look what the cat dragged in,” a warm, soft female voice cooed from the corner of an alcove seat. The woman who owned it was beautiful in the classical sense of the word, with an Old World European charm: pale creamy skin with perfect lips and teeth to match, and shoulder-length auburn hair that couldn’t decide whether it wanted to curl or straighten, and so carelessly and delicately alternated all the way down. The man she was with was less beautiful, though he probably had once been fairly handsome, and seemed much older than his companion - dark, thick hair now slightly salted with grey, dark eyes deep-set that now looked somewhat haggard and puffy. Even seated, dressed in what looked like a fashion-forward hussar’s jacket done entirely in black velvet he looked broad-shouldered and strong, but his neck now strained a little too much at the high collar to hide the fact he was now going to fat.

Constantine, Hereditary Prince of Kartlis, looked much older than his thirty-nine years. He took a drink, too big, of whatever injuriously-priced drink was in front of him and blinked at the new arrivals. He made a noise that could charitably be called a grunt. “Interesting. We shouldn’t invite them over, of course, Tatiana,” he said with a bit of a frown. “It would be scandalous.”

The woman now identified as Tatiana laughed, displaying perfect teeth. “Don’t be grumpy, my dearest. Don’t forget, in Knootoss you are “"Vakhtang Tavkhelidze,” no one else. Isn’t that right, Andro?” she burbled to the tall, thin, tuxedoed Kartlian man standing, hands clasped at his front, before the alcove like a sentinel. The Prince’s valet (and cleaner-of-messes in more ways than one) Andro Ianishvili merely nodded dutifully. “Yes, Countess Mugallu.”

Countess Tatiana Mugallu, the Prince’s nymphlike companion, wore a stunning black dress and a rope of pearls reaching nearly to her waist. A more jaded viewer might note that she was dressed suspiciously like the Prince’s sister, the Grand Duchess of Saxmere. She raised a delicate coupe glass filled a drink the color of liquefied rubies and gestured to the newly-arrived cadre of royalty with a smile, looking from her cloudlike perch something like an angel beaming down from above.

“Is that woman waving to us?” Tariq asked. He looked closer at the man with her. “Is that the Kartlian prince?”

“If so, who is that with him?” Marie-Angelique asked.

Tariq smiled and waved back. “I don’t know,” he said. “But at first I thought she was the Grand Duchess of Saxmere - the prince’s sister. But that wouldn’t make any sense…,” he paused and turned to Marie-Angelique with a grin. “And now that I take a second look, I think the Grand Duchess is a bit prettier.”

“She looks young, did they check her ID?” Marie-Angelique asked her companions in a low voice.

“She doesn’t look that young…” Callisto said self-consciously.

The member of staff had noticed the attention being drawn to the other visitors, and changed their plans, moving Tariq, Marie-Angelique and Calisto to alcove seating quite near to those of Constantine and Tatiana. Fluffy little clouds, surrounded by puffs of mist, looked down upon the floor below. “Shall I start you off with Seventh Heavens? Or do you desire any particular cocktails?” they suggested. Then she gestured to the floor. “If you wish to look down upon the mortals of a different floor, just swipe the panels built into your seating clouds~.”

“Interesting,” Tariq muttered. Then, turning to the ladies, he said, “A Seventh Heaven sounds… intriguing, so yes. Marie-Angelique? Callisto?”

“Sure.” Marie-Angelique agreed readily. “What’s in a Seventh Heaven anyway?”

"A dry Knootian gin, fresh organic, GMO free grapefruit juice and maraschino liqueur, shaken and served in a chilled glass with a sprig of mint", their host replied cheerfully.

“It sounds interesting,” Callisto agreed.

“Sounds very good,” Tariq said. Then, leaning towards the two ladies, he asked, “Want to dance while we wait?”

“I’d love to,” Callisto said, pushing herself to her feet.

Tariq stood and offered Callisto his hand. “Shall we?”

“You two go ahead, I’ll wait for our drinks.” Marie-Angelique suggested, not being invited to dance.

“Are you sure?” Tariq asked, extending her a hand as well.

Marie-Angelique looked to Callisto to see if she could judge what her friend would prefer.

“Come dance with us,” Callisto invited Marie-Angelique, even as she rose and took Tariq’s hand.

With a smile, Marie-Angelique accepted Tariq’s hand and accompanied the pair to the dance floor. To herself, she observed that dancing with multiple women at the same time was entirely consistent with Tariq’s reputation. Tariq smiled and led both women onto the dance floor. Callisto turned so she was facing both of her friends, letting her body sway with the relaxed music of the club.

The live music being played on the stage near the dance floor had been composed to suit the mood of the Seventh Heaven: danceable but relaxed, with heavenly elements thrown in. The occasional raking harp and the jazzy notes of a grand piano supported the powerful, soulful voice of a platinum-haired woman of middle age. The sequins that danced from the ceiling reflecting, mirror-like, in her shimmering silver dress. Moon-beams crossed shimmering marble. At this hour, it was mostly couples dancing, though the mood of the music might shift to accommodate the visitors' vibe.

Tatiana only briefly displayed the barest glimmer of a frown before exposing more of her perfect teeth when the newly-arrived group departed to the dance floor. She turned to Constantine and petted at his arm. “Darling, shouldn’t we dance?” The Kartlian prince looked at her with a bit of confusion that melted into adoration. “Of course, my starling,” he said, lifting himself up and maneuvering over to take Tatiana, over whom he almost towered, by a hand and over to the dance floor. He may have been losing most of his form, but he still had fairly good rhythm, or at least had gotten to that point of inebriation after self-consciousness and before vertigo and managed to similarly sway in time with his companion’s moves.

He seemed to not even notice the others; Tatiana Mugallu almost totally commanded his attention.

Tariq moved gracefully with the music, being careful to split his attention between the two women. He moved in response to each of the women, clearly in sync with both. His attention was riveted on them, as if no one else existed. Indeed, his attention was so riveted to the women that he completely failed to notice the approaching Kartlian prince until it was too late to avoid him.

“Oof,” Tariq said as his hip bounced into the Kartlian’s back. “Sorry, Sir,” he said. He put his hand on the man’s back. “I do hope you’re ok.”

The hand on the back produced an immediate 180 from Constantine, with a brief flash of anger on his face before he recognised the man to whom the hand belonged. He frowned briefly, then extended a hand. “Well, the Lord Tariq. Unexpected to see you here…” he looked at the other two women, and gave a perfunctory and polite bow. Tatiana broke in, hooking herself to Constantine’s arm. “Well, introduce me… Vakhtang.”

Again there was a brief frown, a bit of helplessness, and then a softening on the face of the prince. “Countess Tatiana Mugałlu,” he said, nodding to Marie-Angelique and Callisto. He glanced over at their table, and his valet shifting from one foot to the other. “I suppose we should all have a drink together. Would you care to….?” he asked, gesturing to their cloudlike alcove. His tone of voice was not particularly convincing, but Tatiana supplemented it. “Oh, do please. I would most enjoy it. This is just the most smashing place in Knootoss, all the finest people are here… and I want to have a drink with them,” she said with a smile and a wink at Tariq.

Tariq smiled and bowed slightly when Tatiana was introduced. “Countess,” he said, “a pleasure. Do you know Mademoiselle Marie-Angelique de Votosoros,” he left out her title of Duchess believing that she sometimes opted not to use it in Knootoss, “and Mademoiselle Callisto de Montmanuel?”

In reply to the invitation to join the Kartlians, Tariq looked at Marie-Angelique, and then at Callisto. “I… suppose we could join you for a drink…”

“Of course, we would be honoured to join you.” Marie-Angelique answered.

Although everyone was dressed scandalously, it was only now she was in the presence of foreign royalty that Marie-Angelique really felt that she was dressed scandalously. After all, on those occasions when she had met foreign royalty, she had either been wearing New Rome court fashion or other formal wear. For the second time in the evening she wished she had brought a jacket.

Tariq noticed something about Marie-Angelique’s body language and leaned close to her. “You seem a bit… chilly,” he said. “Would you like my jacket?”

“No, I’m fine, really.” Marie-Angelique smiled back weakly. She figured she’d look even odder in Tariq’s jacket, at least at this stage of the evening.

Returning to their seat, the Prince’s valet looked with barely-concealed bewilderment at the new guests, and stopped himself from giving a bow. “Would you like me to order drinks for the guests, uh, Mr. Tavkhelidze?” he said, not sure he was really selling the name. Constantine peevishly waved. “It’s fine, Andro. They know who I am. And of course, drinks around. Chip it.” Andro nodded, somewhat painfully, and scratched absently at the arm that held his SIN-chip, reminding himself how long the prince’s “reimbursement” process was, and departed to find a staffer. Constantine almost dropped himself into the seat, waiting only for Tatiana to be seated, before looking to the others.

“I should probably explain.” he, looking a little conspiratorial. “When I go abroad and don’t want any attention I travel as “Vakhtang Tavkhelidze,” a businessman. Daddy,” he snorted, “doesn’t approve of the Countess.”

“It’s because I am half-Snefaldian.” Tatiana said with a bright smile. “Have you heard of the former Snefadian Chancellor Mugałlu? We are distant cousins,” she volunteered perhaps too quickly.

Marie-Angelique had seated herself very carefully on account of the shortness of her leather pleated skirt, and affected to know who former Chancellor Mugallu was with an interested nod and “mmm” noise.

Seating herself carefully did not do Callisto much good. She did cross her legs a little more primly, her hands gripping one booted knee. She also suddenly felt more self-conscious with the Kartlian party. Tatiana’s dress was not exactly modest but it was, well, a dress. “I’m afraid I’ve only heard a little about Chancellor Mugallu,” she said, by which she meant little more than that she’d heard the name in passing once or twice. It sounded familiar.

Tariq waited until the three ladies had been seated, then he took his seat. He made a noncommittal noise at the mention of Mugallu.

Taking a gulp of his drink, Constantine’s frown seemed to melt into a bit of a half-smile. “This is the best place to come in Knootoss because there are no phones, no photos, and no one asks questions. No pressure, no responsibility.”

“That’s a good point, Sir.” Marie-Angelique said, feeling a little set at ease by the reminder that nothing would appear in social media later. When her drink arrived, she took a deep sip.

“No need for “sirs,” Constantine replied. “It’s Knootoss. No rules. They’re basically heathens.”

Tariq took his glass and raised it. “To heathens, then. And to having fun amongst them!”

“To Knootoss.” Marie-Angelique toasted.

“To Knootoss,” Callisto joined in.

Ideological Bulwark #7 - RPed population preserves relative population sizes. Webgame population / 100 is used by default. If this doesn't work for you and it is relevant to our RP, please TG.

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Liberal Democratic Socialists

Postby Excalbia » Mon Sep 06, 2021 4:13 pm

((Joint Post by Knootoss, Pantocratoria, Excalbia, The Resurgent Dream, Kartlis))

Club Doxxx
Vuilendam, Hartstad

Infanta Letizia Isabelle Maria de Habsburg, daughter of King Carlos III of Providencia y San Andres, sashayed up to the table where Tariq and the others were chatting. She was dressed in an off-the-shoulder translucent gown slit up both sides. Underneath she wore a satin strapless top, a matching micro miniskirt and knee-high gladiator boots. “Tariq, mi amor,” she purred as she reached the table.

“Letty,” Tariq said, looking only mildly surprised, “I didn’t know you’d be here…”

“Felipe,” she turned slightly to gesture to another table where her brother - Principe Felipe Augustine Carlos Antonio de Habsburg - sat with the Countess of Santa Tecla and Jacob Trabelsi, the grandson of the pretender to the Jrawan Throne, “and Jacob wanted to come. How could I say no?” She laughed.

Tariq gave a slight shrug, then turned to his companions. “Allow me to make the introductions. This is…”

“Letty,” Letizia said, interrupting, “a friend of Tariq’s from Providencia.”

Tariq smiled. “And, Letty, this is Marie-Angelique - you two may have met at one of my parties, Callisto, Tatiana and Vakhtang.”

“A pleasure to meet all of you,” Letizia said. “I do not wish to interrupt, I only wanted to say hello to Tariq,” she added with a wink.

“Hello, Letty.” Marie-Angelique said. She didn’t recognise the Infanta dressed as she was, if dressed was the right word for it. “Tariq, you have so many very attractive friends.”

“He does, does he not?” Letizia asked as she looked at both Marie-Angelique and Callisto. Tariq gave an exaggerated smile as she spoke.

“He has quite the reputation,” Letizia continued. “And well earned,” she smiled. “But alas, he is looking to… be the grown up now.”

Tariq blushed slightly and raised his eyebrows. “Well…” Letizia laughed and waved her hand, and Tariq gave a half-smile.

“It’s nice to meet you, Letty,” Callisto said. She peered over, looking at Felipe and his companions sitting at a nearby table.

“And you,” Letizia said. “Have you known Tariq long?”

“We only just met,” Callisto answered.

“I see,” Letizia said with a smile. “I’m sure you will find Tariq quite charming.” She paused for a moment and gave an almost wistful look. “He is an exceptional person. And a great friend.”

“Thank you,” Callisto said softly, a bit unsure.

Tariq looked down, trying to hide his reddening face.

"Pues," Letizia said, "I should get back to Felipe before he gets himself in trouble." She laughed. "It was nice meeting you all," she gave a wave of her hand, then turned and walked away.

“It was nice meeting you,” Callisto said as she departed. She looked at Tariq as the other woman walked away.

Tariq looked up at Callisto sheepishly. “She’s the youngest daughter of the King of Providencia,” he said softly. “I’ve been helping her with some investments to get out from being… dependent on her allowance from her father. And trying to help her set up a non-profit; she wants to be a philanthropist. We’ve become… friends.”

“You make a lot of investments?” she asked.

“I do,” Tariq said. “I started off managing my mother’s portfolio and investing my own… allowance,” he smiled. “Eventually, I built my own portfolio to where I could decline my monthly stipend from the IHA and, more importantly, decline their… support, and pay for my own staff. I like the freedom it gave me. To live where I want to live, how I want to live. And do what I want to do. Even if that means living in the heart of heathen Knootoss,” he chuckled. “People would think that living on a virtually limitless monthly stipend at your choice of Imperial properties would be liberating, but it’s the opposite. It’s like being in a cage. A very well-appointed cage, but a cage nonetheless.” He raised his glass and took a long sip.

“How about you? How do you make your way in the world? When you’re not volunteering in adult literacy that is?”

“I’m still….” Callisto sighed, a bit embarrassed. “I’m still rather dependent. I could make a living in education or literacy if I wanted to but, since I do have some family funds, I feel free to volunteer.”

Tariq nodded. He leaned towards Callisto and reached his hand towards hers. “If you’re interested, I could help you take that… allowance and turn it into your own… resource, so you could truly be independent.”

“It’s not just an allowance. I have an account. It’s just...I didn’t earn the money to start with, you know?” She takes Tariq’s hand and squeezes slightly.

“You earned it as much as the Duke earned it.” Marie-Angelique chimed in.

“I suppose,” she agreed hesitantly.

“In any case,” Tariq said with a smile, “I’d be happy to help you invest it. Help you be truly independent.”

“I don’t mind leaving it to a professional,” Callisto demurred. “Anyway, I think they just use an algorithm now that automatically trades faster than a person could.”

“Oh,” Tariq said, his smile momentarily slipping. “I suppose,” his smile returned, “but algorithms take away the… thrill of the hunt. Looking for what everyone else has missed… or what no one else is taking seriously… yet.” He turned back towards the rest of the group and sipped his drink.

“It’s more than a means to an end for you, isn’t it?” Callisto asked curiously. “You have a passion for it?”

“I guess I do,” Tariq said between sips. “I do enjoy finding investments that… speak to me. That… are special somehow. I also like… using my skill, I guess you could say, to help people I believe in.”

“Then you are welcome to share your passion with me,” Callisto decided, “if we can put it that way.” She reached for his hand again.

Tariq turned back to Callisto and placed his hand over hers. He smiled. “I’d love to,” he said. “And, I’d love for you to tell me about your passions.”

“There’s literacy and education,” she said, leaning closer. “I also really like animals. I used to have a pet cow back at my father’s. I found her sort of alone in the rain when I needed to find someone. I like music. I like dancing. I like...a lot of things.”

Tariq smiled.

Marie-Angelique looked on, watching the play back and forth between Tariq and Callisto. She smiled, and decided she would give them some privacy to keep getting to know each other better, as soon as she could gracefully withdraw without drawing attention to herself by withdrawing, that was. She took a long sip of her drink and scanned the other tables and dance floor, looking for some alternative company.


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