A Conversation on Swords, Pocket Universes, and Ice Cream

Crestview 
#1


Rowley had timed her meeting with Zachary for when Addison wouldn't be due home for several hours. Not that she was hiding the meeting from her, but the subject of the impending conversation was one Rowley found herself uniquely incompetent at. She'd much rather keep her failings private from Addison.

She spent an hour fretting over the state of the flat, which she logically knew was pristine, but that didn't stop her from scrubbing the bathroom a second time. Ultimately it was only the knock on the door that forced her to surrender the can of Scrubby Bubbles and attend to her guest.

She checked through the peephole first, then worked up a polite, carefully manicured smile before opening the door. "Welcome," she greeted, standing aside with a flourish of her arm to let him in.
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#2
The first look into her apartment confirmed his initial belief, Rowley was as much a perfectionist in her private life as she was in public. Everything was spotless and Zachary felt the need to remove his shoes immediately and keep his arms firmly at his side. Ah, this brought back memories of his great aunt's home, only with far less plastic on the furniture.

"Thanks for having me. I felt it appropriate to bring a gift, for offering to host this uh- meeting." He only stumbled slightly on his prepared speech. Stiffly, he held up the simple cloth bag he had brought with him. He pulled out the decorative dagger and scabbard and placed them on the bag for her inspection.

"You said you were a collector. I found it at an antique shop in Larkspur. Suppose to be 19th century Algerian, but you'd know better than me."


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#3
There were stars in Rowley's eyes when Zachary presented his hostess gift. "Oh, that is just lovely," she effused. She gingerly took the dagger in both hands, unsheathing the blade to lie the flat of it across two fingers. The scabbard was just as interesting as the dagger itself, and she ran the pad of her thumb down the carvings on it as she carefully slid the blade back home.

This was very possibly the nicest gift she'd ever received.

"This is too sweet of you, Zachary," she said warmly, looking back to the young man in question. "It can't compare, but can I offer you coffee or tea?"
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#4
She liked the dagger. He ducked his head at he praise and couldn't stop the dopey grin that spread on his lips. In truth, he had gone to Larkspur to look for a bottle of wine, but something felt wrong and very impersonal at that choice of gift. The antique shop had come out of nowhere and before he could comprehend his actions, Zachary had walked inside and started browsing. The small collection of antique weaponry at the far back had instantly changed his mind of what to get Rowley. He had his own (secret) collection back at home and the joy of adding to it was difficult to recreate.

"Ah, I'd appreciate the tea. I'm not much of a coffee drinker." He actually couldn't stand coffee. The smell was acceptable, but nothing could make the flavor improve enough for him to drink it.
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#5
"That's my preference as well," Rowley agreed with a smile, already immensely pleased at how this meeting was progressing. And possibly the slightest bit guilty for the initial judgment she had passed on him.

"If you'd like to take a seat in the living room, I'll be out in just a second with our tea. I already have the kettle running."

The living room in question was neat and tidy, centered around a two-piece sectional and coffee table, and largely bare of decorative knickknacks. Well, other than the array of sheathed swords mounted on the righthand wall, each spaced and leveled with precise detail.
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#6
Zachary settled himself on the coach while he waited for Rowley to return. He didn't let himself sink fully into the plushness of the couch, still feeling a little out of place among the pristine condition of the furniture. He wanted to do something to ease his nervous mind. Using his powers to sculpt always helped, but while he was sure Rowley wouldn't fully hate him using his powers in her presence, it felt rude to do so before they got a chance to really talk.

Instead, he focused on the mounted swords on the wall. From what he knew of Rowley, there must be some system to their placement. Perhaps by date or country of origin. There were a few that looked far more decorative than functional, although they probably could still do quite a lot of damage in the right hands.

He wondered if Rowley ever used any of these, or if her favorites were kept somewhere else.
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#7
"Zachary, would you like sugar?" Rowley called from the kitchen a minute later, stirring a spoonful into her own. She'd add a bit of sugar to his, if he answered affirmitively; and either way, she would emerge from the kitchen in short order, a mug of earl grey tea in either hand. (Although it wounded Rowley to forgoe proper tea cups, she acknowledged the efficiency of regular mugs.)

She handed one off to Zachary before perching on the edge of the couch, leaving a cushion's space between them, with her legs primly crossed. "I must admit," she began after a small sip of her tea, "that I haven't met anyone else with, ah... skillsets like ours."
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#8
He thanked Rowley and then followed her lead, taking his own sip. The heat was a lovely contrast to the constant coldness of his core, there was a reason he preferred hot beverages. He kept the mug close, enjoying the warmth.

"I've actually met two others. Both had very different abilities, but neither seemed particularly interested in hiding them." Zachary took another drink, this time drinking for a longer period, his throat feeling a little dry. Once done, he cradled the cup near his lap.

"I used to never be so bold as to show my ice in public like with you, I'm still surprised i did. Meeting them has made me a little more reckless, knowing their are others out there who understand."
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#9
Rowley pursed her lips to the side.

"I don't mean to entertain hysterics, but I can't imagine the revelation that people like us exist would be well-received." She could, in fact, only imagine sterile white rooms and government facilities in that future.

She laughed self-consciously then, realizing her hypocrisy. "Although I'm not helping maintain any secrecy, given my butter knife incident. That's also why I had a sword on the metro—I had accidentally conjured earlier."
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#10
Zachary looked up at Rowley, letting their eyes meet.

"No, I completely agree. This isn't something I want to share with the world." The two most dangerous reactions would be terror on one side and utter fascination on the other. Both ended terribly for people like Rowley and him.

He let his eyes drift back to his tea, head bending down. "I want to blame it on exhaustion that caused me to be so shameless with my abilities on the bus, but I won't lie and say that was the entire reason. It's...nice to meet others like me."

There were a number of things he wanted to ask Rowley. It was difficult to know where to start. "Can I ask more about your ability? How does it work exactly?"
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#11
"That is a very good question," Rowley began with a brief, dry smile. "I... conjure things, as you saw. Swords, mostly, but occasionally silverware." She pressed her lips together, vaguely irritated by the whole concept. Why did it have to be swords? Why couldn't she conjure items of use, like cellphone chargers?

"Sometimes they're part of my own collection, teleported right off the wall here. I'm not sure where the others come from—such as the smallsword I had on the metro. And I haven't the faintest idea how to consciously use my powers; my conjurations are always inconvenient accidents."
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#12
That sounded very similar to his own experience. His first year with his powers was a nightmare. "When I first discovered my ice I had absolutely no control. I ended up locking myself away at home in fear that I would freeze something or someone. It took time, but eventually, I learned how to call on it when I wanted. Not perfectly, but it's been a while since my last accident."

His own reply brought to mind something else. He set the mug down on the coffee table, careful to use a coaster first. Bringing his hands up, Zachary let ice form just on the tips of his fingers. Only enough to catch in the light if you looked closely. "It may only be me, but I found that trying to block out the ice all the time always ended in disaster. I have to let out the...energy or whatever this is at least every few days."
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#13
Rowley nodded politely as Zachary explained his own experiences. Knowing she wasn't alone in her incompetence didn't make her feel any better, but she appreciated his candidness.

She studied his fingertips, noting the gleam of ice there. Fascinating. She wondered where the materials and energy came from—something couldn't be created from nothing, after all. Perhaps it drew on moisture already present in the air?

"What does it feel like?" she asked, drawing her gaze away from Zachary's hand. "Is it still cold to you?"
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#14
That was difficult to explain. He took a moment to get this thoughts in order and create at the least, a semi-intelligible answer. The cold was hard to describe, comparing it to the weather felt cheap and of poor imagination. There was a sharpness that was similar to the initial bite of stepping out into the frost, but there was something else there, like a strange warmth brewing under the surface.

He flexed his fingers, letting the ice flick off to the ground like tiny snow fall. "There is a cold, but it's not...unpleasant. I-I guess I could describe it as a tingle or perhaps a shiver that runs down and escapes out as ice."

He laid out one hand towards her, like an offering. "I still run colder than normal, a side effect I've had to get used to."
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#15
Rowley raised one hand slightly in declination, curious about Zachary's body temperature but not curious enough to touch him if it wasn't absolutely necessary. She did, however, make sure to politely smile.

She also appreciated how Zachary seemed to weigh his words before speaking, rather than babbling the first thing that popped into his head.

"Are there... side-effects? To using your ability? When I accidentally procure items, I feel light-headed with the larger ones, although I couldn't say whether that's from actually using my power or from the shock of blatantly violating the laws of physics."
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#16
Speaking of violating the laws of physics, how on earth had Addison managed to enter the quaint little abode without making so much as a peep? Neither of the two current occupants would have so much as heard the creak of a doorhinge to herald the sudden arrival of the blonde-haired roommate that was not supposed to be home.

"Rowley, have you seen my--" she paused, eyes slowly shifting her focus from the dark-haired sword summoner so that her eyes remained firmly trained upon the cryomancer. "Company," she says, her voice steady and impassive -- short, but not curt or rude. "Welcome. I trust Rowley has already put tea on? We do not mean to be poor hosts."
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#17
The sudden appearance of another person caused Zachary to jump in surprise, his shoulders hunching up and body tense. How long had she been there? He hadn't heard a single indication of a new presence until her voice broke through the room. When he turned his body to see who had spoken, Zachary was unnerved to find her staring right back. Snatching away his arm, he curled his fingers into loose fists and set them firmly in his lap.

It took a second to find his voice again. "Oh, uh hello. Pleased to meet you, I'm Zachary."

This must be a roommate of Rowley's or a visiting friend. He pondered the possibility that she was also aware of Rowley's ability, and if she had been standing there long enough, his as well.
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#18
Rowley all but leapt to her feet at the first sound of Addison's voice, turning on a heel to face the woman. Had she seen Zachary's ice? Had she heard anything? The last thing Rowley had said practically outed her. Her face flushed at the realization, and her voice was an octave too high when she exclaimed with a small, nervous laugh, "Addison! Ah—I didn't expect you home, or else I would have warned you. The kettle is still on, if you'd like tea yourself."

She hadn't prepared an alternate explanation for her and Zachary's meeting, and Rowley had never been particularly skilled at improvisation. It was like all the words in her head just vanished instantly, leaving her to flounder through word soup. "Zachary, this is my roommate, Addison," she introduced, recalling her manners at the very least.
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#19
"The pleasure is mine," Addison replied. Her gaze didn't waver and her tone did not inflect in any meaningfully friendly way. She did not sound hostile, per se -- simply opaque. Unreadable. "I apologize for the interruption. I can make myself scarce, if need be --" she paused, glancing towards the kitchen nook. "Though I am fond of tea. You two don't mind, do you?"

Translation: I can make myself scarce, but I'm going to be an ass about it.

The blonde-haired woman stalked towards the kitchen and fixed herself a cup of tea. "So! What are the two of you discussing? Anything scandalous?"
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#20
With great effort, Zachary turned his body from Addison back to Rowley. If only he had the power of telepathy at this moment, Addison's question sounded completely innocent, but Zachary couldn't get a good read on her. The safest bet was to thread lightly until Rowley or Addision gave away how much of the actual conversation he should reveal.

Hoping for some kind of sign, he tried sending a mayday signal to Rowley using only his eyes. How much does she know?

His continued silence was not going to improve the situation. If Rowley was also at a loss, then as the non-occupant in the home, he was the clear choice for interrogation. Best to start with a half-truth then. "Ah, we were speaking earlier about Rowley's collection. Some of them look very impressive."
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#21
"Of course you're welcome to join us, Addison." Zachary was clearly attempting to convey something with his pointed look, but Rowley just found herself at a loss. She managed a small shake of her head as the woman vanished into the kitchen, and god bless him when he didn't blab that they were casually discussing impossible abilities.

Rowley lowered herself back to the couch, tension ebbing out of her shoulders. A decent enough cover story, she figured; it wasn't exactly unusual for her to regale strangers about swords.

Then her eyes flashed an almost pearlescent pink, and a cane summarily winked into existence, pulled out of thin air as it might a pocket or a scabbard.

Straight into her face.

"Oh fu--uargh," she hissed, clamping one hand to her forehead where the ornate handle of the sword cane, fortunately sheathed, had smacked her before falling into her lap.

Rowley dropped the hand back to her lap to steady the sword cane, fervently hoping that only Zachary had witnessed her mishap. This wasn't even one of her own swords! She silently pleaded with whatever little imp was controlling and laughing at her fortunes, to just let her get through a single evening without making a fool out of herself by spawning swords left and right. Just one evening.
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#22
Take the pot. Pour the tea. Thunk. Oh fu-uargh.

Addison could not help but chuckle. Her roommate was not exactly the suavest sailor at the soiree, as they said.

Did anyone say that? Nah, probably not. Alas.

"Everything okay in here?" The blonde inquired once she returned with her own mug. It was perhaps an unintentionally hilarious juxtaposition with the no-nonsense roommate -- the oversized mug was adorned with a cat hanging from a treebranch with the caption 'hang in there'.
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#23
When he first witnessed Rowley's power on the train, he had missed the most important moments trying to blink sleep from his eyes. Here, he was in full view of a literal cane manifesting out of thin air, then landing, very unfortunately, on her face. Had there not been unexpected company, Zachary's first instinct might have been to laugh at Rowley's undignified reaction.

The terrible timing on Rowley's part and the added pressure of Addison just a room away was causing his own power to act up. In a panic, Zachary latched on the the first thing he saw, his half empty mug. By the time he had it in his hands and curled up to his chest, the mug and its contents had frozen solid.

He prayed that Addison remained occupied with her own drink, and away from the two disasters currently in the living room.
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#24
"Yes, just dropped something," Rowley explained, voice a little too high. She risked a glance back at Addison and was momentarily struck by her choice of mug, heart swelling uncomfortably with nerves and fondness in equal measures.

And when she faced Zachary once more, his mug of hot tea was decidedly no longer hot, liquid apparently frozen and mug glinting with a sheen of frost, like a glass left to chill in the freezer. Perhaps it had been too much to hope for a smooth, simple conversation, free of ostensibly magical accidents.

She cleared her throat a little. "Zachary and I met on the metro the other evening, where I regaled him with the history of European smallswords," she explained calmly, like she and Zachary weren't a pair of magical meltdowns.
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#25
Addison's eyes went straight for the frosty mug. There was no mistaking it; for a short but clear moment, she stared right at the damn thing.

"And you actually got him to come over after that?" she said, the faintest note of surprise laden in her voice."We need to work on your pickup lines, Rowley. The European Smallsword Gambit is notoriously ineffective. Still..." The woman's eyes moved from the mug to the face of its bearer; the faintest of smiles crossed her lips. "You seem nice. I'm glad Rowley made a friend. She struggles with that, sometimes."
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#26
"I'm sure Rowley is plenty successful at making friends." He gave a weak smile. She saw. She had to. The direct eye contact with the mug that flickered immediately back to his face was obvious. Fan-fucking-tastic. The list of people casually finding out about his power was growing exponentially.

The question now was how dumb should he play this? Some people were perfectly fine pretending they didn't see anything and going on with their life, others got curious. He couldn't be sure, but got the feeling that Addison was more like the latter. Still, she had the opportunity to call him out, but had chosen not to. What was her game? Zachary wasn't a mind reader, although at this moment, he'd appreciate the extra help.

All he really could do was continue to act as normal as possible. He'd already show all his cards, even if unintentionally. The only option right now was to try learning a little more about Addison. Seemed only fair. "Well, what about you two? Have you know each other long?"
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#27
Rowley straightened up, shoulders square, as heat suffused her cheeks. "The European Smallsword Gambit," she began stiffly, "is a calculated strategy." Not that it was in any way a pickup line, but she didn't deign to argue that point. "And I have plenty of friends." Namely Addison and... well, one was plenty for Rowley. But she could hardly disagree, in the end -- she was exceptionally poor at making friends.

She was content to let the woman address their guest's question, preferring to nurse her wounded dignity instead.
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#28
Addison's expression remained impassive. Her inscrutable gaze remained trained on Zachary, even while Logan continued to talk. "Calculated indeed," she purred quietly. "Rowley leads a curious sort of social life. I've no doubt that she has a great number of friends, though she always seems to be precisely where I expect her to be." A ghost of a smile, then. "It's nice, honestly. I appreciate consistency. Makes life's many sharp corners a little simpler to navigate."

Not that Addison would know. She had a habit of just walking through them.

"We met a while back," she added as she claimed a seat upon an unused ottoman. Talk about a useless temporal frame. "I was in the market for a roommate who appreciates discretion. Flying under the radar. Rowley's interests aligned with mine."
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#29
"Oh?" He asked with a mix of genuine curiosity and the urge to hide his reaction to the faint warning bells going off in his mind. He was reminded of the calculated stare his sisters gave right before pulling off a dastardly prank.

The frozen mug was only just beginning to thaw, he discreetly wiped off some of the condensation gathering on the outside. He kept the mug against his chest, hoping body heat would help speed up the process.

Not wanting an awkward silence to make the room any more tense, Zachary continued to ask questions. "Are you also a collector like Rowley then?" He doubted they both enjoyed antique swords, Addison looked more like the firearm type, or something else entirely.
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#30
Rowley smiled to herself. Half of that statement might have been egregiously incorrect (she had zero social life), but the rest left her stomach fluttering. It's nice, honestly. Good to know her presence wasn't just annoying.

She remained silent, politely dividing her attention between Zachary and Addison as the two continued on—how she and Addison met wasn't a subject Rowley enjoyed—and took a small sip of her tea.
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#31
Addison hummed a quiet sort of contemplative sound, as if she was unsure of how to approach the offered question -- or as if she wished to portray a coy sort of secrecy about the details of her personal life. "Mm, not to the same extent that little Rowley is," she replied. "She is far more fond of her knick knacks than I ever have been. All the same, I find the hobby endearing." Slender fingers flexed before gently finding their partners, forming a neatly folded little pair of hands that came to rest placidly upon the woman's prim lap.

"No, I more meant -- our choice of lifestyles. Quiet. Clean. Well-focused and honed towards security instead of... Well, so many our age are always chasing after that certain joy de vivre, yes?" Addison chuckled. "Not me. I prefer stability. Logan offers such. Consistent, pleasant, engaging company, with no strings attached." The blonde flashed her roommate a dazzling smile.
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#32
He couldn't help but feel envious towards their relationship. Living alone had its advantages, but if he dug down deep and was truly honest, Zachary did long for easy companionship. Loneliness in a new town with no family or friends ate away at him on harder days.

The outside of the mug had warmed in his hands, he surreptitiously ran one palm down the side to wipe off the growing condensation, then slid the hand down to rest on his thigh. It would have been incredibly rude to dry his hand on the couch. Although, the thought of it did pass his mind.

"You both must be close then. A fine relationship." He spoke honestly, not hint of his previous envy lacing the words. Bringing the cup up to his mouth, he feigned taking a drink.

He needed to start considering an exit strategy. The talk with Rowley would remain on hold, as long as Addison stayed home and while their relationship was something he admired, Zachary now felt more like an intruder than a guest.
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