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Where there is ruin... (Ireland)
... there is hope for treasure.

((Continued from Machiavellanism.))

They landed in Belfast, Ireland. Aiden would be right at home. At least it wasn’t Dublin. Jaxen had enough of that city, and it was fucking hard to order a drink there. Apparently accents didn’t translate well from Russian to Irish.

The trip was quick and comfortable enough given Aiden’s modern jet. Along the way, he regaled them the story of being captured by devils.  He elaborated in visceral detail the part where the other girl – Earless – got her name, but the main point of the story was the elaborate escape. His prowess and parkour, nay, his godlike strength helped him slither to his freedom. He fought his way out and then killed the bitches just for good measure. He conveniently left out the part where an Atharim gang played a role. They were minor roles, anyway. Jaxen was the star. Why else would cannibals want to devour his gloriously delicious flesh?

After Belfast, they all cleaned up, ate, and did a little scouting of the plans. Their first destination was to the Giants Causeway.  The site was supposedly the location of a great battle between the Tuatha de’Danaan and the giants of Scotland across the narrow sea. As they disembarked upon their destination, Jaxen was trying to look serious, but even so, he was smiling at the corners of his mouth. It was not a reassuring smile.

“Loki makes the world more interesting but less safe.” 
"So?" said Loki impatiently.  "This isn't the first time the world has come to an end, and it won't be the last either."
The adventure took them to a cobblestone sea shore in Ireland and Sage felt lost. Internet was available but not strong consistent ones.

He'd have preferred to stay at the hotel and sleep or something else. But he was here for Aiden. He was pretty sure coming with Aiden had been his idea. Afraid of what the rock star might do on his own. Sage never thought himself a jealous man, sharing wasn't something foreign to him. But then he'd never really had a man or woman that he called his own before. Plenty of partners but never a real partner. Sage wasn't going to share.

And Aiden was following Jaxen's map to some treasure and he'd go along too. He had a bunch of processes running that might help, but none of them really were doing anything. Sage missed the cameras of the city. Extra eyes, easier eyes to process than his own two. He should invest in a drone he could take anywhere with me.

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It was beyond refreshing to be back in Ireland. Aiden stepped off his private jet, Sage and Jaxen in tow, and directly into a hired car. So convenient. From there, they made their way into the Belfast city centre and settled into their rooms at a posh hotel just down the street from Victoria Square, the bright blue dome of the complex visible from the balconies of their rooms. They did not plan on staying long, but Aiden had insisted on the rooms, and he had paid for them as well.

                From there, they had plotted out the first leg of their adventure over a warm meal. Aiden had a heaping bowl of colcannon along with corned beef and cabbage. It was not the fanciest dish, but it’s what Aiden had grown up on and it fed his soul to bursting. Jaxen did most of the talking over dinner, informing them that they would be investigating the Giants Causeway first. Aiden had to hide his excitement; it was all starting to feel real. What would his parents say if they knew that their beloved homeland had a fantastical and mysterious past? Likely they would not believe a lick of it.

                After dinner, they set out once more; Aiden covering the travel expenses again. En route to their destination, Aiden pulled a large box out of his carry-on bag and passed it to Sage.

                “I saw you looking at them,” Aiden said sheepishly as Sage took the parcel, “I don’t know why I didn’t think to buy you one before…”

                Inside the wrappings was a state-of-the-art drone. Aiden did everything in his power to ignore Jaxen, he was most likely leering at the pair.

Russian Dolls and Broken Gods, a new Fantasy novel by best-selling author, Aiden Finnegan, out this December! Preorder online and instore today!
Jaxen watched the exchange with selfish interest.
“Actually, that may be helpful,” he nodded with approval. “Well done, Aiden.”

There were more tourists around than Jaxen preferred, but as he proceeded forward, it was with his eyes on a sign at the entrance to the area. He paused, looking for hints of anything. Science said the hexagonal steps were remnants of some ancient lava flow. He supposed it made sense, but he preferred the story about warring giants.

A girl came up alongside him, but it was obvious she was only standing close to him to pretend to read the sign. She was fit with an athletic sort of profile, and he vaguely wondered what sport she preferred. Her brunette hair was drawn up in a ponytail. She wore hiking shoes and carried a pack over one shoulder.

He was content to play the tourist. “Sightseeing?” He asked with the grin of rhetoric perched on his lips.

“That’s right. I’ve always loved this land. The history of the people and richness of culture is so wonderful,” she said. Her accent carried the drawl of southern USA.

Jaxen nodded, completely agreeing.
“Definitely agree. Big fan. Good culture.” he replied with a sarcastic laugh. Her brows lifted as she laid a hand on his arm. Oh my, he thought and gestured that they proceed together.

“Your accent is so exotic. Where are you from?”
“I thought so,” she concluded.

He glanced over his shoulder to see if Sage and Aiden managed to get lost yet. Or maybe fall off the cliff while they were oogling each other and not the path.
"So?" said Loki impatiently.  "This isn't the first time the world has come to an end, and it won't be the last either."
Aiden handed him a present and when Sage revealed the drone inside Jaxen thought it was a good idea. But Sage was wondering if Aiden had ulterior motives. Something to keep his toy busy? He was feeling useless, and Aiden was buying him present. Granted they were things he could buy himself. But Aiden ....

Sage was reading too much into it. He smiled and gave Aiden a soft kiss in thanks. "Thank you." The battery held enough charge, but for how long, he might need to sit a journey out to charge it. He'd have to find a suitable name for it. Sage read through the documentation, not because he didn't know how to operate it but because he was looking to see what make and model it was so he could hack it. It's hard to use a drone with your hands, and why use your hands when you could use your mind?

Sage was absorbed in the drone as he hooked his arm around Aiden's so that he could walk with the man and not lose him. He was used to just blindly walking back home, but in Dorian's yard it wasn't hard to deviate. Sage had worn paths in the concrete from his walking habits. Most of the lawn had been booby trapped and Sage couldn't see them but it didn't matter, he knew where to stay away from. And the path wasn't literal, but it could have been if they'd stayed there long enough.

There was a quick search of the internet when Sage couldn't find what he wanted about the drone and soon it was hovering above his head with only the control of his head. He saw through the tiny camera. He felt the surge of adrenaline as it felt like he was flying overhead. Jaxen had found a girl and Sage wondered if this was all part of his game. Let them do all the work - not that they knew what they were looking for exactly.

But then again, this woman was likely some contact too. Or someone after the same thing. Sage grabbed a still from the camera and started facial recognition of her. He'd know soon enough.

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Aiden was surprised by Jaxen’s approval; the man did not give it out generously, but that was not why Aiden had bought Sage the gift – far from it. The drone was more a means to say, ‘thanks for putting up with me.’ The couple had not fought, nor had they experienced any drama beyond Jaxen’s jibes, but Aiden had been a handful to deal with over the course of the last few months.

                Jaxen wandered off after the exchange, into a throng of tourists. Aiden silently thanked the Gods that he had remembered to make use of Jaxen’s little trick of the Power. Before they had departed for the Causeway, Aiden used the magic to change his appearance – not drastically – just enough to only resemble himself. His hair now looked to be a fiery shade of ginger, with a fully grown beard to match, and his eyes had been made to look a rich shade of brown.

                Beyond that, Aiden had dressed himself in a plaid button-front shirt with a tweed vest laid atop, blue jeans, flat cap, and a decent pair of brown, leather Chelsea boots completed the look. Despite the month, it was still cool by the coast. Aiden almost wished he had decided on the cable knit sweater – almost.

                To more fully play the role of local man, he imitated his father’s Irish accent. The guise worked well enough; no one gave him a second look. He was certainly not a Rockstar right now, no sir – just a man from Dublin.

                Sage smiled up at Aiden and murmured a ‘thank you’ before returning the gesture with a delicate kiss. Aiden felt his cheeks heat a little. As expected, his boyfriend began pouring over the instructions and dove headfirst – literally – into operating the thing. It hovered just over their heads, reminding Aiden of the faerie fire that he had long ago shed. Sage linked arms with him, and they strolled leisurely along, keeping Jaxen within eyesight. Aiden steered them to a spot free of tourists, one that had a decent view of the crashing waves along the coast.

                “When I was a child, my Mum used to tell me about this place,” Aiden spoke softly in that fake accent, “A giant was said to have created it to reach his rival in Scotland. An odd story about cunning and trickery. No wonder Jaxen insisted we come here first…”

                Aiden looked over to Sage, who had that look. He smirked and said, “What is our slimy friend doing over there?”

Russian Dolls and Broken Gods, a new Fantasy novel by best-selling author, Aiden Finnegan, out this December! Preorder online and instore today!
Admittedly, Jaxen didn’t know what he was looking for specifically. As best he could tell, he hoped that something mundane would sing beacons upon probes of the Ancient Power. Aiden’s illusion amused him. He did a decent job, though the flows were stitched together differently than Jaxen would have created. Early on, Jaxen learned that an illusion may drop if moved, probed by human hands or otherwise disturbed. Like a mist that would dissipate at the slightest provocation. Obviously, Jaxen’s held throughout the duration of the cabaret, with all the dancing, mingling, and body sliding involved. Shit but that was a fun night.

Other than Aiden’s shimmering mask that made it hard for Jaxen to look directly at his face without studying the pulsating web, there were no other reactions to the ancient power. None that Jaxen could find. Likewise, he was keen to remain aware of other Ancients mingling among the tourists. Another early lesson: channelers were more frequently encountered and in the worst possible circumstances imagined.

The parkour enthusiast within him wound his way through the basalt step-stones like they were his very own obstacle course, woven by the gods and dug by giants merely for Jaxen Marveet’s entertainment. In short order, he was hopping and leaping playfully. For the female companion that pretended not to watch him but most certainly was, he took off on a sprint so nimble that it seemed his toes barely grazed the tricky surface. He came to an edge and with barely a push, clawed his way to the top some ten feet above. From up there, he sat with his feet dangling over and leaned his hands back to catch his breath and enjoy the horizon.

That was when something pinched him on the hand. He gasped and snatched his hand back to his chest, twisting around on instinct to escape whatever caused the painful bite. A skinny brown and black adder hissed at him then squeezed escape into a small hole wedged between the hexagonal columns on which Jaxen presently sat.

The American girl, having climbed to the perch by more normal means (stairs), was concerned.
“Was that a snake?” she asked.

Jaxen nodded, examining his hand. It was red and angry. He was going to be pissed if it was venomous. A hospital trip was not on his agenda.

She went on. “They’re not supposed to be in Ireland. It’s said that Saint Patrick banished all the snakes from the island in the fifth century.”

Jaxen, still examining the bite, frowned. 
“How does a man banish snakes?” His intimate of the Ancient Ones and the Naga clearly influenced the tone of his question. He shivered with fear.

She knelt down, peering into the hole in which the snake disappeared. It seemed as if nothing could squeeze in there, but Jaxen knew snakes better than some. He had the bones of their skeleton inked permanent in his skin, after all.

Therefore he, the most excellent pastor, bore on his shoulder the staff of Jesus, and aided by the angelic aid … gathered together from all parts of the island all the poisonous creatures into one place; then compelled he them all unto a very high promontory … and by the power of his word he drove the whole pestilent swarm from the precipice of the mountain headlong into the ocean.” There was the air of ancient in her quote, but also something emotional.

“Do you know a lot about snakes or a lot about saints?”

She looked at him, teasing apart the question a moment. The sun gleamed faintly on her skin in such a way that she seemed to sparkle. He’d not realized that she was more beautiful than his initial assessment deemed.

“Both actually. I am a zoology student and Catholic. Seriously, snakes aren’t endemic to Ireland. There’s only been one venomous bite known to history. Hospitals don’t even stock antivenom. It has to be sourced from a zoo or abroad. Of course, that doesn’t mean snakes aren’t here, even if they’ve never been seen,” she smiled proudly before looking at his hand.

“Maybe you should get that checked out?”

Jaxen shook his head, getting up quickly, suddenly worried he was squatting over a bed of snakes living beneath the rocks. He took hold of the Ancient Power and wrapped the wound with some guess that the weave will do something good.

Finally, he tucked the hand in his pocket as if ignoring the problem would make it go away.

That was when he wondered something different. Maybe rather than chasing the tales of the Tuatha de’Danaan, maybe they should delve more into the lore of Saints. This girl seemed to know a lot about both. A snake expert on hand may come in useful.

“I’m Jaxen,” he introduced.

“Ethelinda, but everyone calls me Lindy.”
"So?" said Loki impatiently.  "This isn't the first time the world has come to an end, and it won't be the last either."
Sage shrugged at the question. He didn't have happy family stories to share either. "Flirting with a girl. And getting bitten by snakes."

Sage did a quick search on the type of snake. He hoped he found what we necessary, but Ireland didn't stock anti-venom. Or so the girl had said. He had to enhance the audio to make out the words, the drone was too far away and the hum of it's own body was interfering. Not precisely a good listening device. Sage would have to make some modifications.

His data was inconclusive - without a decent connection, he was lost. It annoyed him and it was making him anxious. "Let's go make sure Jaxen doesn't die."

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  “Snakes!?” Aiden exclaimed in a hushed whisper, “You don’t mean…”

                Atharim is what he had wanted to say, but who could tell whether there were listening ears around them? One wrong word might be their undoing. Sage seemed anxious, so it very well could be that Jaxen had found the one Snake lurking in the area, but then, Sage’s words were not urgent. They always had been when he spoke of the Atharim, trying to impress the seriousness of the cult onto Aiden. He risked looking over his shoulder and, sure enough, Jaxen was chatting up an unremarkable woman. Perhaps Sage had been speaking plainly?

                Aiden cocked an eyebrow and looked back to Sage, “I think I misunderstood you… yes. Lets regroup.”

                Arms still linked, Aiden and Sage moved away from their perch and found their way back to Jaxen, drone buzzing silently overhead. The man was still speaking with that mystery woman. Embracing the Light, Aiden just held it and used his improved senses to listen in on Jaxen.

                “I’m Jaxen.”

                “Ethelinda, but everyone calls me Lindy.”

                Aiden had waited too long to hear more. He let the Light go as they drew close to the pair. Plastering a wide grin on his face, Aiden waved a hand at them and called out so they were not startled.

                “Jaxen! You rascal. Forgot to tell me you had friends in Ireland? Shame on you,” Aiden called out in a mock-scolding tone. He followed that up with a hearty chuckle, if only so that the woman knew he was not actually admonishing Jaxen. With a careful move, Aiden extracted his arm from Sages and offered the woman his hand in greeting, “Aiden McNally and this is my boyfriend, Sage. Careful around Jaxen, he is quite the heartbreaker.”

Russian Dolls and Broken Gods, a new Fantasy novel by best-selling author, Aiden Finnegan, out this December! Preorder online and instore today!
If it wasn’t for the ache throbbing in his hand, Jaxen might have bit the bait Aiden tempted. As it was, he could only chuckle and gesture that the two parties greet each other. He may have been wary to leave Aiden alone to charm Ethelinda, but for the fact that the guy was in some sort of at least seemingly serious relationship, and the other-half was standing right there. Sage may sometimes check-out, but Aiden didn’t seem the type to cheat under a boyfriend’s nose. Relationships made people weak. Best to avoid them completely. Loyalty. Trust. Nasty things that made people predictable.

As it was, he approached Sage. “Ah, Sage?” He questioned, looking curiously at the man’s usually distant gaze and wondered if the hacker-brain was tuned in to other networks while fucking Aiden.

Ethelinda smiled as Aiden introduced himself. She didn’t reach out to shake hands, hooking her fingers into the pockets of her shorts instead. A slightly concerned expression watched Jaxen as he spoke with Sage.

“Any suggestions? Maybe an app that analyzes snake bites? I’d check myself, but you know.” He smirked. He wanted to avoid doctors. Horrible people that did unpleasant things. Likewise, he wanted to avoid anywhere off-path, given they had their first lead on the whole trip. Without a picture of the fanged beast itself, they’d have to rely on scanners systems or DNA analysis checks for poisons or infection.

Or pus. It was starting to get that look.

((Ooc: Okay to advance past/gloss over the treating of the bite. I have no story to tell along the way other than Jaxen lives, though he will grumble a lot about his hand hurting.  Ethelinda will just chat with Aiden about whatever he brings up, but if its just small talk, she'll ask about their inquiries into Ireland. What kind of sight-seeing they're doing.  Probing at why they're there and what they're after.))
"So?" said Loki impatiently.  "This isn't the first time the world has come to an end, and it won't be the last either."

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