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  1. Sections: Names, Please Note, Background, Descriptions, Previously Unseen Writings Of Dubious Value and Accuracy
  2.  
  3. Names
  4.  
  5. Name – Mask – Who they bet on
  6.  
  7. First – Fox – Ripper Blackmask
  8. Second – Ram – Miq
  9. Third – Ox – Eureka Finch
  10. Fourth – Ant – Tamerlane
  11. Fifth – Spider - Syvex
  12. Sixth -  Snake - Riko
  13. Seventh – Magpie/Corvid – La Aguja del Dolor and High Priest Muriegro
  14. The Prestidigitator – Demonic – Thatix
  15.  
  16.  
  17.  
  18. Please Note
  19.  
  20. There are several posts in the Phenomenal Fracas thread mostly devoted to Gentlemen shenanigans. Unfortunately, one is missing. As far as I can make out I wrote it, decided it was stupid, scrapped it, and carried on as if I'd made the post in the thread. Either I didn't save it or it was lost when my hard drive exploded a few months ago. In this post Sixth died, an event which was felt by all of the Gentlemen. Victoria got her hands on the pocketwatch, which has been passed around the Gentlemen a few times with no apparent explanation. Seventh flew into a rage upon seeing the pocket watch, which confirmed that Sixth, her brother, was indeed deceased. (I did however find a different, incomplete piece of writing that seems to take place after Sixth's death but before Victoria finds out about it. It mainly focuses on how Prez got his scars, but it's more description than explanation and isn't very interesting. I have included it in the end of this document, in the section 'Previously Unseen Writings Of Dubious Value and Accuracy'.)
  21.  
  22.  
  23. Background
  24.  
  25. There are seven Gentlemen, who are loyal to the Prestidigitator. The seven Gentlemen were initially amateur magicians in a world where amateur magicians, usually from the upper or middle classes, were fairly common. (Here the word magician is used to refer to someone who uses real magic, rather than the street magician kind.) These would usually form groups which would meet regularly and discuss their preferred branches of magic, referring to both ancient and modern texts, sometimes with actual practical learning. (But not too much. These are only amateurs, after all. Presumably there are serious magicians out in the world somewhere, but we're not interested in them.)
  26.  
  27. The Gentlemen were a small, rather secretive group owing to the fact that their interest lay in Necromancy, which was deemed an inappropriate school of magic for gentlemen or gentlewomen to be interested in. They had tried a few minor spells, largely restricted to merely communicating with the dead rather than raising them, but they were too meek and unsure of themselves to go much further than that.
  28.  
  29. Enter the Prestidigitator.
  30.  
  31. The Prestidigitator was the fake kind of magician. Magic might be real, but strict regulation kept it out of everyday life and, if anything, street magicians and charlatans are even more common in this world. But Prez was interested in real magic, and by stealing and reading a few books of magic he was able to tap into his own considerable latent ability. If he'd had proper training he would have been quite formidable, but as it was he had a lot of talent and little teaching. He was a much more proficient prestidigitator, as it happens.
  32.  
  33. Either way, his various talents were enough to allow him to cultivate a mystical air, which he used to scam amateur magicians for money and magical books and artefacts.
  34.  
  35. One particular book he managed to acquire turned out to be a collection of texts written by the greatest necromancer of the past thousand years. Archaic language and poor preservation made it difficult to read, but he managed to puzzle a section that referred to some kind of powerful McGuffin, I don't even remember. I think it was a star that acted as a gateway to Death??? There were several of these, and every so often one would die and be reborn (worth noting I knew nothing about star life cycles at the time so this presumably made sense to me at the time, but maybe this can be explained away as 'magic') and apparently at the point of this rebirth the power of the new star could instead be channelled away and put to a different use. Such as making yourself a god. The papers outlined a ritual for doing just that, but it required eight magicians in total.
  36.  
  37. The Prestidigitator found the Gentlemen, used his flashy magic to assume leadership of the group... fell in love with Victoria?... something something, and then they carried out the ritual for stealing the power of the... Death Star... thing... and ascended to godhood.
  38.  
  39. The issue was that they were sharing this power. The Prestidigitator managed to tweak the ritual so he ended up with overall control, allowing him to keep the position of leader in the group. The rest became the Gentlemen. But the ritual was messy, and they lost important details (such as their names – Victoria is the only one who remembers hers) or swapped and shared traits with other Gentlemen. Prez received a little of each of them.
  40.  
  41.  The 'lifespan' of the star was split between Prez and the Gentlemen, so that each of them had the potential to live for millions or billions of years. Healing from damage taken to their physical forms would reduce their lifetimes, but by relatively little. Maybe a few years for an injury that would be fatal to ordinary humans. Prez, being in complete control, could have other Gentlemen pay the price for damage taken by a different Gentlemen. While they were young and new to their power there wasn't much use for this as a few years here and there made very little difference to their vast lifespans.
  42.  
  43. Their powers consisted mostly of teleportation (through and within universes), the ability to view anything, anywhere (Prez has a broken mirror he uses to focus this), the ability to manipulate souls of the dead (it might have been that they planned to absorb souls of the dead combatants to add to the lifetime of one of the Gentlemen) and a few other abilities that are useful for messing with lesser lifeforms. The Prestidigitator has his illusions, of course, and presumably he built the house he lives  in somehow.
  44.  
  45. The Prestidigitator and the Gentlemen spent the majority of their lifetime running through various universes, observing everything there was to observe and generally having fun at the expense of the people in these universes. The Prestidigitator was always extremely curious, and he found a lot to both satisfy and encourage that curiosity. He was probably quite content, and his Gentlemen most likely found their godlike powers to be fairly enjoyable too.
  46.  
  47. But their time is running out. The Phenomenal Fracas takes place in their last years. The Prestidigitator has taken great care to preserve his years as much as he can without being too noticeable. He has also taken the same precautions for Victoria, who he has feelings for or something. Both probably have a few centuries left and their physical forms are largely unaffected. But ageing is taking its toll on the other Gentlemen. Sixth, Victoria's brother, has run out of years entirely and has died. Prior to this the advanced state of decay of Sixth's physical form was very obvious, and this fact combined with Victoria's own lack of decay led her to suspect the Prestidigitator's actions. The pocketwatch is significant in that it shows how much time each of the Gentlemen have left, and so would reveal just how much the Prestidigitator has been prolonging his and Victoria's lives at the expense of his Gentlemen.
  48.  
  49. Victoria blames the Prestidigitator for her brother's death, which would have been greatly postponed without Prez's interference.
  50.  
  51. In order of most time left to least time left:
  52.  
  53. The Prestidigitator
  54. Seventh
  55. First
  56. Second
  57. Fourth
  58. Fifth
  59. Third
  60. Sixth
  61.  
  62.  
  63.  
  64. Descriptions
  65.  
  66. First
  67.  
  68. Red haired, easy-going. He attempts to avoid conflict and tries to get on with all of the other Gentlemen, to varying degrees of success. He and Seventh are good friends. After Prez and Victoria, he has the most time remaining and only appears to have aged a few years since the ritual.
  69.  
  70. Second
  71.  
  72. Big, boisterous and remarkably uncouth for someone of his upbringing. He has a big ego that's easily bruised, so he's still pretty sore over losing the wager. He's loyal to Prez, and is somewhat jealous of the favour Victoria enjoys from him. He and Seventh often clash. His teeth are filed to points for some reason.
  73.  
  74. Third
  75.  
  76. Restrained and polite. However, he doesn't show the Prestidigitator the same respect as the other Gentlemen which may have contributed to the elderly appearance of his physical form. Ox is very principled, and while this makes his actions predictable it also makes him very trustworthy. It is for this reason, in addition to his intelligence and level-headedness, that the Prestidigitator entrusts Third with the pocketwatch. Not counting Sixth, Third has the least time left.
  77.  
  78. Fourth
  79.  
  80. Nobody likes Fourth. He's spineless, he's a suck up, he's boring, he's stupid and he's got that dumb stammer. And the way he walks is so irritating. And his face? Really punchable. Who picks an ant as the animal to represent them, anyway? Ugh. He only got invited along to this ascension to godhood business because there was no one else who would participate in the ritual. Even Third can't resist making disparaging remarks in his direction. There's just something about Fourth that makes him really easy to hate.
  81.  
  82. The Prestidigitator is the only one who treats him with respect, and in the face of universal abuse the result is absolute, unshakeable loyalty. But beneath Fourth's timid appearance, there's a huge amount of resentment brewing. If he ever found himself in a position of power over the other Gentlemen, the result would not be pretty.
  83.  
  84. Fifth
  85.  
  86. I literally cannot remember a single thing about this guy. I only know there's supposed to be somebody here because of the numerical names. It seems he held the pocketwatch for some time after Victoria got her hands on it, and he was the one who returned it to the Prestidigitator after he killed the Eccentric. How he came to have it is also a mystery to me.
  87.  
  88. Sixth
  89.  
  90. Dead. He was too busy being ludicrously old to have much of a personality anyway. Only notable in that he was Seventh's brother, and she cared about him a lot.
  91.  
  92. Seventh
  93.  
  94. Proud, wild and passionate. She has the favour of the Prestidigitator due to his feelings for her, and this gives her a lot of power among the Gentlemen. However, as seen, when the Prestidigitator is absent the other Gentlemen are much less likely to put up with her whims. She can't stand being called out on any of her actions and gets into arguments very easily. First, Third and Fourth are too smart to get on her bad side but she and Second rarely get on well. Seventh and First get on famously because he thinks she's wonderful, and she thrives on his appreciation. (It should be noted that their relationship is purely platonic.) Seventh does have romantic interest in the Prestidigitator, but in spite of mutual feelings this has somehow been left unresolved for literally millions of years. I think I'm going to have to revert this to a seriously on-off relationship because that's just ridiculous. Currently Seventh hates the Prestidigitator for his involvement in her brother's death and it's quite possible that if the opportunity arises she'll do something drastic to even the score.
  95.  
  96.  
  97.  
  98. Previously Unseen Writings Of Dubious Value and Accuracy
  99.  
  100. There are four of these in total. I haven't read them fully, and don't really want to, so they might contain some really weird/amateurish/mangled ideas. They may also contain statements that contradict what's previously been said in this document. If in doubt, what is written above is canon. What is written below is probably only accurate in spirit, if that.
  101.  
  102. 1.
  103.  
  104. He just wanted to see. He was a street magician, but he would lurk in the shadows and watch the dramatic lives of the slums, the city, even the those who dined off silver and danced through the night in clothes worth more than he’d ever seen in his life. He didn’t like being seen, even when he grew up to be quite the stunner. But he paradoxically liked being the center of attention, but only if he was hidden or masked, or in disguise. To show you his face is to bare his soul. One day, when lurking the house of a gentleman, wearing the role of a serving boy, he witnessed a display of magic. True magic, commanded with the knowledge of the ancients, three gentlemen watched a battle taking place over three-hundred miles away. But not only did he see, but he understood. And he burned to see all that this strange ability could allow to be seen. The magic made sense to him in a way that nothing else ever had.
  105.  
  106. So while he grew up as a charlatan street magician, in the shadows of the night he would watch the gentlemen magicians of London doing petty magics, and he would learn. He would practice, aided by his thirst for new sights and his cutting intelligence. His power grew in leaps and bounds, and before long he was using the strange power he witnessed with incredible skill, far beyond that of the gentlemen magicians, without even understanding any of the rich books on the subject that the other practitioners had had to pour over. It just made sense to him, all the dancing symbols and flowing of power.
  107.  
  108. And one day, just as he power was beginning to be noticed, he looked at the night sky. The things his petty power revealed to him  floored him. In contrast, the power that existed so far away in the star studded universe was a myriad myriads times more powerful than he. All the sights, the things he would see if he possessed even a fraction of all of it!
  109.  
  110. The Seven Gates held particular allure to him.
  111.  
  112. Everyone knew about the Seven Gates. It was a story told to every child at one point or another. The Seven paths that all the dead souls of the universe had to traverse to find their peace, and the Seven Stars that shone brightly from all the souls of the pure that had made it there. And upon each Star, a Lord to guide and manipulate the universe so that only the purest souls would manage the journey. And after each reign of a Lord, they would be born again. The Prestidigitator wanted to see what the Lords of the Seven Gates could see. So he conspired to become one, by seizing the power at the moment when the Star exploded and was reborn, allowing a new reign of a Lord to begin.
  113.  
  114. With the help of seven gentlemen magicians he enticed, it was done.
  115.  
  116. Unfortunately, although he could see all that a Lord could, he became joined to the other seven who helped him. They shared a mind, ruled over as it was by the more dominant Prestidigitator. They could shapeshift and sometimes even separate, but they were still irrefutably joined. There were some benefits, however. The Prestidigitator’s lifespan is determined by those of his loyal gentlemen, one of whom is actually a gentlewoman. Every day he ages, every injury he takes, his gentlemen bear the burden. But not evenly, as one has lost the ability to walk, but another had barely changed since the day she amalgamated.
  117.  
  118. And it was revealed that not only could the Lord’s see the entirety of this universe, they could see all of them. Everything was clear to them. And they were nto chained to their star, either. They were free to wander the universes, doing as they pleased. The Prestidigitator gladly did the same, but he does nto upkeep his Gate. On the day he ascended, the Seventh Gate winked out of existence. But he was happy. He had the multiverse to explore, and to see all that it could reveal.
  119.  
  120. At first he was only aware of London, then the country, then the world. And beyond that, the stars that blazed in the sky. And the gods that watched over it all. It was quite a natural step to simply usurp one so that he could see what they saw. That was when he became aware of all of the universes.        
  121.  
  122. Prez just wanted to see everything. Literally everything. He could forget about it once his curiosity had been sated, because it wasn't about the knowing, it just about seeing what was there. All the dramas and lives and moments of a billion worlds and universes, living and thriving and dying at once.
  123.  
  124.  
  125. 2.
  126.  
  127. The Grandmaster:
  128.  
  129. The Prestidigitator – Sleight of Hand – half in shadow most of the time – when he reappears, he’s constantly shifting costume and appearance – if he shows his face most likely he’ll be wearing a mask at the same time. Despite all this flamboyance, there’s an air of decay about him. His suits are ragged, his body heavily scarred, his masks cracked and chipped.
  130.  
  131. The Battle is called The Phenomenal Fracas.
  132.  
  133. He’s stupidly showy, with a great big booming voice that nearly winds you. Even if you can’t see his face, you can nearly always detect his ever-present grin. Likes snakes and butterflies, and they tend to intertwine with his appearances/performances. Darkly elegant and sadistic. If he prides himself on anything, it’s his sense of style.
  134.  
  135. The Prestidigitator was once a street magician gifted with a great deal of talent but very little of the teaching that would make him truly great. For years he had a reputation as a charlatan, a trickster and a master of sleight of hand and all the tricks it entailed. However, it was when he found a book on the subject of magic (as was favoured by the fashionable gentlemen magicians – purely theoretical, of course) his skill blossomed. He witnessed the death and rebirth of the Sixth Gate of the Dead, and became hungry for more power and insight to such happenings. Still his skill was nothing compared to that of his potential.
  136.  
  137. So he scrounged and learnt and eventually he grew a penchant for the darkest of magical schools: necromancy. Generally it was scorned by the gentlemen magicians, but only due to the little power it offered. But the Prestidigitator realized the advantage of any army of the dead willing to follow through hell and high water. They could totally subtle, if mastered correctly, and through proper handling the impressive aura usually belonging to Golden Age magician kings and warriors would be gained with ease. For it was not only power he wanted. Shady and seedy as it was, he loved the flash and performance of his street magic. He wanted people’s pulses to race when they heard his name, he wanted them to both fear and love him. He wanted recognition and fame, and he wanted to earn every drop of it.
  138.  
  139. It was when he just beginning to gain notoriety that he approached the Gentleman’s Necromancy Club of London. They were seven in number. Seven of the most reserved, gentle and respected gentlemen magicians of London. Each one of them stood on a dizzyingly high stack of old money, and had a small interest in interacting with those long dead that they used as an excuse to meet every other week.
  140.  
  141. Until the Prestidigitator came to their door.
  142.  
  143. It was a Thursday afternoon in summer, with the rain pelting down on the roof like the fists of the damned pleading release. Six of the gentlemen agreed that it was foul weather, and that they were certainly having foul weather this time of year. This was agreed upon and toasted by them. But the seventh gentleman said nothing. This was normal. Every day they had met for the past seven years, the seventh gentleman had come and not said a word. But his presence was welcomed, as he would always share a drink with them and raise their glass to whatever the toast was this time. He wasn’t uptight. Merely quiet.
  144.  
  145. It was during a conversation about the continued conquests of the British Empire that the Prestidigitator slammed the door open. They all jumped. Some even spilled their various drinks in their fright. For the apparition at their door was unlike anything their gentlemanly eyes had ever seen. He was dripping with water like he’d just crawled out of the River Styx, his eyes blazing like coals in his skull and almost all of his body wrapped in the shadow. A single hand was illuminated in the warm light of the room, offered in the universal sign of friendship. This hand was proffered as if to shake hands. It was bizarre, and not a little alluring to people of their profession.
  146.  
  147. “Gentlemen,” the being rasped. “I have a proposition for you.”
  148.  
  149. This was a little unusual. Nobody ever asked anything of gentleman magicians, least of all necromancers. At first they were anxious to direct such a fearsome fellow to a more useful group.
  150.  
  151. “Oh no, you must want the Gentlemen’s Association of Seers! Go down Elephant Street and take the first left. The house number is 92 –“
  152. “How about the Gentleman’s Group for the Elementally Gifted? They convene on Fridays – “
  153. “Could you possibly have mistaken this address for the Lady’s Guild of Illusion? I hear they’re quite popular-“
  154.  
  155. “No,” the man growled.
  156.  
  157. Quiet fell over the room. Fourteen sets of eyes fixed on the incredible being that had appeared in their meeting room.
  158.  
  159. “You are necromancers. Scorned by your fellow magicians and you took it all without complaint. Admirable, I admit. But why do you then persevere with this, call yourself necromancers? Surely,” the man swept the room with his eyes, then cracked a grin before flourishing with his out held hand. “You actually care about this. Even if you’d never admit it, you all gather together because you dream that, one day, you might be able to completely cast off the social scrutiny and fulfill your hopes of being true necromancers.”
  160.  
  161. No one spoke.
  162.  
  163. “And so, gentlemen, my proposition is this: you follow me, and I’ll make you all you ever wanted to be. Already they whisper my name in London town; they whisper the name of The Prestidigitator.”  
  164.  
  165. “But-“
  166. “Surely-“
  167. “No! It’s not true-”
  168.  
  169. The Prestidigitator laughed. The rich, rolling noise was fitting enough with the rest of his appearance to make the gentlemen immediately lose face.
  170.  
  171. “I’ll let you decide. When you meet again, I too will join you. I await your reply.”
  172.  
  173. And so he was gone. But his proposal remained like a wraith in the corner of the room.
  174.  
  175.  
  176. Of course they accepted. Of course they fell completely prey to his charms and pretty words, to his awe inspiring aura gained though all the tiny spells and charms he had learned throughout the years.
  177.  
  178. It was only when they had them completely in the palm of his hand, even, unknown to him, the heart of the seventh magician, that he revealed his master plan.
  179.  
  180. Seven years ago, when he first set eyes upon a magic book, the Sixth Gate of the Dead expired and was reborn. Every child knew the story of the Seven Gates of the Dead. They were brilliant stars, burning with the light of a thousand beautiful lives. When a soul died, they would make their way to one. Few would make it and receive eternal joy. Some would fall at the wayside, trapped in purgatory until another soul found and revived them. Most would never make it off of Earth, bound by obligations and worries and their hearts. Each star was ruled by a benevolent lord or lady. They were one of the souls who made the journey, but eventually the star would explode and die. Then their reign would end, and they would be reborn. When a new ruler ascended to the throne the star would burst back into life and they would rule until their flame faded. This was common knowledge.
  181.  
  182. What was less well known was that every hundred years, the First Gate would be reborn. Every seven years after the consecutive Gates would be reborn, until the Seventh. After that another one hundred years would pass until it began again. The Seventh Gate was due to die in less than a month.
  183.  
  184. And the Prestidigitator intended to be the new lord when it was reborn.
  185.  
  186. Predictable arguments ensued. But most of them were unsurprisingly petty, and we shall only focus on the main one: What were the advantages of such an action? More so, how would you intend to do such a thing?
  187.  
  188. The Prestidigitator, lounging by the fire with a glass of brandy in hand, was quick to explain.
  189.  
  190. “From what I have inferred from the various scraps of knowledge once possessed by Golden Age magicians, the Lords of the Gates are nigh omniscient. And it is no coincidence that only the purest of souls make their way to the gates, or some only after a spell in the space in between: what some would like to think of as Purgatory. These Lords do not just sit on pretty thrones in the heart of a star. No, they influence the world to make sure that only those they deem ready survive the journey. But the other souls present in the star do not have such powers, so it must be assumed that they are gained as part of the role. This power, gentlemen, could benefit us all greatly. Shared out, we would have ample strength and power to make the Golden Age magicians look weak. We would bring about a new Age, my friends. English magic would reach untold levels.”
  191.  
  192. “I see. But you leave the second query as to your method unanswered.”
  193.  
  194. “The magic itself is not too complex. But I will require all your strength and all your time to perfect it. Our timing must be as precise as we can make it. I will master the preparations, but you must offer the power.”
  195.  
  196. Such was his sway over them that none of the gentlemen questioned this vague description and immediately began to follow his instructions.
  197.  
  198. And so it was, on the night of a lunar eclipse, that the magicians gathered in the crypt of St Thomas’ Church and laid out their preparations. A magic circle was drawn, the bones arranged and the books laid out. The generous donations of the gentlemen had not gone unused.
  199.  
  200. The time of the eclipse drew closer, but everything was perfect. The eight assumed their positions and waited, looking through the giant glass window of the church that was not only visible from the stairs of the crypt, but also gave a perfect view of the reddening moon.
  201.  
  202. With mere minutes to go, The Prestidigitator began to murmur his words. None of the other seven present knew what they were, nor had he ever mentioned them before.
  203.  
  204. Then the eclipse was complete, and the seven gentlemen remembered very little of anything for a while after that.
  205.  
  206. Later, The Prestidigitator would admit that the things they saw with their new found power corrupted them. The whole of the universe before their eyes, everything large and small to be seen and savoured. The great and the terrible, all in equal measure. The Seventh Gate was broken, but they were stronger than they had ever even dreamed.
  207.  
  208. Sadly, they had the unfortunate problem of having been amalgated into a single entity.
  209.  
  210. This was awkward for several reason, not least because the seventh silent gentleman was actually a woman in disguise.
  211.  
  212. After they had absorbed all the worlds and civilizations they could stand, they turned their attention to other things. They found the Grandmasters, and joined them in the usual way. A Grand Battle was just the thing to hold their interest.
  213.  
  214. TL;DR: The Prestidigitator was a street magician in Victorian London. The study of theoretic magic was quite fashionable at the time, but he sought the glory and power of the Golden Age magicians. His talent allowed him some impressive success, but he enlisted the help of a group of gentlemen necromancers to help him in leeching the power of the Lord of Seventh Gate of Dead. They succeeded when they became the Lord of The Seventh Gate, but although this brought them the power they had dreamed of, they became a single entity. The scope of their vision led to them finding the Grandmasters, and their power made it no problem to joining them.
  215.  
  216.  
  217. 3.
  218.  
  219. The Prestidigitator had been waiting for a long time. Not that long, but any amount of time spent in the presence of the Broken Mirror lengthened and twisted the seconds into minutes, the minutes into hours and hours into whole days at a time, and so on. But that didn't matter. It was only perception, and the Mirror was worth it.
  220.  
  221. Even those who were not aware of its wonderful qualities would be impressed by the sheer size of the mirror. It stretched and stabbed from the floor of this great hall to the very ceiling, where faded angels and cherubim stared down with their reproachful gazes. Across the surface of the glass thousands, possibly millions, of cracks ran. Some were wide enough to fit a hand inside, and others were small enough to barely be visible to a human eye. Some weren't even that large.
  222.  
  223. The Prestidigitator used it to see everything.
  224.  
  225. Even that wasn't special. He had many smaller looking glasses dotted throughout the space he had sanctioned as his own, and they could all have served for this purpose of merely seeing.
  226.  
  227. The Broken Mirror, however, acted as a doorway and not just a window.
  228.  
  229. And now the Prestidigitator had finished waiting.
  230.  
  231. He ran and leapt at the behemoth of broken glass, stabbing his canesword into a crack. Using this he lifted himself up and grabbed through one of the portals to ensure another handhold. Blood sprang up as his hand sank into the splintered edges of the portal below it. Once more he raised himself a little further, and stared through a fragment of glass no larger than his palm.
  232.  
  233. Sure enough, a flash of black and pink whispered past his eye. Behind his brilliant white mask he smiled. And just as swiftly, the canesword and its Prestidigitator were gone.
  234.  
  235.  
  236. 4.
  237.  
  238. The round had begun. The Prestidigitator slipped back into blessed darkness, and savoured the solace. He lifted his cane-sword and examined it sadly.
  239.  
  240. What was apparent now that the viscous black ooze had been removed was that the blade had been broken. Not much more than a few inches from the tip had been lost, but it was another breakage. Another failure. He touched his porcelain mask gently, as if fearing that the cracks still ran through it.
  241.  
  242. The cane-sword could be replaced. It shouldn't matter, just another memory from his mortal days. And those were long behind him. Ha! He knew it, too. He could feel the weight of all that time hanging over him. The Prestidigitator felt old.
  243.  
  244. Not physically. He'd kept himself a perfect replica of his original human self at great cost, and he wasn't even the one who had suffered most for it. They had all been young, once. When they had abandoned the mortal coil, so to speak. And now, who among them could still claim to have that youth? He'd kept his original age, and he'd ensured Victoria had enjoyed the same. She must have realised that by now. But the others... they had withered. Their minds and souls were the same, more or less, but he had watched his friends succumb to the ageing he'd promised would never bother them.
  245.  
  246. He often wondered if they forgave him for that.
  247.  
  248. The Prestidigitator looked down at the hand that still held the pocket-watch. Maybe it hadn't really happened. Perhaps – could it be true? - it had merely been a chance misalignment, or a temporary failure of a complex system.
  249.  
  250. He opened the watch.
  251.  
  252. Seven hands gleamed back at him. Only seven.
  253.  
  254. He snapped it shut.
  255.  
  256. The Prestidigitator slumped into a chair that appeared beneath him. Clutching the watch in his left hand, he hooked a couple of fingers into the eye-socket of his mask and pulled it off. Nobody could see him here. It didn't matter. Closing his eyes, he leant back and relaxed. It felt good to let the scars air. They had never had any chance of healing, and now they were preserved forever until life stumbled to its end.
  257.  
  258. He let his mind wander. There was planning and scheming to attend to, and mistakes to atone for, but they could wait. Instead he chose to remember.
  259.  
  260. It had been dark. There was nothing new about that. The night time was when he came to life, and his countless tricks and variations of sleight of hand amused the other denizens of the night. He was a master of it all. Sometimes he'd relieve a richer patron of a cumbersome wallet or piece of jewellery, when money was hard to find. Maybe that was the reason for it. Maybe he'd haunted a location one too many times, and somebody had found it right to complain. Perhaps fingers had been pointed, and that was why they came for him.
  261.  
  262. It had been dark, and they had been waiting. He hadn't had time to react or defend himself. There were too many to fight against. The only thing he could do was wait for it to stop.
  263.  
  264. At first it wasn't too bad. Punches, kicks, a broken nose and maybe a few more broken parts too. Agony. But not too likely to be lethal, not yet. Most of his belongings had been taken by that point anyway.
  265.  
  266. Then somebody pulled out a knife. He can still remember how it looked, shining even though only the moon illuminated them. He can't remember the faces of those who attacked him, but he'll never forget the knife.
  267.  
  268. They stopped punching him, then, and that chilled him right to core. He can't remember if anyone was pinning him down, but it didn't matter. He was too scared to move. There was few playing cards, kept together somehow. They put it in between his teeth, to wedge his jaw open. The knife came closer, and he started to scream, really start to shriek. He finally got what they were going to do to him.
  269.  
  270. He thought his heart was going to explode, it was beating so fast. That might have been preferable. It would have been fast, at least.
  271.  
  272. Tears start to well up under the Prestidigitator's closed eyelids. Just remembering the pain is hell enough.
  273.  
  274. They weren't fast. They took their time. The one with knife eased it into his mouth, slowly, and pushed it against the corner of his mouth just enough to stretch it, nick it a little. Somebody said something, and the rest of them had laughed.
  275.  
  276. He'd stopped screaming by then.
  277.  
  278. The first side of his mouth – they'd started on the left side, a little at a time, and he can still feel the knife burning through his skin and can still taste the salt, his blood and his tears – had taken the longest. By then they'd started to get bored. The right side didn't take so long, but he was choking on his own blood by then. They'd had to sit him up because he'd stopped swallowing it and he'd have suffocated right there if they hadn't done anything. And where was the fun in that?
  279.  
  280. Then there was fire. Where had the fire come from? He didn't know but he was certain he was dying; there was too much blood. His skin was caked with it. As the fire got nearer he only had one thought, because he knew how this worked.
  281.  
  282. don't scream
  283.  
  284. They set the fire next to his cheek, let it caress it. And for the briefest of moments it didn't burn.
  285.  
  286. don't scream don't scream don't scream
  287.  
  288. The fire bit.
  289.  
  290. He couldn't help it: he screamed. His jaw snapped open and his skin with it, ripping open his face from ear to ear. Warm blood splattered gently against his upper face, but he could barely feel barely feel anything but the pain
  291.  
  292. don't scream
  293.  
  294. He would never stop screaming it wasn't possible too much pain
  295.  
  296. The Prestidigitator opened his eyes. He didn't want to remember any more. Carefully, he laid a hand on his cheek, almost expecting it to be wet with blood, but it had only scars.
  297.  
  298. [i]Only scars.[/i]
  299.  
  300. He tried to laugh but it was more like choking.
  301.  
  302. The Prestidigitator sat up. The broken cane-sword was still gripped in his right hand, but the mask and the pocket watch had dropped to the floor.
  303.  
  304. Victoria was watching him.
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