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Iris Fulcon

"Just doing my thang."

0 · 362 views · located in New York City

a character in “Gold Cuts”, originally authored by leisurelyatwar, as played by RolePlayGateway



Full Name: Iris Ernesta Fulcon
Goes by: Iris
Nickname: Ernie - used affectionately
Gender: Female
Ethnicity: European Descent
Age: 19
Sexuality: Plenty to go around

Band: Hoodrats
Role: Synth and back up vocals
Height: 5’6”
  • Scars: A handful of light, faded scars over her arms and from a childhood spent with four older brothers.
  • Tattoos: Tattoo on her inner arm as well as a simple outline of a the fish that symbolizes her faith on her right foot to always remind her to put her best foot forward.
  • Piercings:Belly button pierced 3 times, ears four times each.
Relationship Status: Single
Family: Her parents and six siblings live in Oklahoma
Known Languages: English
Role: Song Writer, Keyboardist, back up vocalist
Hobbies: Writing songs, thrift shopping, clothes alterations, reading
With a name such as her own, Iris (or Ernie to a select few) had to develop a sense of humor. Both her parents were book worms, shelves of leather bound books lining the walls of most of Iris' life. When Iris grew a passion for books it was at no surprise to her parents. By the time school came around Iris was already levels ahead of the other kids in her grade for reading skills. At a young age Iris would pick up on things fast.

Growing up most of the other girls would try to bully Iris for being ahead of most of her class, but Iris had always been a calm cool and collected type of persona. It takes a lot to get underneath her skin since most people's opinion she couldn't care less about. Extremely easy going, it's pretty easy to get along with Iris. She is soft spoken yet opinionated, almost radical in some instances. However she has grown very cautious over the years and learned to keep some opinions to herself.

A bit of a deep thinker, when Iris finds herself alone she often delves into deep self analytical bouts where she finds room for her to grow. Often she envisions herself as a tree, ever deepening her roots and reaching higher and higher into the sky. She was raised to be humble, and anything otherwise is very off putting to her. Considering herself an eternal student of the universe, Iris never really toots her own horn just because she considers it laughable in comparison of how many things she doesn't know yet.

A bit bossy, it isn't difficult to agitate Iris. She often thinks her way is the only way, and when others deter she can act like a brat. It isn't seen often, but in many of her close relationships she often is accused of "bossing her friends life" when really all she meant was to show how she cared. A very caring soul, it pains Iris when she sees others in pain, especially her friends. Naturally it's easy for her to care and want to help people, but unfortunately over time she has had to develop stricter boundaries because of life experience.

Much more of a lover than a fighter, Iris is affectionate and touchy. She can be subtle by leaning into you, or gently touch her cheek against yours as she means to whisper in your or, she doles out hugs and, kisses your cheek as a way of both greeting and good byes. Despite her inbred intimacy, Iris is awkwardly fearful of being intimate. She can be playful as a kitten, but when someone takes the bait she's all bark and no bite. Never really having been in an actual relationship, at this point Iris is convinced she would be completely impotent if she even tried. She allows herself to have a little fun, but nothing ever goes too far.

Although Iris is a go with the flow type, she never let's the opinions of others affect her decisions. She's been called feisty on several occasions, and she can act like a bitch if she so chooses. But for the most heart she is a warm hearted person.


Born in southern Oklahoma with four older brothers and little brother and sister was always eventful. Their parents were honest, hard working people. Her father worked on houses while their mother worked on lush garden to sell at the farmers market every Sunday. They owned about three acres, although about half of it was still covered in trees, housing wildlife. The older boys (7,5,3 &2 years her senior) would help out once they were strong enough to last in the hot summers. Once Irving and Lila were born and Iris was old enough she was almost always stuck babysitting. She learned to change a diaper when she was 6, and pretty much mastered it by age 7.

However despite her maternal upbringing, having four older brothers made it impossible to not be a bit of a tomboy. When her mother would let Iris play with the boys, they never would complain that they had to watch after her or that she's drag then down. They would run through the trees pretending to shoot each other and seeing who could climb the highest in the trees then dare each other to jump off, although after Nathaniel broke his arm they stopped playing that game.

Her town was full of wholesome Christian folk who never left city boundaries if they didn't have to and based their life off the tradition formerly set by their Good Ole American ancestors. Her mother taught her to play the organ, and they would sing in church every sunday and play the organ for the choir. There wasn't much diversity, and looking back she wasn't sure if it had just so happened that way or if people understood that conformity was expected in her home town. When Iris began acting tomboyish some of the other girls would tease her for wanting to play with boys when they had cooties.

For most of her life Iris did have guy friends. None of them really ever looked at her romantically, instead claiming her cool demeanor made her "like one of the guys". Her mother often would complain how Iris would never find a husband when she couldn't even keep her face grime free. When she started to become a teenager her mother would get worse. While Iris just wanted to cut her hair off her mother would labor time into brushing and braiding Iris' long blond locks or nitpick over Iris' outfit.

When Iris started high school she finally made close friends with a girl that wasn't tomboyish like herself, Faith. Iris' mother was ecstatic, asking Faith to teach Iris to curl her hair or do her make up. Faith never gave Iris a hard time about her mother, and the two could just play cards for hours while they watched MTV and shooed the boys away. Faith often stayed the night, which Iris loved because Lila slept with their mother while their father took the couch and Iris and Faith would lay in the Full size bed and chat all night as they tried to force themselves to stay awake to sneak down stairs and get some snacks.

Then one day they kissed, just to test it out and see if they could teach each other. Iris remembered when It first happened, Lila tasted like cherries and carmex. They only kisses sometimes, and it was innocent. At least at first. But there was something tempting in the doughy flesh and soft lips that would leave Iris fantasizing about Iris and yearning for their next kiss. Once when they had finished a movie they went up stairs to lay down and "practice", Iris had just been pushing up the hem of Faith's shirt when the door swung open and there stood Iris's mother with her arms full of laundry.

It was a mess, her parents called Faith's parents and everyone got together to try to talk it out. Iris couldn't remember a time seeing her mom cry so much. The girls ended up promising to never doing anything like that again and in return the parents forbade the girls from seeing each other outside of school. For days the two couldn't even look at each other. After a week passed Iris tried to talk to Faith, maybe see if she felt the same confusing emotions that kept drawing Iris to Faith. Faith just ignored her and kept walking.

After that Iris couldn't wait to get out. When her parents saw that she began to withdraw, and would receive calls from Faith’s parents about Iris still trying to be in touch with Faith, they decided it was best if Iris move upstate with her eccentric Aunt Marie. She began her freshman year in Brooklyn, it was an opportunity for a fresh start. She was able to find people who accepted her for who she is, and when she met Zayne and the others Iris felt like she was finally on the track her life was meant to be on.

So begins...

Iris Fulcon's Story


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ilyas Naqvi Character Portrait: Iris Fulcon Character Portrait: Zayne Pierce
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Iris Fulcon
Tapping her fingers rythmically on her knee, Iris glared at the face of her phone as if willing it to ping. “Come on, Zayne.” she murmured with traces of both annoyance and concern. On one hand she knew that whatever reason Zayne was late was legitimate - the boy had a lot on his plate. On the other hand, if they were to miss out on this opportunity because once again Zayne had other priorities, it would be difficult for Iris to not sulk for a substantial amount of time. On the other side of those double doors were some of the biggest names in music right now, not to mention a golden ticket to the other side. J had invited the Hoodrats himself to this competition, did that mean it was a sure thing - or just him trying to fill up the audition slots? It seemed like mostly everyone had cleared out, only a few of those who had already had their chance were left milling around with gaunt faces. Dark eyes looked up at the clock, any minute now their name would be called.

Long fingers played with the stringy blonde hair, rebraiding the same strand over and over. Exhaling heavily, Iris reached out behind her, stretching out her legs to lay out on the floor. Closing her eyes, the girl began to count the seconds that ticked by, the weight pressing into her chest becoming heavier and heavier each moment. Breathe in. Breathe out. She repeated in her mind, pacing her breath. After repeating this to herself several times, she apruptly rolled onto her stomach. Snapping her stare to Ilyas, Iris spoke with agony in her voice. “I’m going to diee, I can’t wait any longer!” Iris was never known to be patient. Dropping her head to the floor and burying it into her arms, she groaned. “Where the FUCK is Zayne?!” Her profanity was almost muffled, although a few heads snapped in their direction.

The click of the double doors opening made everyone’s attention avert back to where it had been all day. There were only two ways people were coming out of the audition room, either jumping for joy or with wet eyes. By the look of the band as they milled out with long faces, it was no good news for them. Iris sighed, as if relieved. The man with the head set stepped out and spoke out, ”Up next, Hoodrats. Hoodrats, you’re up...Hoodrats.” The man called out, eyes scanning the crowd. Scrambling to her feet, Iris threw her hand up, making eye contact with the man. He nodded in acknowledgment, motioning her over. Her heart began to pound faster, she could feel the blood rushing to her ears. With panicked eyes, she pivoted to face Ilyas. “What do we do?!” She whispered. They just couldn’t perform is Zayne wasn’t there - or they could but they wouldn’t sound very good. Rubbing her sweated palms on her denim pants, she could feel her breath shorten. This was their defining moment, where the fuck was Zayne?


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Yuki Misora Character Portrait: Eleonora Santoro Character Portrait: Ilyas Naqvi Character Portrait: Iris Fulcon Character Portrait: Zayne Pierce
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#, as written by Layla

The figure sat hunched in the darkness, a mere impression of something or rather that no one seemed to take much notice of or even realise was there. In another life, it might’ve been a spy for the FBI but in this, it was nobody. Its hair was tucked beneath a nondescript hat claiming "I l v isneyl nd" in an echo of what might've once been a violent shade of pink. A malnourished shoulder was pressed against the wall, its emaciated body hidden beneath a hoodie decades past its shelf life.

Miyuki Misora had arrived long before the first Hoodrat trickled in. She liked to be early and besides, she had nothing better to do. She curled into herself as she watched Ilyas and Iris grow in frustration. It wasn't any selfish reason that Zayne was late, of that she was sure, but even she was feeling the inklings of fear as she watched as candidates and staff ebbed from the building one after another. She wondered if Ilyas and Iris were tired; they'd been standing for over an hour. Or maybe more. Less? Yuki had lost track of time months ago, or had it been years? She could scarcely remember how old she was. 14? 30?

She shivered beneath the fraying cotton of her hoodie, a particularly large hole at her elbow causing her special discomfort. Yuki couldn't remember the last time she ventured further than 500 metres away from the building. It was strange seeing these many people, but she would be safe if nobody noticed her. She would be safe. Yuki clutched herself tighter.

It was worth it, she reasoned. She would never miss the day when Iris, Ilyas and Zayne made it big and escaped the limits of those four, crumbling walls. The judges would be hypnotised three bars into the song or less. They couldn't not be. These three were the most gifted musicians she'd heard in her life, more so than any of her mother's students and they certainly deserved it more than anyone. They needed this and Yuki wanted to be there when they got it. Yuki nearly jumped as the glass doors slid open. The last time she'd seen automated doors was when she went grocery shopping with her mother which was rare in itself. Someone entered. Zayne?

“That’s it. No more. Audition’s over. Everybody out,” barked a young man. He shifted his iPad Mini from one hand to another, his head tilted back with the band-aid arrogance of an employee fresh out of a prestigious university but inept to Gold Cuts’ prominence and austerity. He glanced behind him at the door to the auditorium that sat slightly ajar like a kindergartener seeking reassurance for the dozenth time. What he saw seemed to satisfy him, as he returned to exuding his self-imposed superiority upon the members of Hoodrats. “Obviously you don’t want it enough if you’re late,” he added. “We’re very busy, you know. We’ve heard thousands of bands. You should feel honoured you’re even in the same building as Paradox. They’re already exhausted and you had the guts to make them wait!” He spoke with a sense of delusive familiarity. "Leo pushed herself so hard she nearly collapsed.”

"Leo is quite fine, thank you.” The voice echoed from the hallway around the corner, washing over the young staff member like an ocean tide gently but firmly tucking a baby crab back into the waters. The sound was like liquid gold in zero gravity. Each word had been delicately scripted on musical staves to form a whimsical melody that allowed the listener a mere glimpse into the netherworlds. Already Yuki could hear the notes that ethereal voice could sing. Everything. That voice could sing any and every note. It could read the phone book and ensconce all mortals.

“Miss Santoro,” the man addressed quickly, a blush blooming over his face as spun around. Despite his meek retreat, he was tall with broad shoulders. Yuki couldn’t see the source of the voice beyond the slither of long hair that glistened like snow.

“John, how are you?” the woman asked.

“No. I mean, good. Thank you, Miss Santoro.” John mumbled, averting his eyes that were wide with shock and pride at being addressed by Paradox’s lead singer by name.

“What appears to be troubling you?” she asked sympathetically.

“Nothing, Miss. These candidates were late. I was just sending them away.”

There was a momentary pause before the the figure stepped forward, her fingers floating beneath the tablet John held. He seemed to freeze for a few breaths like a deer caught in the headlights before resting the device in her hands. The ends of a smile touched the corners of her full lips as she turned her gaze upon him. She glanced down at the iPad, her fingers dancing across the screen before she returned it. John stared down in confusion, wondering what she’d changed, if anything, before noticing the small printed numbers at the top of the screen.


“But…” he trailed.

“Why don’t you start heading home, John? You've worked so hard today,” she praised. “You must be exhausted. I will remember to put in a good word for you.”

“A-ah, yes. Thank you, Miss Santoro,” John stuttered, stupefied by the celebrity standing before him, staring into his eyes and whispering his name in that whimsical tongue of hers.

“I’ll bring them in.” John nodded but did not move. "Have a good night, John.” He muttered a farewell before shuffling away, revealing the full extent of the beauty that had been partially veiled by his body.

A waterfall of platinum gold cascaded down the arch of her spine, brushing the edge of her tailbone, its fair light rivalled only by her smooth alabaster skin. Eyes like shattered glass reflected the rare luminescence of aquamarine as they moved from one Hoodrats member to the other. Sharp collarbones slit across her body, juxtaposed by the soft arch of her naked shoulders. She wore a simple and elegant dress that curved into her small waist and swelled over her hips, ending halfway down her thighs to reveal the narrow legs that stretched to the envy of every woman. She was remarkably tall, especially for a woman, and her willowy build made her seem frail enough to be broken over one knee. But her firm gaze and the aura of regality radiating from her declared otherwise. She didn’t seem entirely real.

Yuki’s heart was threatening to tear itself from its socket with the force of her heartbeats. The woman was a queen. She felt the phantom bittersweetness of remembering her first and only trip to Disneyland, and the awe that consumed her when she gazed upon the princesses.

“Shall we?” the Queen asked, gliding with an uncanny grace across the space that cleared as she approached. She couldn’t even hear the click of the woman’s heels as she moved. Perhaps she was a ghost after all.

Yuki kept close, sinking into the shadows.


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Alyosha Ellison Character Portrait: Yuki Misora Character Portrait: Eleonora Santoro Character Portrait: Ilyas Naqvi Character Portrait: Giovanni Santoro Character Portrait: Logan Kenneth
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ilyas naqvi
chapter i - a guide to actually getting somewhere

        Death awaited; chrono-guillotine the ominous judgment above their geese necks, the clock's cadence of twirling arms in the waltz of
        anxiety upon his nerves, and his axons coil into taunt spheres of twine.

        Right, they were thoroughly fucked, predestined for unfortunate lives, hexed and cursed and doomed to endure the worst – but he was
        never particularly talented in the business of throwing towels.

        "He'll come." Is his placid answer to the volcanic frustration of one blonde haired sylph – which isn't false, Zayne was sure to arrive with
        adrenaline leaking from the pores of his face in due time, it was just a concern of when. Heavy with the bindings of atmospheric nooses the
        flickers of his eyelids become decelerated during the hypnotism, spiral of the clock a formidable antagonist to the contradictory human
        mind, and his hands find his neck for the hundredth time, the tips curling against the nape in fruitless attempt of being self-soothing.
        However, if he wanted to be comfortable he'd smoke a joint (though, now that he thinks about it, is impossible – details, details) and besides,
        he never did too well with being comfortable in the first place.

        The threshold of panic didn't seize his cardiac muscles until their time to breathe out stardust in musical arrangement had come, announced
        in flippant tone of the overworked, underpaid, and it digs into his skin like incandescent fishhooks. A burn of peroxide from within and finally
        the springs release their energy and he rises, ball jointed doll of snapping, breaking motions and eyes feverish, constricted and ghastly and
        prepared to escape the weakened sockets. "Holy shit, we're going to die." Ah! An affirmation of distress! His words are pried out from
        dehydrated throat and strained into cat gut string. The look is dedicated to Iris, heart circulating blood at miles per minute and he finds shards
        of their synchronized demise sketched in swivet countenance. Yes – good question, what are they going to do? Attempt a 'the show must go on' maneuver? Plead for more time? Claim constipation? Create a nifty distraction by setting something on fire?

        He hardly acknowledges the band before them cascading into the back room of monochrome and modernization, only their radiating grief and
        his hasty heartbeat. Swiftly, in a wave of a motion Ilyas smothers himself, the palm of his hand covering the scruff of his facial hair (he wouldn’t
        don the characteristics of his pubescent self if he had shaved – but why would he? vanity was a strange thing, and he was quite smitten with the aesthetics the genetics of his father had given to him, and the phone number fitted comfortably in the back pocket of his jeans was a generous
        bonus) as the gears in his head turn, can literally feel the exchange of information whizzing from frontal lobe to those anxious fingertips.

        The light bulb bursts into a million fragments, the glass slivers rain down on him like transparent snow.

        "I know what we have to do." He states, stabilization resounding in the notches of his convex spine, hands continuing to conceal his face for
        several delayed seconds. “Yuki.” And the name is a torrent of rose water, spoken as if they were a brotherhood of gamblers tucking aces into
        their tailored suit sleeves. It’s an answer simultaneously obvious and obscure, and the corners of his lips curl as noxious clouds part to reveal
        the illumination of heaven. “I mean – no shit, right? She writes the music, knows the music Hell probably treats the music like it’s her bible,
        prayin’ in compositions and all that.” His grin feels insatiable, the bells of relief ringing within his lungs, singing of their hollownessas a new
        dread feasts upon the kingdom of his psyche, and Ilyas presses his lips together into a paper thin line, dodging eye contact of both Iris,
        the head-set professional and Yuki herself, the seraph wallflower.

        Maddened laughter absconds from his chest, the chortle startling the pair of canaries caged in the corner, feathers of citrus ruffling as his arms
        spread, hands latching onto Iris’ shoulders and shaking her for a moment – dammit! Don’t shake the baby, man! “I mean, don’t get me wrong.”
        Flip of the switch, recalibrate electricity and his demeanor transforms, furrowed brow puckering the skin between his eyebrows and jaw
        settled into severity, distant guilt already gnawing at his kidneys. “It wouldn’t be the same without Zayne, it’d probably be sort of fucking
        weird –– sorry Yuki, but I've grown accustomed to your elusive charms – but if he can’t make it in time, well, our dream can be saved.” The
        sunrise of a smile all but wans, and his hold on the blonde is detached, wrenched away as cement expands in the apertures of his psyche, sticky
        tar exuding from the roof of his mouth, closed by force, feels as if he had chewed a fistful of stale taffy.

        And his heart palpitates; it skips a beat, skips a beat, skips a beat.

        Until he's simply a machine, nodding, cannot even vocalize a word because they are submerged in the goo but it's Elenora fucking Santoro and
        his breath is stolen, evicted with the problem - her presence the catalyst to temporary amnesia- and he follows, heart beating, thumping,

        Oh God, they are so screwed.

alyosha ellison
chapter i - lemon drop

        “Oh damn that was cold.” Her eyes are bubbling champagne, popped and oozing with iridescent excitement, the pupils oscillating between the departing group of monotonous clichés and their manager of chiseled apathetic marble, the art form of detachment perfected by years in the industry of feral dogs and venomous snakes. “J, you might want to talk a psychologist; each day I see you grow a little more jaded and cruel –
        before you know it I’ll be calling you our old man. I could dress you up in suspenders then, it’ll make up for the loss of your cute factor.”
        During the years preceding the present these impish words would have never been illustrated by her silenced tongue, had only spoken to elders
        in tones of orchestrated respect unless her sense faltered and stumbled into grave mistakes, but now teasing him feels natural, on par with
        smiles and sipping the sweetest of fermented beverages.

        Speaking of fermented beverages, the cylinder of steel is lifted from the table, insulated water bottle crafted to preserve a refreshing cold abused
        to store red wine – justified if she is to be masquerading as their panel’s Paula Abdul, though the apparent role was self-chosen. She imbibes
        whilst maintaining act of moderate sobriety, nectar in her stomach, cradling her mood and leaving cherry painted lips particularly exuberant
        with each drop, alcohol’s melody the superior life-coach to humankind, and when the container returns to its place on the table a crossbreed
        noise of laugh and giggle rolls from her tongue to her teeth. “Dears, be hard on yourselves, and maybe we’ll see you next year – chin up!” She calls, hand waving with languid benevolence, and though she does not speak falsehoods, her sincerity is stunted, half grown and doesn’t shutter the conscious, everything instead pleasant and warm.

        But she was prepping, preparing herself for a gala worth of the twenty-first century, where the sky is caressed by fingertips and crystals are desserts swallowed whole, needed the ballroom to stretch her legs after this excruciating inertia.

        “I think that went relatively well, my ears aren’t bleeding, which is impressive enough. I give them a two point three.” Wicked, senseless
        rambling churns from her, a finger running through hair coddled into soft nightsilk, twirling the strands around the slim appendage of a doll.
        Is she the only one having fun around here? Sparing a glance to her bandmates she senses her vexation squirm and relax in the pit of her
        shrunken, raisin stomach, Gio beside her mesmerized by empty space and Logan tending to a dog that, despite her adoration for the slobbery
        canine creature, she refused to sit next to due to the hair that would cling to her clothes. Maybe today was a bad day for the sundress of floral
        dusk – and Alyosha exhales in a slow demonstration of theatrics, smoothing the wrinkles of the garment as she mentally begs an abandoned
        higher power to convince Leo to return to the land of monotony.

        Strangely enough, her endeavor in summoning magick seems to work, the blonde bombshell sashaying into the auditorium within her next
        breath. And all she does is wave, fingers curling towards her palm, corner of her mouth quirking - tugging into her cheek, transitory smirk
        vanishing in a second in her act of real magic, just as she buries the fallout of an old, bitter jealousy that it won't be her that Elenora sits next to
        - and damn, does she know the filter of brazen entertainment she'd experience if she did.


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Alyosha Ellison Character Portrait: Eleonora Santoro Character Portrait: Ilyas Naqvi Character Portrait: Giovanni Santoro Character Portrait: Logan Kenneth Character Portrait: Iris Fulcon
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#, as written by Layla

She hadn't helped them out of the kindness of her own heart, not that anybody ever did. Everybody was selfish, it was only a matter of how well one disguised it with pretty words and plasticine smiles. Some aided the poor to feel better about themselves, others did it for the grandeur of having their names printed on flimsy plaques, she did it because it would be an inconvenience if she did otherwise. She noticed the way they stood, like statues carved of the very floor on which they stood, eternally embedded to the ground. Their eyes sparked like embers, laced with the cold, hard flint of contumacy. If she'd abandoned them to John Warren, born January 26th 1990 in Brandon, Mississippi, U.S.A., credited with a Bachelor of Communications (Honours) from Stanford University, blood type O-negative, employed 5th of May 2014 in internal relations, they would never leave the premises for an extended period of time and their actions would disrupt company order. Thus frazzling some employees and creating an environment of discordance which could heighten the frustration of individuals, likely leading to an increase in poorly disposed waste like loose staples, scrap paper and the like. The janitors would struggle to maintain the building's sanitation, having adverse effects on her health.

Besides, she was not particularly pleased with the way John Warren was expressing his illusive familiarity. "Leo is quite fine, thank you." People were almost too easy to wield. It eradicated much of her daily entertainment. They were goldfish in bowls, stupid, pretty and predictable. In a few minutes she had John Warren compressed in her ceramic mould and freshly baked in a 1,100 degrees fahrenheit cremation chamber. Now the candidates before her were much more interesting.

A smile teased the corners of her full lips as she cast her eyes upon Ilyas Naqvi, born February 20th 1994, instrument voice and guitar, band Hoodrats, pakistani-caucasian, who was openly gawking at her. He seemed interesting enough. His costume was certainly unusual, as was that of his companions. She noted the material of his fraying shirt - 90% polyester, 10% cotton, the poor boy - in her peripheral vision. The sole female in their band, Iris Fulcon, age nineteen, 5'6", European-caucasian, instrument synth and backup vocals, looked to be the sort that trimmed her own hair or didn't. The jewellery, if that was what you could call those nickel and copper pieces, that graced her ears were likely produced in Shenzhen, China. Johnathan Walker Pierce, best known as "Zayne," age seventeen, caucasian, instrument bass guitar, was probably the worst for wear, if that could be possible. His clothing was faded and marred with sweat, and something that looked suspiciously like blood stained the corner of his shirt. He had what appeared to be a young girl attached to his back. They were all either astoundingly impoverished or effectively dressed to convey the rodent in their name.

How fascinating.

"Shall we?" she purred.



“That’s it. No more. Audition’s over. Everybody out."

J tensed to spring from his chair but thought better of it. This entire Battle of the Bands was not in his domain. If it were, half the musicians they'd heard would not have been given even a fraction of their time. He was there merely as the manager of the winning band's mentors - Paradox - and as an established talent scout. He could cut bands short every now and again but ultimately, it was up to the board of judges to vote, which included the four Paradox members, six Gold Cuts' staff members - including two of their main songwriters, a few board of directors, and incredibly, the personal assistant of Gold Cuts Inc.'s founder and owner, Evelyn Jones - and two external experts. If they decided auditions were over, they were.


"We should admit the remaining candidates," he began over the murmurs filtering through the door. "Since they're here anyway. They might turn out to be what we're looking for."

"We've heard enough," Evelyn Jones admonished, standing to pile her endless array of documents into her stiff briefcase. Despite being only in her mid-thirties, streaks of grey decorated her otherwise strawberry blonde hair. It seemed working for the elusive President Burns. Unlike most organisations, Gold Cuts did not have a vice, rather, Miss Jones appeared to do everything a vice or a president was supposed to do. Few people knew of President Burns' first name, much less his appearance. J was amongst the few. He realised in the first moments when he met the President that he was... Interesting.

He parted his lips to present his argument but before the words escaped, a soft, familiar crooning trickled into the room like sleeping gas. The stress visibly ebbed from limbs, even Jones seemed to slow in her packing. He could not for the life of him understand why. There was nothing at all relaxing about Paradox's lead singer's presence. Her voice would not be what he'd choose for a meditative trance. She could give a robot a run of its money.

“I’ll bring them in.” J's eyebrows furrowed in confusion. Was she helping them? Moments later, she glided into the room in all her platinum blonde glory, looking all in the world like a magazine cover brought to life. She was disgustingly self-assured, directing her gaze to him as if to bait him further. Fight me, her eyes said. He always found her stare unnerving. Whilst Gio's gaze was dark and warm in the normal light but a brilliant crystalline emerald when the sun returned his smile, his twin's was in a perpetual state of deathlike stillness. Her eyes were so pale, they didn't seem entirely human, rather they were a shuddering glimpse into a watery Hell. It was like all the colour had been bled from her body and soul. Before he could look away, a rare, dazzling smile that dimpled her cheeks overcame her features.

He choked on the bottled water he held to his lips. Turning around, he realised the uncharacteristic expression had not been directed to him at all. Jones shook her head slowly, but sat down, placing her briefcase carefully beside her. What price had the candidates she'd saved paid for her help? It was likely they'd sacrificed a leg and an arm each, along with everybody they loved. She was the devil and he prayed they still had their souls.

The candidates shuffled in then and J had to restrain himself from tackling them to the ground. To give them a good beating or a bone-crushing embrace, he wasn't sure. Probably both. The three Hoodrats members stood in the room, looking jarringly out of place between the pristine ivory walls.

Leo said nothing as she took her seat beside her twin. Her chair didn't so much as grown or scrape against the floor. He had to wonder if she weighed anything at all. He noted Alyosha's longing watchfulness and the envy that wove through her smile. The Twigs as he called them might've been a fan favourite of the men but he knew they had to be careful. Infatuation was a dangerous thing, especially when the reckless were involved. Although the paparazzi liked to portray Logan and Leo as being "intimate friends," such a thought was enough to make J snort. He'd known Logan for years and Leo was about as far from his type as was humanly possible. Logan seemed about ready to sleep but J knew it was an illusion. He wondered if Logan slept at all.

Documents were placed before them, detailing the three figures before each of them - lead singer and guitarist Ilyas Naqvi, synth and backup vocalist Iris Fulcon, and bass player Zayne Pierce. The file was remarkably thin in comparison to the previous ones they'd been given. Prior bands had been more than happy to provide a detailed account of every bloody moment of their lives from their times of conception. Hoodrats' files offered minimal information - age, gender, education, names...

Then it began.

"Are you alright, Miss Santoro?"

"How are you feeling?"

"Are you sure you should be back?"

"Do you need a drink?"

"What can we do-"

"You may introduce yourselves and the songs you'll be performing," he interrupted the chatter. He could not stand the way everybody fawned over her. Have some dignity, he thought. His face remained impassive as he regarded the band before him. He could barely contain his anticipation but he didn't want anyone thinking the only reason they won - and he knew they would - was because he favoured them. He knew without a doubt every judge would be blown away by their performance. If anything, their music would be so extraordinary, they would be overwhelmed. He gestured to the tens of thousands worth of musical instruments behind them.

"Please begin."


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Alyosha Ellison Character Portrait: Eleonora Santoro Character Portrait: Ilyas Naqvi Character Portrait: Giovanni Santoro Character Portrait: Logan Kenneth Character Portrait: Iris Fulcon
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Iris Fulcon:

Ilyas hadn’t offered much comfort, although Iris hadn’t high expectations anyways. Comforting others was more her own department, when she wasn’t micromanaging their lives - or trying to at least. She held herself tight, unmoving with her eyes darting from the doors where bands had been walking in and out of all morning and to Ilyas. Time was ticking, and it was now or never. The minutes seemed to drag as she continued to stare onto Ilyas as if he would conjure up the solution out of thin air.

The man who had called their names only minutes ago spoke out again, annoyed as he called the day to an end. A weight slammed into Iris’s chest, causing her to cringe. “What?! No!” She called out as Ilyas crumpled beside her mumbling "Holy shit, we're going to die."Iris gripped his arm, pulling him back up. ”Think, think FAST.” was all she could say. Her brain was scrambling for ideas, any idea - just something that could give them a chance.

His eyes suddenly lit up, she could see the Eureka moment before he even spoke. “Yuki!” He said, rambling on about how it all made sense. Iris squirmed, looking around in confusion. ”Yuki? She’s here?” With his arms still gripping her shoulders, Iris gave him a questioning look as he continued. ’It is official,’ she thought to herself ’I broke him.’ Ilyas spoke indirectly to a slight figure clad in a hoodie. Squinting, all Iris could tell was that this figure was a woman, and possibly asian. ”Ilyas, you can’t just assume that’s Yuki, that’s racist!” Iris hissed, half playfully, half just as a reassurance incase the woman wasn’t Yuki and Ilyas had just offended her.

In truth, none of them had met Yuki, at least not to Iris’ knowledge. They’d seen glimpses, but nothing more. The girl was practically a myth, the phantom of The Hoodrats potential success. Before their bickering could progress a different sort of phantom interrupted. Eleanora Santoro emerged from the doors, looking every bit as flawless as any picture Iris had ever seen of her. Her ethereal beauty almost disturbed Iris, making her unable to directly stare at “Nora”, which Ilyas seemed to have no trouble doing. Although her actions were in favor of Iris’ situation, there was something in her cold voice that made Iris’ gut twist with discomfort. ‘Don’t trust her. the little voice in the back of her mind told her.

But why shouldn’t she? Here, the pale goddess had saved their day, and for some reason Iris wasn’t jumping for joy kissing the path the woman left as she led them into the room. Once Eleanora was out of sight, Iris seemed to snap back into reality, locking eyes with Zayne and seeing his little sister beside him. Her anger only flashed for a moment, before relief flooded her expression. He met them as they walked toward the room, apologizing off the bat. Iris ruffled his hair and pulled him into a half hug as they walked, kissing the side of his head. “I’m just happy you’re here.” She stated simply, following Ilyas into the audition room.”Next time though...answer your fucking phone.” she whispered so that Eli couldn’t hear her.
She tapped the Eli on the head, waving enthusiastically when she looked up and smiling. The girl smiled back, scrunching up her nose.

As they rounded onto the audition stage, the bright lights and mass of equipment overwhelmed Iris. She had never seen such an elaborate set up. Certain she appeared every bit as naive as she felt, she took no shame in looking around with a sense of wonder. Everyone looked so polished, and they were all clad in thrift store get ups. An authoritative and familiar voice broke the silence. Iris looked up to recognize J, the man who had personally invited them to the auditions. She almost waved as a greeting, but the penetrating stares of everyone else stopped her. Suddenly Iris felt very aware of how vulnerable she was to these people. She was about to give her all in a few short minutes and be told wether she was wasting her time and if her dreams were meaningless. Her breath became more rapid, and her palms sweaty.

J motioned to the instruments behind him, and before anyone could speak, Iris awkwardly walked away from her band as if to eliminate herself from speaking first. Pretending to be seriously selecting an instrument, Iris waited until one of her bandmates began speaking that Iris finally felt calmed enough to actually comprehend what she was looking for. Calling her name was a keyboard, synthesizer hybrid - sleek design and bright colors calling to her. She could hear her other band mate introducing herself as she reached for Kraken - the name she had decided to give the instrument. “Come here, Kraken.” she mumbled to herself, attempting to break down the instrument so that she could carry it.

Two men rushed to her side as if to shoo her. Startled, Iris leapt back, arms up and letting out an ‘Eeep’. Confused, the men then proceeded to carry the instrument to where her other band mates were still speaking. Her cheeks reddened, realizing that they were only doing their job by carrying the expensive material instead of having some scrawny teenager drag it to the stage. Shaking her head as she pinched the bridge of her nose, Iris turned to go back to the stage.

Something about the energies in this room were all wrong. Hypersensitive to her surroundings, Iris felt ill at ease in this room. It wasn’t the type of anxiety that one has from performing in high pressure situations, it was more like the type of anxiety from being put into a room with an obvious tension in the air. Caught into her own thoughts, Iris wasn’t watching her feet as she came around some loose wires. Stumbling, she caught herself on a keyboard that only buckled under her weight. The loud noise caused a few heads to turn her way, making Iris wince with embarrassment. One of the men that had moved her instrument to the front before helped her up, a look of mild exasperation and amusement striking his features. ”Oh, God - I am so sorry..I am so so sorry.. she wanted to offer to pay to replace it, but she knew she couldn’t afford it.

He mumbled something along the lines of, ‘Don’t sweat it’, pushing her back onto the stage with her bandmates. Flustered, Iris stood beside Zayne, almost leaning into him. She figured he would understand that she wasn’t doing to good, but if that wasn’t enough she whispered ”I’m going to cry.” It all was so overwhelming, one small thing could ruin everything, and it felt like she had already done several very big things that would definitely ruin it all.

It seemed like the spot light was now on her, she was the only one left to introduce herself. It almost felt impossible to function. Laughing awkwardly, Iris clasped her hands together. “Iris.” She said simply, pointing to herself. Wincing inwardly, she cleared her throat before continuing. “I’m Iris Fulcon, back up vocals to the, erm - handsome Ilyas Naqvi and synth.” At this she stood behind her instrument, doing a brief tune for effect.


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Alyosha Ellison Character Portrait: Yuki Misora Character Portrait: Eleonora Santoro Character Portrait: Ilyas Naqvi Character Portrait: Giovanni Santoro Character Portrait: Logan Kenneth
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The continuous comments form the seemingly benevolent Alyosha eased the pressure of having to say anything himself. She could definitely make up for his offstage silence.

There was still a low chatter between judges and J and other staff hurrying around back stage. Every other band had been early or perfectly on time. This sort of opportunity would not wait for just anyone. The paperwork behind it was incredible as well. He glanced again at J's paper filled table. Sitting behind a desk is not where Logan belonged, which aided to making dropping out of college such an easy decision. He did his best and stayed out of the bureaucracy and politics of the Gold Cuts. In that aspect, he did rather well. The problem was always the media and the rumors, but he really had no control over that. Those viewers who believed so deeply in the media were always disappointed whenever Leo and he appeared together, but not together. Many people liked to assume they have a history together, when in reality, they've avoided each others' private company completely.

He glanced around the all too familiar auditorium once more, remembering when he first came here with J to show the rest of the Gold Cuts staff his skill and worth. It didn't take much convincing. Besides, the need for a drummer in Paradox was crucial and completed the band. Now, more than ever, did he feel like the band was missing something.

“That’s it. No more. Audition’s over. Everybody out." The voice raised above the murmurs in the auditorium. He didn't really care for whatever was going on. Good, we can leave. Logan stood for a moment, Briar Rose shifting her head off his thigh and following suit by standing, reaching 38 cm at her shoulders. Then he realized Leo, walking down the aisle to the judges' table with the rest of Paradox. Voices rose again and footsteps echoed onstage as crew and contestants scrambled for to get the situation in order again. As Leo walked past to the empty seat next to him, he couldn't help but feel a chill run down his spine. He had history with many people, mostly women, but Leo was not one of them. She was a phantom. A ghost of a person. She haunted him. Of course she was incredibly beautiful and talented, there was no denying that. However, there was something missing within. Heaven knows how much Logan has going on within himself, mentally especially. He always thinks. His ability to read people is lacking, to say the least, but not so much is his ability to simply tell people what they want to hear. My mind is troubled, like a fountain stirred; And I myself see not the bottom of it.

The next words were probably the first phrase he'd spoke all morning. "Bienvenue, Eleonora. Je vois que vous faites bien," he spoke at the moment she silently sat down. He didn't even have to look to know that Giovanni's eyes would light up at the appearance of his sister. Logan would often speak in many other languages, French being the most common for conversation, since every Paradox member could speak it rather well. He'd speak in other, less well known languages when he mumbled comments to himself. It wasn't intentional, rather habitual since he knew so many different languages that none felt like his own.

He let out a short sigh and sat back down, crossing his arms against the table in front of him. Briar Rose, again, followed his movements but this time lied down and rested her head on his shoe, something she'd done since she was a small puppy. She wasn't visible from the stage while lying on the ground. Last one. This group would have his attention for the next few minutes simply because he was now anxious to get back to the penthouse and his room.

Flipping open the thin folder than had just been placed in front of him, he scanned over the basic information and matched names to the faces on the stage before him, a slight smirk on his face. --

Ilyas Naqvi. Lead Singer and Guitarist. Even from this distance, Logan could tell he was staring directly at Leo. This guys wasn't the first one to become infatuation with her upon first encounter. Physically, the only thing he noticed was the amount of seemingly random tattoos Ilyas had. For his sake, Logan hoped they had a sort of meaning instead of useless stains. He seemed confident enough on stage, as a lead singer should.

Iris Fulcon. Backup Vocals and Synth. As he looked up to identify her, a clamor was heard off stage followed by her stumbling and apologizing. He smirked. They're really out of their element, aren't they? The girl's long blonde hair and slim limbs appeared to make her taller, even though he knew the tricks of being on stage. After all, though he was not short, people often thought of him as a lot taller. Height was relative anyway. She was pretty, simply pretty, suiting her nature girl vibe.

Zayne Pierce. Bass Guitarist. He was obviously the late one. With who could only be assumed as his little sister aside off stage, Zayne had rushed out onto stage, sweaty and panting as though he ran the entire way here. He better get used to that. First impressions are almost always judgements on someone's appearance. Tall, messy, slouched; even his mannerisms gave off an arrogant vibe. Does he deserve to be so prideful? Then again, who really deserves anything...

-- His thoughts were sidetracked. Logan flipped over the band's profiles to the last paper. Incomplete. There was no useful information on the last member of this group that was auditioning. He glanced back up to the stage, only counting three contestants, until something caught his eye off the edge of the stage. Someone had followed Leo before she took off to sit with the rest of Paradox. Logan almost didn't notice, but now he caught a glimpse. A figure slumped back against the side wall, barely visible behind the edges of the stage. Beneath the baggy clothes, Logan figured it was a thin, fragile frame. Oh, who is she? She wasn't about to pick up and instrument like the rest, but simply observe. As the group introduced themselves, Logan kept his gaze on the figure that blended into the shadows.


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Alyosha Ellison Character Portrait: Yuki Misora Character Portrait: Eleonora Santoro Character Portrait: Ilyas Naqvi Character Portrait: Giovanni Santoro Character Portrait: Logan Kenneth
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ilyas naqvi
chapter i - a guide to actually getting somewhere

        Reality’s fractal image expanded its fissures, enveloping them in the divine pandemonium; it’s a whirl of a foreign spectrum, forbidden
        for them to experience. Eleonora graced him with acknowledgment, the upturn of her lips a ripple in time itself, shattering all beautiful
        things in its wake, and it fed to him the tangible dream they had fallen into. Their lives materialized in this room of palanoia, suspended
        on the spiral of adrenaline, he felt it rotate in his knees and shutter within his origami heart. His daze shattered, glass pieces littering the
        ground, and from it transpires a nod to Zayne and a smile of muted elation – the grin extending further when waving to Eli, and beneath
        his soul he felt clouds push against one another and rumble raucous thunder, the ballad of a dream in the making, ten seconds closer,
        so close that he could taste it.

        The stage is mundane in comparison to the panoramas of neon rain and bellowed fire digitalized and stretched online, but it’s larger than
        anything they’ve set foot on, his echoing footsteps endless reverberations as he is granted to walk across it, each pace akin to walking on
        ice, as if the weight of his eternity could collapse it, swallow him whole. Ilyas finds that time is hardly concurrent; it’s a mish-match
        Frankenstein concept of ripped photographs, seconds luminescent simultaneously, the best and worst of the world radiant and diluted. He
        had to squint, inhale and exhale to register his fingers checking to voice of Aladdin – cliché as the guitar’s name was, but the stories
        woven within One Thousand and One Nights had created a home within him throughout the myriad of days where he had none but the sky
        to his name. Memory brought whispers of the ancient stories comforting him through the agony and bliss, decomposition, resurgence.

        But this was no comfort – he’d lacerate his fingertips playing, bleed out hymns onto the polished floor and suffer from self-chosen
        exsanguination. Music was his IV and siphon, a drug to bring him to his knees, to see God, occupational dimethyltryptamine. The cords
        hum in compliance, synchronized with the collision of good and evil, of grime and peroxide swirling, amalgamating in his soul, and his
        larynx droned alongside the scrutiny, vocals equal to the low frequency wedged in between the slivers of wood. This was it, now or
        never, the universe perched itself on his shoulders as he meandered closer to the panel, faces he had only caught glimpses of in magazines
        and televisions, and he knew all their names, but knew nothing about them. However, by the end of their song, they will know him,
        intimately so, each serenade from his throat an act of ethereal fortification. “We are Hoodrats, and I’m Ilyas Naqvi.” Like them his
        statement is that of the sewer, the abandoned humans that transformed into vermin to survive, he stood with the edges of his mouth
        solemnly curled up to his cheeks – waiting to begin, electromagnetic waves simmering the corners of his eyes.

        “Mortarium.” A lullby whisper for the microphone, caught tangled in a breath, the title of their song. They need no gimmicks to begin,
        no valiant shouts or war cries, no drummer banging thin cylinders to count the time, for they all had clocks in their minds, the incessant
        ticking of one – two – three – four. Aladdin is a skeleton, névé sculpted bones quivering as he plucks life from death, the hollow void
        saturated with ultraviolet violence and love, abhorrent lust and a trillion twine lashes. Notes of e, B, G tachycardia in the successions of
        cadences, he rings the neck in delicate fingers and strums and sinks. Here his eyelids feel heavy, spellbound by the harmony of past never
        forgotten, his eyelashes are oil by design and flutter, those aperture pupils dilating into pinpoints – they must be, it’s the greatest high he’s
        ever felt.

        “Goodbye to sleep,
        I think this staying up is exactly what I need
        We’ll take apart your head
        Take apart the counting, the flock it has bred.”

        The intro is a phantasm’s whisper chased by Morpheus’ fury, lying on a bed of needles, his voice the river curling around jagged rocks,
        molten obsidian and sinfully sweet black licorice. His fingers are of the corpse reanimated, curled around the microphone Ilyas sheds his
        skin, the demeanor of boundless optimism a vague reminiscence from an alternate universe, and in his esophagus bloomed lavender and
        wolfsbane. Each muscle was spun from the coals burned in the absence of love, his shoulders rose and managed ridged relaxation, his body a
        gravesite singing an ode to the treacherous arachnids that stuck them in their syrup coated webs. The air sucked inward was sharp, an
        icicle of a winter he couldn’t recall, missed a note and misplaced his fingers for a beat, the A note arriving a heartbeat too soon, but the
        appendages roll, they recalibrate themselves in quiet, serene ballroom dancing –

        “You walk straight, not like them
        To fool them into our sweet insanity
        Fake it enough, to vanish today
        Not for the first time, imbibe with lies.”

        – As if he was born for this.

        Finite infinity. His fingers extend outwards, curl and grip the microphone and he strangles it, a step back, the subsequent lean forward,
        and already are his lungs singed with the enervation, the alveoli cathedrals of ashes screaming for revenge, recognition, anything from this
        world. The poison perforated his skin and fingernails, it was the mucus in his frontal lobe, the bile of twilights dedicated to the maddest
        of crows, the alcohol to rip them to sheds and sanitize them in a handful of words. In times like these he can’t see, can’t hear – but he doesn’t
        detach himself from the threshold, and instead it envelops him, when he feels everything that’s ii and has ever been in existence; every
        wasted breath, every stray tear and broken blood vessel – he sings and growl in the alcoves of humanity and rips its pancreas out with his
        whittled teeth.

        “I'll find sleep in the end tonight
        I can't shake this little feeling
        I'll never say anything right.”


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Alyosha Ellison Character Portrait: Yuki Misora Character Portrait: Eleonora Santoro Character Portrait: Ilyas Naqvi Character Portrait: Giovanni Santoro Character Portrait: Logan Kenneth
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#, as written by Layla

The room was entranced. The music reached its evanescent fingers into the audience, grasping each person by the neck and wringing them dry of any memory of ever having heard anything so... Painful. Pinpricks of liquid misery tapped against dilated orbs but were quickly submerged by a different sort of liquid emotion. Excitement. Elation. Discovery. This was what they'd been waiting for.

Eleonora gutted the flaws in the music, a note pitched a fraction flatter than the G natural it was supposed to be, a twinge of a guitar string, the cracks in his voice - although it suited his artistic style - and the graze of two unintentionally discordant chords. As the blinds were pulled over J's vision for the first time in the weeks that they'd auditioned the thousands of amateur bands, he drifted into music nirvana whilst Eleonora's lids remained mildly lowered in apathy. She could see their value and appeal but training them would be costly. Time-consuming. They were volatile, over-emotional little girls who trampled over artistic organisation. She could almost see their musical precision being flung across the room.

She plastered a look of apt contemplation on her face. Mmm, yes? No? How many stars? She would admit the song's composition was interesting. Eleonora had always been able to predict the melodies of all songs and she always knew what note would come next. Popular music in particular followed a set of unwritten rules that allowed for almost everyone to appreciate it. There were only so many notes available on a stave, after all. But somehow she found it rather challenging to glimpse the song's chorus, bridge and ending. When she expected a minor 7th, she received instead a minor 6th. The cadences were odd. The augmented chords were odd. The whole song was odd and yet, strangely perfect. They were simple melodies and it was like art. You might think "hey, I can do that too," and yes. You could've. But you didn't.

The corners of her lips twitched upwards and she swallowed the urge to leap and clap with glee. She expected the composer to be a very, very interesting man indeed. She wondered if it was the lead singer - Ilyas Naqvi - who wrote the song. He certainly sung it as if they were his very own thoughts. The music suited him remarkably well so maybe he did write it. Or the composer was a person close to him, or he was better than he looked at making a song his own. The rest of the band members were decent as well but their body language prior to the first tap of music eluded to their state of pre-epiphany. They didn't realise how good they were, it seemed. Interesting.

As the last trickles of music relaxed its grip on its listeners, J stood. He clapped. Furiously. And the audience joined him. Eleonora smiled and brought her hands together. Pull apart. Collide. Separate. Collide.

"It's very fortunate we decided to wait for you," Evelyn Jones, personal secretary to mysterious Gold Cuts President, said.

Eleonora beamed at her. Of course. As if she hadn't stopped John Warren Jr. from chasing them out of the building not fifteen minutes ago. They'd wanted and waited for them all along.

"I think we can all agree on the winner of this competition," J said, his eyes never leaving the band onstage. Eleonora watched him carefully and noted the slight puff of his chest that suggested pride. He seemed rather familiar with the self-proclaimed rodents. Murmurs consumed the room before it was engulfed in silence and then, tentatively, whispers of "yes," "they'll do," "best band" and firm nods.

"Gio, Logan, Alyosha, Leo," he addressed them. "Will you take these... Four," he said after a pause, casting a glance around the room. Four? Leo could see only three. Ah, maybe it was the mysterious composer. "As your apprentices? Promising to guide them through their contract and stay with us?"

"I do," Leo said, embedding a solemn stare into each individual Hoodrats member, with a nod to the ceiling for the mysterious fourth member - or God - before returning to rest on Ilyas, a hand placed over the layers of flesh and bone that veiled her heart. "I promise to breathe down your neck in sickness and in death."

Laughter rippled across the auditorium; J trampled the urge to roll his eyes. Leo tossed her new singing underling a wink.