Saturday, April 13, 2013

Koreshi Chronicles - Chapter VI: How to Craft a Diamond Ring

Step 1: Choose your gemstones
The raw stones should be considered with care. While some jewelers would argue that having a selection of pre-cut stones eases the process of creating finished pieces, using rough stones allows for the greatest degree of flexibility and customization. When choosing an even number of stones for a single piece, it is best if they are of approximately the same size, shape, and composition.

The four women, two younger and two older, stood in Miss Julie’s private office overlooking the Lucky Shot casino floor. “I thought you were coming with me,” Lyta said, almost plaintively, to Ellen Cranby.

Ellen laughed. “Lyta, honey, pamperin’ ain’t really my thing. But Miss Julie, she kindly pulled in a few favors and got it all settled for you.”

“For both of you,” said Miss Julie, looking at the two younger women on the other side of the table. Lyta was amazed, as always, at how the casino manager seemed to be perfectly elegant without looking like it was any trouble at all.

Karin Hassan fidgeted. “Look, I’m really grateful, Miss Julie, but there’s still so much to—”

“There are little details, all of which are being handled,” Miss Julie interjected. “You’ve been busy for the better part of a season, Karin. We’ve all been impressed. Consider this a gift from Tom and I for all your hard work.”

Karin looked like she was about to argue, thought better of it, and shut up.

“Now,” said Miss Julie, moving around the table and passing Karin a slip of paper, “I’ve set up all your appointments, and you’re both going to have a busy afternoon. It took some doing – things like this usually don’t happen quite so last-minute – but it’s all arranged. Come back here when you’re done and let me see the results of my handiwork, would you?”

“Yes, Miss Julie.” Karin took the paper. Lyta glanced over her shoulder, somewhat alarmed to see the long list of names and numbers, and considered whether maybe there had been a mix-up somewhere and this was actually a guest list for the gala. Karin pocketed it and glanced over at Lyta. “First appointment’s in less than fifteen minutes. I guess we better hoof it.”

Lyta nodded. “Thanks, Ellen,” she said, wondering what she was getting herself into.

Ellen Cranby nodded. “You have a good time,” she said. “You deserve a day off, what with all that’s goin’ on.”

Lyta smiled, decided not to mention that she’d already had a full day of work even though it was barely past siesta, and fell into step beside Karin Hassan. From behind her, she heard Ellen’s voice, “That’s a good turn you’re doin’ them, Miss Julie.”

And, just barely audible as they reached the elevator, “Don’t mention it. It’ll be good for them both.”

Step 2: Pick your setting
The setting should be chosen to highlight the natural beauty of the gemstone. A skilled jeweler is capable of selecting a setting to emphasize the unique brilliance of his chosen stone while concealing any flaws or imperfections. The setting should naturally be chosen with utmost consideration to the client’s preferences regarding style and elegance.

“You sure that hem isn’t just a little… high?”

Lyta stood in front of the full-length mirrors, twisting slightly to catch the different angles. “You can’t move your legs in a long skirt,” she said.

In truth, the hemline might have been slightly too far on the side of risqué. It was well above the knee, with a slit up the side besides. It reminded her vaguely of the leotards she used to wear for her gymnastics routines, when she’d thought nothing of presenting herself in front of thousands of people in nothing but a layer or two of skin-tight material. Of course, she reflected, she’d been considerably less self-conscious back then. And less curvy.

Karin had chosen a more classically elegant dress, a midnight blue sheathe with a halter-top and a low V-neck. Lyta, however, had stuck to her guns after her late-night conversation with Ellen and decided to go with something more revealing and cherry red.

The tailor fawned over her, making small adjustments with pins and chalk, his eye appraising her form like a fine portrait.

“Now,” he said, taking in a loose section just beside the breast, “what about the scars?”

Lyta looked up. “What about them?”

The tailor waved a hand near her shoulder. “Some women consider them a badge of honor and want to show them off, some women prefer them hidden. It’s purely a matter of choice. So… which would you like?”

Lyta looked at her shoulder in the mirror. She usually led with her right side, which meant that when she was injured, it was usually that side that took the brunt of the damage. Her right shoulder was a crisscross of scars, from the very first gunshot wound she’d incurred back when she was rescuing Ennik from the county jail near the Den, to a barely-healed graze she’d taken while fighting the Kolsons just yesterday. The dress she’d chosen was strapless, showing off the scar tissue that was a map of her operational conflicts.

The tailor saw her hesitation. “Perhaps…” he busied himself for a moment and came back with a piece of fabric that matched her dress. With a few deft folds, he began pinning it around her shoulder and onto the low neckline. “We can drape it over one shoulder, like this, and mimic the hem with a few trailing…” He pinned and tucked and snipped, the outline of the single shoulder becoming clearer by the second.

“Something like this,” he said at last. The dress now flowed over her right shoulder, numerous wisps of fabric enveloping her upper arm, still allowing her full movement while hinting at the skin beneath, a soft counterpoint to her bare left shoulder.

Karin Hassan nodded appreciatively. “That’s good,” she said.

Lyta regarded herself in the mirror, deep red against her pale skin. She smiled. “I like it.”

Step 3: Spin the stones in a tumbler
This step removes impurities and base minerals that might surround the stone and prevent its brilliance from achieving full effect. It allows the jeweler to work with a smoother, more defined stone, which is especially useful for gemstones that are overly encased in base minerals.

Lyta had taken plenty of martial arts classes in her time. She’d been in even more bar brawls, street fights, and hand-to-hand conflicts of every possible iteration. She’d been on the receiving end of thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of punches. But she didn’t remember a time she’d ever taken them without fighting back.

She thought about this as she lay facedown on the massage table and hands pounded into her back, rattling her bones and melting her muscles. Karin Hassan murmured beside her as she was subjected to the same treatment.

“I guess you do this a lot,” said Lyta, startled at the way her voice came out vibrato from the pounding fists on her back.

Karin lolled her head over, her eyes flickering open. “Hmm?”

“Stuff like this,” said Lyta. “You must go to the spa and get massages all the time. I mean, what with it being right here.”

Karin closed her eyes again and was quiet for so long that Lyta thought she may have forgotten the question. “Not really,” she said at last. “I haven’t been to a spa in a long time.”

Lyta sighed and gave herself over to the feel of the hands against her skin. “Yeah,” she said, “me either.”

“How long has it been for you?” asked Karin.

Lyta thought for a moment. “Maybe twelve cycles? Thirteen? I was just a kid. I went with my mom. It was opening night for a play, or something like that.” And I’d hated it, she stopped herself from saying. She remembered sitting beside her mother, having their hair and nails done, getting a facial wrap and sitting in the steam room, and all she’d been able to think about was the upcoming regional championships and how much she hated sitting through plays and operas.

She would give anything to get it back.

“Not since then?” asked Karin.

Lyta shook her head against the table. “Didn’t really have much chance during the war, and then after…” She trailed off. She didn’t want to talk about it. “What about you?”

“A while. I guess not since Gade and Nat’s wedding.”


Karin sighed. “Gade was a mechanic for the caravan for a while. Nat was… I guess you could say she took me in.”

Lyta caught the tension in Karin’s voice, even though the massage. “What happened to them?” she asked softly.

Karin was quiet. “You know the gala tonight,” she said at last. “It’s for the Meredine clinic, right? The Natalia Meredine clinic. It’s for her.”

Lyta looked over and saw that Karin was looking down into the face-hole of the massage table, so that she could only see the side of her head. “I’m sorry,” she said, wondering if there was anything else she could say. “Gade too?”

Karin shook her head. “No. He left after Nat… Well, after.”

“I’m sorry,” Lyta said again.

“No, it’s okay,” said Karin after a while. “It’ll be good tonight. It’ll be a good tribute to her. Helping people get better, healing the sick… she would have liked that.”

Lyta turned back to her own table and let the massage relax her muscles, even as her mind was nowhere near relaxed. “Remind me to make a donation,” she said.

Step 4: Cut the stones
The cutting of the stone should be done with the greatest care, for other than the setting, the shape and facets of the stone will provide the greatest effect on the finished piece. Attention should be paid to the effect of the stone against the setting, as they must work together to be mutually enhancing.
“So, what are we doing today?”

Lyta sat, her hair wet and frizzy, with a towel around her shoulders and a cup of foamed cawfee in front of her. The man who stood running his fingers through her wet locks was stylish, poised, and flamingly gay. “I don’t know,” Lyta said.

“Weeellll,” said Jaremy Ring, the hairdresser, “I’m assuming this is for the Meredine gala. And I’m assuming that you have a new dress, and that you’ll want a hairstyle to match. Yes? You have beautiful hair, by the way. Shame you don’t take care of it. I know women who would kill for your hair.”

Lyta wondered who these women were, and whether she could actually fight them, with her hair as the prize. It would probably be the most entertaining fight she’d ever been in. “Yeah,” she said. “About the gala. And the dress.”

“Well, why don’t you describe the dress to me, and we’ll see what we can do?”

Lyta described the dress. And then the shoes. And the jewelry. And, prompted by Jaremy’s questions, how she’d decided last night that she wanted to look sexy even though she’d never really felt that way before. Through it all, the hairdresser listened, probed, offered insights… He reminded her a lot of Alain, she realized after a while.

By the time he finally got around to cutting her hair, she trusted him completely. She would let him shave her bald if he’d wanted to.

He didn’t, of course. He added a few tiny red highlights into her blonde hair, to contrast against the dress, and then began piling it on top of her head in large, controlled curls.

“I used to hate this, you know,” Lyta told him, watching as the hairstyle took shape in the mirror.

“What’s that, love?” he asked.

“Bobby pins,” Lyta replied. “When my mom used to take me to get my hair done, when I was a kid, I hated the bobby pins. They felt like pokers in my head.”

“Mmm,” said Jaremy, pushing another bobby pin through her ever-growing hairdo. “And now?”

Lyta shrugged. “Somehow, it doesn’t hurt as much.”

“I must not be pressing hard enough. I once had a client tell me that if it didn’t bleed, it wasn’t in firmly enough. But given how pale your hair is, I think we’ll try to avoid any bloodshed.”

“I’d appreciate that,” said Lyta.

“Do you still go with your mother?” asked Jaremy, in his polite-but-not-pressing way.

Lyta’s voice caught. “No,” she said softly.

Jaremy could sense the danger, Lyta felt. She was amazed that there were two men in the world as empathic as Alain. She’d have to remember to tell him about the hairdresser when she saw him again, whenever that was.

“So,” said Jaremy, deftly changing the subject, “who’s going to be at the gala?”

Step 5: Pay particular attention to edges and corners
Even after tumbling and cutting, the edges and especially the corners of the stone may still attract flecks of base materials, which can diminish the brilliance of the final piece. A skilled jeweler will carefully wipe down the edges and corners before polishing to ensure that no extraneous material remains.

The thing about getting a manicure and a pedicure, Lyta thought, was that it effectively stopped you from moving. It was maybe even more effective than zip-ties, because at least in theory you were choosing to let someone hold your hands and your feet immobile. You couldn’t just walk away while someone was holding sharp implements at your fingertips; you had to stay put and let them do it. And given the way the manicurist had exclaimed when she’d seen Lyta’s fingernails – “Have you been clawing at dirt today?”, she’d asked, and had thankfully not waited for the answer – Lyta suspected she’d be stuck in the grips of her gentle jailors for some time. She suspected Karin Hassan had been waiting all day to take advantage of it.

“So,” she said as she sat beside Lyta and let a perfectly made-up woman file her nails, “tell me about Lukas.”

Lyta glanced over. “What about him?”

“Well,” said Karin, thinking, “does he have any hobbies? Favorite foods? Trideos?”

Lyta found herself suspicious. “Why?”

“It just seems like the sort of thing a girl might like to know,” said Karin nonchalantly.

Lyta knew the tone. She knew, moreover, that Karin and Lukas had been on at least a few dates recently. On the one hand, Karin would probably make a better girlfriend for Lukas than someone like Minnie, his ‘I’m only doing this to develop contacts’ girlfriend in Port Arthur. On the other, there was no guarantee that they were going to stay in Khayr ad-Din for more than a few days.

“He likes to travel,” said Lyta, trying to remain ambiguous.

“Oh? Anywhere in particular? Any favorite vacation spots?”

“Just… around.”

Karin pivoted in her chair, a bit of a feat while keeping her hands and feet perfectly still. “Lyta, I’m just looking for a little help here.”

Lyta contemplated telling her all sorts of things, true things, that might keep Karin from plunging headlong into a relationship that had huge odds of ending badly: that Lukas was a compulsive liar, that he rarely chose to get close to anyone but his siblings, that he was hell-bent on an agenda that would take him around the globe without any thought to when they’d be back… She sighed. “I know. Look, Lukas and the rest of us, we’re… We’re in a dangerous line of work.”

“Right. I know that.”

Lyta shook her head. “No, I don’t think you do. Even outside of the jobs we take on, there are people who really don’t like us because of things we’ve done. We’ve had… There have been prices on all our heads. Especially Lukas, because he’s in charge. We don’t live what you might call a normal lifestyle.”

Karin regarded her, and for a moment there was only the soft sound of file on nail. “Look, if you want me to back off—”

Lyta shook her head. “That’s not it. It’s…” She paused, trying to figure out what her point was. “It’s just that you need to know that he’s not gonna be a normal boyfriend. He’s not gonna stay here because of you. And sometimes, he might not come back for a long time.” Maybe ever, Alain Vulpei’s voice whispered in her ear.

Karin paused, considering this. “You know the history of the Caravan Guild, Lyta? You know what we do now? People go in and out. It’s rarely the same people at Hotel Bravo from one season to the next. I understand.”

Lyta wondered if maybe she did. Maybe she’d had other boyfriends who’d left on dangerous missions for seasons or cycles at a time. Maybe someone like Ti. Maybe Ti himself. She let the thoughts run through her mind, one after another. Finally, she took a deep breath. “Okay,” she said, “ask away.”

Step 6: Polish the stones
To fully highlight the beauty of a gemstone, it must be polished. Different jewelers prefer a variety of polishing materials and techniques, which can have a subtly different effect on the finished piece. To be most effective, the stone should be polished just before being placed in the setting, and final touches applied after the stone has been set.

Lyta was amazed that there could be so many tiny jars and bottles in any place that wasn’t a science lab. But the makeup counter before her was most certainly not a science lab, and the soft-spoken woman holding an overly poofy brush was most certainly not a scientist. “You have lovely cheekbones,” she’d said when Lyta sat down, “and lovely eyes. I think we can really make them pop.”

Lyta was getting annoyed at the way everyone in the salon used ‘we’ to mean, alternately, ‘me,’ ‘you’, or ‘everyone in my profession.’ It was a habit she hoped she’d never pick up, ever. “Sure,” she said.

“Why don’t you tell me a little about your dress, so we can give you something to set it off.”

For the third time in as many hours, Lyta found herself describing the red dress she’d picked out earlier in the afternoon. She wondered if she should just get Torgath to print out cue-cards that she could hand to people. It would be easier, and save time. Maybe she should have just taken a picture of her wearing it. That would have been smart. She wished she’d thought of it.

“Oooh, sounds lovely,” said the makeup artist, whose name on Karin Hassan’s appointment sheet had been listed only as Sari. “I bet Jaremy did your hair. The little touch of red, that’s to pick up the color from the dress. He really is a genius, sometimes.”

“Yeah.” Lyta wondered whether the term ‘genius’ could be applied to hair cutting. Mads was a genius with computers. So was Oscar. And some people were just really, really smart. But hair cutting? Maybe for these people, you could have genius hairdressers, but Lyta wasn’t sure she understood what that would mean.

Sari started pulling out little containers and bottles, compacts and brushes. “So,” she said conversationally, “what sort of treatment do you usually use for your skin?”

Lyta stared at her. “I… don’t?”

She sighed. “I thought that might be the case. You have such lovely structure, but your skin is so dry. It’s almost as bad as a Sand Rider’s.”

She clearly thought she was being funny. Lyta didn’t laugh. “Okay, but you can still make me look good, right?”

“Of course I can,” she said, as though Lyta had delivered a scathing insult and she felt the need to defend, not only herself, but her entire profession. “But this would be much easier next time if you started in on a skin-care routine.”

“Like what?”

“Well,” said Sari, pulling down little bottles from her shelf, “it doesn’t have to be much. Cleanser, toner, moisturizer, exfoliant… and some lip balm and facial masks wouldn’t go amiss…”

Lyta balked. “How long does this take?”

Sari paused, the counter already filling up with little containers. “Not long,” she said. “Maybe fifteen minutes when you wake up and before you go to bed.”

Lyta did the math in her head. “That’s an hour. Every day.”

Sari shrugged. “You have thirty-six of them. And it’s divided up. Fifteen minutes at a time is barely anything. And an hour is a small price to pay for a good first impression. People judge you on your looks. You deserve to look good for them.”

Lyta was surprised at how many different things people thought she deserved today. She wondered how many hours Miss Julie spent getting ready when she woke up, and how the effort never seemed to show when she was guiding people around the casino, just the effects. Lyta sighed. “All right. Show me how it works.”

Step 7: Put the stones into their settings
Placing the stone into its setting requires skill and finesse. Care must be taken to maintain the newly-applied polish and to avoid scratching both the stone and the setting. Any final, minor adjustments can be done at this stage.
They were back in the fitting room of M. Antoine Sebastien, tailor. Lyta was amazed at how beautiful her companion looked. Karin had been pretty before, she thought, but the makeup made her black eyes look exotic and twice as big, and her hair was pulled, streamlined, and held at the back of her head in a way that Lyta found highly sophisticated. She looked five cycles older, Lyta thought. M. Sebastien had allowed them some privacy to change out of their street clothes and into their formal undergarments, but he had insisted that he and his clerks would be required to actually get them in to their dresses. Lyta still wasn’t sure she liked the idea of someone dressing her.

“Is that… flak?” asked Karin, eyeing Lyta’s bustier.

Lyta nodded. “Yeah.”

“You have a flak corset?”

“Yeah.” Lyta glanced down and continued to tighten the side-cinches. It wasn’t that bad, she thought, once you got used to it. She could still get a decent range of motion if she left it at the second-tightest setting.

Karin was still staring at her. “Why?

Lyta sighed and let go of the cinches for a moment. “Because having some armor is better than having no armor.”

“You’re going to wear armor under a formal evening dress?”

Lyta nodded emphatically. “Yeah.”

“What do you expect is going to happen?!”

Lyta wondered how much Bill Pearce had told Karin about what she, Lukas, and Torgath had been finding out recently, about the bombs and the Death Watch and the potential for huge explosions to go off during the gala. She shook her head. “Look, I’ve been in four firefights in the last three days. One was while we were having lunch. Another was right after a breakfast meeting. I don’t go anywhere without armor anymore. And even though this is a beautiful, beautiful dress, it’s not gonna stop a bullet.”

Karin gaped. “It’s a formal dinner for charity! For a medical clinic! It’s in the TNTR tower, and security is locked down so tight I’m amazed they conceded to letting the guests in without a strip search! Nothing’s gonna happen!”

Lyta sighed and returned to the cinches. “I hope you’re right,” she said. “I hope everything goes smooth and tomorrow you’ll be able to laugh at me for being paranoid. I’ll buy you lunch and we can laugh about it. But,” she paused while she pulled another cinch and it momentarily took away her breath, “I don’t trust things to go smooth anymore.”

Step 8: Present the final piece to the client
No matter how attached a jeweler becomes to a particular piece, it is ultimately the client’s wishes that are paramount. When presenting the finished product to the client, pay particular attention to their reaction to the overall aesthetic and any particulars.

“Lovely,” said Miss Julie, “both of you.”

Tom Chambers was both more and less articulate, letting out a low whistle as they walked in the room. “You’ve outdone yourself,” he said to Miss Julie, as though she was solely responsible for fetching two street urchins and turning them into debutantes.

Miss Julie fiddled with his bowtie for a moment. She was, herself, the picture of elegance, turning a simple black dress and gold jewelry into a fashion statement that would be emulated by the Khayr ad-Din elite for at least a season.

When she was satisfied that the doctor would not embarrass himself because of a crooked tie, she turned her attention to the two newcomers. “Turn around so I can see your hair,” she suggested, and Lyta and Karin dutifully did as they were told. Lyta managed not to trip in her three-inch heels. She was, in fact, getting used to them, but there had been a few close calls in M. Sebastien’s shop before she’d figured out the trick was to put most of her weight on the balls of her feet.

“Lovely,” Miss Julie said again. “Tom, why don’t you go get us something to toast with? I’ve got a bottle in my office.”

The Doc took his cue and stepped out a side door, leaving the women alone.

“So,” said Miss Julie, “what do you think? How do you like it?”

Karin didn’t lick her lips – it would ruin the lipstick – but Lyta could feel the emotion behind the mask. “Thank you, Miss Julie. It’s beautiful.”

The older woman turned towards her other charge. “And you, Lyta?”

Lyta hesitated. “What do you think?”

A hint of a smile touched Miss Julie’s lips. “I think you look ravishing. But the important thing isn’t what I think, it’s what you think.”

Lyta shook her head slightly in confusion. “I don’t understand.”

Miss Julie touched her lightly on her bare left shoulder. “In the end, looks are all about confidence. A confident woman can turn a paper bag into the height of fashion.” She lowered her voice conspiratorially. “Ellen told me what you wanted. And the outfit, the hair, the shoes, all that is an excellent start. But if you want to turn heads, you need to believe that you are worthy of turning heads. I believe you are, but you have to believe it for yourself. So… do you believe?”

Lyta paused a moment, considering Miss Julie’s words. The casino manager certainly could turn heads. Lyta was fully able to envision that if Miss Julie showed up at the fundraiser in nothing but a set of coveralls, she would still look better than almost anyone else in the room. And if Miss Julie said that the way you did that was by believing, well, Lyta was willing to listen to her.

“Yeah,” she said, “I do.”

Just at that moment, Doc Chambers reappeared with a bottle of champagne in one hand and four fluted glasses in the other. “I took the liberty of opening it already,” he announced as he walked back in, pointedly ignoring the hushed whispers that stopped as he entered.

He placed the glasses on Miss Julie’s table and carefully filled the four glasses before passing them around. Lyta held hers gingerly, almost delicately. It seemed to fit the outfit. “Would you care to make the toast,” Tom offered to his companion.

“To a successful evening,” Miss Julie suggested.

“A successful evening,” said Tom, and touched the champagne flute to his lips. Karin followed suit.

“A successful evening,” Lyta said, hoping, willing, believing that toasting something could make it true. She wondered, as she put the glass back down on the table, what a successful evening would actually mean, and decided it was already off to an excellent start. She just hoped it lasted.

Heavy Gear Roleplaying Game


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