Voyage Through the Multiverse (Open) [IC]

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Posts: 6452
Founded: Oct 25, 2016
Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Skylus » Tue Apr 20, 2021 7:28 am

Madi turned to Miria. “Well, the dark arts are a lot of things, such as mind controlling, torturing, killing, making cursed objects and Horcruxes (fragments of someone’s soul in personal objects), summoning undead, and a lot of other stuff.” Madi looked around, then turned Ghoul. “I suppose this form of mine could be considered dark magic.” She turned back to normal. “As for the album question, I believe the Weird Sisters is soft rock.”

Madi looked around, the area they were in was open, they could see an unblocked sky through metal arched beams overhead, the floor was cobblestone. Various shops lined each side of where they were standing. “You guys want to try magical food?”

The college group

“Dangerous entities; yes, here at the college, we have been preparing for that probable chance that some being or creature with very ill intentions ends up here or in Ireland. Don’t worry though, this library is well protected - dare I say that it is the most safe place here at Trinity. The amount of wards here - you can feel them, can’t you? Even those with the smallest degree of magic in their blood, can feel the wards my very ancestors placed upon the college grounds.” The elderly wizard peered up at Lee. “You have a peculiar sort of magic, very interesting.”

Handen Gredwall then turned to Elliot. “You also have a unique magic. One that I think might end up being beneficial. I do want to try something though, follow me.” Handen led Elliot and the others over to a glass case in the middle of the library, which housed an ancient harp. “This is the harp of Ireland, otherwise known as the Brian Boru harp. It has been found to be indestructible, it can be damaged however. The first to play this harp, Brian Boru, discovered that it had a great magical power. Brian was killed at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014, and it has not had a proper owner since. Others have had it briefly but not for very long. Tell me, can you sense anything from the harp?”

“If I was able to, wouldn’t this glass case be obstructing it?”

Handan thought about it. “Yes.” He then waved a hand and the glass case shattered, it was magically woven into a glass spiral and placed aside. “There.”

Elliot stepped up to the harp and examined it. It had various elegant designs, embedded crystal, various metals, a silver neck, 29 strings, and was made from willow and oak wood. Yet.

Magic. It was if it had flared to life inside the harp.

“Truly amazing. I and the past caretakers of the harp noted that there was some sort of magic, but none like this. Go ahead, try to pick it up.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, if the harp does accept you, well, I suppose anything can happen.”

Elliot reached out and placed a hand on the ancient wood -

- He was somewhere else, holding the harp that he had been about to pick up. It was smaller now, easily able to be held, it looked brand new and there were now thirty strings instead of twenty nine. Where was he though?

Cannonfire and the sound of sword clashing and horses screaming sounded off to his right and he turned, only to see a massive battle taking place. He then realized that he had traveled far, far back into this regions’ past. He looked down, only to notice that he wasn’t himself, he was in another person’s body for the time being.

“You there!” A man’s voice shook him from his thoughts and he looked up to see a man in robes running towards him. “Play the harp!” The man got closer and Elliot recognized him to be someone in royalty. “Kralem! Play it!”

Someone ran up to the man in robes and addressed him as “King Brian”, spoke for a bit, then ran off.

Brian then turned to face Elliot - or whoever he was at the moment - “You must play the harp to ensure victory, even if I fall, play that harp, understand?”

He nodded, then watched as an arrow struck the king in the heart. Blood sprayed in all directions, strangely enough, most of it was now covering the harp. The king fell to the ground, Elliot saw people running towards him from over a nearby hill.

He lifted the harp a bit, closed his eyes, and started to pluck the strings. But then the song was cut off abruptly.

“My name is Kralem. I died playing the harp that day, its song was never finished. But you, you can finish it for me.”

The song continued.

And still continued.

It sounded very different than the few notes he had heard before the song had stopped, but it was still the same harp. As the last notes faded, his vision returned.

He was standing before the stand the harp had been on, it was now empty. The harp he was now holding, he now saw deep stains in the wood itself.

“Lifeblood also powers this harp. What did you see, I wonder?” Handen stepped up to Elliot and gazed at the harp.

“What happened?”

“The harp showed you a vision of the past. It has chosen you. When you played the harp, I felt the wards here strengthen.”
Last edited by Skylus on Tue Apr 20, 2021 8:04 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Founded: Jul 08, 2010
Democratic Socialists

Postby Demincia » Wed Apr 21, 2021 3:26 pm

Seeds of Anxiety
Aenigmata Archipelago

"Ashwood?" the man asked, reaching into his coat and producing a small notebook. "Ashwood, Ashwood..." he said, thumbing through a few pages. "Nope, not on the list, for now at least." he tucked it back into his pocket. "Though it would have been rather unsporting."

"To answer your questions, in a manner of speaking, no. Not native. Godforsaken? Never. Well, perhaps eventually, but that's the nature of all things, isn't it? Even God can't be around forever."

He reached a hand into the pocket of his waistcoat and pulled out a pocket watch. He clicked one of the buttons on the side, and it popped open to reveal a compass. "How interesting." he commented, glancing down at it. He closed it up and focused back on the scene in front of him. "Quite the adventure you've been having, isn't it? More than most people, at least. I always find the ones that have a bit of excitement end up happier than those that don't."

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Posts: 617
Founded: Nov 01, 2017
Moralistic Democracy

Postby Menschenfleisch » Fri Apr 23, 2021 3:04 am

Seeds of Anxiety | Jacquelyn

Third day of December, 1:35 am
Lludw Cigfrain, Morriston, 3 Aegwynn Avenue

Hungry. Cold. Tired. Impossible to sleep well. Dreamt of water, dreamt of drowning. Hard to breathe when it’s raining. Every breath feels like fingers down her throat, the raindrops are razors on her skin. It’s darker than night ought to be. The streetlights are out, all the windows are shuttered. Identical brick facades. Multi-storey cinderblock warrens. A plastic bag flutters in the gutter, pinned down by a bottle.

Morriston was a refugee town, an immigrant district right on the shore where the nouveau poor filtered down to. It was also the heart of the town’s industry. A crest of chemical plants and plastic manufacturing facilities covered the horizon while smokestacks scarred the air with trails of smoke and sulfurous white mist. The harbour water ran thick with petroleum and insecticide formulation, all a great cocktail of death. Labour was bought cheap. Money was made, money was taken away. The roads were grey, the walls were red and brown, the sky was a murky white, like the eyes of the dead.

Jacquelyn rapped on a door at ground level; scrapwood on hinges. It rattled in the frame, not producing a healthy knock but instead the weedy clop of worm-eaten timber. Something shuffled on the other side. Just for a moment, across creaking floorboards and grinding along a plaster wall. She didn’t knock again. She knew that she was being listened to. ”Open up~” she sang into dark, hard wood. She was sodden, tired, scared for her life, but a character had to be played nonetheless. They were expecting someone, but not her. “Step away from the door.” The voice of a young man. Boyish, a little shaky. ”I don’t recognise you. You’re new?” She wouldn’t have recognised anyone that she expected to find in that building, but familiarity was unsettling to strangers. Here and now, she needed to seed that perturbation. “Step away from the door.” He repeated, harsher now. She’d struck a chord. ”It’s adorable that you think five feet will make a difference.” She said it with only the implication of a smile. He couldn’t see her face anyway, not in this light. She took a few strides back and the door creaked open. The silhouette of a man took up the thin slit which permitted light from the building; blue screenlight and the dim glow of a hearth. She noted a metallic object poking out from behind his back and it took a few seconds for her to register it as a knife. Duly noted.

There was no need to wait for the boy to speak. It went against her instincts, strumming a discordant note, but she knew that whoever she was pretending to be wouldn’t have hesitated. ”Bring Edgar to me.” She said it with honey and venom in her voice, caustic nonchalance burning a hole through the boy’s ear. She implied great interest but in all the wrong things. “Do you have an appointment?” In the absence of certainty he fell back on protocol. Protocol was safe, there were rarely procedures which involved the death of the offender. ”I don’t need one. He’s expecting me.” She could almost hear the gears turning in his head, how he was filling in the gaps of her story to create a monster worse than any she could’ve portrayed. One could not find this place through luck and one did not knock on the door of The Videntiaries without good cause. “Are you alone?” His voice was quieter now, more polite. ”I only need to be.” “What’s your business?” ”Dear, they don’t pay you enough to know.” He held his breath for a moment. She waited, patiently, crossing her arms and tapping her forearm with the index of the opposite shoulder. A cold wind swept through the doorway, flattening his clothes against his skin; he swept the door open for her. She dried her shoes, grinding them into the greeting mattress, and followed him into the bowels of the building.

She passed by slivers of light from rooms. They branched off from the corridor at irregular intervals; as mouths of mosquitoes to a vein, apertures into devouring places. Stinking of wax and barbiturates, men and women crowded around bowls of oil and dropped matches into them, letting the rising flames singe their hairs and shrivel their skin. Then quietly, once the fires died down, they’d scribble on little sheets of paper. Not words, drawings; visions stolen from ephemeral mirages. Of course there were closed doors too, ones with no light seeping under them. Some people were sleeping at this hour rather than scalding themselves in search of the future, she posited. She and her guide paused outside a hall - well, a reclaimed garage - and he looked to her for affirmation. She gave him a tight and eerie smile. “Fuck it,” he mouthed under his breath, and he turned the handle.

The corpse of a woman lay on a workbench, her modesty not preserved via drapes but instead ulcers all over her body. Her entire abdomen was eaten up by dark red television static, burns down to the muscle and fat but not much further. The edges of her wounds were pitch black and glistened under the light, soaked with blood and lymph oozing from once cauterised but now ruptured vessels. Her lips were blue, brown eyes vacant and shrivelled in their sockets. The sights and smells were horribly familiar to Jacquelyn, bringing to mind mountains. Mounds of corpses stacked so high they eclipsed the horizon, undifferentiated flesh, burnt to deformation and rupture. The saliva turned to ash in her mouth. the tender texture of albumin beneath her finger. She sucked in a breath and it shredded her throat, the memory of soot and fizzling embers crawling down her neck. She folded her arms under her ribcage, leaned forward and heaved, a wave of tension running up through her chest to her head. She went silent, swallowing bile, and then let out something like the tail end of a tremendous cough, not a violent exhalation but a forced and prolonged one. Her lungs burnt. She could feel her heart writhing inside her, pounding on her insides and circulating previously stagnant blood. It pushed the warmth out of her core and into her extremities. It registered as a chill rather than a redistribution. She was cold. Awfully cold and frightened and viscerally repulsed.

The boy looked at her with concern. He’d been expecting her to take the lead and to justify her arrival. If this visit turned out to be a waste of the grand seer’s time, it would be on his head. “She wanted to see you,” he reported meekly, folding his hands over his waist. There were at least a dozen individuals in the dimly lit room standing over the body. They wore long robes, tattered and mended over the years; the joints glistered with the lustre of plastic fibre while the less stressed folds were muted and frizzly, woven of sheeps’ wool and human hair. The air was laced with the stench of putrefaction. To all in attendance Jacquelyn hadn’t changed much since she’d entered the room, just gone very quiet and crossed her arms in an odd and overly terse way. She wondered whether they could see how pale she’d turned and wished dearly that they hadn’t. The man at the head of the bench brandished a paintbrush, the fibres on its head covered at the base in a fine crust of aromatic tallow while tipped with liquid fat. The woman’s body was coated in the stuff, her unburnt cheek glossy with white ridges on it from where the paint had congealed. The painter pulled back the hood of his cloak, revealing a face covered in deformities. He lacked eyebrows and eyelashes, his neck and the sides of his face were distorted and hivelike; a deformed honeycomb of skin. Burn scars, she knew them well. She found it intensely disquieting, the lack of facial hair on such an old man. He was like an anatomical doll, half-melted plasticine with seamless, featureless skin. His follicles were sealed by molten fat and dermis. “I instructed you to keep the rabble out on the street. You...” he gestured at Jacquelyn with the tip of the brush, spilling droplets of stock on the woman’s face. “You want to have your fortune told? Get your palm by a heroin addict. We don’t take commissions.”

“You. Boy.” He adopted greater presence with those words, speaking in more immediate and personal terms. “Stay. And get the girl out of here.” He hesitated. Just for a moment, not for any particular reason, but it was window enough for her to draw a slim black book from her pocket and pinch it between her thumb and the knuckle of her index, presenting it to the room. She hadn’t the nerve to speak yet, she feared that her voice would shake if she tried. She maintained unwavering eye contact with the painter more out of a desire to avoid looking at the cadaver than any deliberate attempt at disconcerting him. They stared at each other for a long time. The boy picked up on the man’s stare, didn’t dare move a muscle. The old man lowered his paintbrush and placed it gingerly on the table. “Where,” he whispered at an icy hush, “Did you get that?” Jacquelyn twitched the book at him. ”You have outstanding debts. I’m here to collect.” Did she sound nervous? She couldn’t tell. Her ears swam to nauseating effect. Even just the outline of the cadaver in her periphery was enough to throw her off balance, burning a brand into her vision. When she blinked she still saw it through her eyelids. The other people in the room backed off and walked to the side, forming wings behind their apparent leader. He cut the figure of a messiah, though the iron shutters and shelves covered in motor parts behind him broke the illusion somewhat. “The Ashwoods have many powers but immortality is not one of them.” He withdrew an iron pole from a barrel of burning scrap, cinders clinging to its tip and falling like autumn leaves to the concrete below. It glowed a vicious red, trailing imaginary ribbons as it cut through the tortured air. She felt a pang of fear enter her, the cream on a cocktail of disgust.

”What makes you think I’m an Ashwood?” She knew, but she wanted to hear it from his mouth. “The Book of Debts is in your hands! I remember cutting my wrist over it, signing my name in blood. If I’d known that I’d be under your thumb, I never would’ve resigned myself to that humiliation. What are you here to do? Make us fight in one of your proxy wars?” The Ashwoods did have a reputation for rallying people to their cause only to get them all slaughtered in the face of insurmountable odds. Oh, how the conflict against The Crimsonites had reshaped the town’s landscape. There were power vacuums on every street corner, struggles for dominion in every neighborhood. Edgar, the man before her, had not come out on top in said struggle, clearly. She resented him for every word that he said. He phrased it like Elizabeth had press ganged all the cults into acting as her meatshields when really, they’d all had very reasonable motivations to join in the fight. The Crimsonites would’ve killed them all otherwise; she shook her head and clicked her tongue. ”You’ve enjoyed decades of success because of that deal; if anything, you’re the one who came out on top. But to answer your question, no. I’m not here to demand payment in blood.” “Payment?” The man spat with scorn. “Are you simple? Look around.” He gestured at his groupies, thirteen in all not including himself. “I’ll burn that book and all the accounts in it-” ”We have copies.” “-right after I’m done prying it from your charred hands.” He strode forward; she committed to staying in place but not moving backward felt like moving through river rapids, every muscle and nerve in her body telling her to fall back. ”Mistress Elizabeth will not be pleased if I come to harm.” The man did not move but she felt him take a mental stumble. “She’s alive?” ”You understand I’m sharing that with you in confidence.” The man pointed a finger at the boy behind her, shaking off his trepidation. “Shut her up.” He obliged by striking her on the back of the head. She stumbled and fell before she could catch herself. Two robed figures hoisted her up by the shoulders, kneeling on ashen stone. She emitted an undignified yelp. Should she have begged for mercy? Attempted to break free? Her stream of thought was becoming a ruddy current, clogged by hysterical suppositions and illogical impulses. “Then I’ll sell what remains of you back to her in exchange for my debt being forgotten. It’s only fair.”

”She won’t give you any concessions. I mean nothing to her.” And it was the truth, in Jacquelyn’s mind; the first honest thing she’d said since midnight. He leaned in, finally curious about something that she’d said. “You don’t have their eyes. You’re not an Ashwood?“ A question, finally. A place to dig the hooks into. ”Just their secretary. I made a deal, same as you.” The man’s outright contempt gave way to a softer sort of disapproval. Less toxic but more firm, the difference between rancid and fresh hatreds. “You talk as if you’re one of them.” So, some doubts lingered. Better to dispel than deflect. ”I’m well trained.” A melodious complacency wormed its way back into the way that she spoke. Not consciously this time; it was simply the sibling of her sedition, the byproduct of a feeling of safety. She had him, she knew it in his eyes. Abortive questions continually bubbled up in his mind but were answered in short order by his own train of thought. He could take the book but he wouldn’t be able to use it. The information in there wasn’t worth reading either, just lists of names and none of their affiliations or goals. He could kill the girl, too, just to send a message, but it’d only invite retaliation. Ultimately, all roads converged on a single conclusion: better to hear her out than incur the old blood’s anger. “Let her go. Everybody out.” ”Take the body with you,” She stipulated as she dusted off her jacket. The man didn’t belay her order and his silence was enough to convince his colleagues to remove the corpse. They made themselves as comfortable as they could on wireframe chairs, though she would’ve much preferred to hold the meeting elsewhere.

”I’m Jacquelyn. Vanth.” She locked up her middle and index fingers and jabbed at her sternum with them. “Edgar Wakefield. Head Oracle of The Videntiaries.” ”I’ll call you Edgar,” she cut him off. He paused as if to protest but clamped down on his tongue instead. The old man was used to having things go his way. Treating someone else as his equal would’ve felt degrading. Being the lesser of two voices in a conversation? Why, it positively desolated him. She waited for him to speak and as soon as he seemed to understand that he was to break the ice, she opened her mouth instead, catching him mid-exhale. ”You’re not fond of the Ashwoods.” He furrowed his brow. “Are you?” ”I’m not afforded the luxury of opinion. I speak on the family’s behalf, not my own.” “If your opinion doesn’t matter why are you asking for mine?“ ”Because I want to understand you. Understanding better leads to better understandings, if you follow.” Was she irritating the man? She hoped so. The back of her head still stung and her heart wouldn’t stop fluttering, all because of him. The man leaned back to look her in the eye from a higher vantage point. She didn’t bother straightening her own posture. “Fifty years ago Alexandria offered me a choice between knowledge and ignorance. I chose the former. You see I was a sick child.” He laid a hand on the back of his head and his fingers sank deeper into where she assumed his scalp would be than what should’ve been possible. He turned himself a few degrees and she saw it, a gap in his skull with an irregular, oblong weft running through where his parietal lobe would’ve been. “Blind and rarely able to hear, taken advantage of by the world. My parents were too busy looking after me to know that they were being cheated out of a home, my sister worked long hours for my sake and lost her life to a manager who cut corners so he could go anaesthetise himself with alcohol an hour before closing time. When I was alone and vulnerable, she came to me. She used my condition as leverage, convincing me to sell myself to her in exchange for insight. I can see now and hear things that other men can’t.”

Jacquelyn steepled her fingers in front of her chest. ”Was it worth it?” The man stared straight ahead, irises twitching every now and then as they adjusted to imagined lights. Scenes of day and night, misremembered moments given meaning in retrospect. He wasn’t looking at her, he was looking at someplace near and sometime far. He trawled through half a century of experiences, a lifetime of regrets and hardships and lonely miseries. “No.” He finally stated, simply and flatly. “The Ashwoods find those who are at their lowest and convince them that they have nowhere else to go. They create sycophants, and where that policy fails, they make tributaries. We, the indebted, can hold nothing sacred. We keep no secrets, own nothing of our own, not truly. The Ashwoods demand what they want and we are obliged to provide because we feel that they are kind to us somehow. I’m beyond that notion but sometimes I wish I still thought of Alex as my friend, however distantly. I used to drink with her.” How much of herself did she see in the man? None, really. She’d once believed that Elizabeth was her friend, holding long conversations into the evening with her and wanting to participate in all the adventures that the witch went on. Now, though, she understood that she was only in the witch’s periphery. Only ever her shadow, or less than that. She wasn’t unique, she was just another person who happened to be in her life. She wondered if the witch would care if she disappeared. She wondered if she’d be remembered if she were to stop being there, sleeping in Elizabeth’s sheets and haunting her hallways to remind her of her existence. Intellectually she understood what the man was suggesting, that Jacquelyn was just another pawn in their vast and interconnected gambit at power. Elizabeth had indeed taken Jackie in when she’d been at her most vulnerable, she had also extracted great value from their relationship - making the girl run errands and do chores and talk to clients on Liz’s behalf - but emotionally? Jacquelyn still imagined herself a parasite, still ‘knew’ that she should pay them back for all their kindness. In the face of these two immiscible beliefs, she chose the latter. She did owe Elizabeth something, she chose to do all this for her sake. It was only right to sacrifice a little of herself for the sake of the woman who’d given her everything. And beyond that she wanted to prove to someone, especially herself, that she could be more than a burden.

This internal dialogue resolved itself in three wordless thoughts or less. Unconscious shifts in opinion and paradigm rarely dedicate themselves to the page concisely. She bit down a surge of anger and offence. She wanted to defend Elizabeth and to prove the man wrong but she’d spent a lifetime suppressing her own opinions. ”I’m glad to tell you then that your debt will be annulled as soon as you complete a simple request. You will relocate yourself and all your followers to Grimhaven.” Edgar considered himself a reasonable man. Smart, even, at the best of times. When his curiosity was piqued, as it was then, he tended to indulge it. “What do you want us to go to Grimhaven for?” ”You’re an organisation of fortune tellers. The Ashwoods want the cults out of this district of the town as a whole.” He nodded in understanding. The two statements needed no conjunction, the logic flowed from one clause to the next. If The Videntiaries were to go somewhere without obvious cause, their allies and rivals would take notice. More importantly, they’d follow. They were known for telling the future after all, even if that reputation was a little less than earned. “Does it matter where we go? Grimhaven is a den of Fates, I’d rather not have to coexist with them.” ”I’ve no idea,” Jacquelyn ‘admitted’, ”The Ashwoods gave me no indication of why they would want this. I am in no position to question their desires.” The man put a finger to his chin, staring at the ground between his feet. He searched for the catch in this deal and couldn’t find it. He concluded that he simply wasn’t important enough for the Ashwoods to actively try to deceive and defraud. But beyond those concerns more pragmatic issues awaited him. “There’ll be questions.” ”Darling, you’re an oracle. You don’t need to justify yourself.” There would be no point in pressing further, he understood it rather implicitly. Though, he would’ve been dishonest if he’d claimed not to have doubts. “When do they want us gone by?” ”Within three hours.” If it was an unrealistic deadline, he made no indication of it being one. “You’ll have your exodus.”

Third day of December, 4:44 am
Lludw Cigfrain, Ashwood Manor, Alexandria’s Study

Under the light of an incandescent sunlamp, Jacquelyn nestled herself into a seat too large for her and took one, two, three deep breaths until her heart stopped racing. She had a stack of disorganised papers before her, plucked from the heap which the police had left after vacating the house. She understood now that they’d been Pendergast’s men, likely in search of evidence to damn Alex and more importantly, Ashwood secrets to exploit. The king would fall in time, she promised herself, indulging in a macabre little fantasy. She had a sip of scotch - blanched at the taste, like inhaling industrial soot - and rifled through delicate pages torn from books and manuscripts that she assured herself Alex wouldn’t miss. Extracts from Celestial Order handbooks, field manuals, mundane communiques and memos. She would’ve preferred the transcripts of the conversations between Alex and the ever mysterious Raven but they were long gone, slid off the shelves and now probably mouldering between some coffee-enriched office building’s walls.

Her hands danced across the silver knobs of a radio. Two rotating cylinders for tuning, one coarse and the other fine. The frequencies jumped at midnight and were based on the last five digits of the value acquired from a recursive mathematical algorithm when applied to an already agreed upon function - a derivative of the Newton-Rahpson method. Essentially, in order to know the frequency that one should tune into on a certain day, they’d need to know the frequency from the day before; to know that, they’d need to know the frequency from the day before that, and so on and so forth. The method of frequency protection went back to March of 1977, meaning that she would’ve needed to perform days of backbreaking mathematics or made a computer script to do it for her, both of which would’ve consumed inordinate amounts of time. Thankfully, when she’d found the radio, she’d been able to read the frequency which it had been attuned to. She didn’t know exactly what day said frequency corresponded to but she assumed it was from the last thirty days, and so she’d calculated each and every frequency from that unknown date up to a month from it. All of which was to say, she’d done a great deal of thinking while mildly drunk and sleep deprived.

She turned each knob gingerly. Her caution overwhelmed her reflexes, stilling her breath and starving her of oxygen until she remembered to manually inhale. Nothing but static and snippets of conversation. The radio was on an internal clock, constantly jumping a few megahertz up and down the spectrum at the exact same pace and in the same intervals as its sister transceiver, somewhere on that side of the world. And to think that all of this security existed just to protect just two persons’ communications… She didn’t know what to expect. Would something spectacular happen when she hit the right base frequency? Possibly nothing at all. There would be no reason for The Order to keep this line of communication open if Alex had been captured. Hell, it was even possible that the original radio frequency had been tampered with or that the information she was working off of was outdated - the handbook had been published in 1996, well before the proliferation of much more secure and convenient lines of communication - or that the radio was an antique and Alex had only kept it in her office as a mement- “...” The static faded away and the line went dead. Complete and utter silence. She’d made a connection.

She flicked her way through the pages before her, seeking the page which she wanted. She’d had a hunch that Raven wasn’t a name but rather a callsign. Most militaries had strict conventions regarding them. For example, in the American military ‘HOLDFAST’ always designated an engineer and ‘FOXHOUND’ only ever meant infantry. The Order had a much longer list of callsigns to remember but sure enough, Raven was among them; it was the alias of an intelligence officer. The fact of Alex’s guilt was undeniable now but it had never truly been in doubt. She purveyed the list, looking for Alex’s own designation. ‘Chimera’, the alternative pronunciation - Kim-erah - for an informant, ‘Scion’ for a scholar of the physical sciences, ‘Jotun’ for the captain of an artillery corps… aha, ‘Synecdoche’ for a ranking affiliate with a non-combat role. The callsigns for those who weren’t employees of The Order were much less complex and far broader. She was reasonably confident that it was right. She put the microphone on a coiled wire to her mouth, a round plastic tube which widened like a brass horn at one end. She read the words of a greeting protocol rote, pitching her voice down greatly. She knew how Alex talked, her precise choice of inflection. She’d always been good at copying voices. ”Synecdoche to Raven, it’s 4:45 as I find you. Uplink is 37701. I am alone and quartered.”

A gravel, a scrawl, the audible translation of fibrous rope being pulled apart from its core, it pierced her as a spearpoint might and stilled her heart. It spoke falteringly. There were gaps in its continuity, blinking in and out of her perception and having moments snatched away from it by its own ephemerality. “Signal acknowledged.” The static washing over her felt like feather quills being dragged across her skin. There was something deeper here, buried in the noise. Carved into the bleeding back of reality, it was but a facsimile of a speaker. She heard words that weren’t truly there, only implied by the raw data flooding her brain. She had no composure left to lose but shock kept her in place. ”What is your name?” Her memories of Celestial Order protocol were being violently recalled. They weren’t rules for communicating, they were guidelines for surviving. A single misplaced word could elicit something from her partner on the other end, she knew from evolved instinct. “This unit’s designation is Gestalt.” ”Purpose.” “To be the collective intelligence of battalion C-29-AN.”

White hot pain lanced through her irises. A thunderbolt was growing inside her brain in slow motion, scouring her neurons. She could hear the sizzling from between her ears. The warm, moist pop as pockets of fluid boiled beneath her skin. ”Who do you think I am.” “Synecdoche. You are an informant.” Her lungs burnt. She tried to breathe but the muscle wouldn’t obey. She clutched the edge of the table, squeezing until her fingerbones rested on the verge of snapping. ”Will anything that I say be believed?” “All will as long as it is reasonable. You are encoding yourself into this unit.” This excruciating sensation, it was the interference from a thousand thinking, dreaming minds. Anything she said would become a part of the Order’s beliefs once they awoke, or at least the members of The Order in Lludw Cigfrain. ”Opinion recall. Morriston. Brief.” “Morriston has the greatest concentration of anomalous inhabitants in the operational area outside of Oldgrove. It is a priority target.” Trickles ran down her cheeks, either blood or tears. ”The cults in Morriston have mostly moved out. It’s vulnerable, for now.” She was running off script. The border between her conscious mind and unthinking lower levels of cognition were blurred. Was she even awake? She probably would’ve been dead or brain damaged already if not for her training with lucid dreaming. “The given information has been integrated. Battalion C-29-AN is now aware of this fact.” Her vision was black and full of little blank dots. Her brain was dying inside of her, starved of oxygen. She grit her teeth. ”Occupy Morriston before noon. Otherwise, The Fates will reinforce the area.” A pause that spoke of eternity. “Current cognitive consensus is to consider the proposal.” She laid a hand on the silver switch. ”Sever link. End. End!” “Issue. Transmitter’s emotional signature is not consistent with this unit’s psychological profile. Rectifying problem, uploading template consciousness to vital cortices.”

What had been an incoming stream of information transformed into a single point pressure. It punched a hole in her stream of thought, causing her psyche to pour out through the gap. Something else rushed in to fill the void, something alien and aphysical. She heard it, an embryonic mind developing in fast forward, rapidly subsuming her own in order to fuel its growth. She underwent total perspective shift; the world’s angles became sharper, the shadows lighter and mysteries easier to deconstruct. Everything that she was was being overwritten. It felt like suddenly remembering something which had been forgotten but a thousand times a second. Acting on pure reflex, she grabbed the radio cord and ripped it from the socket. She swore that she heard something snap behind her eyes. When the mental noise died down all that lingered were the aborted fragments of implanted memories and a sustained throb in the base of her neck. She’d nearly been replaced by something just now. Was she so easy to erase? She perused through her memories, searching for irregularities and inconsistencies with what she knew about herself, but there were too many to sort. The idea that she could be someone different from who she had been before the radio transmission… it didn’t terrify her, but it planted the seeds thereof. But maybe it would’ve been better for her to be replaced by someone else; someone more competent and directed. She didn’t have any outstanding features, no real skills or talents or passions. So what would the difference be between her, a blank slate of a woman, and a blank slate of a soldier? The question was eminently answerable, she was sure, but she sure as hell didn’t know what the right response was.

Without the pressure of the transmission to distract her, her body’s demands suddenly grew to be all consuming; a desire for air which only dissipated slightly with every shuddering, bloody breath she took; and a reflex to shut her eyes against the world. She rubbed the tears off of her face and the drool from the corner of her lip. No blood, somehow. Her recovery was remarkably swift. Within a minute she was upright, holding a shaky hand over her scalp and staring into a mirror, looking for injuries. There was nothing obviously wrong with her; maybe she was just a wimp. So that was it then. A battle planned, another step taken toward saving Alex, however unrelated it may have seemed. Everything that she’d done so far had been part of a grander design but now she felt herself doubting it, wondering if any of it would come to fruition. She could position the pieces but she couldn’t compel them to move. Hell, what was she even thinking, getting involved in the affairs of such titanic organisations? Doing what Elizabeth would do for her, she told herself. Taking on the world for a friend.

One more conversation. Then a nap.

Third day of December, 7:20 am
Lludw Cigfrain, Grimhaven, 17 Haerwyn Boulevard

Grimhaven. A pleasant place for the middle earners. People with security but no wealth, the sort who don’t need to scramble to live but can’t ever let up their efforts for fear of falling behind. North and South, upper and lower, painted wooden homes and picket fences and cafes and bars and cinemas and groceries and Sunday markets, all the entrapments expected out of a cozy little town but far more numerous. The whole place felt bloated; overfed. The streetlights were a little bit too warm, the shop windows slightly too wide, the people a little bit overly friendly. All this was no doubt built on mountains of sacrifice and exploitation which she couldn’t see; that alone was unsettling. But there were also visible elements which perturbed her; people outside, just wasting time. In Morriston and Oldgrove the people on the street had always been brisk, on their way to something and reserved. And how could they not be? Reports of violence and unrest rolled in every day, transmitted on all frequencies. But here was a part of the town seemingly divorced from the context of the rest, where strangers stood out in the open with their heads held high and without a glimmer of anxiety to be found in their eyes. It was far from what she’d pictured, having read about the place. Oldgrove was Dierdre’s nest, where most of the established anomalous families had established themselves before the Celestial Order’s occupation; Morriston was a centre of industry with incredibly cheap housing, anti-union politicking and a tremendous population of workers, it was obviously the jewel in Kanopi’s financial crown. Both of those places reflected their ‘rulers’’ personalities. Oldgrove was densely packed and diverse, communicating its history through the places where cobblestone roads met asphalt and via the shadow of abandoned monasteries, shipyards and the wall of what had once been a medieval fortress on the coast. Morriston, on the other hand, was a constantly evolving crucible of steel, concrete and plaster, the sky dimmed by smog and the streets a constantly evolving ecosystem of trash: lawn chairs, garbage bags, dumpsters, rusted bikes, empty bottles and the like.

But Grimhaven, it was nothing like the rest; it wore a mask. It was supposed to be the seat of Meredith’s power, the place from which The Fates - a syndicate of cutthroats, smugglers and money launderers - extended their far reaching claws. Yet it was not a shadowy place. In fact, it was blindingly bright. Even during daytime all the lights were on and the streetlights emitted a dull yellow glow, turning the usually washed out and blue mid-morning pallour into a cleanly white shade. The roads were open, the sidewalks well swept and the nature strips were healthy. They weren’t nauseatingly colourful like the practically plastic meadows of the town’s richer districts, they were just… alive. Understated, manicured, given poise and repose by the implication that they weren’t the gardeners’ pets but rather actual plants living under genuinely uncontrolled circumstances. All the buildings were wood and plaster and brown and white; the road ran through them at times and when it did there was always a superbly crafted arch over it. The district elicited the image of the idealised medieval town which’d borne its way into the new age, as if this place had always been here and always would, comfortably gliding from one era to the next but she knew from the literature that Grimhaven had only existed in its modern state for a few decades at best. It was all one large facade. Grimhaven’s architecture constructed a history for itself which had never truly been, wanting all the gravitas and prestige of antiquity while keeping its modernistic edge. She had to congratulate it on its achievements - it really was beautiful - but looking up at the gable roofs and breathing in the chilly morning air still undeniably felt like living in a lie.

But then again, The Fates were rich. Of course they’d live like this, in a comfortable pocket of an otherwise chaotic and in places withering town, watching the storm swirl outside their windows.

She picked a place to sit. Out front of some gourmet sandwich store, with shining black umbrellas and canvas barriers arranged out front for those who preferred to be left in the cold. She glanced at the windows, unable to peer through her own reflection but very certain of what lay on the other side. Eyes and ears in the walls. She was expecting someone. They were important, a lieutenant of The Fates she heard, the head of a sister organisation which’d gone to war with their present-masters and been consumed sometime in the eighties. The Fates had inherited their wealth and territory, choosing not to annihilate them but instead absorbing them, weaving the two together so inextricably that the notion of separation would be laughable. Neither of them had seen one anothers’ faces yet but they’d at least heard each others’ voices over the phone; a brisk conversation at six while aspirin pills sat at the bottom of her empty stomach. The voice on the other end had been like iron striking the anvil: sharp, forceful, determined to mold the world around it rather than be molded. A car pulled up on the street by her, a black Cadillac. None of the town’s car dealerships could possibly make a profit on such vehicles. Had to be an import. It could only belong to her exceptionally wealthy confidant, no? With the self assurance of a saint she stood up, took two long strides and slipped through the passenger side door, disappearing into the darkened interior.

It took her eyes to adjust to the darkness and when they did, she found herself at the side of a tall and grey-chinned man, black hair with white roots extending like a helmet down the sides of his head and the back of his neck. He looked as if he’d just stepped out of a courtroom. Red shirt with a folded collar, black tie that ran down to his hip, grey coat which broke in half - as if neatly torn - at the groin so that the two loose halves covered the tops of his thighs… my, he really was a Fate. ”I recognise the uniform. Mrs. Pisce was very fond of it.” The man looked straight ahead, palms on his lap. He ran an open hand over the long stubble on his chin, the varicose veins and tendons flexing beneath his skin, creating the impression of a spider moving inside of his limb. He was gaunt, maybe even a bit haggard. Once he might’ve fit into that suit but now it sagged all over him, the weave softened by age such that the shoulders had no rigidity to them. He was on his way out. She waited, patiently, for him to speak. “... I knew her as Maria.” Yes. That was definitely the voice on the other end of the phone. Though in person, without the benefit of static and electronic chop, he sounded a lot more tired and resigned. “She trusted me to teach her sister to be better. But now she’s gone, and so is Mephistopheles. So Meredith is head of The Fates.” He glanced out the window as the car kicked into motion, gently accelerating toward the vanishing point on the horizon. Marble hotels and villas glimmered in his eye. Jacquelyn stayed quiet and let him talk. “Before we came along this place was a nightmare. Thugs and killers prowled abandoned buildings and left corpses in parking lots. Crime was savage, there were no limits or codes of conduct. But The Fates, we imposed the rule of law. We reined all the radical elements in, turned what had been a crucible of blood and duplicity into the most beautiful part of Lludw Cigfrain. I saw the transition with my own eyes. I’d like to imagine that I laid some of the bricks, too. And now...” They passed by a park; green grass and swings tumbling in the wind. “The people here are happy. They prosper under our protection.”

The man breathed in, an almost silent inhale. “Meredith is young. She doesn’t know what The Fates stand for or what we fought to protect. She doesn’t bat an eyelid at the most reprehensible acts as long as they serve her own ends. I wish I could’ve been of better guidance but… regrets, regrets. Time passes us by, we do what we can to live with ourselves.” She contemplated his words for a while. He made no attempt to elicit something from her but it was obvious that he expected a reply. She licked her lips, bidding a response forth from an otherwise unwilling mind. ”You’re talking as if it’s your last day on Earth.” “It might well be,” he answered a little too quickly. It didn’t sound like a cogent reply, more like a confession brought on by impulse. “You know what Meredith does to her enemies, those that betray her especially. I may have been her sister’s peer but that won’t affect her judgement.” ”You have money and men. I’m sure you’ll be fine.” “I’ve never known her vindictiveness to have limits. I don’t think she’d lay aside her revenge for anything.” The car turned a corner off the main road, passing through a single lane alley eclipsed by two tremendous brick facades. They weren’t actually going anywhere, they were merely travelling in circuits so as to avoid being observed. ”Before we discuss strategy, I’d like to know why you plan on betraying Meredith.”

The man shrugged in discomfort at the mention of the word. “I’m no traitor. I just want what’s best of The Fates. Meredith, she associates with those who have no codes. If she continues down the path which she’s on, she’ll plunge this town back into the darkest days that it’s ever seen. The Fates may be smugglers and frauds but we are not killers. We don’t sell drugs to children, we don’t burn down dispensaries, we don’t create an atmosphere of terror. Meredith is determined not to be like her sister. Where Maria was compassionate, she is cold. She’s mad with grief, thinking her sister died because she had too many scruples, but it was that moral character which earned her the respect of so many to begin with. I’m going to protect this town, whether from my friends or otherwise.” Jacquelyn nodded, though truthfully she found his proselytising nothing more than grating. ”You’ve noticed that the cults have begun flooding into Grimhaven.” The man drew a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his hands, intertwining the fabric between his fingers. The pragmatic aspect of the situation was now in focus, something that he’d otherwise want to avoid thinking about. How had this nervous, self-righteous man ascended to the upper echelons of an organisation like The Fates, Jacquelyn wondered. Primogeniture and nepotism? Or perhaps there was something more to him that she couldn’t see just yet. “I don’t know how you did it, but yes. They’ll fight on my side when the time comes?” She fixed him with a firm look. Had to keep up the appearance of determination, even though she was on the verge of abandoning this ploy altogether. Not out of fear but just a sense that she was entangled in things far larger than herself. Maybe it would be best if she stepped back and let it all play out on its own? No. No. Alex was in danger, she couldn’t just stand by and observe. ”They’ll fight on ours. You’re not the only one with something to lose.”

“What are they going to do?” Pointless questions, the two of them both knew how meaningless the answer would be. The man was only extending the conversation, not wanting to confront the impending hour when the battle would commence. But for all his trepidation and anxiety it had been exceptionally easy to talk him into fighting against Meredith. From his perspective he was backed up against a corner, given the options of either complacency - in which case Meredith would ruin his life’s work before his eyes - or fighting like hell. She could respect his decision, the latter. ”Destroying an army is very like slaughtering an animal. You go for the eyes, the ears, the claws. I’ve placed my troops in strategic positions. At the stroke of six they’ll come out of their hiding places and destroy Meredith’s ability to command her own forces. They’ll assassinate her leaders, seize vital fortifications, destroy caches of weapons. It’ll be a pitched battle but the advantage will be thoroughly in your favour.” The man glanced at his feet, tense in all his limbs. He anticipated an easy victory but that didn’t mean he was looking forward to the deed. Killing his fellow Fates sickened him to the core. “No. It will be a slaughter. Meredith sent orders just hours ago. Most of us are to redeploy to Morriston. The Celestial Order has begun gathering on the border between there and Oldgrove.” She couldn’t help but feel a little pang of excitement at that. Her schemes were really coming together. ”I hope that when the dust settles, you’ll be alive to clean it up. You’re a good man.” He winced and gripped the back of his neck. “I hope that you’re right.”

Third day of December, 6:01 pm
Lludw Cigfrain, Ashwood Manor

Jacquelyn watched the world burn from her window. She stood within the highest story of the manor, gazing through a rainsoaked glass pane. Very, very dramatic. The only thing missing from the scene was a furred coat and a glass of wine, maybe some attendants and a dramatic thunderstorm. But instead, she had to settle with windless, torrential rain. There wasn’t really much to see anyway. Just some rising smoke in Grimhaven and dark patches all throughout Morriston. The Order had engineers, sappers, means to cut off electricity and water. Her phone rang inside her pocket. She picked up and heard the man from the car on the other end. She tuned out whatever he had to say. ”There was no miscommunication. Help is not coming.” She hung up right as he got hysterical. The cults would not fight on his side. He was bound to lose the war.

The plan had been as follows. After telling the Videntiaries to go to Grimhaven, many cults had followed. They’d taken the Videntiaries’ sudden relocation as a sign of things to come, their organisation being about telling the future and all. That’d been the impetus to get The Celestial Order to invade, with their previous efforts having been hampered by the obstacles presented by the local cults. After that, she’d told the Fates’ lieutenant that she’d deliberately moved the cults into Grimhaven to help him fight against Meredith, even though no such thing had happened. In doing so she’d convinced him to launch his doomed coup. Though Meredith was bound to win the battle, she’d come out of it weaker. Weak enough, in fact, that her continued leadership would be called into question. That was, unless Jacquelyn reached out with assistance. She would make Meredith a deal; vote with her on all matters or be impoverished by the sudden, self-inflicted annihilation of half of her organisation.

She could’ve executed on the same plan but with the lieutenant coming emerging as The Fates’ leader instead of Meredith, but from what she’d heard of him he was too principled to sell his vote. Therefore, she’d had to choose Meredith as her puppet over him. Quite unfortunate; he’d grown on her somewhat. That was only three votes, though: her own, Deirdre’s and Meredith’s. Constance couldn’t be counted on to provide her support on all occasions, not when she was only allowed to vote on matters regarding Alexandria; a different outsider was chosen for The Assembly for each different issue. She needed a fourth, which she would secure that very night.

When she stepped out the front door minutes later it was to meet a man with an umbrella and a cab. When she walked up the pale steps of the assembly chamber it was between two rows of faces, the leaders of cults who’d come to see the new Ashwood matriarch. And when she sat down in that gargantuan circular auditorium, it was to a submissive stare from Deirdre and a firm one from Meredith, her clothes scraggy and her hip dented with the weight of a gun recently removed from her belt.

Jacquelyn voted to seal the town, to keep the people in and the strangers out. Shipping would be arrested, the roads and railways would be torn up; Mayor Branwen would be responsible for ensuring that the public thought that it was all for a good reason. Pendergast said yes to avoid more Order toadies from infesting the town, spurred on by their recent occupation of Morriston, which had utterly annihilated The Fates’ defending forces. Branwen said yes to keep the mass exodus from continuing, speaking of the barges leaving for the rumoured Aenigmata Archipelago, carrying hundreds of souls to almost certain death at sea, chasing a ghost. Deirdre and Jacquelyn voted together, obviously. The Outsider abstained, unable to render judgement. Kanopi and Meredith argued against the policy, Kanopi saying that it would be bad for business and Meredith providing a more moralistic argument, though everyone knew that she was only opposing the bill because she made so much money from maritime smuggling. It passed.

Outside the council chamber, during a recess, Jacquelyn approached Meredith and told her everything that she already knew. The Fates had lost tremendous amounts of manpower and weaponry in Morriston; without shipping they’d have no incoming profits from smuggling; because of the attempted coup their leadership had been decimated. If the situation did not improve, The Fates would be so weak as to lack a position in The Assembly. So Jackie, having known Maria and Mephistopheles - the former leaders of The Fates - as friends, offered to help Meredith prop up her dying organisation. She would provide the support of the cults and a portion of the income from the Ashwoods’ many vast estates. In exchange, Meredith would vote with her on any given proposal. Loyd considered it for only a second before saying yes. She had an eye for business, after all, and knew that if she didn’t say yes, she’d be removed from The Assembly anyway.

Jacquelyn suggested that they should enact a lockdown in light of the sudden relocation of many of the cults, citing their propensity for violence and reading off a list of hundreds of violent crimes from weeks prior perpetrated by cultists. The people would be confined to their homes for everything but work and education. Deirdre and Meredith supported her on it, though the latter was not especially pleased by the proposal. Pendergast voted with her too, seeing an opportunity to solidify his own grasp over the town. After all, the police would be one of the few groups allowed to roam the streets freely once the curfews came into place. The Outsider and Branwen abstained. Kanopi stayed very quiet this time, knowing that she’d be changing no minds.

Afterwards, Jacquelyn asked whether Kanopi deserved to retain her position in The Assembly. Morriston had been the town’s industrial sector; the fish canneries, chemical plants and steelworks there had formed the brunt of Kanopi’s capital. And now that a lockdown had been enacted, her secondary sources of income - gambling dens, cinemas, theatres and galleries - would be making no profits either. Ergo, Kanopi was no longer had the highest gross income of anyone in the town; not fit to be the Representative of The Sterling. Her logic was deemed sound, though it wounded Pendergast to see Kanopi go. They’d agreed on so much, he’d be sad to lose her support. Still, he maintained his positions on all prior issues. Kanopi excused herself from the assembly room and the process of finding a replacement began.

Candidates were rapidly whittled down. There were many extremely wealthy international corporations active within Lludw Cigfrain but they were not entirely based within it, disqualifying them from holding a position in The Assembly. None of the known independent business owners - the managers of private schools or small fishing companies - were worth more than a few tens of thousands of dollars. Certainly, there were a few with millions in assets, but they had almost as much in liabilities. Times were tough, employees were dropping and quitting like mayflies. There were a few dynasties similar to The Ashwoods still operating within the town but most did not base themselves in Lludw Cigfrain anymore and the ones which did were of shockingly little value.

Ultimately, in spite of Pendergast’s disbelief and Branwen’s understated displeasure, it was decided that the only candidates for the seat of the Representative of The Sterling were within that very room with them. Deirdre didn’t have any special forms of revenue and was immediately disqualified. So was The Outsider, for obvious reasons. Pendergast was the head of police and the leader of The Ushers, who were a very well funded militant group, but he had no business holdings nor did he actually own anything which he had control over, being a commander and a commissioner rather than a CEO. Mayor Branwen had the whole revenue of the town at her hands but it was federal tax money, not derived from property or business. Besides, that money was the property of her office, not herself on a personal basis. That left Meredith and Jacquelyn, the former of whom was now the leader of a failing criminal venture which had spent the last few hours gutting itself and losing access to all of its usual sources of income.

In the end, just as planned, Jacquelyn was announced the new Representative of The Sterling. The Ashwoods were a very old and very well connected family, with property all throughout the country and even overseas. They had the Book of Debts, worth untold fortunes in favours owed to them by cults and groups beyond the borders of reality itself. And not only that, but they had tremendous estates all throughout Wales: tenant farms, housing complexes, timber fields and so much more. In fact, it was discovered that they had more assets than even Kanopi, and by no small margin. In spite of any disgruntlement, it was obvious that she deserved to have the position.

And with that, as Jacquelyn was sworn into her new role, the meeting came to a close. She strode outside feeling on top of the world, all her goals fulfilled and her many plans executed upon. It had been so straightforward; maybe she was really getting a feel for this kind of politicking. If it had been up to her she’d have called a vote for Alex’s release right there and then but apparently the induction of a new member of The Assembly could only occur either at the very start or very end of a meeting, to avoid the exploitation of certain loopholes in The Assembly’s founding documents. She was glad to be afforded the opportunity to go home though; she’d not slept since twelve in the morning nor had she had any dinner. She’d leave the victory lap - freeing Elizabeth’s mum - for tomorrow. Alex’s safety was secured. Everything had been worth it.

For the first time in her life, Jacquelyn felt relief. She allowed herself to breathe.

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The Japanese Americans
Posts: 314
Founded: Jun 24, 2018
Left-Leaning College State

Postby The Japanese Americans » Fri Apr 23, 2021 12:57 pm


Lee had noticed the wards. He had been silently studying their structure, trying to understand and see how easy he could replicate them. After all, he had decided upon a new path for himself. He had thought that being a Mage was a good class to go for as a hunter back then. Now he had a problem with getting what he needed, so he would just make what he needed. The Create Skill isn't too picky about some ingredients being raw. At least he could get back to his college major, magical engineering. Now all he needed was a bow to tie this combination up nice and neat.

Handen had started walking off, leading them to a harp that looked old enough it was probably magical. This was confirmed when Handen broke and reformed the glass case. Lee could already feel the magic in it, and then he felt the wards strengthen as Elliot touched the harp. The trance he seemed to go into and him playing the harp while in that trance was only slightly creepy.
I'm an autistic 16 year old who used to read a library's worth of books.

Name: Lee
Gender: Male
Species: Human
Level: 20
Total HP: 158
Total MP: 540
Power: 28
Strength: 26
Luck: 9
Intelligence: 96
Wisdom: 35
Relevant Skills: Mana Arrows, Mana Bomb, Weapon Charge, Energy Slice, Slice and Dice, Observation, Hard Hit, Spinning Mana Bomb, Spinning Mana Arrows, Heal, Body Scan, Electricity Control, Summon Spirit, Lumos, Hacking, and Idiotic Acts

Call me JA. It's easier than typing out Japanese Americans.

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Germanic Templars
Postmaster of the Fleet
Posts: 20632
Founded: Jul 01, 2011
Capitalist Paradise

Voyage Through the Multiverse (Open) [IC]

Postby Germanic Templars » Fri Apr 23, 2021 3:24 pm

Rostavykhan wrote:The Great Wizarding Rebellion

Katya waved her hand. "I doubt you'd have much trouble here anyway. Not many people would have the guts to try and start anything with the likes of you. I don't think you need to worry about the rifting secrecy either; we're not the only ones in the picture who aren't native to this reality."

She sighed, thinking back on it all. "And the other people who can rift are far more dangerous than we are anyway. I'd rather not get on their bad side again."

"Oh, right. Constantly forget that is a thing others can do too with less effort. The worse part is, I should know better." Thriller paused for a moment and shuddered a little before continuing in a more hushed tone, "Still, keeping head low, even if you are the biggest fish, will keep you from being caught by the fishermen."

  • INTP
  • All American Patriotic Constitutionalist/Classic libertarian (with fiscal conservatism)
  • Religiously Tolerant
  • Roman Catholic
  • Hoplophilic/ammosexual
  • X=3.13, Y=2.41
  • Supports the Blue

I support Capitalism do you? If so, put this in your sig.

XY = Male, XX = Female

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Posts: 1933
Founded: Sep 30, 2017
Corrupt Dictatorship

Postby Rostavykhan » Fri Apr 23, 2021 6:28 pm

The Great Wizarding Rebellion

Miria's enthusiasm seemed to dim. "Magics used to bring harm. I see.", She said with a quick nod. She was familiar with destructive magics, somewhat. She would have been lying to herself if she said that she never considered the benefits of such forms of magic, but it was hardly her primary reason for taking in interest in it. Necromancy was practice to a small degree in some regions of Janavaar, but she didn't have the stomach for such things, and as for cursed items...

"What's a Horcrux, exactly?", She asked, cocking her head to ne side. "It's not a term that I'm familiar with. Curses aren't something that I'm interested in, but applying magical properties to certain objects sounds like something that could come in handy. Enchantment isn't something that I've ever been skilled at."

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Naval Monte
Posts: 13398
Founded: Sep 04, 2014
Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Naval Monte » Fri Apr 23, 2021 6:54 pm

Ceystile wrote:"Always go north, babe. That's what we learned in Boy Scout class." Alcide said confidently, flashing his husband a grin. Bishop side and shoved him lightly. "That's not the way it always works...but you may have a point. We could just ask somebody for directions, y'know?"
"Bishop, there's nobody around for miles. How in the world are we going to ask somebody for..." Just then, they saw the form of a young woman walking toward them, with long black hair and green eyes.

"Who's that chick?"
"Don't know, but she may be friendly."
"Could be, but she could also be out to try and kill us."
"And take what exactly? You know what? Al, just let me do the's safer for us both."
"And what in the world do you mean by that?!" The lady stopped in front of them, warning them away from the sea and asking help in getting them further inland. "Thank you so much! Do you mind telling us where this is, m'lady? My husband and I are hopelessly lost, we were on our way to a rendezvous point with our employer when we ended up here!" Bishop held out his hand for Elizabeth to shake, and to show that he wasn't going to attack her. "I'm Bishop, Bishop Clement. It's wonderful to meet you. And this prickly pear over here is my husband, Alcide."

Elizabeth looked at the two of them. It was obvious that rifts were involved as none of them showed any signs of the Rogons attacking them as they had no idea what she meant by them.

"Well didn't they get lucky. I wonder just how long their luck will last."

For now she decided to introduce herself. "The names Elizabeth. You all are on a island that only appears in a very specific time of the year and today is that time. However the island is fill with dangerous creatures and people, the waters being worse since actual sea monsters patrol the shore." she told the two.

"Me and a few people I was with barely survived when our ship was attacked by those creatures. Also the island has a very loose grasp on reality as sometimes you see things from other worlds appear like you two, the robot and animal people behind me. That is normal in here. Otherwise you all are in my reality now. So your meeting with your employer is pretty much cancelled." she explained to them. In this situation she decided to be blunt as there was plenty of evidence to support her claims.

"It's best if you stay close with me because if you don't you may fall prey to something. If the supernatural in your world was just bollocks then in here it isn't. It's very much real and very dangerous."

Demincia wrote:Seeds of Anxiety
Aenigmata Archipelago

"Ashwood?" the man asked, reaching into his coat and producing a small notebook. "Ashwood, Ashwood..." he said, thumbing through a few pages. "Nope, not on the list, for now at least." he tucked it back into his pocket. "Though it would have been rather unsporting."

"To answer your questions, in a manner of speaking, no. Not native. Godforsaken? Never. Well, perhaps eventually, but that's the nature of all things, isn't it? Even God can't be around forever."

He reached a hand into the pocket of his waistcoat and pulled out a pocket watch. He clicked one of the buttons on the side, and it popped open to reveal a compass. "How interesting." he commented, glancing down at it. He closed it up and focused back on the scene in front of him. "Quite the adventure you've been having, isn't it? More than most people, at least. I always find the ones that have a bit of excitement end up happier than those that don't."

Elizabeth looked over at the old man. Once more it was obvious now that he wasn't a native. The man would say that she had quite the adventure and she gave him a slight smirk. "Never a dull day in my life mate. If I don't find some crazy adventure to go through it finds me."

she placed her hands in her coat pockets. "So I take it you got dragged here by a portal too huh?"
Last edited by Naval Monte on Fri Apr 23, 2021 6:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Naval Monte- The Mediterranean crossroads of mind-controlling conspiracies, twisted dimensions, inhuman depravity, questionable science, unholy commerce, heretical faiths, absurd politics, and cutting-edge art.

Make wonderful memories here, in Naval Monte.

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Posts: 2326
Founded: Jul 08, 2010
Democratic Socialists

Postby Demincia » Fri Apr 23, 2021 7:26 pm

Seeds of Anxiety
Aenigmata Archipelago

Death smiled faintly at Elizabeth. "Dragged? Oh heavens, no. I never go anywhere I don't intend to. I found that portal after it had killed someone that shouldn't have died and, well, I can't have that can I?" He patted the pocket where he'd just placed his pocket watch. "No one should go before it's their time."

He walked forward, past Elizabeth and towards the water. "It'd be a nice spot for a vacation, if the circumstances were different." he said, not even looking back at her. "Though I can't say my opinion of the island has really been tainted, it's still quite nice to me."

He moved his hands from behind his back, and as his right hand passed by his side a cane appeared in his grip. He planted the tip firmly in the sand and leant some of his weight on it. "The right amount of scenery and work to keep you busy for a while but also content."

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Founded: Nov 01, 2017
Moralistic Democracy

Postby Menschenfleisch » Sun Apr 25, 2021 4:30 pm

The Great Wizarding Rapper | Kiara and Polly

Polly made a rather embarrassing squeak when she saw Miria turn into a ghoul. For better or for worse her idea of things that were scary remained rather childish. That meant zombies, carved pumpkins, spiders, and not blood or existential terror and death. Ghouls fulfilled most of the former tropes. "Get a hold of yourself girl," Mnemosyne quipped, phasing her head through a game cartridge in the next store over and memorising the digital download code on the box's interior. If Polly had understood what she was doing she would've had a fit. "Black magic doesn't sound all that evil," Kiara added, slipping her hand out of Polly's. Her discomfort grew with every minute that passed with her skin touching another person's. "Resurrection, mind control, killing, there are plenty of much worse ways to achieve the same things." "That's a bit grim don't you think?" "Maybe."

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Founded: Sep 30, 2017
Corrupt Dictatorship

Postby Rostavykhan » Mon Apr 26, 2021 12:26 pm

The Great Wizarding Rebellion

"I still couldn't imagine utilizing magic to inflict harm.", Said Miria with a curt nod. She seemed to lose her confidence towards the end of that comment, after realising what she had said. Magic was used for hurting people all the time, even in her world. Even if it wasn't directly using magic to inflict pain, magic reactors and engines propelled starships and powered drones, and arcane batteries charged everything from personal defense weapons to particle lances that might be used in war. She was dedicated to the application of arcane energy in industry and technology, so to think about all of made her feel a tad hypocritical, even if she never personally tuned up or manufactured anything more dangerous than a self-propelled plough or wagon. Even then, her new daggers were magical, and she had already used those to pacify hostile saprophytes just a few days earlier.

"The application of magic should, first and foremost, serve to benefit society, and it should do so in a safe manner.", She said, leaving it at that. "That's my personal opinion."

She didn't feel any more confident in those words. Why was she even speaking? She didn't know. She visibly argued with herself for a moment, averting he gaze and allowing her gaze to dart about at the floor. A few months, or even weeks earlier, she would have relied on magic to win battles and eliminate threats to her and her friends. She didn't regret it either! She shook her head and hugged her shopping bag. "You know what, nevermind. I've probably gone against that statement a few times now. Sorry."

She forced an awkward smile and a giggle. She didn't want to bring anyone down, so it was best to act like she was just being silly.

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Founded: Nov 01, 2017
Moralistic Democracy

Postby Menschenfleisch » Tue Apr 27, 2021 5:00 pm

Seeds of Anxiety

Tap tap tap. Light fingers on her cheek. She found it a little playful. ”Fuck off Ky-” “She’s out of it.” That wasn’t his voice. Oh, right, he was dead wasn’t he? Jacquelyn’s skin registered the outside before her eyes. Cold weather, less like knives and more like a weight pressing on her, shrinking her skin like silicone wrap. There was metal beneath her and the gentle rumble of a motor by her head. She peeked under her eyelids, just subtly. A human silhouette, previously kneeling, unfurled itself and stood. Had they heard her? “What was your dosage?” The silhouette was a woman. Familiar somehow, though nothing of her appearance could be discerned in the half-baked light of night. “I dunno boss. Five, six pills? I’m pretty sure she won’t overdose. Just over-the-counter sleeping aids.” The second voice was male, young, gruff, slightly accented. Eastern European? They mentioned sleeping pills. They’d probably not banked on her waking so early, she was rather desensitized to them. The warm fuzz of deep sleep was slowly being overtaken by panic. What was happening to her? The last thing she remembered was going to bed after a long night of… drinking. That’d been when gotten her. She tried to clench her fist and her fingers barely responded. She swallowed and kept an ear out.

“She should be worth some thousands. I might be able to get a better price if I haggle a bit.” The man let out a single, explosive laugh. She heard shuffling fabric as the woman shot him a withering stare. ‘Don’t wake her up,’ it communicated. He piped down, speaking in a hush. “Buyer’s the one taking on the liability as well. Even if Ashwood finds out what happened, she’ll never be able to trace it back to us.” The woman dismissed him out of hand; “Ashwood is dead. Missing, it doesn’t matter. And you can be certain that if she ever makes a return, I’ll be ensuring that she’s dealt with.” The man turned the ignition key and the engine roared to life, shuddering beneath her. “I meant the milf,” the man continued, allowing himself the indulgence of opinion. “She’s dead too,” the woman answered with disquieting certainty. “Pendergast, Deirdre, Kanopi - once she returns - and myself, that’s four.” Bingo. The woman was Meredith. Jackie knew her voice, remembered how she dressed. The fuck were they planning on doing with her? Selling her? It began to sink in, after many days, that Elizabeth still wasn’t back. She could be missing, she might be dead, she might have just left Lludw Cigfrain behind and Jacquelyn with it. They’d gone behind her back, hadn’t they, Alex and Liz? The former left to take care of Jack while the latter traipsed her way around the world without anyone to weigh her down. She was alone, she was alone, she was alone.

She opened her eyes fully. Even the cloudy night was blindingly bright to her, having kept her eyes closed for so long. She was weak, slightly hungover. What time was it? She couldn’t even see the moon. But there was a glimmer on Meredith’s belt, precisely where she’d seen the imprint of a gun during the last council meeting. She reached for it, leaning until she lost her balance. Something heavy clattered onto the ground, the steel plate of the back of an open truck. Meredith took a moment to realise that anything was wrong, thinking that the girl had just collapsed or something. In that moment of confusion, Jacquelyn grabbed the gun. ”Stay back. Get off the truck.” She didn’t know that she could speak so authoritatively. She nearly pulled the trigger on the spot but the smell of blood, the look of pain in somebody’s face, she wasn’t prepared to confront them again.

“Jacquelyn.” Meredith was a soft, icy voice. Her words were snowfall and light mist. “Roman was my friend. There was a time when I thought of him as my father.” ”Roman?” She’d heard the word, never the person. “You conspired with him, turned him against me and you never even bothered to learn his name?” Oh. The man from the car, the lieutenant of The Fates, the one that she’d betrayed. Well, ‘betrayed’. ”He’s dead now.” He didn’t matter anymore. “Yes. He is. And you made me kill him.” She said it so plainly, so casually, as if it was a long gone grief that no longer hurt, instead having settled into a constant ache; a desire for a presence that could never be again.

Resonance. She felt it, a sympathetic connection. And she heard it, the sound of breaking bones. The pop of bursting capillaries. She saw him, the anchor shaped hollow in her heart. Her only friend. She’d wrung his neck in her hands and felt so vindicated in the moment. What had been the motivation? Shock? Adrenaline? No, she knew that it was much more reprehensible than that. Lucid envy; a jealousy inspired by his prominence, the way in which he’d become the most important person in the story - her story. In a way she’d gotten what she’d wanted. She was important now and he was forgotten, playing second fiddle to her forever. In the moment of his death she had been so afraid of obscurity and of becoming a side character to him. She’d been violated, rendered powerless and turned into the cliche damsel in distress. But… importance seemed so unimportant now, even dignity with it. She wanted him back. Hell, she wanted what he’d been back; anyone who would listen to her, talk to her, play stupid video games and watch trash television with her. But she saw his red and blue face and knew that she’d only end up hurting the next person to care for her. God, she’d done enough harm, hadn’t she?

Her finger caught on the trigger. No determination to pull it. ”You can go. I don’t want to kill you.” A silver flash coursed down the middle of her vision, white as moonlight. The gun sagged in her hand, the barrel pointing downward. She tried to raise it again but her fingers rebelled, refusing to contract or even twitch. “I think I’d rather be shot than accept your ‘mercy’.” Meredith reached out, grabbed the end of the weapon and pulled it out of Jacquelyn’s grip. There was the noise of tearing meat as Jacquelyn’s thumb, index and a portion of her palm went with the pistol’s grip. First there was fear. When Meredith presented what she had in her other hand to the girl, an almost clean knife but for wet blood on its very edge, then came pain. It started as a metallic ache but then it kept building and building and building and building as her vision clarified and she saw all the little red pustules in her hand, the livid little muscle fibres which tugged on the open ends of her skin, making the edges of the wound pucker up like fish lips. There was a node of bone near the bottom; it reminded her of a snapped chicken wing.

The pain didn’t blind her, didn’t make her scream. No, the fear choked her. She just fell to her knees and she lost track of the time as she held the mutilated half of her hand close to her stomach, pressing it into the soft flesh and feeling it spurt blood against her shirt. Meredith, whose heart was filled with sterile loathing, plucked the piece of hand off of her gun and put it back on her belt while her man stepped out of the driver’s seat. “She’s damaged goods. Pretty sure the deal’s off.” Meredith grit one half of her teeth, the canines of her upper jaw digging into the gums of the lower. She had the grimace of a wolf. “Forget the money. Get your phone.” There was a brief interlude while he reached into his pocket and tapped away. In the silence, Jacquelyn’s muffled gasps were all too audible. She didn’t sob, didn’t descend into hysterics, she just hyperventilated while tears and blood ran down her body, mixing near her hip. Her hand felt so unfamiliar against her skin; she still expected her thumb to be there, so being able to press what remained of her palm against herself so tightly, it felt like she was passing through herself. Meredith kicked the disembodied part of her hand off the back of the truck and knelt; “It’s only your hand. Every friend I ever had died tonight and you don’t see me crying.” The man raised his phone at the two. “It’s live,” he announced. Meredith gripped Jack’s chin and raised her head up. That penetrative, transgressive stare; it made her keenly aware of how ugly she must’ve looked, face scrunched up in agony and terror and cheeks all wet with warm, salty tears. “This is a snuff, not torture. So play the part; don’t make me work for a reaction. It’s better for the both of us.” She stood and turned toward the camera. Her voice entirely changed. Utterly professional, devoid of anything but denotation. “It’s not on the schedule but tonight we have a special. Say hello, Jacquelyn.”

Meanwhile, in a far safer and cozier location…

Paperwork and wires. Lots of paperwork and wires. It was familiar to Constance, and for once she actually was happy to be behind a desk. She'd had enough life-or-death situations for a lifetime in the last half-week, and half of those were thanks to Jacquelyn. Constance didn't necessarily enjoy the monotony of skimming over papers and handling documents, and punching numbers into a computer, but she did enjoy the relative simplicity and safety of it all. No waving that gun of hers around, or diffusing hostage situations, or...handling the fates. Stupid name. They were stupid. Lludw Cigfrain was stupid. She missed Faircliff...actually, nevermind, that town was stupid, too. She missed Boston.

The new computers and mobile phones that she'd been shown were a godsend, in more ways than one. When Jackie asked if she had one, she'd initially been a bit confused. The only mobile phones that she had even heard of were some twenty-pound bricks that she'd maybe seen in a catalogue or news advert once or twice, and those were nothing like the sleek little devices that everyone in the "modern" day carried in their back pockets. When she'd been issued her own, she had to admit, she had no idea how to interact with it. Luckily, Constance was always a little tech-savvy, and though she still had a lot to get a hang of, she was getting the hang of tapping away at a touch screen and navigating apps and menus surprisingly fast. It wasn't just the cell phone either; the new computers were what truly piqued her interest. She was fond of her old IBM desktop, but modern computers blew that thing out of the water.

Their versatility and convenience was already good enough. Her work was going a bit faster than expected, even if it was still a slog to get through. What really amazed her were the plethora of ways in which she could distract herself with the things: music, videos, the internet - things that either weren't incredibly convenient on the move, or very primitive in her time. Knowing that she had it all at her fingertip now definitely helped her motivation. She'd stayed up all of the previous night, practically, watching videos and listening to music, especially music that she hadn't heard yet. It was a bit hard to process, but she was too enthralled to stop. Unfortunately, that also meant that she had little sleep to go on when she was called in that evening, and while a good rock playlist and some news feeds kept her motivated and interested enough to get over the monotony of her new, not-so-new job, it was only a matter of time before sitting in one spot and staring at papers under a dim lamp got to her.

She didn't know exactly when she had begun to doze off. One minute, she remembered, she was hammering away at a keyboard, occasionally leaning over to scribble something on one paper or another, packing sheets into folders and labeling them, and the next...she had her head resting in her arms, resting on the desk. The faint sound of whatever had been playing on the computer caught her attention at some point, prying her from her sleep. She ignored it at first, but after a good minute or so of her struggling to get back to sleep, Constance sighed, brushed hair out of her face, and forced herself back up, staring at the stream that the page had autoplayed to at some point with bleary, red eyes.

Though it was dark she could see the outline of two women standing beneath the shadow of a manor, with its many spires and slanted roofs it was the spitting image of some Victorian mansion, all blue tiles and grey facades and white timber-lined windows. A voice quite familiar came through the speaker, all filled with cold sadism and a paralytic authority. “... it must have seemed so distant to you. Thought it was a game, right? We all start out that way.” It was too dark to make out any of their features but Constance felt something wriggling at the back of her mind, the beginnings of recognition. ”Ms. Loyd, I didn’t- I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I won’t do it again, I’ll-” She saw something metallic pass into the kneeling woman’s mouth. A moment later, a crack which came through the speakers a little too audibly. Little reflective slivers fell out of the kneeling woman’s mouth as she cupped a hand over her chin. Tiny pieces of tooth suspended in congealed blood. She made a pathetic little whine, like a dog that’d just been kicked. “Obviously you won’t.” She held the metal object in her hand up to the light. Pliers. Pulp and calcite was still clutched between its ribs. ”I just wanted to bring her mother back.” The bloodied woman, the kneeling woman, et cetera, spoke through the gap in her teeth, producing a moist whistle. ”I owed her that, you have t- you need to let me go.” “Oh come on, the bitch is dead. Well, both the bitches are. Soon there’ll be three deaths between them, imagine that.” The pliers girl gestured at the camera, turning her head toward it. Was that… Meredith? “You’re literally chasing ghosts, Jacquelyn. What, you thought you owed Elizabeth something? The dead don’t collect their debts.” ”I just wanted to do something good.” She crushed another tooth. Pop, just like that. Sounded like a cue hitting billiards. Jacquelyn retched this time, vomited through her teeth and fingers, blood mingling with yellowish bile, the colour alone caustic. “Then be a good girl and sit still.” Jack swallowed what must’ve been a curdled mixture of fluids. ”It’s not fair. I- I finally did something brave. Why-...” She cut off and just spat more blood, coughing up bilge over her collar.

Kelli rolled forward with her car as it made her way into the early morning dawn faintly covering the ground in dim light. Lighting a cigarette the now-former Russian SVR agent kept driving until she found a dirt road leading towards the river that ran near the town quickly she cut off the lights and let the car coast for a bit before lightly touching the brakes. Making sure her tires were not on the mud she quickly got out and pulled out her P96 pistol and waltzed over to the trunk of the car. Opening the trunk inside laid a figure, a woman in her mid-20s gazed wild-eyed at the Russian with her hands and legs bound to where she couldn't even move. Kelli gave an almost devilish smile as she admired her handiwork. The woman had laid on a tarp so that any blood, hair, or even dead skin dropped would not get into the car. Quickly untying her foot binds the Russian dragged the young woman out of the car with a leather-gloved hand and dragged her over to the side of the river. Due to the narcotics within her, the woman gave only a slight struggle as she stumbled forward until they reached the edge of dry land. Without even a word said Kelli in a smooth motion raised her pistol and fired into the back of the woman’s head. The body dropped into a heap onto the ground. Picking up the spent bullet casing Kelli hurried back to the car and grabbed the tarp first and then some chicken wire from the back seat along with some zip ties.

Quickly she rolled the now dead young women onto the laid out chicken wire and tied the ends together with zip ties before wrapping the wiring with the tarp so as to mask what laid inside and to cause water to flood any bottom and cause it to sink. The Russian then rolled the body into the river with nothing more than a grunt before pulling out her phone and taking a drag of her cigarette and give a short call to her new employer in the town by the name of Jacqulyn in this seemingly quaint Welsh village. Changing her tone to that of an excited young daughter, “Yes Papa I made it here just fine and thanks for the letter you sent me, I will let you know when I go to bed, love you Papa.” She said in Russian for quickly hanging up and sliding the phone back into her pocket before stopping when she got a notification for something. Looking at it she saw the notification for something dealing with some twisted livestream. The Russian’s eyes widened as she saw the name and quickly opened the video. In it she saw the crumpled body of her employer as it were. Well, not really, more like the blackmailer of the associate of her employer and… yeah, it was complicated. The girl merely sat there seemingly missing part of her hand.

Seeing the building in the background Kelli quickly exited the live stream and searched her contacts. Finding Constance, she quickly sped dialed the woman’s phone number, and waited for her to pick it up.

The other end rang for the briefest of moments, then crackled, before the sound of heavy breathing and rapid footsteps greeted Kelli on the other end. “Where the hell are you?”, Constance asked. She hadn’t really interacted with Kelli much since the two of them ran into one another for the first time. Normally, she would have tried to act more professional, but at that moment her priorities were on figuring out what to do about Jacquelyn. “I need a ride, or something!”

“I thought you were at your desk, where the hell are you?” Kelli responded as she quickly got into the driver’s seat of the car and quickly took off onto the road and into the Welsh town.

Constance was in a hurry. She didn’t know what was happening, why Jackie was being hurt like that, and why Meredith was doing it. She didn’t even really know that woman either, having abstained from following the other woman around town the day before. All that she knew at that moment was that she had to move quickly. She’d practically exploded from her seat, leaving a bundle of papers scattered around her desk before rushing from the building. It was freezing outside, but she could hardly tell. Adrenaline was keeping her from noticing it. She skid to a halt beneath a street light, and rested her own phone against her shoulder, craning her head to do so just long enough so that she could check her ammo. Still topped off. She grabbed her phone and continued to run, her handgun held tight in the other hand. “I just left.”, She said, stopping halfway down the street. “I have to find someone, and fast.”

“Who? You should know I hate playing the fucking pronoun game.” Keli responded as she slammed her foot onto the gas and the car surged forward as she entered the town proper and headed towards the offices.

"Jacquelyn!", She shouted. "Elizabeth's friend, or assistant, or - or something! She's in danger!"

“Well no shit, tell me where you are and I will pick you up, but before that do you have any idea where she is at. All I could gather was one of those old Victorian manors but couldn’t make much out beyond that.” Kelli said as she pressed the phone up to her ear with both of her hands on the wheel.

“Shit, shit, shit!”, Constance mumbled and thought hard. She found it difficult to think straight at that moment, thanks to her panic. “Paige knew. Uuuuh, Ashwood Manor.”, She said, nodding. She’d never been there, herself. She didn’t think she’d be going there to try and rescue someone from getting brutally tortured. “I’m just down the street from the office, on the corner!”

Kelli swerved through some traffic as the dim light of a very early morning casted its rays over the town. The Russian gazed over at the sidewalk as her car sped past until she caught a glimpse of Constance. Stopping the car she reached into the backseat and grabbed her webbing and quickly fastened it over her tracksuit and pants. Quickly opening the door she waved to Constance, “Get in, you are driving.” Her voice was commanding and the stress of the situation caused her accent to start to show somewhat as Kelli slid into the passenger seat quickly summoning a PKP Light Machine Gun. The large gun’s bipod was set on the dashboard as Kelli quickly loaded a single 250 box magazine and waited for her elder to get in the car.

“Me!?” Why w-”, Constance stopped herself the moment she saw the guns come out. She didn’t like where any of it was going, not one bit. Stopping what she thought to be a cold-blooded attack overruled her reservations against violence, however. She climbed in as fast as she could, tossing her gun in between the front seats, and slammed the door shut next to her. “I might need help with directions.”, she said, running her fingers over the steering wheel. A gloved hand adjusted the rear-view mirror. Her feet tumbled and twisted about, finding the gas and peddle, getting comfortable. She didn’t take long to settle in, before Constance floored it, making a sharp turn at the street corner.

Kelli quickly pulled out her phone and entered the directions for Ashwood Manor. The automated voice spoke up, “Ten minutes to destination.” was its only response as the two barreled down the road. “Turn the lights onto full brightness I have a plan.” Kelli said as she then hooked an aux cord into her phone and waited for them to near the entrance of the manor.

Brights on. Right. She flicked them on and continued down the road. She hoped that traffic would remain sparse. It had to, right? One turn, then another, a long stretch...she didn’t pay much mind to what roads she was taking, only listening to directions as they came and keeping an eye out for any other drivers, or police.

Once the car reached to two minutes Kelli then started to play a favorite song of hers and raised the volume to maximum as the outline of the manor appeared in the distance. “Once we reach Jackie in case there is more of them. I want you to take her and get the hell out of here, I can hold my own against some dipshits who have only been in gang shootouts.” Kelli said as she raised the machine gun and slid it until the barrel reached the glass.

“Get her and run. Got it.”, Constance nodded. Externally, she was alert, focused on the road. Internally, she was in a panic. She knew that shit was about to go down the moment they got to the manor. Kelli sounded like she was having a good time. She was crazy, wasn’t she? Everyone in town was. Was she crazy, driving a stranger’s van to go throw herself into a shootout? No, she couldn’t be - she was going there to get someone out of trouble and run away from the violence! But she had to be at least a little crazy to attempt it to begin with. She cursed herself mentally, and swallowed down the fear that was beginning to creep up at her.

“Alright, once we reach the manor wait for them to reveal themselves. Given the lights and music they’ll think we are some dipshit teenagers from out of town. After that I will light them up, you grab Jackie and we will get the hell out of here. Do you understand?” Kelli said looking at Constance as the brick walls surrounding the manor passed the two of them as the van reached the gate.

It wasn’t even that difficult to find her. There was only one road leading into the mansion, or, only one which anyone outside of the Ashwoods would know about. Their headlights illuminated a beat down little pickup truck, all function and no form. The bonnet was red, rusted, bent at the edges and clearly not originally part of the vehicle. The glass was fresh, which Kelli immediately knew as a signifier that it probably got shot up a lot. That or some easily frustrated pillock had taken a sparkplug to them; what the more likely explanation was when it came to the head of a wizard mafia was not her concern. Meredith’s assistant stumbled backwards, raising his hands and shouting profanities as he attempted to scramble away from what he thought was a steel tank about to barrel him over. Meredith just raised a hand to shield herself from the headlights. The air around her shimmered, breaking up along disjointed lines. That was… an illusion, right? Just a trick of the eyes, the two women were sure. Meredith’s coat flapped in the wind snapping around her body and clinging to her arms. There was a pistol on her belt. Knife, too, in black plastic sheath. Nothing that could penetrate kevlar.

Jacquelyn was curled up in a ball nearby. All the two could see at that distance was her face and legs, her head facing away from them but too shiny to be anything but matted with blood. She was shivering, hyperventilating. Probably didn’t know what was going on. Meredith didn’t even acknowledge the machine gun, just lowered her hand and tilted her head, relaxing the muscles in her neck. “If you know what’s good for you, move along. Don’t try to play the hero.” Her assistant tucked his phone into his pocket and inched toward his boss, almost shielding himself behind her shoulder. He was armed, in the loosest sense of the word: there was a nightstick in his pocket. Cheap, aluminium, made for feeling tough rather than actually getting into scraps. Meredith’s eyes adjusted to the light and she finally caught sight of Constance. “I know you.” Her voice was ever so slightly calming, in a manner that only utter detachment from the situation could produce. She took a step toward the vehicle and the air flexed around her. That… definitely wasn’t an illusion. “I don’t know who the other one is. You’re not friends of hers, are you?” She gestured with an open palm at Jack, casually stretching her fingers then bundling them back up into black-gloved fists. “Doesn’t really matter.”

Constance had already been spotted, so her ducking her head behind the wheel and tensing her body up didn't help. She wasn't being stealthy. Kelli was gung-ho about slinging lead, but she still didn't even know why she was there. Sure, she wanted to save Jacquelyn, and yeah, she would hate herself for letting someone die, but...Meredith wasn't someone who would try killing a person for no reason, right? Okay, she didn't know the woman, so maybe Meredith was totally like that. Jackie wasn't really innocent either, but...she didn't do anything that bad, did she? Oh, what ever, Constance thought. She barely thought things through when she jumped into action. Why did she have to be so stupid?

"H-heeeeyyy.", She answered, still taking cover behind the wheel. "I, uh...I... don't really know?", She caught a glimpse of shimmering air and barely suppressed a squeak. She wanted to ask if she was in trouble or not, but she could already figure what the answer would be.

Ironically, Meredith was absolutely the sort of person to murder people for no particular reason, though in this case she felt rather bloody justified in taking her anger out on Jack. “Have any friends in this town?” Her tone was conversational. Constance would’ve heard much the same cadence in a coffee shop on a weekend.

That question was beyond suspect. Constance shut her eyes tight, as if that would protect her. "I... don't know.", She said. Honest. Stupid. "I'm not from here."

“Anything you do know?” Meredith was exasperated, though considering the circumstances it was a wonder she wasn’t in a worse emotional state. “Just leave. Whatever Jacquelyn is paying you, I can guarantee it’s not worth it.” A bit of silver glistered behind her shoulder. Constance could’ve sworn that she saw it flutter.

"She's not paying me.", Said Constance - a bit more energy, but not much. "Why are you doing this?", She asked, finally thinking to pry. She thought immediately that it had to be council business. The Council and The Ashwoods and Jackie's plots were all that she'd known of since meeting anyone there.

“Haven’t seen the lightshow?” Of course they couldn’t. The rain had stopped but the town was still too distant to see much beyond a glittering sea of imitation sunlight. “Religious zealots flooded Oldgrove yesterday and have since begun a struggle for power. My friends turned against me and I had to kill them with my own hands. Hundreds dead. Morriston was invaded last night. Deirdre shot herself and drowned her child, thinking she was the cause. I only found out four hours ago. I don’t care if that means nothing to you. It probably doesn’t. But I’ll either get what I want or die here.”

Blank. That was what her thoughts became. She understood what the woman was saying, but somehow it just didn't hit her as hard as it should have - not at first. It wasn't an immediate sense of dread. She had to sit there for a moment. She had to think about what she'd been told, while she sat there, shaking behind the wheel. Deirdre was what her thoughts focused on the most. A person who she knew, if only briefly. Someone who she'd watched Jacquelyn manipulate. She was partially responsible for that, wasn't she? Jacquelyn had taken her gun and forced Dierdre to betray her own.

When she finally realised that it had been a bit since she responded, Constance cleared her throat and whimpered. "Dierdre?", She asked, wanting to make sure that she'd heard correctly. The sensation that had begun to grip her could only be described as pure, crushing anxiety. "It was because of that Alex woman, right? Can I hear Jacquelyn's side? Please?"

“Alex has been imprisoned this entire time. Besides, I know for certain that Jacquelyn made my allies… friends betray me. You should know by who she chooses to associate with that she’s not so saintly. You must have heard of the cults by now. The ritual killings. In fact, I know that you’ve been attacked by one already. You think their prevalence is a mistake? They’re the basis of the Ashwoods’ power. They benefit from the exchange of favours.” She peeled back the clothing around her shoulder, revealing a chain whose links were knots of white flesh, continuing across her abdomen and under her shirt. “Shrapnel. Earned it fighting a war on behalf of the Ashwoods. Thousands had it worse, either in the ground or spread through the air. But look at Elizabeth, she hasn’t a scar across her whole body. You’re being used, Fitzgerald. Same as any of us.”

"Boo hoo you got betrayed, save me the theatrics for your funeral." Kelli flicked the safety off and let the PKP sing as the 250 rounds tore the windshield off and scattered glass in front of the van and in the three seconds red hot bullet casings covered the inside of the van as she kicked out the door and and held out her hands and a AK-74M fell into hands. The thirty round magazines fitted nicely into the webbing as the Russian aimed it at the woman.

When the smoke cleared and everyone’s ears stopped ringing, Meredith waved away the sulphurous haze with her hand while metallic silver hornets buzzed around her, a few mangled insect bodies on the ground at her feet but an overwhelming number still in the air. “You shouldn’t lead hostilities with a warning.” She flicked her wrist toward the van and a stream of winged razors punched through the bonnet. They ripped out the engine and opened every pipe; coolant and gasoline dribbled out the grille like blood through clothes. “My sister could do the same with butterflies. Golden, though, and in much greater quantities. Silver is a harder metal and easier to manifest, precocious little scion that she was.” The swarm circled around the group, a few dozen - each the size of a fist - translucent wings beating and creating a chorus of noises like knife blades gently gliding over steel. “I’ve gotten what I wanted.” She drew her pistol and fired to her left, into the dirt. She heard the bullet make impact in packed soil, and turned her head to see a trail of blood leading into the brush. She glanced at her subordinate, cowering behind her. “Find her.” He nodded effusively and ran off. She ran a hand through her hair, weaving the strands together with Jacquelyn’s blood. She dropped the cold professionalism for a moment, revealing a tremendous fatigue with her tone of voice. “I didn’t plan on getting more blood on my hands tonight but what the hell, you tried to shoot me.”

Kelli merely gritted her teeth and gave a quick glance at the metallic insects and the distance from her to the mafia boss. She would have but a few seconds before those things flayed her alive so Kelli sprinted forward not even bothering to aim for the head as she dropped her AR to wait and sprayed hoping the resulting air of gunfire would keep the strange woman distracted for the second she needed to grab the grenade from waist.

Predictably, Meredith commanded her little toys to form a shield, translucent and scratching and folding in itself like a mirror shattering in a thousand dimensions. Staring into it was a decidedly psychedelic experience. It covered her up completely from view. Worked both ways though: she probably couldn’t see what Kelli was doing either.

Kelli smiled as she pulled the pin of the grenade and slid it around to Meredith's back and quickly dived to the ground as the resulting shrapnel and force slammed itself against the metal shield. The Russian quickly raised her rifle and waited as the heartbeats seemed to drag on for hours.

The swarm momentarily dispersed, glimmering shards forming a comet trail through the air. Stars on a clouded sky, glittering in the guttering incandescence of the van’s headlights as they cooled. Kelli spied Meredith’s eye through the chopped up silver, mouth shut and breath held. The seconds ticked by as she aimed down the sights of her pistol. The shot went wild, spraying dirt and trampled grass in Kelli’s face. She felt the metal slug slide into the dirt beneath her, like a catheter into a vein. A few dozen wasps buzzed around Meredith’s arm, forming a sash over her shoulder. She pulled the magazine from her gun, counted the bullets, slid it back in with a plastic click. “You’re being awfully persistent. I know your type. You just want the fight.” Her hornets dug into the ground, churning up the earth as they moved toward Kelli. They could rend metal, they could certainly grind her organs into pink paste.

While their fight raged on, Constance, having been hesitant to do much at all, had decided that the scene had gotten far too violent for her own liking. She wanted no part in any fight, at least not between Meredith and Kelli. She'd been about to step down any way, before that crazy bitch decided to play hero and light up the driveway. Constance grabbed her gun and booked it at that moment. The van probably wasn't going to be going anywhere soon after getting ripped to pieces, any way, and she wasn't about to die in the middle of a fight when she wasn't even sure whose side she was supposed to be on anymore. Somehow, she carried herself away, getting a few meters distance behind the van and only glancing back to make sure that she wasn't about to get shot or ground up. She could hardly even feel her legs carrying her. Adrenaline and instinct was what seemed to motivate her to move at that moment.

Kelli rolled out of the way and lunged herself forward as the flying razor blades tore past her and only gave a grunt of effort in response to the statement as seeing her opening she charged forward once again and let the rifle one more burst before it ran out of ammunition. Not having enough time to reload Kelli merely threw the rifle towards Meredith hoping it would buy some time as she changed to her P96 while she sprinted towards the wizard now almost within arm's length.

Meredith stopped talking altogether, conserving her breath as she knocked away Kelli’s rifle and made a one-handed attempt to shoot her as she approached. The barrel levelled with the woman’s head and she would’ve pulled the trigger if the van’s lights hadn’t finally winked out right then, crossing the border from a dull red glow to complete dark. There was less than a quarter of a second of twilight, and it took only a second longer for Meredith’s eyes to adjust, but in that time Kelli closed the distance.

A scream sounded from a far off bush, twisted by repeated echoes and the muffling of the forest. It was a contorted call for help, all resonance and the foundations of inference rather than actual sensory phenomenon.

Kelli barely registered the scream as she smiled with the gun in her face, "That's checkmate" She said as she used her left hand to pull the wizard's arm away pointing the pistol away from the Russian as she leveled the pistol right to the center of Meredith's face and fired.

There was no initial indication that anything had happened. Meredith took a single step back and let go of her gun. Kelli had fired, right? And there was a little trickle of blood running along Meredith’s cheek, passing through her upper jawbone and carving a trench just under her skin. “That’s game over.” She said, clamping a hand over the bullet wound in her face. She showed her knife to Kelli in the exact same way that she’d shown it to Jacquelyn, the blade just a little damper than it had been before. A mounting warmth built in Kelli’s wrist and then blood began to pour, and pour, and pour from the just barely lacerated artery. The screaming continued from nearby. That was Jacquelyn alright. “I hope you don’t smart too much from this,” Meredith continued, picking little slivers of bone out of her wound and flicking them into the dust with the tip of her knife. Her wasps were all deanimated, lying in heaps around her. They slowly dissolved into undifferentiated metallic powder, most likely not great for the lungs. “Lucifer celibate,” she cursed under her breath.

“Boss, are you alright?” Her assistant came out of the bushes with Jacquelyn in tow, sobbing inarticulately and trying to pull away. It was all dark, all they could see was her silhouette. “I’ll live.” She tossed a handkerchief to Kelli; it landed on her shoulder. “Tie it off. You’ve got five minutes before you bleed out.” She plastered a palm against her cheek and it came away runny with venous blood. Was that tooth which Constance spied, glittering just under that layer of muscle and fat? “I have thirty, give or take. I hope it’s not septic.” There was still Kelli’s gun. She wasn’t really incapacitated, just bleeding badly. She had three hundred seconds to close the fight if she really wanted to risk it. Though, Meredith was betting she didn’t care enough to do so. A warrior’s pride meant nothing in the face of literally dying, no?

She glanced from behind the van, low to the ground. She didn’t get too far, but at least she was safe behind cover. She hoped. The sudden (relative) silence was eerie. She watched Meredith, Kelli, and Jacquelyn for only a moment, before slinking back behind the van.

”Constance. Constance!” Jacquelyn’s voice was hoarse, forceful, like a discordant player in an otherwise flawless orchestra. She didn’t fit. ”Get over here. Constance! I’ll pay you. I’ll- I’ll fucking kill you if you don’t get over here now. Help me!” Pathetic little shit that she was, she couldn’t even decide on a negotiating tactic. There wasn’t anything to be gleaned from her, not pity nor interest nor curiosity. She was just a girl shouting whatever might save her. “Jacquelyn, just come to terms with it.” Meredith made a peculiar whistling sound as she spoke, what with the new hole in her face. “We’ll finish this somewhere else.” Brutal though she may have been, she was not cruel. “I’m so sorry about this.” She… apologised? To Kelli and Constance. ”I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt anybody, I just want Alex back! Liz is going to kill you, I’m going to kill you, let me go! I can- I can- I can tell you all about the Ashwoods, I know all their secrets, don’t hurt me!”

What was Constance even doing? She couldn't ignore Jacquelyn's cries. Each one made her feel worse. She couldn't bring herself to do anything - not yet. Meredith had been right about Jacquelyn using her. She knew that, but that didn't mean that she wanted the girl to die. Even though she'd implicated Constance in a murder - a lot of murders - the last thing she wanted was to see anyone else die. The intensity of the situation was taking a heavy toll on her. When she finally did get back on her feet, it felt as though her legs would give out at the slightest touch. The adrenaline was wearing off again, it seemed. She took a half a step out from behind the can, still gripping her gun tight, and gazing at everyone else in front of the manner. She looked a lot more fatigued than she did when she came barreling in with Kelli.

Kelli felt the all too familiar darkness of sleep creep in as she saw her blood pour onto the ground her pistol started to feel heavier in her hand however with one motion she raised the pistol to the wizard's assistant and fired twice before collapsing onto the ground. Looking up at the wizard she smiled before unloading the rest of the magazine into the woman.

Meredith’s friend collapsed, gurgling as blood poured into his lungs. It took about that long for Meredith to turn her head, throw the knife at Kelli’s shooting hand. It didn’t embed itself in her arm, thank god, but it struck the gun head on; the impact stung the bones in her wrist. She walked up to the woman and kicked her in the ribs, prying the weapon out of her grip and pouring the bullets onto the ground. That wasn’t a mercy. She kicked Kelli in the ribs, just gave her a cold stare as she beat her into the dirt. Were those tears in her eyes or just the reflection of her corneas in moonlight? “You should have shot me first.” She forced her fist into the woman’s face until she stopped moving. “I am tired of the people I care about dying around me.” She spat through hot, gushing blood. Her wound was inflamed and she was stained with her friend’s remains, a few cartilaginous grains torn from his throat clinging to her coat. She heaved in air, looked to Constance as she hunched her posture and let her bloody hands dangle at her sides. Her composure cracked. Then it shattered. “I should kill you for what you’ve been a part of.” Jacquelyn stood up, silently, behind Meredith, who slowly knelt and picked up her knife, brushed it off on her sleeve. Jack took a scared glance at Constance, cornered and far from help. Meredith’s assistant was dead nearby. There were two guns between her and Meredith.

Jacquelyn turned around and ran.

Kelli cut in as Meredith spoke raising herself on one arm. She gave a bored sigh, "Oh shut the fuck up and kill me or capture me but if I have to hear one more tearjerk of a story about how you dipshits lost someone to me or my associates I am going to do it myself." She said her voice lined with annoyance as the pool of blood began to expand.

Constance glared at her wounded “friend” and hissed. “Shut the hell up!”, She half-whispered. “I didn’t know what was happening here!”, She told Meredith, taking a step back. “I didn’t want any of this to happen! I just saw Jackie in trouble, and I had no idea why any of this was happening, I swear!”

Seeing Jackie run made her panic a little more. The way she shifted her gaze away from Meredith, and the way her eyes widened, must have surely hinted at something. She clutched her gun closer, not aiming it at anyone in particular, but simply holding it close to her chest, as if keeping it there would offer some comfort. “You said that we were all being used, right?”

Meredith stared at her through tired, bored eyes. She tilted the blade toward Constance, a gesture of hostility, but then her phone buzzed in her pocket. A voice came through the line, she made all the gestures that a mafioso might when on a dramatic phone call. Her eyes widened and she grit her teeth. “Say that to me again. That’s not… that’s not possible. She’s dead.” She disconnected and looked at Constance, some unfamiliar emotion in her expression. Was that… fear? “Saved by the bell.” And her voice almost cracked as she said it. She knelt down and picked up her friend, eyes dilated and warmth extinguished, and put him in her vehicle. “Don’t try to find me.” She was down the road a moment later.

Kelli stumbled to her feet, she didn't have long left as she quickly wrapped the tourniquet around the base of her arm. Using the tossed AK as a cane she walked over to Constance, "Come along then Constance, we have a gang to burn." Kelli said as the look in her eyes changed to something else, something akin to someone running back into a routine.

Constance watched her leave. “Don’t find her”, she thought, letting the words echo in her head for a moment. She...figured it was best to heed that advice. What had she just witnessed? She took a moment to just take a deep breath, and to tell herself that she was finally safe.

“What do you mean we?”, She asked Kelli. She finally met the other woman with her own narrow gaze. “This is psychotic. This isn’t my fight.”, she shook her head. Jacquelyn might have run off, but Ashwood Manor was still right there. “I’m not dying in some turf war for a bunch of people who I barely know. I’m waiting right here for Jacquelyn.”, She explained. What had been her shaking from fear before was anger now. “I really hope this doesn’t bite us in the ass when everyone back at the hotel finds out.”

"It will," Kelli said putting a cigarette in her mouth and awkwardly lighting it with her left hand as she took a long drag and breathed out. The wisps of smoke filled the air around her for a moment before being carried away with the wind. "The only way to rectify it is by breaking down that gang of hers, brick by brick. You don't have to come along but I will have them on their knees by the end of the month."

“Then go ahead and try. I think I’ll be happy to get back to paperwork.”, Said Constance. She sat down by the front door and began to cradle her head between her knees. “Suits me better any way. I don’t think I’m cut out for any of this.”

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Founded: Nov 01, 2017
Moralistic Democracy

Postby Menschenfleisch » Fri Apr 30, 2021 9:45 pm

Seeds of Anxiety

It was a warm morning and the birds, for the first time in the season, were out in full. They shed snow from their wings and fluttered, voices warbling and twisting around the woods. The trees, packed shoulder to shoulder, allowed thin slips of sunlight between them, forming window panes of gold. Jacquelyn nestled herself in a hollow, little crumbs of lucidity returning to her. She wasn’t asleep, hadn’t had a wink since last night. She’d just been… overwhelmed. She listened to the coo of owls and the rustling of leaves and soft grass, breathed in the scent of riverflowers and soft amber through a filter of blood and tears. She refused to think of anything in particular. She didn’t want to face her overwhelming fear of the present, so she chose to exist in a timeless state of mind. She just wandered around the hollow of her own head, thinking of unimportant and meandering things.

What was that on her finger? It was soft and bristly and a little bit moist. If it was an insect perhaps it was a millipede or a beetle with a black shell. She remembered going out one night to toss a bag of trash onto the sidewalk a little distance from the house where they arranged for the garbage collector to come every month. She’d seen a centipede crawling across the ground, all red carapace and segmented yellow legs that looked like the barbs on razor wire. They were cute. What did they eat? Other bugs? Berries? She’d heard that there were something like a hundred insects per cubic metre of woodland. Seemed a bit difficult to believe; how had the scientists counted? She didn’t know, and was fine with that. There were a lot of things she didn’t know, really. How an engine worked, how computers had been invented, why Elizabeth was always away, why she never talked to Anya, why she’d run away last night, why she hadn’t been good enough, why she hadn’t tried hard enough.

She was used to thinking that Elizabeth was special. Some kind of hero, or legend. It had been comforting to know that she shouldn’t measure herself up to someone like that, who could twist the world around her pinky. But the more she learned, the more people she met, the less and less she was permitted to believe that she was average. Constance was a hero. She carried a gun, talked all cool like and had saved Jackie’s life so many times. Terry was strong. He’d lost the love of his life, his best friend and everything that he had every defined himself by and he was doing better than almost anyone that he knew now. That gun girl who’d appeared last night in the truck; she’d been awesome. Agile, sleek, strong, always ready to take a stand. If that was what average looked like, what did that make her?

And to think that she’d been proud of herself for all that she’d done in the name of saving Alex. Anybody could’ve done what she’d done. Every step of the way she’d been relying on someone else’s accomplishments to make her way forward. Elizabeth’s reputation, Alex’s identity, the Ashwoods’ finances, Constance’s ability to make a threat… she might as well have been a sock puppet. Not have existed at all, just been a shell in the shape of a person. If Elizabeth had been in her place Alex would’ve been out already. If Constance had been in her place then everything would’ve turned out alright, probably. But in the end, she’d been the only person… narcissistic enough to think that she could make a difference.

She’d only made things worse. Now Meredith hated her and all the Ashwoods by extension, now the lives of thousands of people had been made irretrievably worse by The Order, now Alex was bound to die and she… she was still alive at the end of it, somehow. Still permitted to hang on, given more than she deserved. She used to believe that the world was unjust, that effort and virtue were not rewarded. Now she understood that it did have a sense of justice. She’d not tried hard enough and now she was paying the price.

Did she want to get up? The sun was burning the hairs on the back of her neck and her knees, tucked up to her chest, were freezing in the mud. If she didn’t get up now she’d prove every terrible supposition that the world had about her right. She’d know that she was a coward; Constance would realise that she was a shrinking violet. But every time she clenched the muscles in her eyelids and tried to raise them, there it was again. That loathsome desire to just curl up into a ball and cry for the rest of her days. Why couldn’t she control it? Why was she so unaccustomed to effort that something as trivial as this - standing up - seemed insurmountable?

It wasn’t sickness. There was nothing wrong with her; she wasn’t depressed or bipolar or anything of the sort. She knew it in the same way that a hungry person knew that they needed to eat, and she knew it because she was so prone to feeling alright about herself; so it couldn’t be depression, right? It was so easy for her to slip into complacency, to smile for a bit and think that maybe she was fucking great, that she could measure up to anybody that she knew. But every time she allowed herself to indulge in those delusions, she was dragged right back down to earth. Just last night she’d thought that she had finally broken out of her shell, been brave for once in her life. Meredith had been there to remind her otherwise.

She refused to accept the idea that she might be fine. If she wasn’t sick in the head, then that meant that whenever her brain told her that she was an awful person that it was the result of pure reason, not because of a deficit of endorphins or whatever. Losing two fingers was less than she deserved. Deirdre had killed herself. There were people who’d lost family members or life and limb. Who was she to complain? What kind of sad, pathetic little cunt would cry over something as meaningless as two fingers, some teeth and an eye? It still stung, the place where Meredith had poured the open end of a lighter over her and struck it with a match. The skin was blistered and calloused, so raw to the touch that when she breathed it would scrape against the dirt and inflame.

Oh, what was she doing, acting like she was sad enough for it to be even remotely comparable to an actual mental illness? Everyone had bad days. This was just another one of hers. Besides, it wasn’t even real pain, not when compared to what she’d seen inflicted and inflicted herself. She’d burnt people before. Scorched their bodies and left nothing to be buried. That had been before she’d met Elizabeth, back when she’d been able to burn continents from one end to the other.

That was her backstory. She’d been born a lab rat, given powers, made to fight as a soldier only to turn against her creators and destroy them alongside a plucky band of other genetically modified children. It was so trite, and it hadn’t even been her. That version of her - the sixteen year old - had earned her victory. The modern Jacquelyn, who she was now, had just inherited her body and her powers. She’d taken such pride in her own strength, not realising even once that she’d been born into it rather than having earned it. Ever since her undeserved gifts had been taken from her she’d been through one long string of failures. Without any unfair advantages, she was less than nothing. But the worst thing was that she was still receiving preferential treatment, being allowed to live in Liz’s home and benefit from her expertise. One in a million people received the kind of opportunity which she did and she’d done nothing with it, just gotten Elizabeth’s mother killed.

It occurred to her that she’d been lying there for eight hours and nobody had found her. Not Meredith, not Constance. Neither of them had really cared about her in the end. She couldn’t blame Constance for leaving her to die. That rescue attempt had been more than she could’ve ever asked for in the first place. Constance was such a kind and understanding person, she- she shouldn’t have been associating with Jacquelyn, someone who would manipulate any take advantage of everyone she knew whether she could help it or not. She was a terrible person, she knew that much. Someone who exploited and hurt anyone that she could get her fingers on and who complained incessantly when the consequences caught up with her.

Maybe she shouldn’t get up, she thought. She must’ve already lost a lot of blood and her chance to save Alex had long since gone by. And Elizabeth didn’t care about her, obviously. She was overseas, doing actually important stuff, finally given an opportunity to get away from the parasite living between her walls; Jacquelyn. It would be a lot simpler, and it would make a lot of people happy, for her to just fade out of existence. So she closed her eyes and let the darkness take her. And if she never woke up, so be it.

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Posts: 617
Founded: Nov 01, 2017
Moralistic Democracy

Postby Menschenfleisch » Sat May 01, 2021 10:11 am

Seeds of Anxiety

Jacquelyn woke up in a soft bed and to the smell of lavender. Morning light tickled her eyelids; warmth prickled her skin. She was content to lie there for a while, not questioning her circumstances all that much. Maybe it had all been a dream. One protracted, disturbing dream. She understood deep down that it had all actually happened but the shallowest and most wakeful part of her mind still wanted to indulge in that fantasy for a moment. Then it passed, and the weight of reality settled on her again. She didn’t shatter like old glass, not like usual; she half expected to burst out into tears or to seize up in fear but instead, she just swallowed and came to terms with it. ”Okay,” she thought. ”So be it.” The way in which the mattress coddled her sides and the soothing scent in the air, they suppressed all the worst sensations she could be going through. Besides, frantic and hysterical panic attacks got boring. Sometimes you just have to spread the bad vibes evenly over several excruciating hours, y’know?

But this wasn’t that, even. She was just… calm. This time, when the idea of the future crept into her head, she opened her eyes instead. She was in a big room. It had a welcoming aspect about it, one which even the greatest luxuries struggled to emulate. It felt like… well, it felt like a home. The carpet was frizzled, the plaster walls were just cracked enough to suggest maturity without the implication of age, the light was just dusty enough for her to know that this place wasn’t cleaned as often as, say, a hotel room. The bed which she lay in was in the middle of one of the room’s walls, the frame thick as her wrist and carved out of lemony wood with pockets of resin packed into its hollows and curls. A desk had been pushed up against a corner, a stack of papers resting on top of an old printer and a monitor furtively obscuring its corresponding computer. There was a row of potted plants near the window, all in good health, and a bookshelf by the bedside filled with endless recounts of things that never happened. Sherlock Holmes, Lord of the Rings, dozens upon dozens of original print DC Comics. Means of escape, she presumed. There was a poster opposite to her, inscrutable and vivacious. So many colours, such small text. She couldn’t even tell what it was about: a movie? Some kind of… big serpent curling around a mountain? She was having trouble focusing on it. She ran a hand through her hair and it was wrong, all wrong, the feeling was… oh, right. She only had three fingers left on that side of her body. And that eye was gone too, boiled in its socket. A memory of pain and the aftershocks of terror wracked her like a phantom.

To her own surprise, she laughed. Scoffed, at first, at how funny it felt to clench her fist and feel such an absence of pressure. The familiar firmness of gripping her fist was gone; all of it had come from her index finger. Her remaining digits barely curled inward far enough to press against her palm unless she really leaned into that end of her hand; it was really kind of pathetic. Another laugh came out and stuck in her throat. Another made its way up her neck but stuck with the first, forming a blockade. She couldn’t breathe. She choked for a bit, then tears began to stream from her last remaining window to the world. That was when the door handle turned and someone, a silhouette blurred by tears and distress, walked into the room. They had a tray in their hands stacked high with… stuff. Tea and towelettes and eye drops and squeeze tubes. The face was familiar but the tremors running through her body and the feeling of being crushed kept her from pinning it down. She sobbed, and immediately started scrubbing her face in shame. She tried, so hard, to keep herself from embarrassing herself but the tears and ungodly noises bubbled up the surface anyway.

The figure set aside their tray and rushed her. She tensed up and panicked, eyes-... eye, circumnavigating the room in search of a weapon. Not fast enough. She was swept up into a hug and joyous, golden laughter. Dainty little strands of brown hair, so soft as to be like feathers, enfolded her. Hands and supple fingers, the pads shaped by piano keys and the bow of a violin, wrapped around her waist. A head, light as a cloud, rested on her shoulder. Slowly, as she was held like she’d never been, Jacquelyn reciprocated the gesture. It felt wrong. Like this moment wasn’t hers. Just another stolen memory or unearned treasure. And yet she refused to relinquish it. This simple, surreal happiness. She… smiled.

“Jackie...” and that voice was like thunder. Not terrifying but soothing and rich, speaking of energy. Dynamism. “I’m so glad that you’re awake.” The figure pulled away from her but her arms remained suspended anyway, still grasping after that affection. She lowered them, awkwardly. Already, she was missing the weight of tenderness. She was so preoccupied with recognising the person before her that she didn’t even realise that her tears had dried up. ”Anya...” A workmate. A colleague, someone she’d known for less than a week and spent an average of just three hours with every day, largely working in an alchemical lab. They weren’t chemists, oh no, they were employees of Insecuto Spas, a franchise which specialised in caring for those for whom treatments intended for humans wouldn’t work. Liches, gargoyles, things which had leaked from between the folds in reality, et cetera. Their department made salves and stuff like that.

Hot shame ran through Jacquelyn’s blood, blossoming from her heart. ”I-I’m sorry you had to see me like that, I don’t mean to trouble you, I should really get going, I-” “Jack.” The brown haired woman pushed down on her shoulder. She applied almost no force but it immobilised Jack more profoundly than an anchor would’ve. “It’s not a big deal.” The smile which Anya wore, it was so comforting that it must’ve been faked for her benefit… right? But even if everything that she was saying and doing was just for the sake of Jacquelyn’s feelings, she was content to be lied to. ”I… I shouldn’t bother you. I need to go.” She put on a dour expression, attuned her voice to the most formal register she could manage. It didn’t fool Anya for even a moment. “Stay with me for a bit, for my sake. I really wanted to talk.” Anya leaned back for a bit to pick things up from the tray. She offered tea; Jacquelyn declined, though she accepted a cheese sandwich. Bit buttery, very tart. Without the crusts, just the way she liked them. Had she mentioned that at work before?

”I’m sorry for getting your sheets all dirty.” A quick peek at the underside of the blankets revealed all sorts of little scuffs and stains. Her mangled hand, though it had been wrapped in tight linens and medicinal bandage, still wept pink fluid. She was in Anya’s bedroom, she realised. This wasn’t some institutional residence, someone actually lived here. “It’s fine. I haven’t slept well in a long time.” Anya giggled back. God, her laughter was infectious. Jacquelyn kept a firm grip on her food, a single small bite taken out of the corner. It was just wholemeal bread and store-bought cheese but she was perversely sentimental about it, like it was some sort of token Anya’s care for her. Were her standards for interpersonal relationships so low that being offered a fucking sandwich felt like a grand gesture of commitment? ”Did you bring me here?” “Yep!” ”Why?” Anya turned her head and pouted. “Sheesh, you don’t even want to know how I did it? It was such hard work, I ruined a pair of shoes in your backyard.” ”I’m sorry.” Anya gave her a kindly sort of look, no longer adorning her features with an amused grin but a maternal smile. “Stop apologising. You’re alright.”

Anya knelt by the bedside and put a hand up to the patch over Jacquelyn’s eye, held in place by cotton strings running around her head. When she lifted it to inspect the damage, Jack’s vision seemed to brighten a little. Just the barest vestiges of sight remained in that organ, she supposed. For some reason that hurt even more than knowing that she’d been totally blinded on that side of her face would’ve been. ”You didn’t answer my question.” Anya dabbed up her tears and serum with a cotton swab. There was no pain, just a fuzzy feeling. “Why wouldn’t I have?” She meant it rhetorically but Jacquelyn didn’t take it that way whatsoever. There were so many fucking reasons. ”Oh, well let’s see, you and I barely know each other and we’re only acquainted through work. When I arrived on my first day all your colleagues laughed at you for choosing to take on a rookie like me. Now I’ve lost two fingers so I can’t write or cook or handle the neck of a bottle or- or- or do just about anything that actually matters.” Regret immediately followed her little rant. She’d been so unnecessarily forceful about it. Yet, Anya didn’t look hurt at all. Just looked her in the eye and said, without a mote of hesitation or insincerity; “this isn’t about work”. So what, it was about Jackie? She refused to believe it. This was totally about work. There must’ve been some kind of clause in the contract or whatever, or maybe Jacquelyn’s untimely death would reflect badly on Anya if she allowed it to happen while Jack was apprenticing under her.

”I- I’m sorry, I didn’t mean t-” “I meant it~” Anya sang as she replaced the dressing on Jacquelyn’s wounds. Jack had to avert her gaze from her hand as the fabric was pulled off. She was feeling the open air in places which had previously been inside of her. Or rather, feeling the impression of it. There were no peripheral nerves inside her wound, so all she felt was the temperature gradient between the interior of her body and the outside world. Cold. It was cold. “So...” She spoke as if she was about to bring something monumental up. Jacquelyn braced herself for the inevitable; ‘why were you getting cut up on a livestream?’ she could already see the words forming on Anya’s lips. “... got anyone special in your life?” That was unexpected, to say the least. Jacquelyn was thrown for a loop for the longest time, stumbling on her own words until finally, she managed to croak an unconvincing ”No.” She amended it with a blurted addendum; ”I’m ace.” Anya breathed out through her nose. “Wouldn’t have thought it.” ”Why not?” “I’ve seen the conversations you have on your phone. All you ever do is talk about anime tiddies with people online.” Which was a fair criticism. ”Wait, you’ve been spying on me?” “No, you’re just not very good at being discrete.”

”Look, it’s complicated.” Jacquelyn made a concerted effort to give Anya a more substantial answer than ‘no’. She had to fill the awkward silence somehow. ”I knew a guy, tall and devoted and really, really smart. As in, beyond the definition of intelligence itself. We were close. Besties. Or… he was my bestie, I don’t know if he ever thought of me as a friend or not.” She cringed at how little she had to say about Kyle, the man whose absence burned as a branding iron, scarring her daydreams and nightmares. For all the love she’d had for him and their friendship, she’d never known him all that well. It was hard to say if he’d ever shown any fondness for her at all. And yet, in as self destructive a manner as always, she’d killed him in the end, beating his brains out for… well, for nothing. Anya read the pain and apprehension on her face. She did not press the issue. ”Closest I’ve ever come to… you know, since him, has been… ha, it’s been a house.” “Good looking?” ”Ah, very baroque.” “I bet he’s tall, too.” ”Four storeys.” She let out a hearty chuckle. It took a piece of her misery with it, chipping it away like slivers from an iceberg.

”So, why’d you ask?” Anya took on a deadly serious expression and gave her a piercing stare. “I’m offering.” ”Pft. You could settle for better than me.” “Trust me, I can’t afford to be picky.” Jacquelyn knew what she was doing. Asking frivolous questions, insinuating interesting facts about herself with no real bearing on the present, diverting her attention from anything that could cause her grief. It felt violating to be manipulated like that but at the same time she couldn’t help but appreciate it. And hey, why confront Anya about it when she was just trying to make her feel better? But there was still heavy stuff that she needed to discuss. A question, among others, that she absolutely needed answered. ”Do you think I’ll get my fingers back? And my eye?” The world was rendered in disconcerting flatness. All the depth was gone, replaced by what might as well have been a painting. “I don’t know. I’m not an authority on any of this. But the missing part of your hand? I couldn’t find it. I’m sorry.” ”Now you’re the one apologising.” “Hah, I guess I am.”

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Posts: 1933
Founded: Sep 30, 2017
Corrupt Dictatorship

Postby Rostavykhan » Sat May 01, 2021 8:10 pm

Seeds of Anxiety
Constance & Kelli

Collab with Wysten

Seeds of Anxiety

Why did she get coffee?

Constance didn't even want coffee that morning. It didn't taste right.

She stared into her cup. What for, she didn't know. She didn't expect to find some revelation in it. Maybe it was because she was tired of just staring out the window. The upscale scenery outside didn’t gel with her. In her time in town, she’d come to know primarily run-down industrial centers and bleak little waterfronts and ghettos. The nicer parts of town somehow just made her feel uneasy. Too bad that they were the only places where it seemed like anywhere was open. She didn’t want to spend all day back at the hotel. She would have liked to, but she was paranoid that someone would know that she was there, and then she’d be a sitting duck.

She didn't even know what to do that morning. She hoped that, somehow, she would run into someone familiar. Elizabeth, Meredith, Kelli, Paige...Jackie. Jacquelyn. She didn't know if they were still on good terms, but she hoped that they were. Why did she hope that they were still friendly?

Jacquelyn had used her. Meredith was right about that, or at least that's how Constance felt. But...Constance had played along with it. Right? From the moment that she'd been dragged into voting as The Outsider on that first day, she'd played along with Jacquelyn. She went to go meet her and Deirdre on her own. She never intended for her gun to be used for Jacquelyn's benefit, though. She didn't know where they were even headed that morning. After that had happened, Constance almost threw the thing out. She wanted to badly, but she also knew that tossing the damned thing out would just leave her more vulnerable than she already was. besides, she'd probably need all the protection she would get, thinking back on Jacquelyn's plan. Deirdre. Meredith. Constance was implicated in that. She threw up from the guilt of it all when she finally returned from her outing with Kelli. She didn't hurt anyone directly, but Jackie wouldn't have been able to make it all happen without her. She felt terrible.

She raised her cup and took a small sip. Somehow, it tasted better than before. Maybe once she stopped panicking and just started to reflect and think, it had been easier to just enjoy it. Three spoons sugar, some creamer...enough sweetness to just cut through the bitterness, but not too sweet. It was relaxing. Back to her original thought: Why did she still hope that Jacquelyn and she were on good terms? It was obvious that anyone should hate the woman after pulling a stunt like that, right? It made sense to Constance, but she just couldn't bring herself to truly, truly hate Jackie. She was angry. She was disappointed. But she didn't know if she hated her or not. She looked at her new phone, resting next to her coffee on the table. News articles, a few tabs of music, etc. She almost wanted to call Jacquelyn's number. She was scared too.

Kelli smiled as she walked into the cafe as glanced over at Constance. Surveying the room just in case for any of those gang members she learned to be named "Fates" she walked over and sat across from Constance. "You know for a normal human you did pretty well back there. Shame we couldn't cap the bitch but I got my fair share of information out of it." Kelli said as she looked towards Constance, her scared face still in that half-smile she seems to always give. Constance raised an eyebrow, though her gaze remained fixed on the cop in front of her. "I tried to run away.", She said, blunt as ever. The only reason she didn't run for the hills was that some part of her was worried sick over Meredith and Jacquelyn. She still couldn't get over the guy that Kelli shot either. "That you did, though I can't blame you," Kelli said as her eyes looked down at the cup and back at Constance. "Was that your first time seeing someone be killed?"

Somehow, that stung. She had admitted to running, but having Kelli agreeing that she'd done so? That was rough, but she was used to it. Constance pursed her lips for a moment, and shook her head. "Not the first time...maybe. I've seen dead bodies before. Last night could've been handled better, though.", She said. Both hands cupped the warm bug. She took another sip and laid it back down, and then began to run the tip of her finger around the rim. "First time seeing it actually happen? Yeah."

"Yeah I figured, it's happened to every corporate meta group I was tasked with back in my universe. Big aspirations about fighting bad guys until they see someone get their head blown off then that look comes down over them like a mask." Kelli took out a flask and gave it a few sips before setting it down, "Don't worry I was the same except I was the one who did it." Kelli said as traced her finger around on the table."That-", Constance paused. That what? Talking like some shell-shocked veteran wasn't really her ideal morning chat. "That sounds rough.", She nodded. Yeah, that worked. "You get used to it, you have to if you want to stay sane at least. Because believe me, that guy would have split Jackie's head open in a heartbeat if Meredith asked him to and it was the only way to make sure she would at least get a head start." Kelli said as she looked outside into the sparsely populated streets of the small Welsh town. "But I assume that isn't the only reason why you are moping around here."

Constance shook her head. "I'm worried about Jacquelyn.", She admitted. "I never did see her last night, after everything was over. I think that Meredith was right, you know? But I just don't know. Jacquelyn...well, it's hard to explain.", Constance struggled with her words just a little. It wasn't hard to explain how they knew one another, but explaining how she felt about everything that had happened? Yeah, that was hard.

"You felt like you were used? Is that it?" Kelli gave a small laugh before starting a short coughing fit. Covering her arm with her elbow she dropped it and gave a full grin and opened her arms. "Welcome to the criminal underworld sweetheart," She said as she reached over and gave Constance a pat on the shoulder. "Everyone gets used to some degree or another, I know that once I'm done with the Fates here I'll get some offers from some even more shadowy folks to do what I do best. You just have to be used in a way that suits your best interest."

Constance felt her cheeks begin to burn. "Don't get me wrong, it's not my first rodeo when it comes to being used.", She acknowledged. "But this time was different. I can't say that I really blame her either, the way she talked about The Ashwoods. I'm just disappointed that I played along with it all."

"And what're you going to do about it? Sit around and mope? Have pity sex with some random stranger? Shoot up something near the hotel?" Kelli stood up and looked down at the office worker as she put a hand on her shoulder. "Or, you can help me."

If she were being honest, all three of those things had been her plan, or at least she didn't exclude the possibility of either happening. Bad coping mechanism, yes, but what were a few bad choices after she'd already made so many of them already? “I don’t know.”, She replied, leaning in closer to her cup. “I don’t know how much help I could be.”, she asked. There’s going to be fighting, isn’t there?, She thought. I don’t have the stomach for that.

"I've seen you work your magic at the office and I just need the locations of some safe houses. That's all you have to do, after that you can do whatever."

“I’m not sure about this.”, She frowned and finally looked up, towards Kelli. “Isn’t that sensitive information? I don’t really know much about AEGIS yet, but I don’t think the others would like us pulling up information like that.”, She said. Honestly, she wasn’t sure that her little escapades would be appreciated by the others, either. She was surprised to not get chewed out for doing something stupid yet.

"Tell them that I threatened or blackmailed you into giving the information and I'll give you anything you need in return. Besides, I owe you one for that time you carried my bleeding corpse during that warehouse raid." Kelli said as she gave a small smile and wink.

She remembered that warehouse incident. “I don’t want to get you in trouble either.”, She sighed. “I don’t need anything, I don’t think. I’ll - look, I’ll help, I guess, but only because I know I won’t be getting shot at.”

"That's the spirit, say are you available tonight? I have a contact that's bringing in some top-shelf stuff and it would be a shame to waste it all by myself?"

Kelli’s previous inquiries and requests made Constance nervous, but that was interesting. “Top-shelf?”

"Some of that high-end Korean soju and Cuban cigars are just coming in and they owed me a favor after taking care of some business for them." Kelli said as she looked out into the street again.

“The fuck is soju?”, She asked. The cigars she knew. Were they still illegal? Not like she cared, but that was the main thing she always heard about them. Maybe she could say that Kelli actually bribed her if they got in trouble. Then, another thought occurred to her. Her smile faded, and she looked away again. “I’m still going to be partially responsible for some people getting hurt.”

"It's a type of Korean alcohol, closer to what you lot call whiskey then to vodka." Kelli paused after Constance looked away, "It will happen either way."

She sighed again. “I know. So…”, she finally raised her cup to take another sip. She needed to finish it before it got too cool; cold coffee sucked. “Whiskey? I do enjoy my whiskey. Fine, count me in.”

Kelli nodded and gave one more pat on Constance's shoulders as she walked out of the door of the cafe. The cold morning covered her as she pulled out her phone and called her contact.
Last edited by Rostavykhan on Sat May 01, 2021 8:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Posts: 617
Founded: Nov 01, 2017
Moralistic Democracy

Postby Menschenfleisch » Thu May 06, 2021 1:13 am

Seeds of Anxiety | Jacquelyn

Curiosity still chewed on the back of her head. ”When you found me, did you see anyone else?” “Nope. Nobody.” It made sense. Constance and Kelli, leaving her for dead. She knew that Constance was alive, having checked her phone and seeing that she was online, but they were on anything but speaking terms. Or at least, she assumed so. No point in talking to her, it’d just open up old- no, fresh wounds. “You were lying under a tree, leaves and dirt pulled up over you. Light as a feather, you know that?” ”Hope I wasn’t too much trouble.” “Believe me, you’re the least of my worries right now.” Jacquelyn took little sips of water from a plain teacup. Strange container for it, but all Anya had were generic sets of china and plastic cutlery, far cheaper than glass. It dawned on her that she didn’t really… know these kinds of spaces. A normal suburban house, she meant. She’d lived in Ashwood manor basically her entire life (granted, she’d only been alive for two weeks anyway). Anya’s bedroom, which was objectively smaller than any of the corridors in Ashwood manor, felt larger than the whole mansion somehow. It was lush with genuine detail; not just little architectural flourishes but real, honest to god meaningful objects of sentiment. She saw stuffed toys leaning against the wall, a beat up radio straight out of the nineties tuned to a jazz FM station, boxes of acrylic paints and pencils tucked under the desk. The scene was packed to bursting with evidence of Anya’s existence. This space was made for her, constructed out of the context by which she defined herself; it was inseparable from her. Ashwood manor, though? It bore no marks of Jacquelyn’s habitation. Her bedroom was spotless and generic. If she never returned then all the markings that she’d left - empty cartons of milk and a laptop - would sink into the depth of the house, maybe never to be found again. This house was Anya’s and would not be the same without her; Ashwood manor was divorced from Jacquelyn’s existence entirely.

She felt unimportant. Unloved. Like a raindrop on a window, carving a path through the ever-renewing condensation.

”You’ve got a nice room.” That was all that she could do to articulate her feelings. And to be fair, she felt that it was true. “Looked a lot worse before you got here. Had to tidy it up, didn’t want you thinking you’d been kidnapped and thrown in some abandoned motel.” Anya sighed and looked all around. Her eyes lingered upon places where there was nothing of note. She was gazing upon a remembered scene, crystallised inside her mind. The present was almost forgotten amid her retrospection. “I don’t miss this place... and moving in was a pain.” ”Moving in? You were living someplace else?” “Of course. I had an apartment in Morriston, until The Order moved in.” Fuck. How hadn’t she known that? They were workmates, had Jacquelyn really never thought to ask? What a friend she was. ”Then where are we?” “Family home. I grew up here; moved to Morriston to study. Obviously I had to relocate, considering recent events.” ”Are your parents still living here?” “They’re gone. Swept up by The Order.” That put much of Jacquelyn’s peace to rest. ”I’m so sorry.” “Sorry for what? Wasn’t you. And when this all blows over, I’m sure I’ll see them again.” Was Anya’s confidence born of naivete, optimism or a desperate desire to cling onto hope? Jackie didn’t want to press the issue, dear lord she’d give anything not to bring it up. And honestly, she couldn’t help but be swayed by Anya’s words somewhat. Yeah, she could bring herself to believe that The Order would let her parents go after all this was sorted. Their mission was just to bring things back under control, there was no way they’d lock innocent people up for the rest of their lives, surely.

“You’re hungry right?” A distraction from her internal monologue. Jacquelyn was famished. In fact, she hadn’t eaten anything since yesterday noon. All the stress had suppressed her appetite. ”Maybe. A little.” After all that had happened the idea of returning to any sort of routine - the cycle of eating, drinking, sleeping, working - was unthinkable. She would lie awake at night, she knew, staring at the ceiling or shivering under three blankets. She’d dangle food off the end of her fork, watching water slide down celery or bread harden before her eyes. Anything to avoid going back to where she had been as a lesser woman. Because if she got out of that bed and had to dress herself, she’d have to confront the facts. Her fingers were gone. A part of herself, a capacity for action, had been irrevocably stolen. “I’ll fetch you something.” Anya patted her lightly on the shoulder, just once. The feeling lingered on long after she stepped out of the room.

Something acidic flooded her nose. Just the faintest trace of a rising smell, like a quivering violin string promising a deafening crescendo. Jacquelyn whipped her head up, catching Anya as she was about to leave. ”What is that?!” She snapped. “What’s what?” ”Can’t you smell it? God, I-” The odour was smoky, black, ashen somehow. She held a hand over her nose while Anya, keeping an eye on her all the while, pulled up the window. Fresh air flooded the room, robbing it of warmth, but it slowed down the buildup of the smell. It was still overwhelming though, sending tremors down through her fingertips and filling every breath she took with needles. She swore that as she inhaled, her lungs crackled. ”Burning. Something’s burning. It wasn’t me, it wasn’t me.” She was too breathless to do anything but whisper, and she clutched herself as she held her breath. Her body starved for oxygen but she didn’t care, so long as the smell would go away. The… overly familiar stench of burning flesh. Soaked into her memory, like a brand. At that moment the wound was being pulled open again. She had a fear of fire, a fear of burnt things, but not a fear of burning. She had been fire and light and devastation and all that power had been exerted to hurt the people around her, to hurt herself. She’d been the nuclear bitch, Vanth, the person with the power to turn the town into black sand and who’d wasted all that potential playing with the townsfolk like they were dolls; her enemies, friends, bystanders, all of them just toys in a game which she could’ve ended at any time. It wasn’t PTSD, she told herself with a shaky heart. Just… just guilt. Good guilt, which reminded her not to act out. This was a good thing. This was protecting her.

“I’ll go check. You’re going to be alright.” Rote words. Anya had nothing more unique to say to her. Jacquelyn understood. That was all that she deserved. The gesture alone was more than she could’ve ever asked for. She huddled, cold as blistering snow - which expanded and cracked in the wind - and waited. And waited. The seconds dragged on until the pain in her lungs outgrew her self control and she breathed. Steadily. Deeply. The stench was gone. She nearly broke down from relief, her lips curling up and silent laughter pouring out of her. Anya stepped back into the room and embarrassment shut her up. “I overcooked some bacon. Is everything okay now?” She hated how slowly Anya was talking, just how cautious she was being with her words. But her state of mind was so fragile, she doubted that she could’ve taken it if the woman had just spoken her mind. ‘Get out of my house. It was a mistake to bring you here.’ She could picture the words with ease. How many times had she rehearsed what she’d do if someone rejected her? She’d spent nights before practising what words she’d use if Elizabeth ever decided not to let her live in the manor anymore. She’d gone through scripts defined by formality, anger, pleading, desperation. At that very moment, she started drafting another: exactly how much effort she’d expend suppressing her emotions if Anya told her to leave. ”I- it-it-it’s fine, I overreacted. I’m sorry you had to see that.”

“I’ve dealt with worse. You and I both.” She was just saying that to make her feel better. Now that Jacquelyn had acknowledged how insincere Anya was being, the magic was gone. She couldn’t take any comfort in her words. Every further gesture of kindness just made her palpitate with discomfort. ”Why didn’t you take me to the hospital?” “I can render better care, alchemy and all. Plus, I thought you might’ve still been in danger.” She didn’t say from what. The conclusion was relatively obvious: Meredith and her goons. “Did I ever tell you about the lamppost incident? It happened during the night shift so you weren’t there but someone walked in all cross-legged and demanded a bottle full of lotion but he wouldn’t tell us why-” ”Anya, stop. You don’t need to...” She grabbed her hair, clenching her teeth as she tried to articulate herself. She wanted to tell Anya to just stop lying to her face; her attempts to distract Jackie from her situation and to cheer her up were so transparent, it was just… n-no, she couldn’t do that. Anya had taken her in, how could she snap at her like that? There had to be something else she could say, anything to get her point across without hurting the last person in the world who might show her some kindness. ”I’m feeling a lot better now and I really need to go.” Such a generic statement; it came out of her stilted and hesitant. But even though she really wanted to stick around and just be taken care of - and gosh Anya was a gentle soul - she didn’t want to be a burden on her friend either. Yeah, if she stayed too long she’d just be making a nuisance of herself. Anya would think less of her for being too weak or hate her for being a leech. She- she had to run, right now.

“You need a drink.” She caught Jacquelyn as she was peeling the blankets off herself. ”I have water at home.” Did she even dare to go home, knowing that it was where Meredith had found her last time? Maybe she could pick up some stuff like her laptop and some clothes, rent an apartment in Grimhaven until the whole thing blew over... “I mean a drink.” There was a council meeting later in the day scheduled for Alex’s trial, but… did she even want to go? Meredith had beaten her. Just, thoroughly broken her. All motivation to help, all sense of urgency, was just gone. She had spent half a week torturing herself over the situation at hand; now she was beyond caring. She’d probably still show up, but she needed comfort before then. Still, she was reluctant. ”... I don’t have any money.” “I’m paying.” ”I can’t spend yours.” “Then borrow it.”

”What am I going to be,” Jacquelyn murmured in the twilight zone between honesty and silence: ”Some deformed girl for people to gawk at? I can’t open a wallet, can’t hold a cup, can’t write my own fucking name. I haven’t even tried to dress myself yet or wipe my own ass but I’m sure I’ll suck at that too, as if I needed more things that I’m unable to do. Who wants to look at me? Who wants their day to be ruined by the sight of some mongrel crying over her drink?” All Anya could say was… “It’ll be fun.”

“-And it’s two AM, dead of night, when we realise that one of the saunas is still in use. No time limit on you see, and guess who it is? It’s lotion guy with a lightbulb in his… well, to put it kindly, in his rectum, and an empty bottle of lotion next to him. He’d always had this fetish, you see, but he’d never been able to indulge until then.” ”Eheheh- s-smart guy though, right? ‘Cause like, the heat or whatever would… loosen him up.” “For sure. He couldn’t get it out and none of us were touching him with a ten foot bargepole, and he couldn’t exactly walk to the door because he thought it would shatter.” ”S-so let me get this straight, he… he waddles like a penguin - heehee, a p-penguin - through the front door and he’s already got a bulb up his ass.” “Because he thinks he might be able to get it out while he’s all warm and lubed up. But no, not a chance. So he tries to leave but realises he can’t stand up because it’d break the glass, so he’s trapped in there, scraping his bum along the ground as he tries to come up with a way out-” ”And howdiddit end?” “Girlfriend came to pick him up. With a vacuum cleaner.”

Turns out that drinking with a mate was bloody good fun. A few shots in and Jacquelyn was feeling the buzz. Truth be told she’d never really liked the taste of alcohol, all acidic and fiery and not at all palatable, but the afterglow… wow, just the afterglow was enough to make it all worth it. She poured herself another straight scotch. Elizabeth could take it, she was sure of it. ”You gonna touch your beer?” She slurred to an unnecessary degree, consciously playing into her idea of what drunk people acted like. It was just fun to cut loose, especially when she could excuse her awkwardness with the alcohol no doubt ravaging her liver and brain at that very moment. Anya folded her arms on the counter, staring at her half-empty lager. The foam was all but gone. “Someone’s got to drive you home. Besides, I have work tonight. Can’t be sloppy.” ”Sh-shit… do I need to come?” “You’re on leave, remember? Family reasons.” ”R-right… why did I lie?” “Well, what do you mean? You’ve got way worse things going on than just ‘family reasons’, girl.” ”Aw man but the Ashwoods aren’t even my family. They’re more like, uh, whatchamacallit… bosses. Owners? I’m like just their, hm, morality pet.” She toyed with her glass, pushing it to and fro across the tabletop, catching it in the curves of her palms. ”They take care of me and get to feel soooo~ good about themselves for helping out a poor soul. D-don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel patronised, but it’s like… why? Why me? Haha~ don’t I have enough advantages in life already? Wasn’t born into an abusive family, ain’t deathly sick in the heart, not a slave to forces b’yond my reckoning or whatever...” Anya could tell that Jack was measuring herself up against people that she knew. It was obvious, from just how specific the latter two items in her list of potentially terrible circumstances were. She stared at the girl’s missing fingers. She still poured herself drinks and picked up objects using her right hand by default, trembling all the while without her thumb to stabilise her grip. Did she, in that addled state of mind, even know that it and her index finger were gone or was she just pretending not to notice?

“I think the Ashwoods really care about you, Jack. I’m sure that they see something in you which makes you worth it.” The honey coloured lights and black-painted walls gave the world a surreal hue, like sunlight spilling across empty space. Jacquelyn could hardly keep her balance on her high chair. She staggered and gripped the edge to steady herself. Another drink. ”W-well that just makes me feel fuckin awful, cuz, what if they’re wrong?” Another drink. “Don’t you trust them?” ”No, of course I - hic - trust them, b-but… I-I just don’t want to… ah, you know what, I should just shut up.” Too sober. Another drink. Was the bartender paying attention to her? Did this place even care if its clients got blackout drunk? Where were they, even? “I hear the Ashwoods have a secret book. Big one, written in human blood.” ”Ooooooooh, yep! Thad-z the one, book of debs. *Debts. They’re owed so many favours, like- you wouldn’t believe. Fuckin hudge.” “They’re kind of like a bank, huh? They have a vault?” ”Oh fer sure, segret library in the attic hidden behind a painting like some video game puzzle...” “That’s pretty tricky. I think they’re like you in that way.” ”Man, you think so? That’s- that’s like, the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.” Anya laughed cheerily. Her closed eyes and wide smile, was there anything more pure in the world? This was what Jacquelyn had been looking for. A face like that, all joy and pure acceptance. Maybe she was selfish to demand that someone take her as she was and accept all her fuckups, but either way she had a person like that; someone to just… open up to. ”There’s someone that I can’t stop thinking about. C-can I tell you about them?” “Sure, go ahead.” Anya had a look of feigned curiosity about her. Or… or was that genuine? Jacquelyn couldn’t tell. Either way, she hadn’t exactly said no, so:

”S-some guy named Kyle. He was my friend. He was a bit of a wimp, always getting into rough scrapes while trying to protect me. I always had to bail him out and he was always kinda salty about it but we’d laugh about it, and we’d eat sweets and stuff like we were six years old or something. Jesus I loved to be with him. He never forced me to do anything for him, wasn’t pushy about a single thing. He was there for me all the time. I was on top of the world back then, hard as it may be to believe.” Another drink. Another. ”He’s dead now.” Anya stared. Jacquelyn took it to mean that she was listening raptly. ”Things fell apart. We sorta drifted and he toughened up. Felt like he was becoming more important than me; Ashwood even started liking him better, and he got up to all sorts of hijinks which I wasn’t invited to. Started replacing me, being better friends with everyone than I was. Made me… made me angry. Couldn’t imagine a world where I wasn’t the biggest deal in the room; I thought that he’d betrayed me or something, I dunno. B-but anyway, eventually, I… sorry, it’s getting hard to remember. Just one moment he’s pulling me out of the proverbial fire and the next I’m just… covered in him.” She lacked the strength after that to even lift her glass. “It sounds like it was an accident. You don’t need to beat yourself up over it.” Anya was responding to it better than she had ever expected. She’d just admitted to killing a man for what she thought to be honest and petty reasons.

”No, you don’t get it. I’m glad he’s gone.” That stunned Anya into silence. She wasn’t surprised, just frozen in place by not knowing what to say in response to that. ”I was a terrible friend. Am, a terrible friend, but to this day he’s the only person who’s ever allowed me to call him that. He was always so kind and nurturing and understanding; he had more faith in me than I could’ve ever earned. He should’ve had a better idol than me, gotten attached to someone smarter and kinder than I am; his care was wasted on me. He didn’t deserve to die but I deserved to lose him.” She sat there with her head down over the counter, her one good eye reflected in the liquor. ”Right up until the end he could’ve stopped me. But he didn’t. He must’ve trusted me so much...” She felt a compulsion to tack on a disclaimer or an apology to what she’d said, something to avoid wallowing in the implications of her statement, but for a long time nothing came to mind. Just the vapid instinct for self protection. ”Don’t tell anyone about this. It’s just that I- I wanted to get it off my chest.” The guilt had been eating away at her from the inside for as long as she could remember. Now that it was out, now that somebody else knew and could judge her without any preconception about her character, her stomach churned. What would Anya think of her? What kind of scathing remark would she make? Jacquelyn looked into the girl’s understanding eyes and saw nothing but the deepest, most meaningful well of compassion. Kyle’s murder was a sin which Anya had no right to forgive, both of them knew that, but at the very least she could work to convince Jacquelyn to forgive herself. “He would want you to be happy, Jack.” ”Who cares about what he wants? He’s dead, and I’m still here. For some fucking reason.”

Jacquelyn was long past the point of accepting Anya’s attempts to cheer her up out of politeness. She wanted to speak her mind; would Anya still like her even after she aired out all her abrasive opinions and neuroses? She wanted to know, desperately wanted someone’s honest approval. Not just of a portion of her, not just of the side she chose to show them, but of the whole entity which constituted her. She wanted someone to understand her fully, to know each and every single one of her intricacies and imperfections, and yet to still love her; just like Kyle had. ”I wish I had never met him. I wish I was miserable and downtrodden and lame because I’d deserve it. Seeing myself get more than I deserve while the people who’ve more than earned their happiness get fucked over by the world makes me sick.” “You don’t mean that.” Anya’s words struck a chord. Not within Jacquelyn, but within the woman. The absolute certainty with which she said it made all every other statement that’d come from her seem like a lie in retrospect, such was its degree of sincerity. And it wasn’t comforting. It had been cold, almost spat from Anya’s lips... no, she was just imagining things. Anya had meant it as a means of cheering her up and it’d just come out more harshly than she had anticipated, that was all. ”You… you’re the best… the only…” She locked eyes with the girl. ”Can I call you my friend?” Anya took a dreadful second to decide. “Yes.” And that filled Jacquelyn’s soul with more joy than any amount of whisky could’ve.

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Moralistic Democracy

Postby Menschenfleisch » Fri May 07, 2021 9:13 pm

Seeds of Anxiety | Jacquelyn

Fourth day of December, 2:15 pm
Lludw Cigfrain, Ashwood Manor

The drive home was quiet, and… almost meditative. Even though she’d drunk enough to endanger her own life, Jacquelyn felt at ease. Her racing heartbeat, the blood in her cheeks, it all was so warm and dynamic in a way that she’d never felt before. To her the world had always seemed stagnant. Still unless she moved it, cold unless she warmed it. Now, though, it was more stuffed with vigour and happiness than she had ever imagined. She looked out the car window and rather than seeing empty playgrounds and frozen roof tiles she saw the byproducts of life. Cans of beer hiding behind snow dunes, evidence of a clandestine meeting under short awnings; a cat lounging on a windowsill, basking in someone’s heat; chalk on the roadside to demarcate the bounds of ball games. She’d lost an eye but gained perspective, and all it’d taken was one night out. She wasn’t happy, but… now it didn’t seem so naive to hope for a better tomorrow. It helped her to come to terms with the loss of her faculties because now it wasn’t up to her to do everything that needed to be done. She had someone to rely on, even if only sometimes.

“Had fun?” Anya helped her to the doorstep, feet dragging through twigs and snow. ”Hell yeah.” The trees swayed in the wind and their needles bristled. A soft snow fell over her shoulders. The cold wind was a pressure on her, just firm enough to make her clothes feel snug and just warm enough so as not to be unpleasant. The alcohol helped as well; soothing fire blossomed from her throat and heart. “Sure you’ll be safe?” Anya gave her a smile. ’I’m only asking because I’m worried,’ was what went unsaid. ”I can hire a protector or two. Cults’re on my side.” The girl relaxed. Her grip on Jacquelyn’s shoulder remained firm. She’d never been… touched so caringly. It- it sounded more lewd than it really was, she’d just… ah, it didn’t really matter. She was content and was content not to think too deeply about it. “If you say so. Call me if you need anything.” And with that Anya slipped away. Jacquelyn stumbled forward through the manor’s front door and took a backward glance at the car and her friend, dressed up in thick greys and a scarf like her own. She looked different from all the other people Jack knew. It wasn’t that she was physically different it was just that when Jackie set her eyes on her, she focused on different things. She didn’t pay attention to the curve of her eyes, the tension in her arms, the potential for disapproval on her face; no, she saw Anya as a whole. A person, all aspirations and desires and cute hobbies and laughter. Her voice echoed in her head, that energetic and unmeasured tempo which underlied the way she talked. She timidly waved the girl goodbye, though Anya was not facing her anymore. She… she hadn’t said all that she’d wanted to say. ”Wait, I-.... did you like going out with me?” Anya laughed with purity to rinse a stone. “Of course I did, Jackie. You’re a wonderful friend.” She emphasised every last word. “Be seeing you.” And before her car could back out of the driveway, the manor’s front door was shut by the wind and Ashwood Manor swallowed Jacquelyn up once more.

The hallways were brighter than ever. An emotional glow rolled off her, softening all shadows and making all coarse surfaces smoother to the touch. The doorknobs, though they still bit her fingers with their chill, weren’t so painful anymore. She made herself cinnamon coffee and microwaved last night’s leftovers, some rice and green beans. She took it up to her room and on her way through the study she waved a hand at Alex-... oh. Alex was still gone. And when was the meeting? Six o’clock that night, in less than four hours. She needed to call in some favours, arrange a cab and security. No matter, she could just call in a few favours. She headed up to the attic, lit only by the afternoon sun cascading through triangular windows, and stepped up to a wall covered in portraits of the Ashwood lineage. The family tree didn’t have Elizabeth in it; ever since the manor had fallen into her hands she’d not bothered with keeping up old traditions. That meant no commissioning monuments to the latest in the Ashwood lineage, no philanthropists’ parties at the eve of the new year, no following ancient traditions and superstitions set in place by her ancestors; Alex hadn’t done much to prepare her to inherit the family estate. But even if Elizabeth had been aware of all these familial customs, she probably would’ve dismissed them as unnecessary and neurotic anyway. Jacquelyn pulled back the portrait of Alex, behind which the Book of Debts lay in a shadowed alcove. Only, when the darkness cleared and her eyes adjusted, it wasn’t there. Just an empty pedestal and some dust.

Jacquelyn’s heart sank. All the warmth left her body and a feeling of entombment came down about her. She didn’t scream or cry or succumb to an outburst of emotion, those things were produced by anticipation, pain or indecision. This… was just absence. Right up until that moment she hadn’t realised how much she’d been relying on The Book of Debts - or rather, the fruits of the Ashwood legacy - to help her. But with it gone she was back to square one. She was a powerless, meaningless, completely mundane girl. She gripped her sternum and stood there, holding her breath as fear welled up inside her. She- she had to stay calm, keep it below the threshold. Panicking would do nothing for her. Her throat constricted, her heartbeat intensified, every apocalyptic outcome came to the forefront of her mind. The Ashwoods were ruined, Elizabeth wouldn’t just disown her she’d hate her. She would have nothing. She’d planned for this but oh, what were those plans worth when she had but a part time job and fifty dollars to her name? She clenched her fist about her chest and knelt. Dear god, she wasn’t doing a good job of controlling her anxiety, was she? She placed a palm over her face while she shuddered, her body wanting to twist in random directions, lash out at something in the vain hope of catharsis. But this wasn’t something which adrenaline and endorphins could help to solve. That looming presence, the sense that she was standing in someone else’s shadow, which she had felt for all the weeks prior, returned in full force. She was but a shallow fraction of who Elizabeth was; weaker and less capable and inferior in all imaginable ways. And yet here she was, trying to emulate her. Maybe… maybe this wasn’t the right way of going about things. Elizabeth was still missing, would she ever return? So many things which Jacquelyn had taken for granted - the fact that Elizabeth would come back, the power at her disposal and her own fucking fingers - was now either unknown or at threat. She needed a second opinion. Someone, anyone, to talk to.

Fourth day of December, 2:53 pm
Lludw Cigfrain, University District

Jacquelyn rapped on Anya’s door. She answered in a jiffy, looking haggard and red around the eyes. Tired? Jack was slightly too caught up in her own issues to care. ”Anya, I- I don’t know how to explain it. I really need a place to crash, can I come in?” The girl’s expression immediately switched from wary curiosity - wondering what Jack was doing at her doorstep so soon after dropping her off - to being filled with conflict and urgency. “I’m sorry I’m in the middle of something and I don’t think I can-” “Who’s this?” An old man and woman appeared in the hallway behind Anya, the former with a face covered in grey stubble and who possessed a lanky body with no indication that he’d ever had a period in his life where he hadn’t been so sickly and the latter a short, rotund woman with tree bark-hued hair and brown eyes which mirrored Anya’s. ”I’m Jacquelyn. I know her from work;” she gestured at Anya. ”Who are you?” Anya turned pale and gripped her tongue between her teeth. “We’re her parents.” ”I thought your folks were captured by The Order. You told me so.” “Well we wer-” “Don’t say a word.” Anya hissed at her mum and dad, gripping the doorframe hard enough that her knuckles turned white and rheumy yellow.

Dread certainty fell upon her. ”It was you. You’re the only person I told.” “What are you talking about?” Anya made a good attempt at seeming incredulous but Jacquelyn saw through it like glass. ”You told them where to find it. The book.” Jackie’s voice was devoid of emotion not because she was suppressing it but simply because her feelings were trying to catch up to her cognition. She just didn’t know how to react to what she knew. “It wasn’t me. It could’ve been the bartender or someone else-” ”Then why are they here?!” Jacquelyn struck the air with a bent finger, pointing at Anya’s parents. ”You made a deal to get your folks back. You got me drunk so you could get the information out of me and sell it, was that it?!” “They are my parents, Jacquelyn!” Anya hardly raised her voice beyond her normal speaking tone but to Jack, it felt like being struck with a sledge. “I’ve known you for… two weeks?” The word unpleasant didn’t do what she was feeling justice but it was all that she could label it with. Sheer discomfort, overwhelming and paralysing. ”How much of it was planned? Was any of it real?” Anya declined to comment. Her parents milled around in the back, uncomfortable. ‘Should I call the police?’ they whispered among themselves and to their daughter. “I didn’t want to hurt you. The drinks, the stories, they didn’t make me do any of that.” She spoke softly, remorsefully. But how could Jacquelyn trust anything she said, knowing what she’d done? ”So you were protecting me by lying to my face, is that it? You say you’ve known me for less than a month but it felt a hell of a lot longer than that to me, Anya. You were the only person that I felt that I could trust. I spent… god knows how long wishing to have a friend like you. I trusted you with everything. You... you don’t know how much I cared.

Anya’s mouth stayed half open as she thought of what to say. Until finally, she locked eyes with Jacquelyn and said with professional neutrality; “I’m sorry that you feel that way. Please go.” Anya was light. So light, like she was made of air. And she was so weak; Jacquelyn hardly felt her fists as she beat against the arm whose hand was wrapped around her neck. In utter silence, she forced what remained of the knuckles on her right hand into Anya’s chest. She felt her organs compress; her kidneys were stiffer than her stomach and lungs. There was such a satisfying impact, the feeling of nodes of bone pressing through soft flesh. She collapsed onto the ground and writhed. Jacquelyn knew what she must've been feeling: darkness pressing at the corners of her vision, muscles seizing painfully. “J-Jacquelyn-” There was no pleasure in what she was doing, just catharsis. Sweet relief. Anya tried to set herself upright and from her nose came a trickle of... there was-... there was… blood. This was… exactly how her last friend had died. Under her, beaten in the head until the brains were dashed out of him. What was she-... No, no, no, no, no. She fell backwards Anya and crawled away. ”Anya, Anya. I’m sorry, please get up. Anya I didn’t mean it, please get up...” She hadn’t exerted herself at all and yet she was out of breath. This was… all wrong. She scrambled to her feet and ran away, as she always did.
Last edited by Menschenfleisch on Sat May 08, 2021 1:50 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Founded: Nov 01, 2017
Moralistic Democracy

Postby Menschenfleisch » Sat May 08, 2021 3:30 pm

Seeds of Anxiety | Collab with Torii

Fourth day of December, 3:15 pm
Lludw Cigfrain, Grimhaven, Anya’s House

”What do you make of it?” Valerian sat within a car with shaded windows, a dozen metres or so from the house from which they’d last received a call. He could see a woman standing at the roadside with who he assumed to be her parents: she was holding a tissue to her nose, absorbing blood. ”Think it might’ve been a hit and run? Teenagers knocking on doors and swinging at the first person who answers? I used to do that, bad kid that I was.” The woman, Anya Lerrikov, was not entirely human. Infotroph - entity of pure information which just so happens to resemble a person - and therefore subject to AEGIS’ jurisdiction. A tap on the window. A raindrop coursed its way down the glass. ”Bad day for rain.” Constance frowned, huddled forward in the passenger seat. "Has anyone been questioned yet?", She asked Valerian, as she reached for something - a notepad and pen. ”Not yet. The phone call was as vague as it gets. “Get over here, someone could be hurt”. For all I know it’s a food poisoning incident.” He didn’t mean that in a pejorative sense. AEGIS’ role in town was more or less as emergency response services: they were essentially the only real “authority” with the skills and medicine to treat the injuries of anomalous individuals without having to rely on occultism or magic.

”Paige, stay in the car.” She nodded; Valerian and Constance emerged on opposite sides of the car. Anya caught sight of them immediately, walking briskly to meet them halfway. A conversation in the street wasn’t exactly ideal, given the circumstances, but adaptability was in the job description. “AEGIS?” It took him a moment to parse the question. ”Yes. You must be Mrs. Lerrikov.” Anya had a very soft and measured manner of speaking and yet when she began to speak, she was obviously filled with a sense of urgency. “Oh thank god. I- I don’t know how to tell you what happened, it sounds kind of stupid, but about ten minutes ago a girl knocked on my door, punched me in the face and ran off.” Valerian shared a look with Constance. That was… an extremely mundane occurrence. ”Why didn’t you call the police?” “Because they’re a bunch of corrupt morons! Everyone knows that they’re in cahoots with The Ushers. You remember the last director, Svetlana, right? She’s about the only person who ever made an effort to serve the anomalous community. Besides, I’m not reporting a crime. I just want to make sure that she’s alright. She was drunk and in a bad state of mind; she might hurt herself or someone else.”

At that moment, Constance stepped in, ready to take notes. “So it was a minor altercation? Are you willing to answer a few questions? It could help us find whoever you’re wanting us to look for.” Anya nodded to the affirmative. “I’ll tell you what I can, but, I’m not sure of much.”

“That’s okay.” Constance nodded. She made a quick dash in her notes, starting a short list. She shot Valerian a sideways glance, then focused back on Anya. “What can you tell us about the person who did this? Physical descriptors, what direction they might have gone, anything like that.”

Anya considered it a moment. “Sorta tall, black hair, ponytail, green eyes, caucasian, green scarf, tomboyish. I don’t know where she might’ve gone.” Valerian could immediately tell that Anya was holding back some details. That, or she had a concussion: she was taking too long between descriptors, like there was a massive piece of information which she could’ve surrendered and couldn’t stop thinking about, but which she had deliberately kept to herself. ”Is she armed?” “No no no no no! She’s not dangerous. If anything I think she’s the one at risk! She has… ah, I might as well say it. The local criminal syndicates don’t like her. She needs protection.” Even though AEGIS weren’t in the business of fulfilling petty requests like this, the situation was serious enough that they couldn’t really afford to just ignore it. Someone’s life was at risk: Valerian was just about conscientious enough for that to convince him to hear Anya out. Constance began to jot down notes, but found herself pausing about halfway through. Female, Caucasian, black hair, green eyes, green scarf…, she kept her eyes on the notes, but she was obviously disturbed by something.

”Is there anything that you’re withholding?” Valerian thought that he might as well ask. “Yes.” Anya’s response was curt yet polite. This wasn’t exactly an interrogation, so she decided to at least be honest about hiding something. “I can’t tell you her name. She’s related to a certain family that… I’m trying not to say too much. She can tell you everything herself, if she wants to. I just think that I shouldn’t be the one to divulge those details if they could put her in harm’s way. I know her personally, and we kind of went drinking. She isn’t picking up the phone though, which makes me think something happened to her.”

“I, uh…”, Constance quickly finished her notes. “I think I have an idea who it is, actually. Is that all the information you’re willing to give, then?” Anya hesitated. She didn’t really know what Constance meant by what she’d said, but she’d also given just about all the information that she could without compromising Jacquelyn’s identity. She knew that AEGIS weren’t fond of the Ashwoods. If they figured out who she was, it could be bad. “If- if it’s all you need?” ”That’ll be all. Thank you for your time.” Anya didn’t look especially relieved. Valerian turned his head toward Constance, almost whispering; ”You have a lead?”

A lead? Unfortunately, yes, She thought. She suddenly remembered what all had transpired in the last few days, and felt a ton of anxiety fall right on top of her. She'd been waiting to get chewed out for something she did while involved with Jackie, but nothing had come of it yet. She hoped it stayed that way. "I've been in touch with Jacquelyn, one of Elizabeth Ashwood’s associates.", She explained. “It's only been for a couple of days now. She matches the description, mostly. It's a long story, but Elizabeth's mother is on trial, or...something...with the town's council, and since Elizabeth is apparently nowhere to be found, she's been the one handling their affairs. She's kind of responsible for all of the crimes and damage that have been going on lately.", she left out mention of herself and Kelli being roped into it. "Last I saw her was two nights ago."

”You’ve been in contact with...” Valerian crossed his arms and pointed the index of his left hand at her, a mote of incredulity slipping into his otherwise flawless professionalism. ”Nevermind. Do you know where she might be?” He strode toward the vehicle in which they’d arrived, more or less expecting Constance to match step with him, even though his brisk pace was about as quick as her run. He opened up the boot and started sifting through extremely illegal - and very much not standard issue - items. A long rifle, a pair of gas masks, a taser, thermal imaging goggles, a sack of alkaline batteries and some needles… ”You should’ve come to me sooner with this.” He didn’t sound angry or accusatory. He phrased it like an observation of the natural world, a phrase as neutral as ‘water is wet’. The town had been plagued for days by cult activities, Order scouts and invasions, criminal warfare, just general unrest. He was personally invested in putting a stop to it, or at least managing to find a source of information about it all. “I couldn’t find you.”, Constance pursed her lips and tucked her head down, feeling like she’d just been told something to the tune of “I’m not mad, just disappointed”, by a parent. She had wanted to bring up the issue since the day that Jackie forced Deirdre’s hand, truth be told. Too late now, she figured. The lockdowns had hit her hard as well; she couldn’t get a fix, not that she’d had much luck doing so since she’d been taken in by AEGIS any way. She continued to ignore the beginnings of a mild headache, and brushed the thought aside. The various weapons and equipment would go unacknowledged, it being best for her that she just pretended they were never there. “I don’t know where else she might go other than Ashwood Manor, but…”, She paused. No, she shook her head. Fine. She didn’t care, chances were he would find out any way. “I’m not aware of any other place she frequents. She was attacked the other night, though. I don’t know how safe it is now, but I can’t imagine she would up and abandon the place. Do you know if The Ashwoods have any other homes in the area?”

”Wouldn’t know.” Valerian armed himself with a pistol, adjustable scope, flashlight, baton, flash. The driver side window wound down and he peeked underneath. ”Paige, you know the Ashwoods?” The woman, quickly sneaking a bag of Mentos back into her pocket and pretending that she’d been studying a Grimoire, answered with a yelp: “Kinda? Yeah? What’s this about?” ”Seems like we have a lead. Need to know which places the Ashwoods frequent.” “They live at Ashwood Manor.” ”Anywhere else?” “Estates all throughout Wales, hideouts in Morriston, probably some other places nobody knows about.” ”Thanks.” He took two steps back to Constance. ”We don’t know enough to locate her. We can search the manor but I’m not sure that it’ll come up with anything useful. You have a way of contacting her?”

“Oh! Right.”, Constance nodded, fishing for her new phone. She still felt strange, holding it, like she wasn’t meant to be anywhere near something so modern. “She gave me her number the day we met. We actually met by accident - cult stuff, I think - but,”, She turned her screen to show him. “I don’t know if she’ll answer, but we can try.”

It took a good minute for Jacquelyn to finally pick up. By then Valerian and Paige had gathered around Constance, leaning in and holding their breaths. ”Constance? Where are you calling me from?” She was breathing heavily, sounded scared. Her voice was choppy, no background noise to be heard. ”Listen, I need your help. I, um, did something bad. You- fuck, I don’t know. Fuck! Alex is going to die and it’s my fault.” Constance recognised that tone of voice. Wet panic, a cocktail of equal parts fear and misery. As opposed to dry panic, which tended to be a bit more… explosive and incoherent.

“I’m working right now.”, She told Jacquelyn. “What happened?

”It’s, it’s… I can’t tell you. My best friend did… I- I don’t know! I was a fucking idiot and ruined everything. Listen, I’m sorry about… god, how much is there to apologise for? But I need you to do one thing for me. Just- come see me. Ashwood Manor, the duckpond. I’m… I don’t know what I want. I just need someone to talk me through this.”

Constance eyed the other two and gulped. “I can be right over there. I need to apologize too. But, hey - I’m not exactly alone at the moment. Is that okay?”, She asked.

There was a long pause. ”F-fine, just be here.” The line went dead. Valerian pulled back the slide on his gun and pushed himself off the bonnet upon which he’d been leaning. ”The Ashwoods aren’t to be underestimated. Constance I want you to have this.” He presented his weapon to her. ”Things go sour, I’ll be on overwatch. Paige, you manage the perimeter. We’re bringing the suspect in. Get in the car; Paige you’re driving.” He took a long briefcase from the boot and slid into the backseat, pulling open the case and revealing all manner of parts. Stock, bipod, long barrel, bullets. Anti-materiel rifle, it had to have been almost as heavy as Constance but he handled it with relative ease. ”Thank you for bringing this to me. My first priority will be your safety and yours should be as well. Once we get there, you approach the target and keep her occupied. Don’t be afraid to run.”

“Whoa, whoa, hey!”, She protested. She was horrified by what she was looking at. “It’s just Jacquelyn, it’s not like we’re hunting Rambo.”, She said, climbing into the passenger seat. She was already starting to quiver, holding the gun. It had significantly more heft to it than her own.

”She’s an Ashwood. You’ve read the dossiers, heard the rumours. I could bring the whole department and it would still be underkill.” “Yeah I hate to agree with him,” Paige added, “But The Ashwoods are complete bluebloods. Jacquelyn’s probably the most powerful mage you’ve ever met, just judging by the standards of the other Ashwoods; Elizabeth alone puts a couple of small nations to shame with her intelligence network and magical prowess. She keeps company with demon princes, chthonic gods, things which could wipe humanity off the map. I’m not even sure that a bullet could put her down for good even if we take her by surprise.” ”Do you think we should bring in a third party?” “Probably not. Ashwood Manor is a fortress first, house second. The more people we bring, the harder it’ll be.” ”I’ll have Midnight Fenrir on standby just in case. September owes me a few favours.” “You can just call in a liquidation unit like it’s nothing? Well I guess if it’s you who’s asking for help, they must know that you’re serious.” He pinned a phone between his ear and shoulder while continuing to assemble his rifle. ”Sep? Ashwood Manor, fifteen. The whole squad, yes. Aleph, highest priority… doesn’t matter, just be here, unless you plan on spending the next three months scrubbing every mention of Wales from the history books.” He paused for a second. ”Love you honey.” Constance heard a very exasperated: “For fuck’s sake don’t egg on the rumours, I’m not your g-” he dropped the call before September could finish.

“No - stop- Ugh, listen!”, Constance kicked back and turned around in her seat, a bundle of nervous energy. “Jacquelyn isn’t even an Ashwood, right? She’s like their assistant or secretary!”, She hissed, keeping her voice down enough that it didn’t pick up on the phone. “Look, I don’t think she can do much on her own, most of what’s been going on in town has been from a whole circus of weirdos. She just wants to talk!”

The car screeched to a halt. “Wait,” Paige snapped. “She’s not related to the Ashwoods by blood?”

“I don’t know, but they don’t have the same last names.”

“Well what is her last name?” Paige demanded, sounding like she’d just seen her favourite character in a television show die before her eyes.

“Jacquelyn Vanth.”, Said Constance, throwing her hands up. “That’s what she told me back when I ran into her.”

Paige visibly deflated while Valerian allowed himself a sigh of… well, some emotion. Constance couldn’t tell if it was relief or frustration. ”Dammit. Why didn’t I… I’m sorry, that was my fault. (September is going to throw a fit.)” He put down the rifle, thank god, and removed the pistol from his belt. ”Who is Jacquelyn exactly? What abilities does she have, precisely how many murders? Is she necrotic? A reality warper? Thaumaturge?”

Valerian was relieved(?), Paige heartbroken, and Constance beginning to sob. She was having a good morning, too, even if it was investigating a crime scene. "I think she’s just Human, but I really don’t know. I haven’t seen her use any crazy powers, myself.” She rubbed her forehead and settled back into her seat. “I think she said she was just their assistant? She lives with Elizabeth and her mother, and she mostly cleans and helps them here and there. Stuff like that.”

”There’s just no reason for AEGIS to get involved then.” He sounded disappointed, almost. Though, he did a very good job of hiding it. ”We can go back right now.” Paige leaned around from the front of the car, locking eyes with Constance in a very perturbing way. “Say no,” she mouthed slash threatened.

Constance shivered. She got the message, pretty sure. She didn’t want to turn back now, anyway. ”She’s expecting us already. Look, could you please drive there any way? She sounds like she really needs help.”

They found her near the pond, as she’d said. Strands of cold fog, like fingers reaching out from the dark, swirled around a clearing of black water and long ferns. The sun didn’t penetrate so low; massive slim trunks soared into the sky, their canopies lost in the mist. Jacquelyn just stood there, hands in her pockets, over her reflection. Her eyes were red but she stood still, clothes fluttering gently in the wind. Her unbuttoned jacket, her loosely tied scarf, they threatened to flap away. She seemed… insubstantial. Cimmerian, like a mirage or a silhouette in smoke. She didn’t turn her head, even though Constance was sure that she should’ve heard her approach. Paige and Valerian hung back near the car, standing just far away to make the two women out as irregular blobs in the distance. The graves of Ashwoods stood on the far shore, overgrown with ferns and layered with shrivelled black petals. A headstone half poked from the water, a crest of erosion marking the interface between itself and the pool. There were no insects, no singing birds, not a sight or sound to distract from the eyrie of the girl in the green scarf. An eerie calm presided.

A little too dramatic, Constance thought. She approached Jackie, but didn’t know what to say at first. She was expecting the pond to be a little more cheerful, but that apparently just wasn’t how things worked around those parts. The young woman looked worse for wear, but, truth be told, seeing her made Constance happy. She hadn’t seen Jacquelyn since that encounter with Meredith, and after that she’d been too scared to try and call her phone, until that morning. She was worried that Jackie was lost somewhere, or dead. She was relieved, though now she had a new reason to worry. Well, and the same old reasons. Being implicated in a bunch of crimes and all.

“Hey.”, She nodded. She didn’t smile or appear otherwise happy, but the way she spoke seemed to convey the sentiment well enough.

Jacquelyn didn’t turn her head. Just looked to the far shore, misted and inky. ”I didn’t think you’d come.” She spoke with a morbid simplicity. This was beyond being merely sincere, Constance was hearing Jacquelyn’s thoughts in their most raw, unprocessed forms. And right now, she was tired.

Depressing. As usual. She wasn’t surprised; somehow, she had just been happy that Valerian wasn’t actually going to be putting that elephant gun to use. Being brought back into the moment and hearing Jacquelyn speak worried her again. “To be honest, I didn’t think I would earlier.”, She said, rubbing the back of her neck. “I didn’t know if you actually wanted to see me again. I was worried, though. It’s...been a weird morning.”

Jacquelyn let out a long sigh. ”It’s my fault. It always is. My context follows me. I’m an archetype, this sort of thing is just what I am. I didn’t want this to be my legacy but here we are. Me, the cautionary tale, the girl who you’re not supposed to be. And you. I can’t pin you down. You’re not a hero like Elizabeth, you’re not a Sue like I used to be. You’re… well, maybe you don’t have a designated role. That’s fine. I’m glad that you’re here.”

“Riiight.”, Constance kicked at the ground. Just light kicks. Nervous. “Look, I don’t blame you know.” She waved her other hand in a circle. “Alex and all. You’re trying to save her. I let you down the other night. What’s...what’s all this you’re bringing up now?”

”Alex...” Jacquelyn rolled the name off her tongue. ”I wanted to be like her. Elizabeth, I mean. Seeing her do incredible things, seeing you do the same. I wanted to… live up to that, I guess. But it’s just not in the cards for me. I’m not… I don’t want to sound like I’m begging for your pity here but I’m not good enough. This is who I am. I killed my best friend. I lost everything given to me. I struck an innocent woman for just wanting her parents back. I don’t deserve this.” She pointed at… something. ”These seconds and minutes are wasted on me. I don’t understand what I’m supposed to be doing. I don’t know why I’m given all this extra time to live through when I can’t do anything with it. I’m… I’m afraid of what happens next.” She let out a shaky breath. ”I shouldn’t have asked you to come. I’m just wasting your time. I’ll just… stand here forever, I guess. Until I’m forgotten about and I never do anything again. Alex will be fine.”

The way that she was speaking was way too “final” for Constance’s liking. It was enough to almost throw her into a panic on the spot, but beside that, it made her angry for some reason. “You’re being way too hard on yourself.” She said, before she realized it. “I’m really not that impressive. I mean, I’m not the one who decided to be some criminal mastermind and take down half of the town. That was you!”, She exclaimed. Why was she acting so excited about that when she was ready to run like a bitch the other night? “Not that, uh...not that I approve, you know. But hey, you wanted to help Alex. I don’t know how close to Elizabeth you are, but I would say that the way you handled everything? It could have been a lot worse. It was actually really impressive. But, well, beside that, um…”

She clapped her hands, and held them together. She needed a segue. She didn’t have one. “So, you did attack Anya. What was that about? We questioned her mother, but you know, questioning is a two-way street. What’s your side of the story?”

”Anybody could’ve done that.” Jacquelyn dismissed Constance out of hand. ”I just picked up Elizabeth’s book and read out some names. And about Anya, what else is there to know? She wanted her parents back, I was the idiot who got sentimental about things. I nearly killed her in front of her family. That’s ingrained in me. You and I, we’re made by our past. More literally than you might think. Throwaway actions become recurring techniques, mentioned hobbies become an intrinsic part of us, individual statements become recurring quotes. And if you look at me, all I’ve ever done is… the wrong thing.”

Jacquelyn took in a long, deep breath. ”Constance I know you’re playing a role. You try to make me feel better, I have an emotional break and we come out of it stronger. But I’ve been through this song and dance before. With Elizabeth, with Kyle. It’s always going to end up like this because it’s not possible for me to change. Every single word that you’ve said has been uttered before in a more meaningful way. I don’t know why I’m stuck in this cycle. I don’t know why I can’t get better, I don’t know why I can’t be happy even when I’m surrounded by people who care about me. But I know, in the same way that I know my own name, that these things don’t change.”

”Constance. If you walk away and I don’t come with you, the scene ends. I will never see you again. Please just go. You have friends, actual friends who care about you and things which you need to do which really matter. I don’t want to occupy your time.”

So that was it. Constance stood there and stared at Jackie. Stared through her. What she said confused her, but...she thought she understood. Sort of. Not really, but she gathered bits and pieces. The last parts for certain. If she walked away. If they never saw each other again. She had actual friends waiting for her. She felt something catch in her throat. Best to give it a moment. The wind was chilly, but the rustling from the trees was relaxing. She let it continue for a moment, and waited until she felt she could speak again to step a bit closer to Jackie. “What if I don’t want to leave?”, She asked, quieter than before.

No response. Jacquelyn kicked a stone into the water. It disappeared beneath the surface. No ripples. ”Look at me.” Her frightful white eye, her mutilated hand. ”I have flaws. I do something wrong, I’m punished for it. They took away my best friend the first time, then everything I defined myself by, then my finger and eye. How much more do I have to give?” She took a step toward the shore. Her reflection was just a hazy black humanoid figure. ”I’ll be honest, I came here with the intention of trying my hardest to fix things. I always told myself that even though I was cowardly, weak, all manner of things, I was still doing my best. But today I hurt someone for no reason at all.”

”When I was born I… I was so powerful. I had a friend who would do anything for me, the power to achieve whatever I wanted. And I… played dolls for the longest time. I flew through the sky, I ate candy with my best mate, I punched out gods just because it felt nice. I didn’t have to struggle like you do. Elizabeth clawed her way to significance, what did I do? Being created was the most important thing I ever did and ever since then it’s been a long chain of wasted time and strained relationships and cups of coffee that mean nothing in the long run. When I look around I see genuinely brilliant people. You, among them. And then there’s just… me. I lead an uninteresting life, I have no accomplishments, all I do is attach myself to the lives and adventures of other people to perpetuate my own pointless existence and every time that I do, I end up making things worse for them. I cost Elizabeth so much, Kyle even more. I want to be the loudest voice in the room when I have nothing to say. It’s all just… vacuous, pointless noise; the things I do, the things I want.”

"Everything is pointless if you think about it a certain way. Sometimes you have to make your own meaning. I don't mean that in a bad way, by the way.", Constance drawled. She needed a cigarette; the weight of it all was starting to get to her. "You don't strike me as the type to hurt someone without a reason, Jacquelyn. Everything you've done so far has been for Alex, right?" She reached around for her pack.

”Not for Alex,” she spat, bitterly. ”For me. All I want is to see Elizabeth again. All I want to do is force her to talk to me about things that don’t matter and waste her time and indulge in a fantasy that I never deserved and which I wasn’t created for. You have purpose, Constance. You change things, people care about you. I don’t think anyone in the world even remembers my name except for you and Elizabeth. You know Alex wrote my name in the margins of her diary just to remember it? That’s how insignificant I was, that she had to reinforce my own existence in her head with a reminder. And it wasn’t even for me, it was for her daughter. Elizabeth calls me at work, takes time to talk to me even when she’s tired. And it’s all just pity, it’s nothing but evidence that I’m just their morality pet, someone that they can’t let die because they feel sorry for me. Why are you making this so fucking difficult? Why won’t you just let me end?”

Constance thought about it for a moment. It sounded stupid in her head, but she felt the need to bring it up any way. "You know, when we went to get coffee and chat after we first met, I was actually pretty happy.", She said. Almost ignoring Jackie's monologue. She hadn't actually, of course. She was all ears. "You say I have better friends, but between you and me? You came off as the most normal person I'd met in this town, and I think I really needed that. It helped me kind of settle in, you know?"

She finally found her pack, For some reason, she just didn't feel like it. She tucked her cigarettes away and crossed her arms instead. "Kelli likes you too, I bet. She cared enough to pick me up, and then raise hell to try and save you. I don't know how she knows you by the way. Um…" she sighed again. "It sounds to me like Alex cared enough to try and learn your name for good. They haven't known you too long, right?", She asked, trying to help Jackie see things differently. "And look, if you want to talk to other people, there are friendly faces around town. I don't know what the deal is between you and Anya, but,", she nodded towards Paige and Valerian in the distance, "at the department? We're always available. I'm still getting used to talking to everyone, too."

”I don’t even know who Kelli is. The Russian? It doesn’t matter. You shouldn’t be friends with me; you can do better than me. What makes you think that I would drive five miles just to talk? What would I sacrifice for your sake?”

"Well, you sacrificed an eye and a finger for Alex, and Elizabeth.", Constance retorted. "I know I'm not them, but- look, you're better than you think. Besides, we have each others' numbers."

Jacquelyn gripped her face. She looked just about ready to cry, but… no, she was exhausted. Beyond the point of sadness. ”Fuck’s sake, Constance. Fuck you, Constance.” She just sort of… dropped the topic. ”Meeting’s in three hours. Voting on Alex’s life.”

Constance wasn't sure how she was able to feel simultaneously terrified and relieved. It was like being cast into Hell and attaining Nirvana at the same time...well, that was probably an exaggeration, but it fit how she felt well enough. No more scary "ending" talk from Jackie. She wanted to chat longer, though. Now, they were left with another matter - the trial.”I guess I’ll have to get ready, then.”, she gave a little fist pump in the air, still trying to break the tension some. "I'm still The Outsider for Alex's trial, right? I promised I would vote with you. She'll be fine."

Jacquelyn awkwardly fumbled the gesture, shaking Constance’s closed fist, thinking that it was a fist bump and yet treating it like a handshake? ”She told someone how to find… well, you wouldn’t care. A big book full of debts owed to the Ashwoods by gods, demons, angels, corporations, governments, souls, dimensions, cults, et cetera. I found out that she pretended to be my friend to get the information out of me and the rest is extremely recent history.” Even though her mind was apparently off her emotional state, Jacquelyn still sounded flat as a text-to-speech machine.

"I guess I’d be mad enough to punch someone too, if they did that.”, Constance said, shaking her head. “But hey, it’s all fine now, right? Your friend’s not mad about it, and nobody got seriously hurt, right?”

Constance pulled her hand back, and dared to force a little grin. Optimism wasn't her strong suit, but she had her moments. "We can talk with those two about it, if you want.”, She said, nodding towards Paige and Valerian.

”Fine. What the hell. We need a car ride anyway.” Valerian and Paige shared a look as Constance approached, Jacquelyn just behind her. “That was...” ”Intensely melodramatic.” Jacquelyn locked eyes with Valerian. ”Oh god, you’re… I’m so fucking sorry for you.” ”What?” ”Your author is… agh, nevermind.”

Constance pursed her lips and lowered her head again, and shot Valerian a nervous smile. "I don't get the author stuff just yet. Is it some weird magic thing?" ”Uhh… you know what, don’t worry about it.”

"Right. Ahem.", She cleared her throat and quickly straightened herself out. How did she address the issue at hand? How did she address Valerian or Paige? Sir for Valerian? Too formal? Paige was Paige, right? She realised that she didn't actually speak to them much. Obviously that would change as she settled into the swing of things with AEGIS.

”I’m just gonna… take a break.” Jacquelyn excused herself and stepped away to make a phone call, only one side of which the group heard.

”Anya? Yeah. I’m sorry. Uh, I was drunk and-... really? No I’m glad, I just… I don’t know why. We don’t need to talk about it. I’m happy to hear that they’re doing well. Would it be better if I transferred to another department? I guess. Things’ll be back to how they were, right? Strangers, more or less. Yeah, I’ll tell the manager. Alright. Bye.” She flicked her phone closed and breathed a deep sigh of… well it wasn’t relief, but at least her anxiety was less severe than it had been.

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Posts: 2581
Founded: Apr 29, 2017
Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Wysten » Sat May 08, 2021 3:34 pm

Collab with Torii

Seeds of Anxiety
3rd of December
Lludw Cigfrain

Kelli stood in the hotel and checked her watch. The hour hand just hitting 6 PM as she adjusted her hoodie and pants. Looking around a shade of what would be considered concern crossed her face as she waited for Constance to meet her at the lobby.

She'd been held up just a little, Constance. Losing track of time, and then rushing to get ready when she realized just how late it was getting. She didn't want to rush herself; she was proud of her looks, and neglecting her skin was unthinkable. Too bad she could never fix those eyes of hers, she thought. She gave her hair a quick brush over with her fingers, grabbed her coat and essentials, and made her way for the door. Her gun went with her, as usual, tucked discreetly into the inside of her coat. She felt another lump, and remembered the pocket knife that she never used. So much good that would do her! It wasn't what she was feeling around for, however. That would have been her lighter. She sighted it, gleaming in the dim light of a desk lamp, and snatched it up, passing by a slightly messy bed and making an exit for the lobby. "Sorry.", She greeted Kelli, finally making her way down. She slipped something into her coat - a slim pack of cigarettes - letting an unlit stick dangle between her lips. She fumbled with the lighter in her off hand, flipping the top open and closed with her thumb. She found the little hint of pressure from opening it to be stimulating. The clicking noise was fun, too.

Kelli nodded and gave a smile as they made their way out into the darkening streets of the small Welsh town, quickly she lit Constance's cigarette before her own, "So, I have the Soju and cigars set up near an old warehouse near the port. Don't worry it's pretty isolated just in case." She said reaching her hand out towards Constance's.

"No girly bars?", Constance joked. She was grateful for the light, and put her lighter away, figuring she wouldn't need it for the night, or for the moment, at least. Drinking in some warehouse! It reminded her of when she would sneak out to drink in highschool. The thought amused her enough to elicit the slightest of grins, or what could count as a grin coming from the woman. It was probably best that she didn't get drunk in public any way, or else she'd probably end up making an ass of herself at some karaoke joint, if not, God forbid, throwing punches at that tavern where they met Liz. Though, she had to assume that a brawl at that place would be seen as more fun than embarrassing. She noticed that slight hint of movement from Kelli and pushed her daydreams of bar brawls aside, and quirked her brow. "Heyyy", She drawled, leaving it at that. She didn't get it. Why was she offering Constance her hand?

Kelli nodded and responded as she led the way, "I have never been a fan, too much bad tasting alcohol with none of the perks of a regular one." Seeing that she didn't respond the Russian put her hands in her pocket as they wandered down the evening streets. "I'm going to be honest with you Constance, it's nice seeing you at least smiling."

"Is it that rare?", She asked. She smiled around Jackie...well, laughed, but that counted as being in smile territory, didn't it? She only did it that first day they met, to be fair. She blinked slowly, and found herself nearly boring a hole into the sidewalk ahead of them with her little thousand-yard stare. Introspection.

"Seems to be whenever I was around you." Kelli responded before noting the stare Constance gave, giving a little shove on the shoulder she smiled, "Hey are you ok?"

Constance stumbled a little, but quickly caught her balance. "I am. I was just thinking. It's not just a you thing, probably. I'm not really happy that often.", She admitted. It was a casual admission, something that she didn't find weird to say. She was a grump. Being called out for not smiling a lot amused her enough to make her grin even more. It was embarrassing, but she couldn't deny the truth.

"Well, how about let's change that even for one night before this town burns," Kelli said as she looked over the small town as the warehouse slowly came into view she gave one glance over to Constance except her eyes changed from jovial and as a friend to something more.

"Burns. Right.", Constance stifled a nervous squeak. She smiled properly, insofar as allowing the corners of her lips to curl any way but down. It didn't reach her eyes, but it was an attempt. In one moment, she was anxious about Kelli's statement, embarrassed by her own apparent lack of cheer, and put off by the way she was being looked at. She had a feeling what it meant, but at the same time, it was like she was drawing a blank, or subconsciously forcing herself to be ignorant. Semi-willful ignorance. "So", she nodded towards the warehouse. During their walk, she'd been dragging away at her smoke without much thought, and by the time the building came into view, it was little more than a stub. She flicked it to the ground and exhaled a puff of smoke. "Soju."

"You'll love it, or at least you think you will. It's not hard to be out shortly after drinking even some of it." Kelli said as they reached the large brick building quickly she walked around it and pulled open the doors opening up the view to the waterfront and the distant lights of some of the outlying villages as the sun began to drop below the horizon casting an ember blanket over the town. Quickly Kelli pulled out a box and two lawn chairs and set them facing the water. Ripping the top of the box reveled an oval bottle riddled in Korean along with a brown case held close with a metal clasp. Opening it she was hit the smell of fine tobacco and gazed at the cuban cigars. "So how do you want to do this? Straight from the bottle or some glasses?" She asked Constance as she sat down. Constance took a seat, crossing her legs and resting her hands in her lap, all the while nonchalantly tugging at her gloves to keep them tight. She never seemed to go out without them on. "You’re the one who brought it, so I'll let you decide.", She said, wanting to be nice. "But if you'd really prefer me to choose, I suppose I'd choose glasses."

"Glasses it is then," Kelli said as she pulled two small slightly larger than shot glasses out of the box and handed one to Constance. Quickly she popped off the cork for the bottle and filled her's first before she moved to Constance's and filled her's. Constance accepted the glass and cradled it in her lap, just to wait a moment before trying the stuff. "What sort of contact do you have to get this any way?", She cocked her head, curious.

"Oh just some harbor master who lets some things pass for the right price or people. I just happened to make sure that some local street gangs never touch his shipping containers again." She said in a very casual tone as she stood looking out over into the sea before downing one of the shot glasses. Kelli's body felt alight at first as the heat traveled across it.

Constance nodded. "Ah", she gave her glass a gentle swirl, watching her drink swish about. She gave it a quick sniff, and pursed her lips. "I thought it might have been an old friend.", She said, before downing the glass. It gave her a little shiver, but she settled back into her seat, and held her breath long enough for that soft burn to dissipate. "I guess you've been settling in fine, then? I don't keep in touch with most of the people I meet, obvious exceptions being everyone at the hotel and, you know, The Ashwoods. Well, one of them."

"It's a force of habit more than anything else. Back when I was hunting metahumans I would make sure I had a network of contacts and informants in case I needed anything." Kelli said looking over at Constance before filling and chugging another glass of the Soju. Her body felt a bit more looser as the heat of the whiskey faded again. Constance did the same, albeit a bit slower to drink that Kelli. She was used to drinking, but she still always needed to take a little time to get into the swing of things. She didn’t shiver the second time, though she still held her breath long enough for the heat to pass. “It’s good.”, She nodded, waiting for the third round, and allowing herself to gaze at the horizon. It was a little cold, but the booze was warming her up well enough. “I met a lot of people when I worked, but it was always best to forget them.”, she explained; her and Kelli seemed to have the opposite approach to business. “Sometimes I’d keep in touch with someone, I guess. I was thinking more of people outside of this town. I doubt anyone I used to know is even around now.”

"I understand, though here's hoping you don't forget me then," Kelli said pouring another shot as she gave a small laugh that echoed through the warehouse. "Don't worry just for now at least all you have to do is relax and watch the sun set."

"Hard to forget someone who can pull guns out of thin air.", she chuckled, accepting another shot, sinking into her seat and allowing herself to relax fully. Her next shot went down without any hesitation, and she quickly followed up by asking for another. "Can't say I could forget having my life saved either. Who was that demon guy again? He cornered me in that alley. Never did kill him, I think. I didn't know what was happening at the time."

Kelli pulled the box up and set the bottle of Soju on it before sliding her chair closer to Constance, "I never did remember his name, remember I was quite literally a broken mess when you dragged my bleeding corpse to safety. So you saved mine that day for all intents and purposes." Kelli said as she looked out into the port as the night slowly poured into the warehouse. The Russian drank another glass of the Soju and gave a small smile as she relaxed and looked over at Constance.

Constance glanced back. Yeah, I did was what she found herself about to say, but that little thought was going to wait. Something about Kelli was starting to get to her, and she wasn't as capable of keeping quiet as she was when she was sober now. She had to admit, she was enjoying the drink, and the company, and the scenery, but something about it was a little off to her. It wasn't off in a bad way, necessarily, just off in the way that she'd initially imagined Kelli is being the type to sling back shots at the tavern, like some stereotypical tough guy. She felt comfortable enough after getting some drinks in her that she didn't feel like a complete asshole for asking about it. "Hey, uh, this is probably a bit weird to ask, but", She bobbed her head and gestured towards the other lady, with a not-so-steady gaze. "You know what? Nevermind.", She smirked. "Actually, no, not nevermind. I, uh, I have to ask. Are you, uh...?", She shifted her brow.

Kelli laughed a bit before setting the Soju bottle down, "Yes, I am and before you ask no. I wasn't beaten or demoted for it back in my universe, though it was treated as a character flaw more than anything else." Kelli said as she readjusted herself in the seat. "And this is whatever you want it to be, a date or just two friends relaxing before a long week's work. It's all up to you."

So she was right. That was cause enough for her to bring back that smirk. It wasn't a fake smile, either. Though, her being a bit tipsy probably helped a little. It wasn't the first time that she'd been hit on by another woman, so she wasn't totally unaware of what was happening. She had to admit, though, she felt decently awkward, but she didn't totally hate the attention. Was she weird for thinking that? Whatever, she thought, as she merely nodded and turned over slightly onto her side, shifting and recrossing her legs and resting her head on one arm. "I don't mind it being a date.", She told Kelli, while she turned her glass around in her hand, and debated whether or not to have a few more shots. Regardless of what it was, it was a distraction from all of the nonsense happening around them, and she appreciated that. It had been a while since she'd been able to unwind and get a little drunk.

Kelli gave a small smile at the response and stood up and walked over towards Constance and knelt next to her as she laid a calloused hand on her arm. "Then let's make it one?" She said running it down to Constance's hand.

"Whoa, whoa.", She protested. "Don't get ahead of yourself, cowgirl, it's not like I'm about to - oh.", She stopped herself, realizing what Kelli wanted. What was she thinking about now? She felt more than a little embarrassed at that moment. She had a husband and kids, she told herself, so what was the purpose of agreeing to this being a date? Her cynical half practically wanted to scream at her, that it was because she was some kind of pathetic scaredy-cat who was willing to put up with any sort of contact if it meant she felt a bit happier for a moment before returning to the mind-numbing work and extreme danger that was life in the town. That made it almost sound like Kelli was taking advantage of her for a moment, though, and that wasn't the case. Kelli asked her out for drinks, and she accepted enthusiastically. She just felt super awkward about the entire situation, but she was a sucker for alcohol. "Uuuuuugh.", She groaned. "Gimme another shot, bartender.", She said. She passed her glass to her free hand and gave it a little shake in the air. "I'm kind of a loser, aren't I?", she didn't realize that she asked that out loud. "Just so you know, I'm not gay. Pretty sure.”

"Does it matter?" Kelli said as she poured another glass for both herself and Constance. Kelli just held her hand, "And I didn't mean it that way just hold my hand for now." She said her voice going softer than usual. "I'd say it matters a lot, but whatever.", She retorted. Her hand still didn't leave Kelli's. The next shot was very welcome, although she had to set the glass down for a second so that she could tuck her legs up and get more comfortable in her seat. "I ever tell you I had kids?", She asked, on that note.

"No, but I assumed as much." Kelli said tracing a finger around Constance's hand. Kelli's mind was racing and she almost started praying that Constance didn't notice her heartbeat seemingly vibrating in her chest. "You never talk much about what it was like before you came here save for some general overviews."

"I guess I don't have much reason to. Nothing really worth talking about.", she began to knock back the next shot, but stopped herself. Best to take small sips. She was sure she could still handle it, but she didn't want to push herself.

"Well given what you've told me and what I can assume about all of this. They could be still alive somewhere doing something." Kelli said as she just tried to appear calm and started to slowly rub Costance's arm. "It was nine-teen-eighty-five for me just a few days ago.", Constance shook her head. "Even if this is the same universe...or whatever...not like there's any point in poking my head in.", a bit of a bleak way of thinking of things, but it was clear from the way that she said it that she'd made up her mind there. "I'm bad at the whole Mom thing any way."

"Oh well given how you've handled yourself you don't seem that way to me." Kelli said as moved to kneel right in front of Constance. "Besides lets not worry about tomorrow or yesterday for at least a few moments." Kelli seemingly finding new-found confidence went to sit in Constance's lap her body seemingly relaxed for the first time in ages.

Constance seemed to draw the line there. She was willing to do the hand holding schtick, but there was a limit to how physical she was willing to get. "This is getting a little weird.", She said, trying gently to hold Kelli back, without seeming like she was trying to push her. "Look, I'll get as close as you want for the right price, but I'm going to be honest, this isn't what I had in mind when I left the hotel.", She explained, unaware of the distinctive shade of red that her face was turning. "Maybe we've both had a little too much to drink."

"Is it? Sorry then," Kelli responded as she pulled back her cheeks were also extremely flushed as she tried to look away though her head turned to look out over the harbor now completely dark with only the moon giving any sort of light. "Maybe I have as well though I don't feel drunk." Her cheeks seemed to burn red at the thought as she mentally cursed herself for being too reckless. Constance waved her hand and shook her head. "Well, I'm feeling something. I guess I wasn't expecting it to hit me this hard.", She laughed, trying to ease the tension. "But seriously, I'm just not sure about this. I'm sorry, my mind is kind of all over the place right now."

"Oh it's fine, I somewhat understand, it's just been awhile since I've been with someone outside of the business." Kelli said as looked back at Constance, "I would say for a first date though this went better than I hoped." She said with a small smile.

“I guess I’m happy about that, then. And sorry, again.”, Constance murmured.

"Oh it's nothing to be sorry about, unless you are into that sort of thing," Kelli threw up her hands and gave and jokingly smiled. "In which case go ahead but it's getting late and I have a busy day tomorrow." She said as she pointed towards the small wooden crate, "Those cigars are for you by the way."
Last edited by Wysten on Sat May 08, 2021 3:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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